WASHINGTON - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists have come under severe pressure in recent weeks, as local authorities clamp down on the right of RFE/RL reporters to work legally and safely.
In Tajikistan, which faces a presidential election on Sunday (October 11) in which entrenched President Emomali Rahmon is expected to sail to a sixth consecutive term, RFE/RL journalists have long been subject to an opaque and arbitrary accreditation process intended to cripple the ability of its Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, to independently report the news. Ramping up the pressure with the approach of the election, the country’s Central Election Commission instituted an additional, separate layer of accreditations aimed at keeping RFE/RL reporters from outside the country from covering the vote.
In Kyrgyzstan, several RFE/RL journalists were attacked by both police and protesters as they were reporting live from protests in the capital, Bishkek, and cities of Talas and Osh following flawed parliamentary elections on October 4 that have already been annulled by that country’s Central Election Commission. These most recent attacks follow continuing harassment and threats against RFE/RL journalists involved in reporting groundbreaking investigations into a massive money-laundering operation facilitated by a powerful former Kyrgyz customs official, Raimbek Matraimov, and his family.
The accreditations of RFE/RL journalists in Belarus, along with those of all other reporters working for foreign mass media in the country, were canceled by government decree on October 2, as Belarus approached the two-month mark of daily protests against the results of a presidential election on August 9 widely seen as rigged in favor of six-term incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka. This action follows a months-long campaign of harassment, violence, and censorship against RFE/RL in the country. Several RFE/RL reporters have been forcibly detained while on assignment, and a blogger and social-media consultant has spent more than 100 days behind bars.
An RFE/RL reporter in Russia was detained in Moscow on October 7 while covering an anti-homophobia action by punk protest group Pussy Riot, timed to coincide with the 68th birthday of President Vladimir Putin. The journalist’s reporting equipment was confiscated, and he was accused of violating a series of regulations on mass rallies and COVID-19 prevention. The detention comes in the wake of efforts by Russian authorities to tighten restrictions on news media it has designated as “foreign agents” -- all funded by the U.S. Congress -- that have been criticized by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“These are clear attempts to stifle a free press,” said RFE/RL Acting President and Editor in Chief Daisy Sindelar. “These authoritarian actions -- aimed at intimidating our journalists and denying our audiences of the truthful reporting they so clearly need -- are reprehensible. Our journalists will not be deterred from their essential reporting work.”
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 38 million people in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 3.6 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2019. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.