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IPI calls on new president to address "increasingly dangerous conditions" for media

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 19 May 2008 IPI letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev:

H.E. Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Ilinka Str, no. 23
103132
Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7495 206 51 73

Vienna, 19 May 2008

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, would like to call on you to start your term in office by signaling your commitment to reversing the worsening and increasingly dangerous conditions in Russia's media environment.

Your predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, conceded that Russia is a hazardous place to practice journalism when he stated at an annual press conference on 1 February 2007 that "the issue of journalist persecution is one of the most pressing" in the country. At the time, Putin promised to do "everything to protect the press corps." However, since Putin's promise, the media environment in Russia has deteriorated.

For example, critical journalists have found themselves under increased pressure over the last few months, particularly in the run-up to the recent elections. Journalists have been arbitrarily detained, as was the case in January, when ten reporters were arrested while covering a demonstration against suspected vote-rigging in Ingushetia. In addition, opposition newspapers have been seized, as occurred in April when St. Petersburg police confiscated thousands of copies of a critical publication intended for free distribution in Moscow.

The last 12 months have also seen the introduction of new legislation that limits freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This includes recent amendments to existing media legislation that, if passed into law, will give Russian courts the power to close down media outlets that publish material found to be defamatory.

Perhaps most worryingly, Russia's reputation as a country where murderers of journalists enjoy impunity persists. According to various reports, over 20 journalists lost their lives in suspicious circumstances during Putin's time as president alone. So far, only one of these cases has been successfully prosecuted. Most recently, in March of this year, two journalists covering the North Caucasus region were murdered in separate incidents within the space of a day. It is probable that their murderers felt emboldened by the slim chances of capture.

I therefore call on Your Excellency not only to renew your predecessor's pledge to protect journalists in Russia, but to actually put words into action and do everything possible towards creating an environment where criticism is tolerated, and where journalists can operate free of the fear of reprisal. Resolving to tackle Russia's many open murdered-journalist cases would be an encouraging step in that direction.

Yours sincerely,

David Dadge
Director, IPI

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