Blatter praises another thug
By Andrew Jennings
Sunday 28 June, 2009
‘I am a prisoner in my own country,’ Natalia tells me, on what I hope is a safe phone line. ‘They will not let me leave.’
Sepp Blatter doesn’t have that problem. Last month with his imperial FIFA retinue he descended on Moldova for a few hours to praise President Vladimir Voronin – ignoring international outrage at the rascal’s dodgy vote-counting only three weeks earlier.
‘I wish to congratulate you and your party’s victory in the recent elections,’ insisted Blatter, handing over FIFA’s Presidential medal to Voronin.
Natalia Morar and her generation – she’s 25 – didn’t see it that way. When Voronin announced his Communist Party’s overwhelming victory on April 6 in their small nation, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, the opposition parties shouted ‘Fraud!’ and she and her friends cranked up their Twittering.
Within hours an astonishing 20,000 protestors were outside the country’s parliament building in the capital, Chisinau. When Voronin’s riot police had completed their work hundreds had been arrested and three young men had allegedly been tortured to death in the cells.
Natalia’s a distinguished journalist but being under house arrest missed the chance to confront Blatter. What did she think about the FIFA president’s visit? ‘I was surprised,’ Natalia told me, ‘everybody was shocked. We want to know why he came here. Why did he give this honour to our president? Other countries condemn what he is doing to our people.’
Curiously, Blatter’s press release didn’t mention giving a FIFA medal to Voronin. He couldn’t fail to know about Moldova’s dreadful human rights record – its been slammed by every reputable international body. Reporters without Frontiers ranks Moldova’s press freedoms 98th among 173 nations.
Natalia told me this week that she may be put on trial and face up to 15 years in jail for ‘inciting mass disorder.’
I met Natalia in Norway last year at a journalism conference. She told me about being deported from Russia the previous year for investigating Putin’s secret police using illegal funds to rig elections. Back home in Moldova she found the press were forbidden to reveal President Voronin’s personal fortune. And now they’ve taken away her passport to keep her out of the international spotlight.
Blatter arrived in Moldova from Kazakhstan where he was equally flattering about former Communist boss Nursultan Nazarbaye who has remained in power since 1991 by making life hard for opposition parties. Critical opponents can die young. Blatter praised him for his fight against corruption. Kazakhstan is rated 125th in world press freedom ranking.
Five years ago Blatter led his entourage on a vote-gathering tour of Central Asia, countries where people live in fear of poverty, organized crime, arbitrary arrest and torture. Blatter’s team saw none of that, reporting, ‘every day is a celebration of tolerance.’
Next month will bring back special memories for Blatter. His old friend Charles Taylor takes the stand on July 13 in The Hague when his trial for horrendous human rights abuses in Liberia continues. Ten years ago, when Taylor’s appalling activities were well known, Blatter visited him to beg for votes and accepted Liberia’s highest honour, The Humane Order of African Redemption. (See Front Page story and pictures)