As prominent blogger and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Belarus consultant Ihar Losik marked his 300th day in pre-trial detention, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly renewed his call for Losik’s immediate release. Fly said, “Ihar Losik has been cruelly separated from his wife, his daughter, and his colleagues for far too long. Ihar must be freed from detention and allowed to rejoin his family. The Lukashenka government’s repressive campaign against independent journalists, including RFE/RL reporters and staff, must cease so they can continue their work to provide objective information to the people of Belarus.”
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Unprecedented crackdowns on reporters covering protests in Belarus and the obstruction of reporting on the war over Nagorno-Karabakh were among the factors that kept Eastern Europe and Central Asia at the bottom of the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). But the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said of all the somber developments in its latest ranking, released on April 20, the most disturbing for the future of press freedom in the region was the evolution in Russia, which the watchdog said followed “a political model involving ever greater repression of independent journalists and media.”
Belarusian lawmakers have approved a second reading of several amendments to legislation severely restricting civil rights and the free flow of information amid a crackdown on the country’s pro-democracy movement. The bills approved by members of the lower house on April 16 define a broad range of activities as “extremist,” providing additional ammunition for authorities to use draconian tactics to target and intimidate protesters and opposition forces challenging the official results of a presidential election last year that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term.
A journalist in Belarus may face criminal charges for an interview his media outlet published with opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in another sign of the government's crackdown on press freedom. Uladzimer Yanukevich, the chief editor of the independent Intex-press newspaper in the western city of Baranavichy, was questioned for 4 1/2 hours by police over the interview, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) said on April 22. According to BAZh, during questioning on April 21 Yanukevich was handed two administrative charges for violating the law on the distribution of "banned" information via the media and the Internet.
On April 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation that introduces the concepts of “a candidate who is an individual performing the functions of a foreign agent” and “a candidate affiliated with a person performing the functions of a foreign agent.” From now on, a candidate who, two years prior to an election and during the election campaign is either a member of the governing bodies or is a founder, manager or employee of a person included in the register of “foreign agent” foreign media, will be required to declare this status on signature petitions, ballots, and campaign materials. (Crimea.Realii/Current Time TV)
“Had a little too much Becherovka” -- Current Time TV’s Footage Vs. Footage program took a closer look at the reaction of the Russian State Media to allegations by Czech officials that draw a direct line between a 2014 explosion at an arms depot and the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU -- specifically, a division known as Unit 29155 that has been linked to assassination attempts and other subversive actions across Europe. The first reaction of most Russian media was indignation mixed with bewilderment. Prague's statements were termed nonsense, and a pretext for inciting Russophobia. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
The Leninsky District Court of Cheboksary, Chuvashia found freelance cameraman for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service project Idel.Realities Alexei Mironov guilty on an administrative charge of “violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding a rally,” and fined the equivalent of $132. Mironov was on an editorial assignment to provide live coverage of a January 23 pro-Navalny protest in Cheboksary. Police officers detained Mironov on March 5, holding him for four hours without providing any formal reason for being picked up. Following the court hearing, Mironov said he will appeal the decision. (Tatar-Bashkir Service/Idel.Realii)
The Russian newspaper Vedomosti reports that Russia’s Federal Protective Service has refused to issue accreditations to report at the State Duma to two journalists from Vedomosti and the newspaper Kommersant. One of them was also expelled from the reporting pool for Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma. The publication names only one of the affected journalists, deputy editor of the political section Maxim Ivanov. The name of the Kommersant journalist was not revealed, but from publications on the media’s site it appears that it may be the senior correspondent of the publication, Maria Makutina. (Russian Service)
Pakistani and international groups have condemned an attack on Pakistani journalist Absar Alam, who was shot by unknown assailants outside his home in Islamabad on April 20, and demanded that the perpetrators be punished. Alam is being treated at a nearby hospital for injuries that don't appear to be life-threatening. In a video shot from inside a vehicle and shared on social media on April 20, Alam said a bullet had hit him in the stomach. (Radio Mashaal/Gandhara)
Citing the protection of private information, Kazakh authorities are debating new amendments to laws on "personal data protection" and "information security." However, human rights activists say the amendments will result in total censorship, fearing that the state will force media outlets to remove information undesirable for the elite and officials. One of the proposed changes would make it possible to have one’s name, surname, and other personal data removed from publicly available sources if the data were collected without the consent of the owner. (Kazakh Service)
A request by journalist Georgy Markov (also known as Timur Khadzhibekov) to open a criminal case against the policemen who beat him at a protest rally on January 31 in St. Petersburg was declined. Markov was detained and beaten while working at a protest rally on January 31; despite wearing a helmet with the word "Press" written on it as well as an identification vest, police still used force against him. According to Markov, he was beaten with police batons and shocked with a taser. (Russian Service/Sever.Realii)
RFE/RL Russian Service project Siberia.Realities has obtained court documents that show that a court in the Russian city of Tomsk found the editor-in-chief of the Tomskaya Nedelya newspaper Vladimir Guba guilty under the article on disseminating false information and fined him the equivalent of $794 for an article that asserted that an order by the Governor of Tomsk Region, Sergei Zhvachkin, on the introduction of a high alert regime was not a normative legal act. The newspaper’s editorial board has in its possession an official response from the Russian Justice Ministry that the governor's order in fact has the status of an internal document. (Russian Service/Siberia.Realii)
A court in Elista ordered 40 hours of mandatory work for the editor-in-chief of the Sovremennaya Kalmykia newspaper, Valery Badmaev, who was detained for reposting information about rallies in support of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. Local media reports that the court saw in Badmaev's publication a call for an unsanctioned rally on April 21, although there were no mass events scheduled in Elista on that day. Commenting on the case Badmaev said “I was found guilty of organizing a rally, while a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed in court that there was no rally in Elista on that day.” (Russian Service/Caucasus.Realities)