Controversial Chechen Web site closed

  • 2004-09-22
  • From wire reports
VILNIUS - Tiptoeing over what has been a dangerously controversial issue for Lithuania, state security officials took a bold step on Sept. 17 when they suspended the server of the Chechen pro-independence Web site

On Sept. 18 the Web site posted a Russian-language statement reading, "The server of the Kavkaz-Centr agency is temporarily unavailable as it has been blocked by the Lithuanian State Security Department. A final decision on the presence of the server within Lithuanian territory will be made after a court hearing."

Security Department spokesman Vytautas Makauskas told the Baltic News Service that agents were able to close the site by blocking some technical channels used by the Internet provider Elneta to transfer data.

Makauskas said an ethical board of journalists and publishers had helped security officials to determine whether materials "propagating terrorism and ethnic hatred were published," a step necessary to suspend the Web site's activities.

The State Defense Council decided on Sept. 17 that the site's activities did indeed proliferate terrorism and ethnic hatred and therefore should be terminated.

Also, officials summoned Elneta's director, Rimantas Pasys, to the department on Sept. 20.

So far no actions have been taken against the former Soviet-era dissident and political prisoner Viktoras Petkus for keeping the server in his Vilnius apartment, Makauskas said.

Moscow had already expressed indignation over a bulletin posted on the site claiming that pro-independence Chechen fighters' would pay $20 million to those who helped capture Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Lithuanian Ambassador in Moscow Rimantas Sidlauskas on Sept. 13 to "raise the matter of closing the Website of Chechen terrorists in Lithuania."

"The concern is that the public publication of information is from a Lithuania-based server [Elneta Internet provider]. Furthermore, the publication drew broad interest in the media," a representative of the State Security Department said.

Founded in 1999, the Kavkazcenter agency reports on events in Russia, the Chechen Republic of Ichkerya and Muslim countries with a bias for Chechen radicals fighting for independence from Russia.

This is the second time the department has tried to close the Lithuanian Website, the previous attempt 's whose case is still pending 's being last year.

Not everyone applauded the site's closing. The right-wing opposition Homeland Union-Conservatives faction expressed indignation over the decision.

"I think that the Lithuanian authorities imprudently made the decision on the Chechen Web site at the level of the State Defense Council. Such a step is a clear surrender to Russia's blackmail," said party leader Andrius Kubilius.

But Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ceslovas Jursenas, a member of the ruling Social Democratic coalition, disagreed.

"In my opinion, such a decision was needed. The things that were published went beyond the boundaries of freedom of press and freedom of speech. One must react to such things," Jursenas said.