OUR PEOPLE IN TROUBLE
RFE/RL’s Imprisoned Journalists
Four RFE/RL journalists remain behind bars – Ihar Losik, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, and Andrey Kuznechyk in Belarus and Vladyslav Yesypenko in Russia occupied-Crimea, where he is serving a six-year prison sentence.
Pressure on the journalists imprisoned in Belarus has intensified further with Aleh Hruzdzilovich now facing new trials and Ihar Losik facing the prospect of being treated as a state-designated “terrorist.”
Reporters Without Borders Publishes Portraits of Imprisoned Journalists in Belarus
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has unveiled portraits of journalists who are arbitrarily imprisoned in Belarus, including RFE/RL’s Aleh Hruzdzilovich, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Ihar Losik.
RSF cites a total of 32 media workers who are currently behind bars in Belarus.
Thirty-year old imprisoned blogger and RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik was recently reprimanded by prison officials for shaving badly. Two reprimands trigger automatic punishment: no meetings for a year, solitary confinement, no food parcels.
Losik also suffers from high blood pressure and his wife Darya is worried about his health. She posted on Instagram that Ihar has been placed on special watch for being "prone to suicide and mutilation" and "prone to extremism and other destructive actions."
Additionally, the Lukashenka regime added Losik to its terrorist watch registry on June 28, a move described by RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly as “an egregious abuse of the state’s authority” that “underlines the Lukashenka regime’s contempt for journalists who expose the truth.”
Losik was arrested on June 25, 2020 and charged with “preparation to violate public order” and “preparation for mass disorder.” He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on December 14, 2021. After his appeal was denied on June 1, 2022 Losik was transferred to the Navapolatsak hard labor colony.
Belarus Service journalist Aleh Hruzdzilovich, who is serving an 18-month sentence in a penal colony, now faces three new civil lawsuits. The municipal transport authority in Minsk is suing Hruzdzilovich for losses of revenue amounting to a total 56,979 Belarusian rubles (approximately $17,000), accusing him of “stopping municipal transport” in three different locations on three different days during the massive street protests he covered on assignment as a journalist for RFE/RL in the summer and fall of 2020.
The first of three trials, which Hruzdzilovich was not allowed to attend, began on July 15 in the Zavodski District Court of Minsk. According to Hruzdzilovich’s wife Maryana, the municipal transport authority stated that the fine of 5,980 rubles ($1,770) had already been paid by other persons and, together with the prosecutor, asked that this claim be considered fulfilled. A final decision is expected on August 25.
A second trial started on July 22 in the Moscow District Court, which preliminarily considered the municipal transport authority’s claim of 23,582 rubles ($7,000) against Hruzdzilovich. The final hearing is scheduled for August 9.
On July 25, the Frunzensky District Court of Minsk considered the third lawsuit against Hruzdzilovich. According to Hruzdzilovich’s wife, a similar case was brought against another defendant so the court decided to combine the cases. The next hearing is scheduled to take place on August 4.
Andrey Kuznechyk is serving his sentence at Mahileu prison. An appeal hearing is scheduled for August 12. Kuznechyk was sentenced to six years in a maximum-security prison on charges of “creating or participating in an extremist organization” on June 8, 2022.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Consumers of RFE/RL Content in Belarus Sentenced
In addition to targeting independent journalists and media outlets, the Lukashenka regime is now also criminalizing the consumption of independent media content. On June 13, Alena Zubrova, a history teacher in Navopolatsk, was arrested for reposting news from Radio Svaboda in May and sentenced on June 14 to 15 days in prison.
Also in Navopolatsk, Syarhei Badunov was detained on June 22 for subscribing to Radio Svaboda and charged with "dissemination of extremist materials." He was sentenced to 10 days in prison on June 24.
Media Situation in Tajikistan Rapidly Declines
At least seven Tajik journalists and bloggers have been detained in recent weeks, with some facing up to 15 years in prison on dubious charges of plotting to overthrow the government and participating in extremist organizations.
Some local experts see the wave of arrests as the authoritarian government’s attempt to control public opinion in the wake of Dushanbe’s bloody crackdown on protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan region.
International human rights groups have criticized Tajik President Emomali Rahmon over his contempt for independent media.
Russian Soldiers Targeted and Executed Media Workers in Ukraine, RSF Report Finds
A new investigative report from RSF reveals evidence that Russian forces have been targeting journalists in Ukraine since early on in the war. Evidence collected by RSF found that Reuters/BBC photojournalist Maks Levin and his friend and bodyguard Oleksiy Chernyshov were murdered in cold blood on March 13 in Kyiv, possibly after being interrogated and even tortured.
Ukraine’s Culture and Information Policy Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko stated on June 6 that at least 32 journalists have been killed in Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine, including RFE/RL journalist and producer Vira Hyrych.
THE KREMLIN’S CRACKDOWN ON INDEPENDENT MEDIA
The Kremlin’s war on the truth and independent media continues. In spite of the many restrictions, RFE/RL audiences remain at record levels in Russia, with independent media monitoring and rating agency Medialogiya ranking RFE/RL's Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, the second most cited digital news source in the Russian language in May. As RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly noted in June at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum —“People are willing to take great risks…to access the truth.”
The Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, on June 29 approved a bill that would allow it to define any person who is “under foreign influence" or receives financial assistance from abroad as a "foreign agent," a change making it easier for the state to target its domestic critics. The bill must still pass through parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, before it is signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
In 2017, the Russian government designated RFE/RL's Russian Service as a foreign agent, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services and Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. A total of 27 RFE/RL journalists, including 18 Russian nationals, have been designated as individual foreign agents.
As of June 27, Russian courts had levied over one billion rubles ($17.2 million as of July 10) in fines against RFE/RL since January 2021. Most of the fines relate to RFE/RL’s long-standing refusal to self-label content per Russia’s “foreign agent” regulations, but regulators have also issued 80 violations against RFE/RL for its refusal to take down reporting about high-level corruption in Russia.
On July 14, Vladimir Putin signed legislation which allows Russian officials to shut down and block foreign media organizations if they are found to be engaging in “hostile actions against Russian media abroad.” The law also means that officials can suspend or shut down news agencies if they are accused of being “disrespectful” to Russia or “aimed at discrediting” Russia’s army.