Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Leading Russian Rights Lawyer and Journalist Shot to Death in Moscow

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on January 20, 2009

New York Times

Investigators standing over the body of the lawyer Stanislav Markelov in Moscow on Monday. He and Anastasia Baburova, a freelance journalist, were killed after he held a news conference. (Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters)

Investigators standing over the body of the lawyer Stanislav Markelov in Moscow on Monday. He and Anastasia Baburova, a freelance journalist, were killed after he held a news conference. (Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters)

MOSCOW — A prominent Russian lawyer who spent the better part of a decade pursuing contentious human rights and social justice cases was killed on Monday in a brazen daylight assassination in central Moscow, officials said.

The lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, had just left a news conference where he announced that he would continue to fight against the early release from jail of Yuri D. Budanov, a former Russian tank commander imprisoned for murdering a young Chechen woman.

Anastasia Baburova, a 25-year-old journalist who was with Mr. Markelov, was also killed, according to a spokeswoman for a newspaper where she worked as a freelancer, Novaya Gazeta, which is highly critical of the government. The two were shot.

Officials said they believed that Mr. Markelov, 34, was the primary target, having brought cases against the Russian military, Chechen warlords and murderous neo-fascists. With a laundry list of his potential enemies, authorities refrained from naming any suspects.

“Investigators are looking into various theories, including that the murder was linked to the victim’s professional activities,” Vladimir I. Markin, a spokesman for the investigative wing of the Prosecutor General’s Office, said of Mr. Markelov.

The murder bore the characteristics of a contract killing, a not-uncommon phenomenon in Russia. Even so, the audacity of Mr. Markelov’s murder surprised some commentators.

“Even when organized crime in the 1990s was rampant, such a killing would have been considered bold and horrific,” said a correspondent from Vesti television.

Mr. Markelov, who was the director of the Rule of Law Institute, a civil liberties group, gained prominence recently representing the family of Elza Kungayeva. She was an 18-year-old Chechen whom Mr. Budanov, the former tank commander, admitted strangling in his quarters in March 2000, just as the second post-Soviet war in Chechnya was beginning to rage.

Mr. Budanov was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was given early parole for good behavior.

Mr. Markelov, at the news conference just before his death, told reporters that he might file an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against the early release of Mr. Budanov, who was a decorated colonel of the Russian Army before he was stripped of his rank. In an interview last week with The New York Times, Mr. Markelov said he might also file a lawsuit against the administration of the prison that released Mr. Budanov last Thursday.

The decision to free Mr. Budanov set off street protests and outraged some human rights groups and Chechen officials. It reignited long-simmering tensions years after a decade of intermittent war in Chechnya, a southern Russian republic, was replaced by tenuous stability.

But Mr. Budanov was also revered by nationalists as a valiant fighter who helped wage a bloody but necessary war against separatist rebels in Chechnya. Some now see Mr. Markelov’s murder as revenge for his efforts against a Russian hero.

“The murder of Markelov, I consider a bold open warning by the ‘party of war’ to democratic Russia,” Nudri S. Nukhazhiev, Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, said in a statement. “Today, there are no facts or evidence of the direct participation of Budanov in this crime, but I am more than certain that it was committed by his supporters with his consent.”

Mr. Markelov phoned the father of Ms. Kungayeva, the slain teenager, a few days ago to complain that he had received death threats, the father told the Interfax news agency.

Lela Khamzayeva, another lawyer for Ms. Kungayeva’s family, was adamant, however, that the killing of Mr. Markelov could not be linked to his connection with Mr. Budanov, because his role during the actual proceedings against the former colonel was, as she put it, “insignificant.”

“If someone is trying to link this murder with Markelov’s participation in the Budanov case, well, that’s just ridiculous,” she said.

Given Mr. Markelov’s propensity for challenging the Russian authorities and others known to settle scores violently, the list of potential suspects is lengthy.

He worked closely with Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist with Novaya Gazeta and strong critic of Russia’s Chechnya policies, who was murdered in Moscow in 2006.

He often defended the interests of those, like Ms. Kungayeva, who became ensnared in the violent and often arbitrary military justice of the Chechen conflict or the tyrannical rule of Chechnya’s violence-prone leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, in the war’s aftermath.

“He handled almost every case opened as a result of the work of Anna Politkovskaya,” said Nadezhda Prusenkova, a spokeswoman for Novaya Gazeta.

While he was not involved in the current trial of three men accused in the murder of Ms. Politkovskaya, Mr. Markelov did work on the case of another murdered Novaya Gazeta journalist, Igor Domnikov, who died in 2000 from wounds caused by a hammer blow to the head.

