May 3 marks World Press Freedom Day. According to the latest World Press Freedom Index, published by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalism is under serious threat in almost three-quarters of the 180 countries and territories it surveys. Only 12 countries have respectable press-freedom environments -- the lowest number since 2013 when the current evaluation methodology was adopted.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Multiple detentions of journalists in Moscow following the unauthorized, April 21 protest in support of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny are prompting concerns that city police are using the Russian capital’s tens of thousands of surveillance cameras to intimidate the media. Officials previously have used footage from surveillance cameras to track down alleged participants in unsanctioned pro-Navalny rallies, but the technology this time appears to have been used to justify interrogations of journalists from Russian-language news outlets that question government policies. Also read: Journalists, Activists Under Pressure In Moscow After Navalny Rally.
The U.S. State Department says press freedom in Russia is under growing threat as authorities slap RFE/RL and other media organizations with restrictive “foreign agent” labels and fines. Speaking at a press briefing on April 29, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Russian government is increasingly “intolerant of outside perspectives” as it moves to quash any dissent in the country. The comments come as Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has hit RFE/RL’s Russian-language services with fines of nearly $1 million in recent months for hundreds of violations of the “foreign agent” law.
Grigory Yavlinsky, one of the founders of the Russian opposition party Yabloko and current head of its Federal Political Committee, spoke out in support of independent media in Russia, including RFE/RL. In an article titled “Incompatibility. Why there is no place for freedom of speech in Putin's system,” Yavlinksy notes that twenty years have passed since the Russian government seized the NTV channel from Russian business titan Vladimir Gusinsky and made it completely dependent on the authorities. “Today, in April 2021, after two decades of Putin’s rule, we can state that the free press in Russia has been almost completely destroyed,” writes Yavlinsky. He also notes that in recent weeks the authorities have exerted unprecedented pressure on the few remaining independent media in Russia, including multimillion-dollar fines against RFE/RL. (Russian Service)
An independent TV channel in Siberia is one of the few Russian media outlets that continues to report on jailed opposition figure Aleksei Navalny. The Krasnoyarsk Independent Regional Channel (TVK) has aired Navalny's anti-corruption investigations and covered protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government. But the channel, which also rebroadcasts Current Time documentaries, has paid a price for its independence: It's facing pressure from the authorities and has been removed from cable TV services. (Current Time TV)
New York-based Russian political activist Alexander Goldfarb has sued Russian state TV channels Perviy Kanal and RT over false accusations in the deadly polonium poisoning in Great Britain of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Goldfarb said “lies must not go unpunished. There is a lot of talk about how Russia is trying to undermine Western democracies with propaganda and fake news. This time the Kremlin masters of disinformation, posing as journalists, will have to answer for the lies. We have to prove that the defendants did not just broadcast a lie, but that the lie was malicious, that is, while passing it on, they knew they were lying.” (Russian Service)
A Moscow court has increased from one minute to two hours per day the amount of time that can be spent outside by an editor of a student magazine, who along with three colleagues is accused of endangering minors over a video related to rallies against opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's incarceration. Doxa magazine said on Telegram on April 28 that the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court decision to impose pretrial restrictions for Alla Gutnikova for two months, but eased the restrictions, ruling that she is allowed outside for two hours daily, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The court also allowed Gutnikova to move from her parents' apartment and stay at another address.
Moscow court fined Yelizaveta Loshak, a journalist of the Vonlitsa news agency, approximately $2,680 for covering a protest rally in support of Mikhail Svetov, a member of the Libertarian Party and chairman of the Civil Society movement, that took place in front of Russia’s Government House (a.k.a. the Moscow White House). Loshak had been charged with a repeat violation of the procedure for organizing or holding a rally. (in Russian Current Time TV)
The European Union has dismissed Russian authorities' labeling of Latvia-based independent news outlet Meduza as a "foreign agent" and urged Moscow to end its "systematic infringement" of basic rights and freedoms for the political opposition and other Russians. Russia's Justice Ministry announced the step -- which requires organizations to label themselves as "foreign agents" and subjects them to increased government scrutiny and regulation -- against the 7-year-old Meduza outlet a day earlier. "We reject the decision by the Russian authorities to include independent media outlet Meduza on the list of 'foreign agents,'" the EU's diplomatic service said in a statement on April 24.
