The FINANCIAL — “Russian state is trying to take control over the International Federation of Journalists”, Zviad Poichkhua, IAGJ President told The FINANCIAL commenting recent decision of IFJ Executive Committee to grant membership to the organization from the breakaway region – Abkhazia, currently occupied by Russia.
IAGJ Management has learned that IFJ listed Abkhazia as a separate country on its official website www.ifj.org. By its recent decision, IFJ has breached its constitution which determines rules for accepting new members. The decision was “proudly” announced by IFJ Vice-President from Russia on Facebook.
A source at IFJ told The FINANCIAL that Russian union has initiated this controversial decision, and was seeking supporters during the last two years. It also tried to offer bribes to some members, the source told The FINANCIAL. “Recent decision may destroy IFJ as the structure”, Zviad Pochkhua commented.
Younes M’Jahed from Morocco is now heading the International Federation of Journalists.
The Facebook post of IFJ Vice-president from Russia was removed soon after IAGJ sent a protest letter.
У нас тут такая, маленькая с одной стороны, узкопрофессиональная, но большая – по факту, радость. Союз Журналистов…
Below is a copy of a letter sent to IFJ President by Mr. Pochkhua.
– IFJ president refused allegations made by IAGJ and asked to publish his official response sent by IFJ Secretariat. (see below)
In his letter to IAGJ President, Mr. Younes gave an example of members from partly recognized or unrecognized territories. Including Northern Cyprus, Northern Irland, Kurdistan, which in fact, were listed on the IFJ website according to the international practice. Northern Cyprus under CYPRUS, Kurdistan under IRAQ, Northern Irland under IRLAND. But in the case of Abkhazia, IFJ Executive Committee used a different model, by placing the breakaway region as a separate country. This is where Georgian union found political motivation. Russian interests can be traced in other circumstances as well.
– Chairman of Journalists Trade Union of Azerbaijan addressed IFJ President with the support of Georgian Union.
“Up today, the position of the IFJ has been evident and acceptable. However, its principles were violated in the case of Abkhazia (breakaway region of Georgia), recognizing it as an independent IFJ member. Therefore, we wish you to review this issue and use the same principles and place Abkhazian organization and Abkhazia itself within the category – Georgia. In the same way as IFJ lists organization from Cyprus, Kurdistan, North Ireland. Otherwise, it may set unacceptable tendencies”, the statement says.
Another letter sent to Mr. Younes by Zviad Pochkhua speaks about new challenges facing IFJ President.
See text under the letter of Zviad Pochkhua, IAGJ President, below:
July 21, 2020
To: Younes Mjahed, President
International Federation of Journalists
Cc: Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary
Members of Executive Committee
From: Zviad Pochkhua, President, Independent Association of Georgian Journalists
(IDP from Abkhazia since 1993)
Independent Association of Georgian Journalists has followed the decision of IFJ Executive Committee on granting membership to the organization from the breakaway region of Georgia. We are expressing grave concerns regarding the way how this decision was made and the role Russian state played in it.
Abkhazia is the breakaway region of Georgia, currently occupied by Russia. The Security Council of the United Nations, OSCE, Council of Europe and EU in all their resolutions recognize Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia and support its territorial integrity.
The Listing of Abkhazian region on IFJ website (ifj.org) among other countries, as the separated country from Georgia, was politically motivated action, if not mistake.
Announcing this news with the illustration of flags of Russian and separatist region on social media by IFJ Vice-President, was unethical, as well as the open support of separatism.
IFJ Executive Committee decision is also against its constitution which says that “The General Secretary shall advise all member unions of each membership application”.
Membership of the Abkhazian organization was not discussed with the Georgian union. We learned about the decision from the cynical facebook post of IFJ Vice-President from Russia.
IFJ Executive Committee decision is also against its constitution, namely charter 7, which says that “National organizations of journalists which are not journalists’ trade unions as defined in paragraph 4(a), but which are devoted to media freedom as defined in paragraph 4(b), may be admitted as associate members:”. According to 4(b), “applicant organization must be devoted to media freedom; that is, in accordance with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom in the collection and dissemination of information by all forms of media, and freedom to express opinion and comment, including the freedom to criticize and oppose governments, political and economic bodies whether public or private.”
Organization from Abkhazia is neither “national organization”, nor “democratic”. The current Abkhazian population can’t represent the nation of Abkhazia, without 60% of the population expelled from the region due to ethnic cleansing. United Nations General Assembly emphasizes “the importance of preserving the property rights of refugees and internally displaced persons from Abkhazia, Georgia, including victims of reported “ethnic cleansing”. Please refer to UN declarations.