Mr. Markelov has also represented victims of neo-fascist and xenophobic violence, a phenomenon that has been expanding annually both in frequency and intensity, according to experts.

At least 10 people were killed and 9 others injured in racist attacks in Russia in the first two weeks of 2009, said Aleksandr Brod, the head of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, Interfax reported.

Ms. Baburova, the freelancer who was killed Monday, began working for Novaya Gazeta last October. She cited Mr. Markelov in her most recent article about fascist groups, published on Saturday.

In it, the lawyer criticized the authorities for their handling of a case against the leader of a violent nationalist group, who was sentenced to three years in prison for arranging the murder of a man from Tajikistan and putting video of the killing on the Internet.

With Ms. Baburova’s death, Novaya Gazeta has lost four reporters to murder or other mysterious circumstances since 2000.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Moscow, and Graham Bowley from New York.

AP Reporter’s Tough Gaza Questions Disappeared

Posted in media, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 8, 2009

MediaBloodhound

apDuring Monday’s State Department press briefing, Associated Press State Department Correspondent Matthew Lee posed the most pointed question about the conflict in Gaza and the Bush administration’s position: “What’s wrong with an immediate cease-fire that doesn’t have to be sustainable and durable if, during the pause that you get from an immediate cease-fire, something longer-term can be negotiated?” Lee didn’t tread lightly either when Deputy Secretary of State Sean McCormack failed to provide a sufficient answer and continued to challenge McCormack on the same point in Tuesday’s press briefing.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to print: the substance of these exchanges never made it into Lee’s corresponding articles.
First, here’s the main exchange between Lee and McCormack on Monday:

LEE: If it’s true, as you say, and I think that you agree because you do say this humanitarian situation is dire, that lives are at stake, that there have been civilian casualties despite the efforts to minimize them.
MCCORMACK: Right.
LEE: What’s wrong with an immediate cease-fire that doesn’t have to be sustainable and durable if, during the pause that you get from an immediate cease-fire, something longer-term can be negotiated?
MCCORMACK: Well —
LEE: I don’t understand the calculus. If you say you want to save lives and protect people, why not accept something that is less —
MCCORMACK: Right.
LEE: — than perfect if you can get to that point?
MCCORMACK: Right.
LEE: If you can use that to get to a point that is (inaudible)?
MCCORMACK: I guess the calculation is, Matt, fundamentally that you’re not going to get to that point under those circumstances.
LEE: How do you – how do you figure? How do you —
MCCORMACK: Well, you know, we’ve gone through circumstances like this before, and it – look, it’s – well, there are no sureties in these things. You know, you take a look at the facts, you take a look at history, and you make your best set of calculations and you do what you think is right in order to achieve the objectives that you have laid out. And it doesn’t – it perhaps helps the situation in the immediate term —
LEE: Well, if this is something that can perhaps do that, what’s wrong with that?
MCCORMACK: That’s exactly my point, Matt. Are you trading off against lives in the future that will be lost if you don’t go for a durable, sustainable cease-fire? We’re not willing to do that. Now, this may – of course, we have seen various protests, you know – capitals in the region as well. We’re aware of that. And we’re aware of the fact that lives have been lost, innocent life has been lost. In none of this are there any easy decisions. But you have to take the set of decisions that you believe will ultimately best benefit the people of the region, whether it’s the Palestinians or the Israelis. And people may disagree with our approach, our —
LEE: But isn’t the best benefit keeping people alive?
MCCORMACK: It is, Matt, but I – you know, I —
LEE: If there’s a chance that you can save some lives by going for an immediate cease-fire rather than one that is going to be – you know, that you know is going to be long-term and that meets your conditions, I don’t understand what’s wrong with that.
MCCORMACK: Well, again, Matt, there are people who are advocating that position. I understand that. But ultimately, we don’t think that you address the underlying issues if you don’t try to get a sustainable, durable, non-time-limited cease-fire. And if you don’t get that, you’re going to be right back here again, whether it’s – and you’re going to have somebody else up here three months from now, four months from now, five months from now, talking about the same kind of tragedy. Again, nobody wants to see the sort of humanitarian suffering that you’re seeing in Gaza. We’re not blind to that. We’re trying to address the immediate circumstances, as well as to try to address something that is more durable, so those people in Gaza and the people on the other side of the border can maybe perhaps have some more semblance of a normal life.

