Fear and Self-Censorship in Vladimir Putin's Russia

Gessen, Masha
June 2005
Nieman Reports;Summer2005, Vol. 59 Issue 2, p115
This article reprints an article on news censorship in Russia by Masha Gessen, which appeared in the January 2005 issue of The Boston Globe. On Monday, December 20, 2004, Russia celebrated Secret Police Day. Once an obscure date, it has acquired a high profile in recent years, with banquets, speeches by highly placed officials, and commemorative banners all over Moscow. That same day, in two different courtrooms-- one in Moscow and one in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk--judges handed down two verdicts. One concerned 7 members of the radical National Bolshevik Party who in August took over the office of the minister of health to protest a bill then pending in Parliament. All were sentenced to 5 years in prison. In Krasnoyarsk, another member of the same party, Andrei Skovorodnikov, was found guilty of using his personal Web site to insult President Vladimir Putin. His sentence: six months in prison. I am the deputy editor of an independent magazine called Bolshoy Gorod, a Moscow biweekly that covers both urban life and national politics. The day after the verdicts, the editor and I were planning our first issue in the new year, an important one for us because we are launching a redesign. And we had a problem: The two verdicts were the most ominous political events in months, the definitive indication that Russia had entered another age of state terror. In the last five years, Putin's government has systematically eradicated a variety of political freedoms, turning back Russia's attempts to build a democracy. A report released on December 20, 2004 by Freedom House, the U.S. human rights organization that monitors and advocates political freedom around the world, downgraded Russia to not free status, making it the only country that year noted for its backward movement. Russia no longer has the usual tools of democracy: a free media; free elections; or an independent judiciary.


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