As for democratic values: the above-mentioned organization does not accept membership of Georgian journalists from Abkhazia, having the status of IDPs (Internally Displaced Person), with simple political reasons, as in case of the repatriation of IDP’s. Abkhazian and Russian authorities fear that raising the number of Georgians may restore the demographic situation in Abkhazia, which can be ended by the replacement of local government by pro-Georgian authorities. Fairs of the Abkhazian union are similar.
It’s very sad to point out that the Russian Union representative at IFJ is trying to implement the Russian state policy of recognizing Abkhazia as an independent state. Russian is one of three countries (along with Syria and Venezuela) that recognized Abkhazia.
Russian officials openly publicize plans to integrate Abkhazia into Russia, as they did with Crimea. And now we expect that Russian union will continue proposing listing Crimea and Transnistria as the separated countries on IFJ website.
IFJ Executive Committee’s decision is destroying the credibility of IFJ as the independent organization, that respects international declared human rights and the major human rights institutions.
We believe that events that happened at IFJ may disconnect the majority of its members from the organization.
Because of the above-mentioned circumstances, on behalf of IAGJ, I ask the Executive Committee of IFJ to reconsider its decision, which breaches the constitution of IFJ.
We request to revoke this decision.
We ask you to react to this request as soon as possible, as it may deteriorate the situation in Abkhazia as well as the peace process.
Meanwhile, I would like to reconfirm the readiness of IAGJ to accept members from Abkhazia. We guarantee that their voice will be respected equally to others.
My previous letters to IFJ President and executive committee members remain unanswered.
I do hope that the current management of IFJ will do it’s best to restore its credibility.
Independent Association of Georgian Journalists
Copy of the letter sent by IFJ Secretariat to IAGJ
Independent Association of Georgian Journalists
17 Mtskheta Str., Stbilisi
13 July 2020
Greetings on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists. I trust you and colleagues in the leadership of IAGJ are all in good health and you coped well with the pandemic.
You are quite right – the IFJ Executive Committee meeting last Thursday has voted to admit the Union of Journalists Republics of Abkhazia as an associate member.
The IFJ Secretariat last January received an application for membership from UJRA which was dealt with by the Administrative Committee over many months. Further clarification was asked on some points in their constitution and when resolved, this was discussed again at the 26th June meeting of the Administrative Committee after which it recommended that UJRA fulfilled the criteria for membership as associate member.
This decision will be communicated to IFJ affiliates when the minutes of this meeting are distributed for information. The list of IJRA officials and their details will later appear in the website section devoted to current members.
Clause 7 of the IFJ constitution allows for journalists organisations that do not fulfil all the criteria relating to trade union activity and are devoted to media freedom to be admitted as associate members. However a new clause 8 agreed by the Angers Congress in 2016 compelled associate members to seek to fulfil the criteria to become a full member with three years, otherwise the Executive Committee should consider whether they should continue in membership.
We are well aware of the political situation in your region, but in considering application for membership the Executive Committee is solely concerned that the organisation seeking membership has a constitution and is engaged in activities consistent with the character and objects of the IFJ, namely that it is a representative, democratic trade union, “whose primary functions are to defend, maintain and advance (particularly by collective bargaining) the professional, ethical, moral and material rights of journalists.”
Among the negative criteria are that an applicant organisation should not include employers in their regular membership. Furthermore if the applicant is not a trade union as defined in the IFJ constitution but is devoted to media freedom it may be admitted as associate member.
During nearly a century the IFJ has been guided by these objectives and, whenever possible, sought to organise journalists and protect them as they are grouped in organisations of journalists and in some instances not necessarily within national states borders.
The history of the IFJ is peppered with such cases, and I can cite:
- The conflict in Ireland. This is a historical success stories where despite a partition and a war in Northern Ireland that lasted 30 years, our affiliate in the UK and Ireland managed to bring all journalists working within the UK national borders as well as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (formally a separate country) together within one single union affiliated to the IFJ;
- We accepted the union of journalists in Iraq Kurdistan as a separate union although the country remained in one piece despite many wars, the most recent being one of the bloodiest in the region involving the armies of many superpowers;
- We have in membership a union of journalists in Taiwan and we never took into account, when they applied for membership, that the country is not recognised by the UN. In May 2018, the IFJ held the biannual meeting of its Executive Committee in Taipei.