Lee also has some other fine moments in this press briefing, including this follow-up to another State Department correspondent’s question about what signals the administration gave Israel regarding the military action in Gaza and if it approved of the newer ground incursion. McCormick answers the other correspondent and then Lee jumps in with a dose of reality regarding US foreign policy.

MCCORMACK: Well, this is – you know, this is a question that always comes up. We don’t give green lights, red lights, yellow lights. I think you heard from the Vice President they’re – they didn’t seek our permission or advice, and we didn’t seek to offer any of that. As I – as I said —
LEE: You know, that’s not – that’s just manifestly not true.
MCCORMACK: As I – yes, it is.
LEE: No, no – maybe in – maybe in this, but all over the world you are involved in giving green lights, red lights and yellow lights. I remember when –
MCCORMACK: Am I talking —
LEE: — when Musharraf —
MCCORMACK: Am I talking about anywhere else in the world, Matt? Am I talking about a specific circumstance? Look —

According to a LexisNexis and Google News search, Lee didn’t publish a report after this briefing on Monday.

Lee returns to his original question in Tuesday’s press briefing:

LEE: The point is, though, Sean, that if it – if what is proposed has a time limit or you don’t think it’s durable or sustainable, you’re not going to support that; correct?
MCCORMACK: That’s correct.
LEE: That – so while you want one immediately —
MCCORMACK: Right.
LEE: — you will not accept one that is just a short or a temporary pause?
MCCORMACK: Again, we have deep concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza and for the innocent lives on both sides —
LEE: Well, if you do —
MCCORMACK: — both sides of —
LEE: If you do —

[…]

LEE: Sean, can I go back to the question I asked yesterday?
MCCORMACK: Yeah.
LEE: I don’t – I still am not sure I understand your reasoning as to why, if innocent life can be saved —
MCCORMACK: Right.
LEE: — even one innocent life can be saved by a temporary pause —
MCCORMACK: Right.
LEE: — ceasefire, what’s wrong with that? Why —
MCCORMACK: There’s – look, I know that that is a point of view that is supported by many. And we value every single life, absolutely. But you also don’t want to get into a situation where you are trading off – you know, trading off saving even one life now, against losing 30, 40, 50 or more in the future and being right back in the same situation.
LEE: But you don’t know that you’re going to —
MCCORMACK: I know, Matt. Look, there’s no cookie-cutter approach to trying to solve these problems, absolutely not. And I would be the first one to acknowledge that these are tough, sometimes gut-wrenching decisions when you see some of the humanitarian suffering on the ground there. I fully acknowledge that. But we have to stand back from that and try to make what we believe are the best decisions possible that will improve the situation in the region for Israelis, Palestinians, and others who have an interest in seeing a different kind of Middle East. And I know there are different points of view on this matter, and I fully respect those points of view. But we are pursuing the course that we believe is in the best interests of the United States, as well as the people in the region.
LEE: But do you understand the impression that that gives or the – that that gives? I mean, that position that you take appears to many people to be a – the proverbial green light for the Israelis to go ahead and do whatever they want until they think that they’re done.
MCCORMACK: Look, you know, I can – all I can do is try to disabuse people of those impressions and those perceptions. Whether or not they listen to what I have to say or the reasoning behind it, I can’t control that. Look, we have seen this – you know, we have been in – the United States has been in similar circumstances — you can cite many throughout history – of making very, very tough decisions. We had to make similarly tough decisions, for example, back in 2006 when there was a war between Israel and Hezbollah, one provoked by Hezbollah. At the end of that process, as difficult as it was, we believed that the status – you know, the status quo is much preferable and better than the status quo ante. As difficult as that was, and as great as the costs that were incurred in terms of human life and other ways–
LEE: And you’re saying that – so you’re saying that you have the same – that the calculus is the same in this case? That the status quo – what is happening on the ground right now is preferable to what it was before?
MCCORMACK: No, that’s not what I’m saying, Matt. Listen to what I’m saying. What I’m saying – the situation at the end of the conflict between — you know, between Hezbollah and Israel, and currently, is better and preferable. It’s better for the people of Lebanon. It’s better for the people of Israel. It’s better for the region than the status quo ante.
LEE: So at that —
MCCORMACK: That’s not to say – that’s not to say there weren’t great costs that were incurred in that and that there weren’t difficult decisions that were taken in that regard. But what we can do, and what we have to do as stewards of our national interest as well as doing what we think is best for the interests of the people in the region, is the course that we are currently on.
LEE: So if we take that – this situation, you believe that once Israel is finished with what it’s doing, whatever it’s going to do, the situation in Gaza is going to be better than it was before?
MCCORMACK: You know, again, you’re viewing it through a particular – you know, the particular prism of somehow the United States is offering some sort of counsel about Israeli military operations. We are not.
LEE: No, no, no.
MCCORMACK: Our interest is in bringing about a durable, sustainable ceasefire so that the – what you have after conflict has ended is better than what you had before conflict began. Yeah.

