The Moscow bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and its general director, Andrey Shary, have today filed their case with the European Court of Human Rights, challenging Russia’s use of “foreign agent” laws that have resulted in millions of dollars of fines being imposed on RFE/RL and Mr. Shary since January 2021. RFE/RL and Mr. Shary argue that Russia’s actions violate the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that they will suffer irreversible harms if the Court does not act quickly.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
RFERL President Jamie Fly wrote a letter to RFE/RL Belarus Service social media consultant Ihar Losik, who has been in pre-trial detention since June 25, 2020 on accusations that he used his popular Telegram channel to “prepare to disrupt public order” ahead of the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, and is today marking his 29th birthday behind bars. “We all wish you the best day possible on your birthday. You remain in our thoughts and our prayers. We are engaging governments and others to try to facilitate your release. We look forward to the day when you can return to your family and resume your work with your colleagues. Your contributions to your country’s future are not finished. We hope that you will celebrate your birthday next year with Darya and Paulina. Your bravery continues to inspire all of us across RFE/RL,” wrote Fly. (Belarus Service)
The journalists of RFE/RL’s Current Time team honored the legacy of the creative trio behind the digital network’s “Unknown Belarus” program with the debut of the posthumously-completed film “Volunteers” on May 14, one year after Vladimir Mikhailovski, Maksim Gavrilenko, and Lyubov Zemtsova were fatally injured in a car crash while returning from a recording session.
The May 18 shutdown of Belarus’ largest independent news site, Tut.by by Belarus authorities has left other independent Belarusian journalists wondering which media group will be targeted next. A regular source of critical reporting on the government, Tut.by faces criminal charges of large-scale tax evasion from Belarus’ State Control Committee, the government’s financial auditors, for having allegedly received unjustified tax breaks as a tenant of Minsk’s Hi-Tech Park. On May 19, the portal reported that eight Tut.by employees, including the site’s editor-in-chief, Marina Zolatava, and Tut.by Director Lyudmila Chekina, remain in custody after police searches of some of their residences. At least 14 employees were reported detained on May 18. Also read -- EU Slams Belarus For Shutting Independent News Site.
A coalition of rights groups says 17 activists and reporters have been killed in Afghanistan since September, underscoring the growing dangers to civil society and independent media as the country faces increasing violence and uncertainty. According to the Afghan Human Rights Defenders Committee, nine of those deaths came in the first five months of 2021. Meanwhile, more than 200 human rights defenders and journalists reported receiving serious threats since September 2020, the group said.
The European Union has called on Russia to repeal its controversial "foreign agent" law, which has been used to target a growing number of Russian-language media outlets, including Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty. The call, made on May 17 by a spokesman for EU foreign-affairs chief Josep Borrell, comes as Russian authorities both expand their targets of the 9-year-old law, as well their enforcement of it. Last week, court bailiffs moved to begin seizing property from RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, requesting a list of equipment that potentially could be seized. Bailiffs also obtained a court order freezing the Moscow bank accounts used by RFE/RL.
In a 3rd and final reading, the Russian State Duma approved a bill that will make journalists bear full responsibility for the cited information of other media outlets, if their chief editors cannot be brought to justice. Now the legislation has to be approved by the Russian Federation Council and signed by President Vladimir Putin. Presently, until the new legislation is passed and is in effect, there is no responsibility for the editorial board of the media if false, prohibited or defamatory information was a verbatim reproduction of messages, materials or their fragments disseminated by other media outlets. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
The Dozhd TV channel filed a complaint with Russia's Investigative Committee following anonymous threats to kill producer Anna Fimina if she does not stop "poking around in the Caucasus." Fimina had posted a message to the Russian VKontakte platform as part of her search for subjects for a report on father-daughter relationships in the Caucasus. That same day, she received a text on her personal phone number containing a threat to kill her, referencing the case of Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted and murdered in 2009. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Belarus has sentenced two reporters, including one working for German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, to 20 days in jail for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned demonstration. The May 15 ruling is the latest in a series by Belarusian courts aimed at intimidating reporters covering the state’s brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, critics say. Deutsche Welle freelance reporter Alyaksandr Burakou and independent reporter Uladzimer Laptsevich were detained on May 12 in Mahileu, a town 200 kilometers east of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, where they were waiting to cover the trial of opposition politician Paval Severinets.
Police in Kazakhstan have detained an Instagram blogger over satirical posts he made on the social media platform as the government continues to pressure political opponents. Police searched the home of Temirlan Ensebek in Almaty on May 15 and seized his equipment, his wife told RFE/RL. Yensebek is a member of Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan!), a group that supports political reform in the authoritarian Central Asian nation. A few supporters of the blogger protested outside the police station where he was being questioned.
Nikolai Platoshkin, a well-known Russian vlogger and leader of the For A New Socialism movement, has been handed a suspended five-year prison term for a post he published online that criticized the Russian government and urged people to show up at unsanctioned anti-government rallies. In its ruling on May 19, the court also ordered Platoshkin to pay a 700,000 ruble ($9,500) fine. Platoshkin, a former diplomat, was placed under house arrest in June after investigators charged him with online calls to hold unsanctioned rallies and mass disorder. He pleaded not guilty.