Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Caucasus: July ‘08

IWPR workshop gives journalists opportunity to discuss freedom of speech and international humanitarian law.
The increasing pressure faced by journalists in the Caucasus region was the main theme of discussions during a joint Cross Caucasus Journalism Network/International Committee of the Red Cross workshop in Sheki, Azerbaijan.

Nine journalists from Georgia, Azerbaijan and the autonomous republic of Dagestan took part in the workshop held on July 3 and 4.

The first day of the workshop, conducted by ICRC trainers Gulnaz Gulieva and Vugar Nagiev, was devoted to international humanitarian law and its implications for journalists.

Trainees were introduced to those international organisations which protect freedom of speech, and were made aware of the importance of familiarity with laws and regulations governing this, both locally and internationally.

During the second day, journalists from different parts of the Caucasus shared their experiences.

Azerbaijan has a poor record for human rights and press freedom. IWPR Azerbaijan Country Director Shahin Rzayev gave the journalists a detailed overview of the existing problems – which included the imprisonment of seven journalists since 2007, the use of criminal libel legislation against journalists as well as the physical attacks and threats that journalists face.

Irakli Managadze from the newspaper Kviris Palitra in Georgia then told the trainees about the deteriorating situation in that country.

“We have virtually no free electronic media left,” stated Managazde, who added that the recent closure of television station Mze’s news outlet showed clearly that “Georgian authorities do not want alternative voices to be heard”.

Diana Alieva from the newspaper Svobodnaya Respublika in Makhachkala, Dagestan, spoke in detail about the difficulties journalists face in that region.

“There are only two kinds of media outlets: state-owned and oppositional. There is no room for other kinds of information,” she said.

According to Alieva, several Dagestani journalists have been killed in this year alone.

The verbal and physical harassment of journalists is an everyday occurrence in the autonomous republic, which is plagued by constant fighting between paramilitary forces and security authorities.

When asked if she herself is scared to work in Dagestan, Alieva noted that the number one rule is never to break any laws.

“If I am threatened by someone, I always tell the perpetrator that he has the full right to file a libel suit and fight for his rights by legal means. They never do,” Alieva told her colleagues.

During the workshop, which was run by CCJN Project Leader Salla Nazarenko and IWPR Azerbaijan Country Director Shahin Rzayev, the journalists discussed those circumstances under which freedom of expression can be limited.

The right to privacy raised a great deal of discussion. Nazarenko gave examples from her native Finland, where top politicians have had to resign due to revelations concerning their private lives.

This theme divided the group – some journalists felt that everybody has a right to privacy, while the others felt that politicians are accountable to the public, not only in terms of their professional duties.

It became clear, however, the kind of reporting on politicians’ private lives which goes on in the West is currently impossible in the Caucasus.

“There are so many things I know but could never report,” explained a participant from Azerbaijan. “I know for sure that I would end up in court.”

During the final session, the participants brainstormed a series of articles on freedom of speech and expression. These stories will appear soon in Russian in on the CCJN website:

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