Journalists Condemn Putin Silence as Fears Grow for Press Freedom in Russia

JOURNALISTS from around the world have condemned attacks on press freedom in Russia and demanded that President Vladimir Putin speaks out against "a media war against independent journalism". The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation, says that the takeover at the weekend of the leading independent television station NTV by the state-backed gas giant Gazprom and the subsequent closure of the independent newspaper Svodnya, the sacking of journalists on the news magazine Itogi and threats to close the respected Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy all amount to "a declaration of war against independent journalism". The IFJ has also criticised President Vladimir Putin who has remained aloof from the events of the past few days. His silence is unacceptable given the gravity of the crisis says Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ and its European section the EFJ. "Unless President Putin takes a lead and condemns politically-inspired attacks on independent journalism the strong suggestion remains of Kremlin endorsement for this campaign," he said. "Meanwhile, international confidence in the Russia's commitment to press freedom is being shattered while first-class journalists are being purged." The media affected are either directly connected with or close to the Media Most empire of Vladimir Gusinsky who has fled to Spain where attempts to extradite him to Russia were rejected by a Spanish court on Wednesday. Gusinksy claims he is facing trumped up charges concerning financial irregularities. He says he is being persecuted by political opponents because his media have been critical of government and have reported professionally and critically on events in Chechnya. "The events of the last few days suggest that Gusinky's claims are not overblown," says the IFJ, "above all, they call into question Russia's commitment to democracy and freedom of expression." The IFJ is calling on international organisations, including the European Union and the Council of Europe, to investigate events in Moscow and to demand action on the part of Russia's political leadership.