Advancing a Free Society

Freedom of the Press, Russian Style

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to negative characterizations of Russia as a mafia state in the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables by claiming the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for sexual assault in Sweden demonstrates the United States isn’t as democratic as we pretend to be.  President Medvedev’s office suggested Julian Assange be considered for the Nobel Prize.

That the government of Russia is accusing the U.S. of infringing freedom of the press sounds like an Onion article.  Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia in the bottom 15% of the world in terms of press freedom; the International Press Institute rated Russia the most dangerous European country in which to be a journalist.  Amnesty International accuses the Russian government of violently dispersing demonstrations by political opposition.  The Committee to Protect Journalists considers Russia the third most dangerous country in the world.  Twenty journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000.  They are routinely subject to violence, as the brutal beating of Oleg Kashin in November sadly attests.

The Putin interview is dripping with self-righteousness about the failings of the American political system – he even condescends to explain to us the corruption of our electoral college.  He should not be allowed to make such scurrilous allegations unchallenged.  But America’s best defense against the enemies of freedom like Vladimir Putin is that our government withstands day in and day out the assaults of the world’s most vigorous and well-protected journalists.

The easiest test would be to ask anyone what would happen to a Russian newspaper that published a quarter million classified government documents, or the reporters who covered the contents of the leaks.  We all know the answer; it is written in the sad roll call of Russian journalists who have been killed in the past decade: Abdulmalik Akhmedilov, Natalya Estemirova, Anastasiya Baburova, Telman (Abdulla) Alishayev, Magomed Yevloyev, Ivan Safronov, Maksim Maksimov, Anna Politkovskaya, Vagif Kochetkov, Magomedzagid Varisov, Pavel Makeev, Paul Klebnikov, Adlan Khasanov, Aleksei Sidorov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Roddy Scott, Valery Ivanov, Natalya Skryl, Eduard Markevich, Igor Domnikov, Aleksandr Yefremov, Vladimir Yatsina.