Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor will serve RFE/RL 130 more violation protocols beginning on April 16 – bringing the total number of violations charged by Roskomnadzor to 520, and the anticipated total amount of fines assessed to $2.3 million. Also - Russia Keeps The Pressure On To Push RFE/RL Out Of The Country.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
An RFE/RL freelance correspondent arrested in Ukraine's Russia-annexed Crimea has told a court he was tortured with electric shocks, beaten, and threatened with death unless he "confessed" to spying on behalf of Ukraine. Vladyslav Yesypenko's lawyer on April 6 said his client testified during a closed-door court hearing that the torture lasted two days after his arrest in March on what the defense calls false charges. On Wednesday, April 7, Yesypenko was reportedly once again taken out for investigative actions without an independent lawyer present.
RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Service project Idel.Realities correspondent Darya Komarova is on trial, charged with “participating in an unauthorized rally” on January 23 in Cheboksary, Chuvashia. She is accused of taking part in the rally, while she was in fact on assignment to cover the protests; she has also been charged for covering protests on January 31, and in August 2020. Said RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, “The rationale offered by Russian authorities for violating Komarova’s right to report about local news events is both laughable and frightening. The Kremlin is actively deciding what media it will allow its people to see, hear, or watch.” (Tatar-Bashkir/Idel Realii)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed his support for U.S. international media amid concerns over Russian efforts to shut down and muzzle RFE/RL under its controversial “foreign agent” law. Blinken met on April 6 with the acting head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Kelu Chao, “to discuss the vital role that free and independent media play in the preservation and promotion of democratic principles worldwide,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Amnesty International says some measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic have aggravated existing patterns of abuses and inequalities in Europe and Central Asia, where a number of governments used the crisis “as a smokescreen for power grabs, clampdowns on freedoms, and a pretext to ignore human rights obligations.” Government responses to COVID-19 “exposed the human cost of social exclusion, inequality, and state overreach,” the London-based watchdog said in its annual report released on April 7. According to the report, close to half of all countries in the region have imposed states of emergency related to COVID-19, with governments restricting rights such as freedom of movement, expression, and peaceful assembly.
Vitaly Mansky, documentary filmmaker, founder of the “Artdocfest” film festival, and host of the Current Time TV program “Real Cinema,” was attacked outside of Moscow’s Oktyabr cinema, where the festival was underway, by activists of the pro-Kremlin SERB movement. According to festival representatives, SERB activists first tried to get into the press hall, but were not allowed. They then waited for Mansky and asked him for a comment, when he agreed, they began to insult him and attacked him. Festival audience members intervened and drove the attackers away. Mansky is fine and unharmed. (Russian Service)
RFE/RL’s Russian Service spoke with “Novaya Gazeta” deputy editor Kirill Martynov and “Moskovsky Komsomolets” TV columnist Aleksandr Melman about the goals and effectiveness of Russian propaganda. Martynov compared current efforts to Soviet propaganda - “how again the main problem of a typical Russian citizen is not pensions, not medicine, not the environment and not even elections, but the story of how hostile whirlwinds are blowing over us.” According to Martynov, it worked back then and is apparently working now; TV audiences are told that “everyone who is dissatisfied with something in Russia is declared to be an accomplice of those very winds.” (Russian Service)
In the latest of a series of legal actions against independent journalists in Belarus, Current Time’s Minsk correspondent Raman Vasyukovich has been fined 580 Belarusian rubles (about $220) for allegedly seeking to distribute an “extremist” book, Belarusian Donbas by Belsat TV journalists Ihar Ilyash and Katsyaryna Andreyeva. The book was declared “extremist” in March 2021, three months after Vasyukovich had two copies taken from him while trying to enter Belarus at the Minsk airport. Vasyukovich told Current Time's April 7 Evening news show, “I don't acknowledge my guilt because I didn't intend to distribute anything." Adding that “not a single word of mine was heard,” journalist told RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service that he will appeal the court decision.
Following protests that forced veteran Russian state TV journalist and commentator Vladimir Pozner to cut short a visit to Georgia on March 31, Pozner said he plans to return to the country despite the recent negative experience. Pozner, who called himself an “honorary Kakhetian” [Kakheti - a region in Georgia], described what happened to him as part of a “desperate political struggle” inside Georgia. “The opposition used my visit to arrange a kind of - I don’t know what to call it - a sabbath or something,” -- said Pozner. (Ekho Kavkaza)
Kyrgyz opposition representatives have complained to the country’s Central Election Commission about state-run TV channels which, according to the opposition, are using similar language to praise the upcoming April 11 constitutional referendum, initiated by president Sadyr Japarov, and criticise referendum’s opponents. In some instances, opponents of the new constitution are being accused of lacking respect for the nation’s values. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
As of April 1, schools in Uzbekistan have introduced a new faculty position -- “spiritual propagandist,” and journalists and writers union members are being recruited to fill these positions. According to a March 26 presidential decree, one of the tasks assigned to “spiritual propagandists” is “to strengthen the ideological immunity of the younger generation from ideological and information attacks,” but school administrators have not been told what a writer or a journalist will be expected to do in the job. (Uzbek Service)
Azeri journalist Afgan Mukhtarli wrote on his Facebook account that, as of April 6, he was again in Tbilisi, Georgia. In May 2017, Mukhtarli disappeared in Tbilisi, where he was living in exile, and reemerged two days later at a detention center in Azerbaijan, where he was sentenced to 6 years in prison; after being released by the Azeri government in March 2020, Mukhtarli went to Germany. Mukhtarli’s lawyer said his client had been summoned by the Georgian prosecutor's office for an interrogation on April 8, and that Mukhtarli’s return to Georgia was related to an investigation into his abduction. Georgian authorities have denied any involvement in the abduction of Mukhtarli and cooperation with Azerbaijani special services. (Ekho Kavkaza)
Holding signs reading “Stop police arbitrariness!” and “Stop beating journalists!,” three correspondents from Kazakh TV channels KTK, “Astana,” and “31 Channel” held a protest in front of the police department building in the city of Shymkent to demand an end to pressure on journalists. The television correspondents were joined by nearly two dozen colleagues. According to the journalists, police on April 4 interfered with their ability to report on a spontaneous protest by residents of the village of Altyntobe near Shymkent, threatening and physically harassing them. (Kazakh Service)
Two journalists with the website Effect.Uz are wanted by Uzbek police, following an incident in January 2021 when they entered a judge’s chambers to demand that they be allowed to film their colleague’s trial. The prosecutor general’s office said the journalists did not appear for questioning regarding criminal charges brought against them, and charged them in absentia with “Resistance to Authority or Person Fulfilling Civil Duty,” and “Interference in Investigation or Consideration of Cases in Court.” The journalists deny the allegations. (Uzbek Service)