After this Tuesday briefing, Lee wrote up and filed his story. With the misleadingly hopeful headline “Rice Traveling to UN to Push Gaza Cease-Fire” (please note: traditionally speaking, reporters don’t write their own headlines), the article opens:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to New York and the United Nations on Tuesday in a bid to broker a sustainable cease-fire as soon as possible to end the crisis in Gaza.

Lee knows there’s a stark difference between a “ceasefire” and the administration’s “sustainable” or “durable” ceasefire. Most of his back and forth with McCormack for two days pivoted on these semantic but very consequential points of distinction. AP editors surely know this as well.

Yet the AP — America’s leading newswire service — either carelessly or willfully misled its readers and all the news providers it supplied with this headline, many of which, as is often the case, then use it to frame this unfolding story. A headline much closer to the truth would’ve read “Rice Traveling to UN to Push Conditional Gaza Cease-Fire.” Omit “conditional” or some such synonym and the headline gives the false impression that Rice is coming to the Palestinians’ rescue. Lee and his editors at the AP realize as well that Rice is coming to the Palestinians’ rescue like she came to the Lebanese civilians’ rescue in 2006.

The piece continues:

Rice plans to hold several separate meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab and European foreign ministers to lobby for a three-tiered U.S. truce proposal and will then attend a U.N. Security Council meeting on Gaza, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The talks are intended “to further her efforts to bring about a cease-fire that is sustainable and durable concerning Gaza,” he told reporters. The U.S. wants to see three key elements in any agreement: an end to rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and securing border crossings between Gaza and Israel and between Gaza and Egypt.

[…]

McCormack said it was not clear if the council would adopt any resolution on Tuesday and said the United States could only support an immediate cease-fire if it is not time-limited and addresses the three U.S. points.

“We would like to see the violence end today,” he said. “But we also want to see it end in a way that is sustainable and durable.”

At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino repeated that position.

“We want to get to a durable cease-fire as soon as possible,” Perino said. “And if that is immediate, then we would certainly welcome that.” […]

Lee pressed McCormack on this administration position for two days, pinpointing and questioning the transparency of its illogic and brutal disregard to what is now a full-blown humanitarian crisis. But none of Lee’s related questions, or McCormack’s answers framed by those questions, ever appear in this article. Nor do they appear in Lee’s article published the next day, “Rice Extends UN Visit Amid Gaza Truce Debate,” which opens:

The Bush administration held off Wednesday from backing an Egyptian-French ceasefire proposal in Gaza, but urged a lasting agreement that would end ongoing violence between Israeli and Hamas forces that have killed more than 670 people.

If you watch or read what Lee said during the corresponding press briefings, it’s hard to believe he decided to scrub those exchanges with McCormick. Of course it’s possible. But the only thing that’s certain is somewhere between Lee’s exemplary work in those two prior press briefings and the AP’s editorial process, someone decided to censor the pertinent truth about the reckless stupidity and grisly inhumanity of the administration’s current Gaza stance.

Czech Republic PM Smashes Reporter’s Head Against Wall

Posted in media by allisonkilkenny on October 30, 2008

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek smashes a photo journalist’s head against a wall. I love how Chris Matthews presents this story like it’s a matter of opinion if this is unacceptable behavior.

Video Here

 

Journalists sound alarm over press freedom in Europe

Published: Tuesday 4 March 2008   

Journalists throughout Europe, both east and west, are faced with a growing pattern of censorship and pressure including physical violence and intimidation, according to a survey by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ). What’s more, the EU is failing to stand up for them, the AEJ adds.

BACKGROUND:

Responding to growing concerns over media concentration, in 1992 the Commission launched a wide consultation (Green Paper) on pluralism and media concentration in the EU. Two years later, the consultation concluded that it is primarily up to the member states to maintain media pluralism and diversity. A directive was proposed at a later stage by then Internal Market Commissioner Mario Monti but his initiative was rejected twice by the College of Commissioners, last time in 1997.

A new approach to media pluralism, based on monitoring, was launched by current Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding. Initial results are expected in 2009 with the publication of an independent study that will seek to define indicators for assessing media pluralism in the EU member states.

