Russia’s government is trying to drive RFE/RL and its live coverage of news – like anti-corruption protests – out of the country. Where will Russians get real reporting on what is happening in Russia if RFE/RL and other independent media are silenced?
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
The top two members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 24 called for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including blogger and RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik, and pledged their support for the pro-democracy movement in the country. “We will continue to support the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations until the illegitimate [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka steps down, all political prisoners -- including RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik -- are released and new free and fair elections are held,” Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said in a statement.
A court has extended the pretrial detention of Ihar Losik, a popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant jailed in Belarus since last June on charges his supporters say are trumped up. The blogger's wife, Darya Losik, told RFE/RL on March 22 that her husband's pretrial detention had been prolonged until May 25. "We have just learned about the extension of his time in custody. Unfortunately, I do not know if it’s somehow linked with new charges. But we were told that he will spend at least two more months behind bars," Darya Losik said. Also read: UN special rapporteur Mary Lawlor denounces “increasing crackdown” on Belarus rights activists.
Another member of the Polish community in Belarus has been detained by police amid rising tensions between Warsaw and Minsk. Reports said Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist and a member of the Association of Poles in Belarus, was detained in Hrodna early on March 25, two days after its leader, Andzelika Borys, was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail. "This morning, Andrzej Poczobut...was detained in Hrodna; a righteous and principled man, who has been fighting for the rights of Poles in Belarus for many years and has been repeatedly repressed by the Lukashenka regime," the head of the prime minister's office, Michal Dworczyk, wrote on Twitter. Also read -- dozens detained as Belarusians take to streets in new wave of protests against Lukashenka.
As Iranians prepare to celebrate Norouz, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Iran’s government to grant pardons to the 21 journalists and citizen-journalists it says are “unjustly” imprisoned in the country. The 21 men and women, whose “only crime was to do their duty to report the facts,” are preparing to spend the Persian New Year celebration on March 21 behind bars, instead of at home with their families, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on March 18. No “security” detainees – the term used by Iranian authorities for prisoners of conscience, including journalists – have never been granted traditional Norouz pardons, according to RSF.
Police in Pakistan on March 20 confirmed that they have opened a probe into the killing of a journalist in southern Sindh Province, which comes after the Committee to Protect Journalists demanded a “credible investigation.” Ajay Lalwani, 31, a reporter for a local television station and an Urdu language newspaper, was shot multiple times by an unknown gunman while having his hair cut at a barber shop on March 18, said Ashiq Mirani, the area police chief. Lalwani died later that day in a hospital, Mirani said. (Gandhara)
The United States and European Union have reiterated their condemnation of Russia's increasing repression of independent media, including RFE/RL. Courtney Austrian, the U.S. charge d' affaires to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on March 18 that Russia's new requirements for outlets branded "foreign media agents" were in some cases technically impossible and were being "used against entities and individuals associated, sometimes only tangentially, with U.S. Agency for Global Media, or USAGM, funded programming in Russia."
Police in the city of Samarkand said they had launched an investigation into claims of death threats against Anvar Mustafokulov, a local journalist for the online publication Kun.uz, who tried to report on a local travel agency that sold airfares for flights to Russia by economic migrants at inflated prices. All this is happening at a time when President Shavkat Mirziyoyev called on journalists and bloggers to objectively cover the situation in the country and not to be afraid to ask tough questions and criticize those responsible for the problems. (Uzbek Service)
On March 25, Chechnya’s Supreme Court continued to hear arguments in an appeals case that has already attracted attention from Russian federal media and experts -- Yekaterinburg’s URA.RU news agency is challenging a decision by Chechnya’s Urus-Martan court, which awarded former prosecutor Murat Zalzayev about $196,000 in compensation for moral damages in connection with a story published by URA.RU about a car accident that resulted in the death of two people. If the award ruling is upheld, it will become one of the largest compensation awards in Russian history for claims against a media outlet for the protection of honor and dignity. (Russian Service/Kavkaz.Realii)
The newspaper Kommersant reports that Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has proposed that a passport number, address, phone number and e-mail address be collected when registering new users on social networks and instant messenger applications. According to the draft proposal, users will be able to choose whether to provide the information through their own social media platforms or through Roskomnadzor’s unified information system. Consent to collect the data will be required of all new users under the proposal. (Russian Service)
A March 23 statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Kazakh authorities to review amendments to the law on accrediting correspondents to ensure that the new rules do not restrict freedom of expression. “These rules can prevent journalists from asking uncomfortable questions for the authorities, which deeply contradicts the very concept of a free press,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia coordinator. (Kazakh Service)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on French authorities to protect an exiled Azerbaijani video blogger who was stabbed more than 10 times in an attack in France 10 days ago and later received a threatening text message on his phone. Mahammad Mirzali, who has lived as a refugee in France since 2016, was beaten and stabbed on March 14 by a group of men while walking in the western city of Nantes -- the latest incident targeting the blogger or his family in what the Paris-based media freedom watchdog on March 24 called attempts to “silence” the blogger. Mirzali had to undergo an operation that lasted “more than six hours,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement, adding that “the Azerbaijani regime is exporting its persecution of freedom of expression to France and to Europe.”