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UKRAINIAN COURT TO RECONSIDER FORMER PREMIER'S IMMUNITY. Ukraine's Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider the lifting of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko's parliamentary immunity, AP reported on 8 January, quoting Lazarenko's lawyer. Lazarenko has unsuccessfully appealed to district and appellate courts in Kyiv to restore his immunity, lifted by the Verkhovna Rada in 1999 in connection with embezzlement charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1999) and in 2002 following accusations of involvement in contract killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2002). Lazarenko is jailed in the United States pending the outcome of a trial on money-laundering charges. AM
UKRAINIAN AIR CRASH IN IRAN REMAINS UNEXPLAINED. A Ukrainian commission probing the crash of an Antonov 140 passenger plane in Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002) was unable to determine the cause of the accident before a government-imposed 7 January deadline, AP reported on 8 January, quoting a transportation official. Ukrainian experts have excluded a technical malfunction but are still working to determine if errors by Ukrainian pilots, Iranian air-traffic controllers, or a combination of the two caused the crash. No date has been set for the final report. AM
COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS FOR MORE MONITORING OF FREE EXPRESSION. Serious problems hamper freedom of expression in Europe, including growing media concentration, attacks against journalists, and legal harassment of the press, according to the Council of Europe's annual report on freedom of expression in European media, which was released on 13 December. The report was written by the Council of Europe's general rapporteur on the media, Finnish parliamentarian Tytti Isohookana-Asunmaa, who was appointed in 2001 to survey free expression in 24 European countries. In some Central and Eastern European countries, the report says, "a very small number of companies now predominantly own the printed press," many television and radio outlets are owned by the same company, and "access to digital television also tends to be highly concentrated." Violence against journalists in Armenia, Georgia, and Ukraine "continues to be a way of intimidating journalists or of settling scores between rival political and economic groups," the report continues. And in most countries of the former USSR, the press is often harassed through massive court-imposed fines. The report urges the council to "continue to monitor and make public its findings on freedom of expression and to put all its weight behind the active defense of its basic standards and principles." The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will consider the report on 28 January. See http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=http%3A%2F%2Fassembly.coe.int%2 FDocuments%2FWorkingDocs%2FDoc02%2FEDOC9640.htm (IFEX Communique, 1-7 January)
JUDGE PROTESTS CANCELLATION OF KUCHMA PROBES. Kyiv Court of Appeals judge Yuriy Vasylenko told journalists on 28 December that a Supreme Court ruling canceling his decision to open criminal investigations against President Leonid Kuchma violates the constitution and criminal-procedure legislation in the country, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 28 December. In October, Vasylenko opened a criminal case against Kuchma in connection with charges by opposition lawmakers that he violated 11 articles of the Criminal Code, including his alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December)