Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill that obliges foreign IT companies to set up local units or face penalties including a possible ban, as Moscow continues to try and tighten its control over the flow of information on the Internet. The bill, signed by Putin on July 1 and placed on the official website for legal information, requires foreign IT companies with a daily audience of at least 500,000 people to set up full-fledged branches in Russia that would be "responsible for violations of Russian legislation."
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Belarusian journalist Andrey Alyaksandrau, who was arrested in January amid an ongoing crackdown on media and pro-democracy activists, has been charged with high treason. Alyaksandrau and his girlfriend Iryna Zlobina were arrested on January 12 and charged with "organizing and preparing activities that violate public order" over unsanctioned mass rallies demanding that long-time authoritarian ruler of the country, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, step down. On July 1, Alyaksandrau's lawyer, Anton Hashynski, said his client was given the new charge on June 30.
A rally in support of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service Crimea.Realities project contributor Vladyslav Yesypenko will be held in Kyiv’s Maidan Square on July 6. Event organizers say that “journalists and human rights activists will gather in Kyiv to express solidarity with their colleague arrested in Crimea, who was persecuted by the local occupation authority for his journalistic work.” The date of the rally coincides with the start of Yesypenko’s trial in Simferopol District Court in Russia-annexed Crimea. Yesypenko is currently being held by the FSB in pre-trial detention. International organizations including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and others, as well as officials from EU and the U.S. have called for Yesypenko’s release. READ ALSO -- The arrest of Yesypenko in Crimea comes at a time when Kremlin pressure on RFE/RL is mounting. (Ukrainian Service)
The Investigative Committee in Russia's Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk has launched a probe into a physical attack on a contributor to RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities. Andrei Afanasyev told RFE/RL that police informed him on June 29 that an investigation was launched into "hooliganism" 12 days ago. "I think the investigators are trying to avoid mentioning the word 'journalist' in the case and present everything like it was mere hooliganism, as if [the attack] has nothing to do with my professional activities," Afanasyev said, adding that a probe should have been launched into the "obstruction of journalistic activities."
RFE/RL’s Russian Service project North.Realities is conducting a series of online interviews on social networks with journalists who have been designated by the Russian Justice Ministry as individual media “foreign agents.” Even a year ago, such a formulation would have seemed like a distorted quote from Orwell, but today it is a reality. Among the first journalists so designated are RFE/RL contributors Lyudmila Savitskaya, Denis Kamalyagin and Sergei Markelov. “This word for many people living in the post-Soviet space, especially those who were born in the Soviet Union, and even in the regions, was deposited in the head like a stigma,” says Sergei Markelov. At the same time Denis Kamalyagin says that not much has changed for him, those who were previously afraid to talk with him, like authorities and their representatives, do not communicate today, but entrepreneurs, business, opposition, intelligentsia, local historians and other people “absolutely do not attach any importance to this [designation].” Lyudmila Savitskaya, however, says has received many insults against her and her family. (Russian Service/Sever.Realii)
European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has revoked the membership of Belarus’ state television and radio broadcasting service Belteleradiocompany (BTRC). As of July 1, BTRC will not be able to access the EBU’s services, including: exchange of news and music content; broadcasting rights for certain music and sports events; legal, technical and research expertise; or services for the protection of interests. In late May, the EBU suspended BTRC’s membership, among other reasons for the “broadcast of interviews apparently obtained under duress.” (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Moscow police have carried out searches of the homes of several senior journalists with the investigative website The Project, hours after it published a report questioning how Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and his relatives obtained their wealth. The Project said on its Telegram channel on June 29 that police searched the home of Editor In Chief Roman Badanin, as well as that of his colleague, Maria Zholobova. The website also said that police detained Badanin's deputy, Mikhail Rubin, near Zholobova's home and took him to his parents' apartment, which was also searched. The editor-in-chief of Russian investigative publication The Insider, Roman Dobrokhotov, talks to Current Time TV about raids at The Project journalists' homes & their designation as witnesses in the criminal libel case.
The Moscow City Court on June 30 extended by three months the pretrial detention of prominent former journalist Ivan Safronov, who is accused of treason. The 30-year-old Safronov, a former adviser to the head of Russia's space agency Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, covered the defense industry for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti. He was arrested on July 7, 2020, on allegations that he had passed secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East.
Tut.by, a leading independent news site in Belarus, says it has removed its social media archive for the last 18 months to shield its staff and readers from persecution amid an ongoing crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement. The site's editors explained the move on June 28 as an effort to avoid possible criminal probes against employees and readers, after an investigation was launched against the news site for allegedly fomenting "extremism." They added that the archives were not deleted, just temporarily "hidden," with its Telegram channel being operated by administrators located outside the country.
The bill envisioned the creation of a government watchdog that would "react to complaints" regarding the contents of online postings within 48 hours and it would make it mandatory for websites or social networks to follow any instructions from the watchdog within 24 hours. The bill also stipulated that owners of websites and social-media accounts must make their personal data and e-mail addresses accessible to everyone, while anonymous Internet users would be located and isolated. Under the bill, Internet providers would have to register their clients in a unified identification system and provide officials with full information related to users if a court or a state organ requests such data. Earlier, activists in Bishkek protested the bill, which they say would stifle free speech. (Kyrgyz Service)
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service revealed that students attending Andijan, Samarkand and Termez State universities have been forced to act as online trolls, defending incumbent Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev's policies and attacking critical opinions expressed in social media articles and posts. Following Mirziyoev's visit to Andijan State University, students were instructed to write articles praising the president. Students from Samarkand were given a list of negative views and comments on the president's policies by the University’s administration and asked to go on YouTube and Facebook and write negative comments in response. According to one student from Samarkand State University, he was tired of practicing false patriotism. (Uzbek Service)
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reports that Uzbekistan’s Termez City Court began an appeal trial of Otabek Sattoriy, a blogger who was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison after being convicted of slander and fraud, causing an uproar of international press freedom organizations and local media. The blogger is known to be a harsh critic of the regional governor, Tora Bobolov. In one post on his Halq Fikiri (People's Opinion) video blog, Sattoriy openly accused the local government of launching fabricated criminal cases against bloggers and vowed to continue to raise the issue of corruption among officials despite the "crackdown." (Uzbek Service)
RFE/RL correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova was one of the few journalists in Turkmenistan who dared to report about human rights abuses in the secretive, authoritarian state -- and paid the ultimate price for her work. She was arrested on trumped up charges on June 18, 2006. Amid allegations and signs that she was tortured while in custody, she died in prison three months later in September 2016, age 58. Turkmenistan has never conducted an effective investigation into Muradova's death. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has said that Turkmen authorities were responsible, and the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has vowed to continue its campaign to bring those involved in her death to justice.