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) presented its first survey of media freedom across Europe in November 2007. Entitled “Goodbye to Freedom?”, the survey was updated and presented at an event in Brussels on 28 February 2008. It covers 20 countries across Western and Eastern Europe.

The survey, presented on 28 February in Brussels, found media freedom “in retreat across much of Europe” and pointed to a number of abuses by governments, including interference in editorial policies and even threats and intimidation.

The AEJ survey, which covers 20 countries, listed a number of abuses including:

  • Violence and intimidation (Russia, Armenia);
  • assault against media independence by governments (Slovenia);
  • political abuses, particularly in public broadcasting (Croatia, Slovakia, Poland), and;
  • commercial pressure and over-concentration in mainstream media (France, Italy).

William Horsley, the survey’s editor, said: “Governments across Europe are showing a marked trend to use harsher methods, including heavy official ‘spin’ and tighter controls on journalists’ access to information in order to block media criticism.”

And according to Horsley, the trend is not confined to the younger democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. “The open confrontation between government and the media in Slovenia is mirrored in various ways in the UK, Ireland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, among others.”

In Ireland, two senior journalists from The Irish Times are facing jail sentences for refusing to reveal their sources, the AEJ heard at a recent workshop in Dublin. In Slovakia, journalist Martin Klein was condemned for publishing a satirical article about a church leader, a ruling which was subsequently upheld by Slovakia’s Supreme Court despite a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which backed the journalist.

EU and media organisations slow to react

What’s more, Horsley says media organisations themselves have to share part of the blame. “European media have been too slow to comprehend and report the pattern of censorship, pressure and sometimes physical violence faced by journalists in every corner of Europe,” Horsley told EurActiv.

As for the European institutions – the Council, Commission and Parliament – Horsley said they had so far failed to stand up for media freedom.

“EU leaders have too often failed to live up to their rhetoric about upholding ‘European values’ like media freedom,” Horsley told EurActiv. “The EU’s main institutions have failed to stand up to Russia over the strangulation of its independent media.”

“If the EU neglects its own doubtful record in protecting media freedoms at home it is obvious that governments elsewhere will not take very seriously its appeals to allow media freedom and independence there.”

OSCE forum on media freedom

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called on its member states to respect their media commitments at a forum on 29 February in Vienna.

The forum discussion marked the tenth anniversary of the office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM), now held by Miklos Haraszti. The office provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and assists participating states in fulfilling their commitments.

“The 56 OSCE nations committed themselves to the highest standards of human rights, freedom of expression included. Today, we sometimes have to defend not only press freedom standards but also the very notion of international co-operation on human rights,” Haraszti said in a statement.

POSITIONS:

William Horsley, the AEJ survey’s editor and an ex-BBC foreign correspondent, told the Brussels event on 28 February: “Media freedom is not an optional extra. Without it, governments cannot be held to account and there can be no rule of law.”

European journalists attending the survey presentation in Brussels identified further threats such as the lowering of standards due to commercial pressure and cost reductions. This includes the rise of ‘churnalism’, a practice where news production is considered as “a factory-like process simply to fill space.”

Lorenzo Consolipresident of the International Press Association (IPA), said it was important to improve conditions for transparency and denounced the growing tendency among Brussels institutions to try and control the questions asked by the press.

Some participants also recommended thinking about new revenue models brought about by new Internet technologies. Recent successful attempts at renewing journalism have included websites such as: http://www.mediapart.fr http://www.rue89.com and http://www.opendemocracy.net

Christophe Leclercqfounder and publisher of EurActiv.com, stated after these events: “The internet is not without issues of quality and independence, but the new technology also makes it more difficult for governments to suppress news entirely.”

Leclercq pointed to the EurActiv network itself as a “small step” towards greater media pluralism. “Set up initially as a contribution to transparency, media diversity and multilingualism, the EurActiv network started with a pilot project administered by the European Centre for Journalism, which was then expanded to Central Europe, in co-operation notably with the International Federation of Journalists. The EurActiv CrossLingual network now connects around 30 journalists, working in nine languages in nine countries.”

NJ Officer Suspended for Beating, Arresting Journalist

Posted in police state by allisonkilkenny on October 29, 2008

Democracy Now

Back in the United States, a New Jersey police officer has been suspended following the violent arrest of a television camera operator. Jim Quodomine of WCBS was filming a peaceful protest outside a Newark church when the officer put him in a chokehold and arrested him. Quodomine spent more than an hour in a police vehicle and had his camera confiscated. The arrest came days after a photojournalist was arrested in Chicago while covering the fatal shooting of a suspected burglar by an off-duty police officer.

Video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTAAZBT0rBU