UNIAN News Agency
May 4, 2006

Press freedom generally deteriorated in this region in 2005, with five journalists murdered because of their work (up from two the previous year) and growing repression in several former Soviet bloc countries, according to a report by Reporters Without Borders, forwarded to UNIAN. Some rulers resorted to the old methods in their efforts to silence all dissidence and working conditions for journalists worsened in Uzbekistan, Belarus, Russia and Azerbaijan, whose governments took steps to ward off the kind of uprisings seen in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Kyrgyzstan (2005).

Violence against journalists in Russia was frequent and impunity prevailed in a country where news is still closely controlled by the government. Two journalists were killed and a third escaped being murdered in 2005. More than a year after the death of editor Paul Khlebnikov of the Russian edition of the US magazine Forbes, the authorities closed their investigation and said Chechen independence militant Kozh-Akhmed Nukhayev had ordered the killing. The government steadily took control of all the country’s TV stations and stepped up pressure on the few independent papers, seriously threatening news diversity. Chechnya remained a void for news and journalists could not go there freely.

Police in European Union (EU) countries, especially France, Italy, Belgium and Poland, were busy in 2005 searching journalists’ homes and demanding they reveal their sources of information. The European Court of Human Rights considers privacy of sources a cornerstone of press freedom, but several member-states stepped up their violations of this key to independent investigative journalism.

The countries that joined the EU in 2004 have made impressive advances in press freedom. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia are havens of freedom of expression along with northern European countries. The only blot was in Poland, where a journalist could still be heavily fined, as one was in 2005, for writings deemed to offend the pope.