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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reporters Without Borders Calls for Action

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As journalists who have all been held hostage, we are extremely concerned about the fate of our colleague Ali Astamirov, Agence France Presse correspondent in Chechnya and Ingushetia, who was abducted July 4 by a group of armed men in the village of Altievo, 3 kilometers from Nazran, the main city in Ingushetia, in front of fellow journalists.

We were taken hostage in Lebanon, the Philippines or Colombia, so we know the feeling of abandonment and isolation, the fear that we will never see our loved ones again, the constant uncertainty about what awaits us.

Aged 34, Chechen and the father of two children, Ali had been working for AFP for a year. Previously, he worked for a privately owned radio station in Grozny and, from 1998 to Oct. 1, 1999 (the date of the start of military operations), for the Chechen branch of the then-independent Russian television station NTV.

In the months prior to his abduction, he received anonymous threats and changed his place of residence out of concern for his security.

The investigators in charge of the case in Moscow and the Nazran prosecutor's office in Ingushetia have learned nothing of any significance. Three weeks after the kidnapping, Ali's family felt sure he was still alive, but today they are no longer so sure. If no one knows the identity of his abductors, one thing is nonetheless certain: A journalist who was covering a terrible war and its accompanying atrocities has today been silenced.

We call on Ali Astamirov's abductors to make themselves known and to release him as soon as possible. We also call on President Vladimir Putin to do everything possible to find Ali and obtain his release without putting his life in danger.

Roger Auque, journalist, hostage in Lebanon in 1987; Maryse Burgot, journalist, hostage in Jolo, the Philippines, in 2000; Scott Dalton, journalist, hostage in Colombia in 2003; Jean-Jacques Le Garrec, journalist, hostage in Jolo, the Philippines, in 2000; Jean-Paul Kauffmann, journalist, hostage in Lebanon from 1985 to 1988; Andreas Lorenz, journalist, hostage in Jolo, the Philippines, in 2003; Roland Madura, journalist, hostage in Jolo, the Philippines, in 2000; Ruth Morris, journalist, hostage in Colombia in 2003; Jean-Louis Normandin, journalist, hostage in Lebanon from 1986 to 1987; Philippe Rochot, journalist, hostage in Lebanon in 1986
-- Reporters Without Borders.

Kremlin Right

In response to "The Buzz Is About Yukos in Boston," an article by Simon Saradzhyan on Nov. 14.

George Soros is wrong when he stated that Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest by the Russian authorities is "political persecution" and exaggerates even more when he suggests that this is sufficient for Russia to be expelled from the G-8 industrialized countries.

Any oil-based economy, Russia included, is unstable and the governments of those economies have a choice whether to intervene and stabilize or be held mercy to market forces. With a company as large as Yukos in ownership and control of the key Russian strategic resource it is difficult to achieve stability when these parties are in opposition to each other.

It may well be that the Kremlin would like a say on how Russian assets may be controlled and disposed of, that this may no longer be business-to-business, and that the government has decided to opt for the Chinese route to drive forward the economy.

It is not unusual for governments to place controls on domestic business and to require some to have state permission. The United States has practiced this for many years, which is why Rupert Murdoch became a U.S. instead of a British citizen, to avoid such controls.

This new strength in the Kremlin will not be exercised for state-owned but state-led capitalism, bringing stability and certainty for domestic and foreign investors and it will be good for Russia's economy and, above all, its people.

Malcolm Bell
Economic History Department
London School of Economics

U.S. Tyranny

In response to "Global Eye," a column by Chris Floyd on Nov. 14.

I agree with Floyd that it is a great scandal that much of the public here in the United States remains so complacent in the face of such tyranny, but I am also aware that many of us here have not been silent -- and I myself have been speaking out as best I can for two years now.

