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Journalist accused of insult and slander

(CJES/IFEX) - On September 5, 2009, the Council of the Abkhaz Association of Journalists and Media Assistants issued a statement on the criminal case opened by the republic's prosecutors against journalist Anton Krivinyuk, who published an article criticizing the authorities and the president over a railway project in the internet publication The republic's prosecutors found the publication to violate the law and accused the journalist of insult and slander.

"The Association of Journalists and Media Assistants cannot help but point out that the country's law enforcement agencies are not trying to ensure that all people have equal rights and do not hide their bias. The Abkhaz prosecutors fully ignored the pressure put on journalists Sergei Arutyunov ("Novy Den" newspaper, May 2009) and Inal Khashig ("Chegemskaya Pravda" newspaper, February 2009). The prosecutors also ignored the refusal to print two independent newspapers ("Nuzhnaya" and "Chegemskaya Pravda"), which violated the fundamental constitutional rights of readers to receive information, the right of journalists to disseminate information, and the right of publishers to free enterprise," the statement says.

The Association recalled in its statement that criticism of the authorities is a normal thing in a democratic country and in this situation it would be more reasonable to deny accusations that they believe to be slanderous than to open criminal cases against dissidents. If the authorities say they have been slandered and want to file a lawsuit, courts should take into account the fact that free and independent countries allow more criticism and public scrutiny over public officials than ordinary citizens, the statement says.

The Association demanded that the authorities ensure conditions for officials to provide journalists with comprehensive information on issues that interest them; give Abaza television the right to broadcast to the entire territory of the country; create equal conditions for the printing of all print media regardless of property forms as per the legislation of the Republic of Abkhazia; deny media reports argumentatively, if they contain false information, and not open criminal cases against journalists. "It is a cheap and very effective way to cause fear and can lead to totalitarianism. If a slander case is initiated by a public official, the appropriate bodies should ensure that it is tried in accordance with the established procedures and international norms on freedom of speech," says the statement.

The Association also demanded that the Abkhaz authorities stop their campaign against independent journalists and the mass media.

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