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Civil society and media organisations forge a way for free media in the North Caucasus

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 17 February 2010 - More than sixty media, civil society and human rights representatives from the North Caucasus gathered in Moscow yesterday, together with leading Russian NGOs to discuss joint actions for improving the state of freedom of expression in the North Caucasus.

Organised jointly by ARTICLE 19 and its partners, the Media Defence Centre, based in Voronezh, and the Centre for Media Protection in Dagestan, based in Makhachkala, the conference explored ways to sustain media and NGO activities, and promote freedom of expression in this troubled region.

There has been a significant deterioration in security, overall, and of freedom of expression situation, in particular, in the North Caucasus in recent years. There have been a series of killings of journalists and civil society representatives, as well as attacks, intimidation and legal harassment of media outlets and individual journalists.

This situation has negatively impacted the ability of NGOs to work safely in the region. Human rights defenders and journalists regularly expose themselves to great personal risks in their attempts to monitor abuses and report from the region. It is not only journalists and activists who are under threat - indeed, recent events show that any individual who expresses critical or independent views risks being targeted.

Participants in the conference also expressed disappointment that the official end of the Russian "counter-terrorism operation" against separatist rebels in Chechnya in April 2009 has failed to improve the human rights situation in the region.

Participants included prominent human rights defenders, such as Lyudmila Alexkseeva (Moscow Helsinki Committee), Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina (Memorial), Nicolay Svinadze (Member of the Public Chamber of Russia), Aleksey Simonov (Glasnost Foundation), Olga Bobrova (Novaya Gazeta newspaper) and Ali Kamlov (representing the Journalists' Union of Russia and the Union of Journalists of Dagestan).

Despite the gravity of the situation, participants identified several possibilities for international and Russian organisations to work jointly in the region, especially through strengthened capacity building for local media and NGOs, joint national and international advocacy, and support in individual cases of violations. ARTICLE 19, the Media Defence Centre and the Centre for Media Protection in Dagestan will actively follow up on these plans in the upcoming months.

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