Secondly, the tyranny is not merely unconstitutional and illegal under international law, it is fully illegal under U.S. criminal law as well:

The War Crimes Act of 1996 as amended by the Expanded War Crimes Act of 1997 makes it a federal felony for any U.S. citizen to commit a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, violate Articles 23, 25, 27 or 28 of the 1907 Hague IV Annex (laws and customs of war) or violate the International Convention Against Torture -- and the Bush administration is committing countless violations of that law by official policy.

Thirdly, except for a low-key mention in passing some months ago in The Miami Herald, no one in the mainstream press, either here in the United States or abroad, has reported those facts -- and I consider that a very great scandal indeed.

Charles Gittings
Oakland, California

Hidden Incentives

In response to "Study: UES Is Country's Worst Polluter," an article by Maria Danilova on Nov. 18.

As anybody involved in the sector will tell you, state policy regulating the tariffs of natural monopolies such as the railroads and UES provides no incentives for these organizations to cut their costs and become more efficient. This is because the policy dictates that if your costs are lowered, then the tariffs that you can charge your clients need to be lowered correspondingly, therefore making any attempt to increase profit margins by cutting costs impossible. The result of these policies is that companies actually try to increase costs, at least on paper, so that they can charge higher tariffs.

Although these policies fly in the face of liberal economic thinking, they could hide an advantage for Russia, which is so burdened by the unwieldiness of its natural monopolies.

The Moscow Times reported that the UES power grid is the single largest polluter in Russia. It is also known that production costs in industries that introduce strict environmental standards invariably go up. That means that under Russian regulations, natural monopolies that implement environmentally friendly policies, thereby increasing costs, could in theory use this as an argument to ask regulators to allow them to increase their tariffs.

Now that it has a good argument for pushing prices up, UES should see the advantage to investing in environmentally friendly technologies: They get a fatter bottom line and we get to breathe easier.

Saul Rosenberg
St. Petersburg

Unfounded Fears?

In response to "Bush and His 'Enemies of the People,'" a column by Matt Bivens on Nov. 17.

This article is interesting in its comparison of Bush's definition of "enemy combatant" and Stalin's "enemy of the people," but this definition only applies to the battlefield and deals with military law. While I understand the concerns, there is no military state in the United States and no president can pull just anyone off the street. I think Bivens has quite an unwarranted fear. It is only a very small portion of the U.S. population that fears those held in Guantanamo Bay will lead to an erosion of individuals' rights. There is very little change, just more aggressive tactics to provide security at the airports and giving a few more rights to federal investigators.

I think that the comparison made by Bivens is misinformed, although it is good to be aware of the need to safeguard human rights. The difference on the battlefield these days is that we have criminal organizations rather than entire countries to fight. There is a need for new definitions and we should not let fear keep us from debating and resolving such issues when criminals are seeking and sometimes actually obtaining devastating weapons or technology.

Ed Hamilton
Columbus, Ohio

Danger Exaggerated

In response to "All's Not So Quiet on the Eastern Front," a book review by Benjamin Poloff on Nov. 6.

I have just read the review of "Wild East: Stories from the Last Frontier," an anthology by Boris Fishman. It never ceases to amaze me the misconceptions foreigners hold regarding Russia.

I am a U.S. citizen living in California. I do business in Russia, have a Russian wife and a house in Russia, and have many friends as well as business partners in Russia. In both my business and personal contacts in Russia, I have been extended the utmost courtesy. My business dealings tend to take a little longer because of the language and cultural differences, but my Russian partners have performed exactly as agreed, in every case.

Regarding the perception of danger, I have traveled extensively in Russia and the CIS, and except for the "normal" precautions one would take anywhere to protect oneself against street crime, I have never felt myself to be seriously endangered. On the contrary, people, even strangers, have gone out of their way to assist me.

Maybe I am the exception, but I do not think so. Possibly foreigners like to spice up their stories about the East to add excitement when they return home.

I must assume that people write about Russia in an exaggerated way because that is what sells.

Who would buy a story about someone who travels to Russia (or anywhere), has a nice time, meets with courteous and friendly people, eats well and is never in danger?

Andrew Ogilvie
Modesto, California