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UKRAINIAN NBC BATTALION DEPLOYED IN KUWAIT. The airlifting of a Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait has been completed, UNIAN reported on 7 April. A total of 448 troops and 125 pieces of military equipment were transferred to Kuwait, the news agency reported. JM

CANADA CONCERNED ABOUT UKRAINE'S AGRICULTURE SECTOR. Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Andrew Robinson said in Kyiv on 3 April that his country is concerned about the situation in Ukraine's agriculture sector, including on the grain market, and by the arrest of former Deputy Premier for agricultural reform Leonid Kozachenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 April 2003), Interfax reported on 4 April. The ambassador said Ukrainian agricultural reforms make it an engine of economic growth in the country, adding that small and medium-sized agro-businesses have been boosted by a free market absent of heavy state intervention. "I know that former Deputy Premier Kozachenko was one of the main defenders of the reform policy in agriculture," Robinson said. Meanwhile, Kozachenko's lawyer, Ihor Usenko, told journalists on 7 April that the Prosecutor-General's Office recently charged Kozachenko with accepting a bribe in 2000, in addition to earlier charges of tax evasion and abuse of office. JM

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PROTOCOL ON ADOPTING FEDERATIVE CONSTITUTION. The Moldovan parliament on 4 April approved a protocol that provides for the elaboration of the constitution of a federative Moldova, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. The protocol was previously approved by representatives of the Moldovan government, the Transdniester authorities, the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. A joint commission of the Moldovan parliament and the Tiraspol Supreme Soviet is to elaborate a new constitution that is to be approved by both Moldovan and Transdniester citizens by 1 February 2004. Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca criticized the protocol and threatened to organize large-scale protests. ZsM


PRESIDENT WANTS TESTS OF 'SIMPLY NONEXISTENT' MELNYCHENKO TAPES. President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Kyiv on 26 March that the secret audio recordings allegedly made in his office by his former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko should be examined in Ukraine and in accordance with Ukrainian laws, UNIAN reported. At the same time, Kuchma stressed that the Melnychenko tapes are "simply nonexistent," adding that now this topic is of interest only for the "Ukrayinska pravda" website and the politicians who gravitate to it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)

CIS MEDIA CONFERENCE. Journalists and media experts from Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia will take part in a 9-10 April conference in Kyiv on the media situation in the former Soviet countries. The European Institute for the Media will hold the conference with the Independent Association of Broadcasters of Ukraine and the Ukraine branch of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. For more, contact CC

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 26 March released its annual report on threats to press freedom around the world. According to the media watchdog, the number of imprisoned journalists rose sharply in 2002, while a decline in the number of global conflicts last year contributed to a decrease in the number of journalists killed.

In January 2002, a court in China sentenced journalist Jiang Weiping to eight years in prison. Jiang was arrested in December 2000 after writing a series of articles for the Hong Kong monthly "Qianshao" (Frontline) about corruption in northeast China. Although U.S. government and United Nations officials have demanded Jiang's release, there has been no progress in his case. Jiang is one of 39 journalists now imprisoned in China, making it the world's leading jailer of journalists for the fourth year in a row.

Jiang's case is one of hundreds highlighted in the CPJ annual report on the world's changing press freedom landscape. "Attacks on the Press in 2002" documents some 500 cases of media repression in 120 countries last year, including assassinations, assaults, imprisonments, censorship, and legal harassment.

Alex Lupis is the Europe and Central Asia coordinator at the CPJ, a New York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide. He said the CPJ report notes three general trends. First, the number of journalists imprisoned in retaliation for their work rose sharply for the second year in a row. "There were 136 journalists in jail at the end of 2002, which is a 15 percent increase from 2001, and a shocking 68 percent increase since the end of 2000, when only 81 journalists were imprisoned," Lupis said. "China is the world's leading jailer of journalists for the fourth year in a row now. They arrested five more journalists over the past year, and by the end of 2002 had some 39 journalists behind bars."

Secondly, the report found that 19 journalists were killed worldwide in 2002 as a direct result of their work, a sharp decrease from 2001, when 37 were killed. Lupis points out last year's figure is the lowest since the CPJ began tracking such deaths in 1985. According to a press release, a decline in the number of global conflicts last year contributed to the decrease. "Most of the journalists killed in 2002 were not covering conflicts, but were instead killed in retaliation for reporting on sensitive political issues, like government corruption in countries like Colombia, the Philippines, Russia, and Pakistan," Lupis said.

Third, Lupis noted, government officials are increasingly invoking "national security" concerns to legitimize new restrictions on the press and limit access to conflicts. The most prominent example was Russia's clampdown on the press following the disastrous Moscow theater hostage crisis in October. More than 120 hostages died after Russian forces used an opiate-based gas to incapacitate the Chechen fighters who had taken over the theater. Since then, Lupis stressed, the Kremlin has maintained a "very aggressive" policy of managing and restraining independent journalists.

Soria Blatman is the specialist for Europe of the Paris-based press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). She noted that the greatest limitations on press freedom in Europe in 2002 occurred in Russia. "We saw, for example, after the hostage-taking episode in Moscow, that Russian media have been punished for their coverage of this episode and, generally speaking, for all matters regarding Chechnya," Blatman said.

Broadly speaking, the trend in the former Soviet republics is negative and getting worse, Lupis maintains. This trend, he added, does not only materialize in government obstruction of media activities, but also in government unwillingness to punish individuals who retaliated against journalists. "Turkmenistan remains a horrible place [for journalists]," Lupis said. "We have no reports of any independent journalism there. Belarus, of course, [also] remains a horrible place. Several journalists were imprisoned last year in retaliation for criticizing President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. And, of course, press freedom conditions in Kazakhstan deteriorated significantly because of a state-sponsored campaign to intimidate journalists who criticized the government." In Uzbekistan, Lupis said, the government has maintained a firm grip on media outlets, although censorship was officially abolished in May 2002.

A report on European media freedom that was presented at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in January mentions instances of violence and murder against reporters in Armenia, Georgia, and Macedonia. Legal harassment in the form of defamation lawsuits or very high fines is also mentioned as a threat to the existence of a free media in countries such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.

The PACE report calls the number of journalists attacked or murdered in Russia and Ukraine "alarming." Tytti Isohookana-Asunmaa is the PACE rapporteur on freedom of expression in the media in Europe. "In some Eastern and Central European countries, there are difficulties with physical violence, because we know that, for instance, in Russia and in Ukraine, journalists have been killed...and some other [forms of] harassment happen constantly," Isohookana-Asunmaa said.

Although the number of journalists in prison rose in 2002, Lupis points out that there were some positive trends in press freedom, mostly in Central Europe. He says these came about largely as a result of efforts by regional governments to join organizations such as NATO and the European Union. "In Slovakia last year, they suspended parts of their criminal defamation laws," Lupis said. "In the Czech Republic [last] summer, there was an assassination attempt against a journalist, and the police responded quite strongly, which really stands in contrast to how the police have responded to such situations in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Union."

In July, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov granted the Asia Plus news agency a broadcasting license, which it had been seeking for years. Lupis also characterizes that move as positive.