WASHINGTON - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists have been targeted in hostile incidents in at least 10 countries in 2017, in what the company called “relentless pressure” on its journalistic mission.
Speaking on World Press Freedom Day, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said that "today we celebrate the courage of our journalists, who work under relentless pressure." Kent continued, "Attacks against them are attacks on the universal value of press freedom."
The actions targeting RFE/RL are as diverse as the environments in which its reporters work, but reflect a common intent to thwart independent media. A court in Simferopol today adjourned for the third time the trial of Crimean journalist Mykola Semena, who is facing separatist charges for an opinion piece he wrote opposing Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Also today, the Azerbaijani government continued to press for a court-approved ban on RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service website for content that "poses a threat" to Azerbaijan's national security.
In other cases this year, an RFE/RL reporter in Belarus was arrested for covering mass protests, and journalists were physically assaulted while on assignment in Russia, Armenia, and Macedonia. Iranian officials have directly threatened RFE/RL journalists, while in Uzbekistan, authorities have arrested the family members of RFE/RL journalists and subjected them to intimidation and threats. Turkmen contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, sentenced to three years in prison in August 2015 on fabricated charges, remains behind bars. In Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL faces two defamation suits, after its Kyrgyz Service covered statements made by a representative of Kyrgyzstan's opposition at a widely reported press conference.
The incidents come amidst what the Committee to Protect Journalists has called "the most dangerous and deadly time for journalists ever documented."