Raimbek Matraimov, the controversial former deputy chief of the Kyrgyz Customs Service who was placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad, has withdrawn his libel lawsuit against RFE/RL, its former correspondent, and two other media outlets. Lawyer Akmat Alagushev told RFE/RL that a court in Bishkek ruled on April 27 that the case had been closed due to a move by Matraimov's lawyers to withdraw the lawsuit.
Hungarian state TV has run a series of reports attacking an Austrian journalist, accusing her of being provocative, amateur, and critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The reports have sparked international controversy, drawing condemnation from Austria's foreign minister and shining a light on an alleged campaign against independent media in Hungary.
Journalists in the restive southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan are demanding justice and accountability two days after unidentified gunmen shot dead a reporter in the provincial capital. The Balochistan Union of Journalists protested outside the provincial legislature in Quetta on April 26 and boycotted providing media coverage of the assembly's proceedings. The provincial media body is calling on the government to arrest what they claim were militants involved in the murder of Abdul Wahid Raisani, a reporter with the local Urdu-language Azadi newspaper.
Prosecutors have asked the Moscow City Court to hand down prison terms ranging between 7 and 16 years to five former police officers suspected in the illegal apprehension of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov in 2019. One of the defendants' lawyers, Aleksei Gubkin, said on April 27 that the prosecutor in the high-profile case asked the court to sentence the former chief of the Moscow police's illegal drugs department, Igor Lyakhovets, to 16 years, his ex-subordinates Maksim Umbetbayev, Roman Feofanov, and Akbar Segaliyev to 12 years, and Denis Konovalov to 7 years in prison. The trial is being held behind closed doors. Also read: Pretrial Detention Extended For Ivan Safronov, Russian Journalist Charged With High Treason.
A journalist who had to leave her native city of Kiselyovsk in the Siberian region of Kemerovo earlier this year after she was attacked says she has fled Russia fearing for her safety. Natalya Zubkova, the chief editor of the News of Kiselyovsk website, told RFE/RL on April 26 that she moved to an unspecified country a week ago after police and an investigator from Kiselyovsk visited her at her new residence in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg to question her as "a witness" in a criminal case. According to Zubkova, the case might be an another move in ongoing attempts by Kiselyovsk authorities to take her daughter from her in retaliation for her articles criticizing authorities in the Kemerovo region for the "illegal widening of coal-mining territories" in the region.
A Kazakh court has sentenced a blogger and journalist to one year of “restricted freedom” -- a parole-like limitation -- and 100 hours of forced labor on what the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called “trumped-up charges.” The court in the capital, Nur-Sultan, also banned Aigul Otepova on April 29 from conducting “public and political activities” for three years, including working in the media, after convicting her of participating in banned political groups. Otepova, who has denied the charges, said she plans to appeal the ruling.
Thousands of people have paid their last respects to Kyrgyz writer and journalist Beksultan Jakiev, who died at the age of 85 after a long unspecified illness on April 25. Prime Minister Ulukbek Maripov, Parliament Speaker Talant Mamytov, former President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and other officials attended the farewell ceremony on April 26 at Bishkek's Opera and Ballet Theater. President Sadyr Japarov's letter of condolence to the late writer’s relatives, friends, and colleagues was read aloud at the ceremony.
With journalists and journalism under greater threat than ever before in Afghanistan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) honors the sacrifice of four of its journalists who have died in Taliban-driven violence in the past three years. RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said, “Three years ago today, RFE/RL suffered a terrible loss in Afghanistan. Today we honor the memories of Maharram Durrani, Abadullah Hananzai, and Sabawoon Kakar. We remember their commitment to their colleagues and their passion for their work. We are committed to keeping their spirits alive by providing objective news and information for the Afghan people despite the challenges that lie ahead.” Also -- a video appreciation of Helmand correspondent Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, who was killed in November 2020: 'An Attack On Free Speech': Colleagues Remember Afghan RFE/RL Journalist Killed In Bombing