Upon learning last year that a warrant in Belarus had been issued for his arrest for allegedly organizing mass anti-government protests through a popular Telegram channel he helped administer, independent Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich appeared unsurprised about the lengths the authorities would go to stifle dissenting views. "If people are being sent to jail for expressing a different opinion," the former Nexta-Live editor in chief told Current Time from an undisclosed location in Poland in November, "then what can be said about possibly the biggest Belarusian media outlet?"
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Court bailiffs have again searched the offices of RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau and Current Time -- photographing computers and other editorial equipment they’ve threatened to seize over unpaid fines imposed under Russia’s controversial “foreign agents” law. The move on May 25 came less than two weeks after Russia’s Federal Court Bailiffs Service initiated enforcement proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian branch over a portion of unpaid fines amounting to 5 million rubles, or about $68,000. The total amount of fines RFE/RL already faces under Russian court orders is more than 80 million rubles -- just over $1 million.
The revelations, which lead to a Moscow-based businesswoman active in pro-Kremlin political circles, add new insight into the campaign that targeted social media influencers in France and Germany, among other countries, and reportedly attracted the attention of French intelligence agencies. The woman, Yulia Serebryanskaya, is a veteran of political campaigns and event planning for the ruling United Russia party, and briefly ran as an independent for election in the Moscow city elections in 2019. The disinformation campaign involving marketing companies adds a new dimension to Russia's murky, under-the-radar efforts to promote its own COVID-19 vaccines -- in particular the Sputnik V vaccine backed by the country's sovereign wealth fund, the Russia Direct Investment Fund.
The head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has paid a visit to Lithuania in a show of support for journalists in Belarus, who he said are facing a "disastrous situation." Christophe Deloire spoke in Vilnius on May 27 following talks with Lithuanian prosecutors who have launched an investigation into the recent forced landing of a Lithuanian-bound flight in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, where authorities immediately arrested a journalist who was on board. RSF said it filed a complaint in Lithuania on May 25 against Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and any other person investigators identify as responsible for the "hijacking of an aircraft with terrorist intent.”
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned Iran's use of the judiciary to harass and prosecute journalists for "simply doing their job" and warned of increased harassment of media workers ahead of a presidential election next month. The watchdog noted pressure put recently on some journalists who had sought to report on the background and alleged human rights violations committed by Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric in charge of Iran's judiciary, as evidence of growing harassment on independent reporting.
The Moscow City Court has ruled that an extension to July 7 of the pretrial detention of former journalist Ivan Safronov, who is accused of treason, is legal. Safronov's lawyers had challenged the extension in court, but judges on May 25 rejected the defense's complaint. The 30-year-old Safronov, who has worked since May last year as an adviser to the head of Russia's space agency Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, is a prominent journalist who covered the military-industrial complex for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti.
Russian and Belarusian state media did not see any politics in the sudden diversion and forced landing of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius. Moreover, the very presence of the founder of the Nexta channel on the flight, according to journalists from state media, was "a complete surprise" for the security officials, Current Time TV program Footage vs. Footage takes a closer look. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says Russia doesn’t interfere with the work of journalists, including RFE/RL. Current Time TV looks at the difference between foreign agent status in Russia & the U.S.. While media outlets listed as “foreign agents” in the U.S. can work freely, in Russia there is no diversity of opinion on state media, and independent journalists are often beaten, detained, and denied accreditation. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Belarusian security forces have raided a Minsk studio used by a Polish-based TV station that has produced investigations critical of authoritarian Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his associates. Representatives of Belsat TV said uniformed officers on May 21 broke into a studio used for producing a talk show, detaining six people, including four cameramen. The host of the talk show, Hleb Labadzenka, confirmed that the raid had taken place, but told Euroradio that he was not detained. Also, Belsat journalist Arina Malinovskaya who left Belarus says her family faces persecution.
Journalist Artsyom Mayorau has been sentenced to 15 days in jail for "petty hooliganism" after he reported on a police raid at the popular online news site Tut.by. Mayorau, who works for the newspaper Belarusians And The Market, was sentenced by the Moskovsky District Court in Minsk on May 21. A police report said that a policeman allegedly approached Mayorau to have a "preventive conversation" with the journalist, when he "started swearing and waving his arms."
Current Time TV analyzed three new laws that were recently signed by Belarus’ longtime leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The first law prohibits rallies not approved by the authorities, increases responsibility for participation in them, and prohibits the collection of money to pay fines for protesters. The second law prohibits the media from covering these “uncoordinated” protests, and the third increases the powers of the security forces, allowing them to close down local infrastructure, including shopping malls, restaurants, transport and other forms of private property, in places and along the routes of mass rallies. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found Azerbaijani authorities guilty of torturing blogger Aleksandr Lapshin and trying to kill him in a Baku prison. The court said in the unanimous ruling, published on May 20, that Baku must pay compensation of 30,000 euros ($36,500) to Lapshin, who was detained in Belarus in 2016 and extradited to Azerbaijan, where he was charged with illegally visiting Nagorno-Karabakh -- a breakaway region in Azerbaijan that was controlled by ethnic Armenian separatists. Lapshin, a travel blogger and journalist who holds Russian, Ukrainian, and Israeli passports, has maintained his innocence, saying his visit to the breakaway region did not have any political motives and that he considers Nagorno-Karabakh to be Azerbaijani territory.
Dozens of journalists staged a protest in Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad, against an attack on blogger Asad Ali Toor by unidentified armed men the previous night. Asad Ali Toor, known for his criticism of the country's powerful military and intelligence agencies, was beaten by unidentified attackers in his Islamabad apartment, the journalist and colleagues say. (Gandhara)
Some of the world’s biggest social media companies are changing their operations in Central Asia, including in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Since April, YouTube is no longer paying Uzbek bloggers for views on their channels, specifically those who publish content in the Uzbek language. So far, there is no official comment as to the reason for the policy change, either from YouTube or from the Uzbek Ministry for the Development of Information Technologies and Communications; some suggest this may be because YouTube does not officially operate in Uzbekistan. In Tajikistan, owners of advertising accounts on Facebook will have to pay an 18% value-added tax, starting on July 1, 2021. The change applies to those who have not submitted their tax details and have not informed authorities that they are not registered in the republic as legal entities. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
“Here, in pre-trial detention, ‘it is like a kingdom of curved mirrors,’ nothing shows the ugly nature of the occupying power as the constant filling of the cells with new people detained for orchestrated crimes…People who are arrested on suspicion of espionage, planning terrorist attacks, and spreading and propagating religious movements banned in Russia...” This some of what was written in letters sent from prison by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service contributor Vladyslav Yesypenko, who was detained on March 10 after covering an event marking the 207th anniversary of the death of Ukrainian poet and thinker Taras Shevchenko in the city of Simferopol on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. (Ukrainian Service/Crimea.Realii)