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Russian journalist's invitation to German book fair withdrawn

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 23 September 2003 IFJ media release:

Journalists Accuse Russia of "Sinister Interference" Over German Ban on Media Critic

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned "sinister political interference" which it says is behind a decision to stop Anna Politkovskaja, a leading independent journalist, from taking part in the Frankfurt Book Fair next month.

The IFJ and its regional group, the European Federation of Journalists, says a Russian-inspired ban on Politkovskaja is directly related to her challenging articles in Novaja Gazeta critical of the Russian policy in Chechnya and for her books about the war, which have focussed attention on the brutal effects of the war on civilians in the region.

"This ban is completely unacceptable," said Gustl Glattfelder, Senior Vice-President of the IFJ and Chairman of the EFJ. "It bears the hallmarks of sinister political interference from the top and is an attempt to gag one of Russia's leading journalists."

Anna Politkovskaja has experienced threats from Russian authorities and state security officers have raided the newsroom of her newspaper, but she has defiantly continued to write and to participate in international seminars and debates about the Russian violation of human rights in Chechnya.

The IFJ and EFJ are calling on the German journalists' associations to intervene with the German authorities and the Book Fair organisers in order to lift the ban.

Politkovskaja had been invited to Frankfurt for the book fair, which runs from October 8th to 13th, to take part in a debate about the situation in Chechnya, but it then emerged that because Russian literature is a theme of this year's event Russian President Vladimir Putin will be attending as a guest of honour.

Russian officials told Book Fair organisers that they saw it impossible to combine the attendance of their guest of honour with the presence of Anna Politkovskaja and the invitation to her was withdrawn.

"This is a terrible blow for freedom of expression in Europe," said Glattfelder. "The work of this courageous journalist on behalf of the people in Chechnya should be respected and recognised. The perception of giving way to political bullying is bad for Germany and flies in the face of the principles of pluralism and quality that the Frankfurt Fair represents."

The IFJ and EFJ say that the invitation should be reissued and that Anna Politkovskaja must be able to speak her mind without intimidation.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.

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