- We have also in membership for nearly 40 years an affiliate in Palestine, which currently has been upgraded from a “permanent observer” status to a “non-member observer State”. However, this upgrade in Palestine’s status at the United Nations does not necessarily equate full-fledged membership;
- We accepted last year a Syrian association of journalists based in France which includes journalists who oppose the regime and fled the war to take refuge in France. We have by the way also in membership the Syrian Journalists’ Union, representing journalists in war-torn Syria.
- As I write, we managed so far to maintain a single affiliate in Yemen despite six years of civil war, with members on both sides of the political and military divide.
- In Cyprus, we accepted into membership Basin Sen, the union of journalists in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country recognised internationally only by Turkey. Today our two affiliates, north and south of the divide, thanks to a massive effort of their leaders motivated by the IFJ, act in unison.
In every one of these cases, IFJ leaders were guided by the objectives of the founding fathers which have been from its launch to bring together a global collective of journalists trade unions as enunciated by its first president, George Bourdon: “Journalists throughout the world have sealed their brotherhood. Languages can be different, opinions can conflict and passion can unfold, but journalists have their own international … Journalists are united because they are journalists”. Today these lofty words continue to have a resonance every day in particular when we deal with journalists divided by so many conflicts that still rage the world over.
Only recently we worked very hard to bring together colleagues from our Ukrainian and Russian affiliates at a time when their members were under pressure to reflect the official line and rally around the flag and where politicians attempt to use such national mood to manipulate the flow of information or even silence journalists.
The IFJ launched many initiatives to help these member unions throughout a myriad of crisis and ensure they remain in close contact, fight for common objectives and ensure their actions to defend journalists and journalism are always embedded in principled values of solidarity.
We will continue to ensure that this solidarity take root and thrive even in the most unpropitious circumstances. I trust that you and your board help us in this endeavour. Should you need further clarification on anything please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Letter of IAGJ President to IFJ President
July 28, 2020
I hope that the leadership of IFJ and you coped well with the pandemic.
I’m glad to receive finally your email, as the previous one was sent from the secretariat. Wish you good health.
I suggest to focus on the decision of the Executive Committee rather than on The FINANCIAL article, which you can contact separately. But I can assure you that TF reports are always based on evidence and sources.
But again, please focus on the initial problem: placement of Abkhazia as a separate country.
I was shocked to read the Facebook post of your Vice-President, which in fact was forwarded me by Abkhazian friends.
I’m glad that Shafir deleted this cynical post, but we keep this ‘historical” screenshot showing Russian and occupied Abkhazian flags with Shafir’s provocative post. By the way, in English, he says that the Republic of Abkhazia was accepted as the FULL member. Russian style fake news.
I can understand that you might be far from the details of the Russian occupation of Abkhazia, similarly as I’m not the expert of Western Sahara Issues.
But the difference between us is that you represent the largest union of journalists, today. You have a responsibility to keep the balance, be impartial, free of political interests, and protect credibility of IFJ, which in fact is the collective achievement of journalists worldwide.
As the President of IFJ you should know that Russia and Georgia has existing conflict and that Russias state policy is the recognition of occupied territories as the separate countries.
Russia spends millions on keeping bots online, distributing fake news on Abkhazia. And you understand better than me why membership of Abkhazian organization was lobbied by russian union. Russia and venezuela are the only countries that recognize Abkhazia with Russia’s military bases in it as a separate country.
By the way, Morrocco never supported Russia.
But let’s leave politics.
Can you confirm that all members of EC were informed that Abkhazia is occupied territory by Russia?
That 60% of its population, mainly Georgians (including thousands of journalists) was expelled due to ethnic cleansing?
Do you know that the Abkhazian union does not accept members who are Georgians from Abkhazia?
Do you still believe that mannequin union backed by russian state qualifies for IFJ membership?
We are living in a historic period, times of fake news, the dominance of the state, and politics in media.
It’s a very big challenge for you as the President. As there are very big chances that IFJ will lose its members during your Presidency.
I still hope that we will manage to overcome this challenge together, by respecting each other, respecting our profession, our countries.
Just to start let’s help us to revoke this decision. let’s start a discussion about our claims. You can’t ignore the reality and let IFJ live in Russian illusion.
With respects to you as the current President of IFJ,
Looking forward to hearing fair news from you,
President of Independent Association of Georgian Journalists
Victim of Russo-Georgia War in Abkhazia.