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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Date: Sat, 27 Oct 2001
From: laurabelin@excite.com (Laura Belin)
Subject: war or anti-terrorist operation?

Will Englund's piece in the Baltimore Sun on whether a military campaign involving 80,000 Russian troops can legitimately be called an anti-terrorist operation (JRL 5510) raises a very important issue for Russian journalists.

In the last two years several Russian media outlets that published or broadcast interviews with Chechen leaders have received official warnings from the Ministry for the Press, Television and Radio Broadcasting and Mass Communications. Those warnings are serious, because receiving more than one in a year could conceivably be used to justify closing down the offending media outlet. In most cases the ministry has cited the 1997 federal law on fighting terrorism when issuing these warnings.

The March issue of the monthly journal Zakon i praktika Mass-Media, published by the Moscow Media Law and Policy Institute, contained a valuable commentary discussing whether there is any solid legal foundation for the warnings issued to media that interview Chechen leaders. If any JRL readers who speak Russian are interested in this issue, I highly recommend that they read the commentary, which can be found at:


I'll just summarize some of the important points raised by the institute's legal experts (this is my translation, not an official translation of the laws). Article 15 of the law on fighting terrorism prohibits the dissemination of information "serving as propaganda or justification of terrorism and extremism." But while Russian officials have consistently called Chechen leaders "terrorists" and the military campaign an "anti-terrorist operation," legal experts say there are serious doubts as to whether the 1997 law on terrorism applies to the current conflict.

Article 205 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as "setting off explosions, committing arson or other actions putting people's lives in danger, causing significant property damage or other consequences posing public danger, and also threats to commit the above actions." For the most part, what the Chechen rebel fighters are doing would not fall under the legal definition of terrorism--other articles of the Criminal Code (murder, kidnapping, sabotage, banditry) would more likely apply to the Chechens. So it's not at all clear that Article 15 of the law on fighting terrorism can be used to try to suppress interviews with Aslan Maskhadov and other Chechen leaders.

Another point: article 3 of the law on fighting terrorism contains a specific definition of a "zone of anti-terrorist operation," and its wording clearly indicates that such a zone (which brings with it special limits on the media) is envisioned as encompassing a relatively small area. That raises more questions about whether the military campaign can legitimately be called an anti-terrorist operation.

The legal experts raise another technical point related to the wording of articles 14 and 15 of the law on fighting terrorism. JRL readers who are especially interested should read the entire commentary. The upshot is that the war that's been going on in Chechnya for two years now doesn't appear to fall under the legal definition of an anti-terrorist operation.

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