WASHINGTON -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President Thomas Kent said that RFE/RL journalists “face physical attack, threats to themselves and their relatives, detention and imprisonment, and unrelenting assault from government and extremist media” at a joint briefing yesterday of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the House Freedom of the Press Caucus.
Kent welcomed the re-establishment of the caucus, a bi-partisan initiative co-chaired by Reps. Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), which comes against the backdrop of increasing attacks against journalists reporting on corruption and human rights abuses in RFE/RL’s target region. To illustrate the threats he highlighted several current cases, including a Russian court’s conviction of Crimea reporter Mykola Semena on politically motivated “separatism” charges; the detention of contributor Stanislav Aseyev by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region; and a sustained Kremlin-sponsored campaign to portray RFE/RL journalists in Russia as foreign agents.
Kent pointed out that the rising threats are a response to content “our audience obviously wants,” noting that visits to the company’s websites have increased by 13 percent over 2016, and that its videos have been viewed 380 million times on YouTube alone so far in 2017.
In introductory comments, Chabot pledged his support and that of House colleagues “for a free and independent press, both in Eastern Europe and in Russia.” Schiff, a co-chairman of the original caucus in 2006 with then-Rep. Mike Pence, said from the podium that “…too many journalists are jailed for reporting the truth and telling stories that the powerful and the violent would rather keep in the shadows,” specifically noting the plight of Turkmen journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev.
Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Echo of Moscow Washington correspondent Karina Orlova, and VOA Director Amanda Bennett also participated in the briefing.