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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Annals of the Politkovskaya Coverup

Kommersant reports:

Russia Crosses Off Anna Politkovskaya

Murdered Russian Journalist Scratched from PACE Agenda

Yesterday turned out to be the toughest day yet for the Russian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), where a report entitled "Threats to the Lives and Freedom of Expression of Journalists" was read and the Russian State Duma's failure to ratify the 14th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights was discussed. Kommersant special correspondent Nargiz Asadova has the details from Strasbourg.
The Investigation is stalled.

At the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last Monday, urgent debate on the resolution "Threats to the Lives and Freedom of Expression of Journalists" was suggested to replace a discussion of a resolution concerning Russian-Georgian relations. The Russian delegation initially greeted the change of topic as a victory for their side. However, the question of the safety of journalists can hardly be called a more pleasant topic for Russia. The author of the resolution, English deputy Andrew Macintosh, made no secret of the fact that he had been motivated to write the report by the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. "PACE is deeply disturbed by the numerous attacks on and threats to the lives and freedom of speech of journalists in Europe in 2006 and January 2007. The Assembly decisively condemns the murder of Hrant Dink in Turkey and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia," said Mr. Macintosh in his opening remarks. Mr. Macintosh also thanked the Paris branch of the organization Reporters Without Borders for collecting and sending to PACE chairmen Rene van der Linden several thousand signatures demanding a fair investigation into Ms. Politkovskaya's murder.

"This is a protest by the Assembly against the murder of journalists," said French deputy Denis Barde in support of his British colleague. "The authorities that kill journalists doubt themselves and doubt democracy. These people do not want to answer for their actions. They support totalitarianism and fear. No democracy can survive without a free press." "The number of journalists killed in Russia while fulfilling their professional duties is the third highest in the world, after the conflict-ravaged countries of Iraq and Algeria," said Turkish deputy Erol Aslan.

Russian deputy Leonid Slutsky attempted to stem the tide of the discussion. "The resolution says nothing about the responsibility borne by the journalistic community for the contents of what its members publish, report on television, etc. The phrase 'following journalistic ethics" is too weak in relation to, for example, the infamous 'caricature scandal.' Europe is home to twenty million believers, and they will never allow a so-called 'free' media to mock the tenets of their religion. That is provocation, not freedom!" he said.

PACE's response to Mr. Slutsky was to adopt a 16th amendment, which read, "Aggression or threats directed by any religious group towards opinions expressed in oral or written form or as drawings can have no place in European democracy." An overwhelming majority (89 deputies) of those in attendance voted for the amendment.

However, the most unpleasant point for the Russian delegation was number 11, which read, "The Assembly calls on the State Duma and the Federation Council of Russia to carry out an independent parliamentary investigation into the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya and to present the results of the investigation to the Assembly."

The Russian delegation reacted with displeasure. "We have submitted an amendment suggesting the removal of the 11th point," said Russian delegation head Konstantin Kosachev during the discussion. "A parliamentary investigation is always an expression of a lack of confidence in the investigative authorities. But we have no reason not to have confidence in them. The deputies of the State Duma are in contact with Ms. Politkovskaya's family and colleagues, and we have received no complaints from them regarding the investigation. We cannot offer professional assistance to the investigation, and political pressure is inappropriate at this point." Vera Oskina, another representative of the Russian delegation, added that the investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is under the personal supervision of Russian prosecutor general Yury Chaika.

The Russian deputies succeeded in convincing their colleagues that the 11th point should be stricken from the resolution. In its place, a point was included that stated, "National parliaments should follow the progress of criminal investigations and should acknowledge the responsibility borne by the authorities not only for a lack of an investigation but for a lack of results, as in the case of the Russian parliament in relation to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya." Once all of the amendments were taken into account, the resolution passed with 106 votes.

The Court is Delayed

The next question on the agenda for PACE concerned Russia's failure to ratify the 14th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns reform of the European Court of Human Rights. The discussion of the issue was an ongoing debate not aimed at adopting any resolution.

At the start of the discussion, Swiss deputy Dick Marti reminded the assembled deputies of the Strasbourg Court's significance for Europe. "Thanks to the creation of the European Court of Human Rights, 800 million European citizens have gained the option of appealing to an independent judicial entity to protect fundamental human rights. But now the Court is in jeopardy. The Court is overwhelmed with cases (more than 90,000 cases are languishing without review) and cannot review them properly," said Mr. Marti.

At the beginning of the decade, when the number of cases sent to the European Court began to multiply, it was decided to speed up the review of cases by undertaking some administrative reforms aimed at simplifying the trial procedure. The Council of Europe's legal experts included the modifications in protocol 14, which was opened for signatures over the next two and a half years. In that period, all of the countries of the Council of Europe signed it – except Russia. "The efforts that we have made to increase the productivity of the Court have been nullified by the Russian State Duma. This is a very serious situation," emphasized Mr. Marti. He reserved his strongest indignation, however, for Russia's repeated accusations that the Court's decisions are "politicized." "If some country does not subscribe to the principle of an independent court, it has no place in the Council of Europe! The head of a CE member-state cannot say that the European Court of Human Rights meddles in politics just because the Court's decisions are not to his liking. That is anathema to an independent judiciary," Mr. Marti said.

Mr. Kosachev attempted to calm his Swiss colleague: "Personally, I and all of the other members of the Russian delegation to PACE voted for the ratification of the 14th protocol in the State Duma." He also noted that the Duma's decision concerning the 14th protocol is not final and that the topic will be reviewed sometime in the future.

Finally it was decided to send a group of deputies from the PACE judiciary committee to Moscow to consult with members of the Duma's judiciary committee. "The protocol is scheduled to go into effect by June of this year – we do not have much time left. We must go to Russia and convince the Duma to ratify the protocol," said Romanian deputy Georgy Frunda

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