The World Association of Newspapers has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop “state interference in the work of journalists” in the wake of the Beslan massacre.
The body, which represents 18,000 newspapers worldwide, has voiced concern about the sacking of one newspaper editor and reports that journalists have been detained by police and even drugged.
The letter stated: “The state should not interfere with journalists carrying out their professional duties, however tragic and sensitive are the events on which they are reporting, and regardless of how embarrassing some allegations and reports about the handling of the crisis might be to the government.”
The letter, which was also signed by the World Editors Forum, also said: “The Russian people have a right to be fully informed of the facts behind the Beslan tragedy and it is only through establishing the truth that lessons can be learned and steps taken to avoid a repeat of this appalling tragedy.”
Raf Shakirov, chief editor of the daily Izvestia, resigned on 6 September amid reports that state authorities, angered by Izvestia’s coverage of the crisis, had put pressure on publisher Prof-Media.
Izvestia was critical of the Government’s handling of the hostage crisis three weeks ago, in which more than 330 died, and its graphic coverage also condemned Russian state broadcasters for failing to report live from the scene.
A correspondent for the paper Novaya Gazeta, who had been critical of Russia’s activities in Chechnya, claims she was poisoned while making her way to Beslan.
Anna Politkouskaya collapsed after leaving a plane at Rostov Airport and doctors said she may have been given poisoned tea by a stewardess.
Other incidents listed by WAN include the detention of the Moscow bureau chief of the Arab satellite TV channel Al-Arabiya, Amro Abdel Hamid, and the arrests of Nana Lezhava and Levan Tetvadze of the Georgian broadcasting company Rustavi 2.
WAN said: “Such action on the part of the state, if confirmed, is particularly regrettable at a time when the international community has widely praised the reporting of the tragedy by several publications, including Izvestia, as an example of free and independent journalism, contradicting on this occasion the general belief that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the press in Russia to carry out their duties professionally and objectively.”
By Dominic Ponsford