RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned the July 6 decision by a court in Russian controlled Crimea to extend by six months the detention of RFE/RL freelance reporter Vladyslav Yesypenko. This latest Kremlin-backed move to target independent media outlets was announced during a closed-door hearing in Simferopol regarding Yesypenko’s politically-motivated case. The next hearing is scheduled for July 15. Also, watch Yesypenko’s family speak of his work and detention and Ukrainian Filmmaker and former Russian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov read from his letter to Yesypenko.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
A Council of Europe legal advisory body has sharply criticized recent Russian amendments to laws regulating so-called ‘'foreign agents," saying they constitute “serious violations” of basic human rights and will have a “chilling effect” on political life. Russia's so-called "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires noncommercial organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as "foreign agents," and to submit to audits. In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service on the list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services and Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. The Russian Service of VOA was also added to the list.
Since the summer of 2020, pressure on the independent media has noticeably increased in Russia. Journalists are regularly sentenced to fines and jail terms for non-existent crimes, and searches of undesired newsrooms, as well as homes of their employees, have become a common practice. Current Time TV takes a closer look. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Authorities in Belarus blocked the website of one of the country's most popular independent media outlets, Nasha Niva, and searched its journalists and their editorial offices on July 8. The Information Ministry announced restrictions on access to the website in the late morning, citing an instruction from the Prosecutor-General's Office concerning Article 38 of Belarus's law on mass media, which Freedom House says requires no legal process and offers no avenue for appeal.
Detained Belarusian opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich has appeared in a new video on Twitter, raising questions over who controls the account where the video was placed and whether he appears under his own volition. In one of the first posts, the Twitter account under Pratasevich's name said on July 7 that he was "returning to life on the Internet" and promised to respond to messages, saying he was answering followers' messages himself and without supervision. The posts, however, were met with suspicion as Belarusian legislation bans persons under house arrest from using the telephone or the Internet or going outside.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has added Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to its annual list of "enemies of press freedom." It's the first time a head of government from the European Union appears on the list, along with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, among others. The media watchdog said on July 5 that Orban and his Fidesz party "have brought Hungary's media landscape under their control step by step" since they came to power in 2010. "The public broadcasters have been centralized in the state media holding MTVA, which also includes Hungary's only news agency MTI," the RSF said in a statement.
Thousands have rallied in the Georgian capital to denounce violence against the LGBTQ community that shocked the nation and drew condemnation from Western embassies in the Caucasus nation. LGBTQ activists were forced to call off a pride march on July 5 in Tbilisi after opponents attacked activists and journalists and after the Georgian government and the Georgian Orthodox Church spoke out against the event. At least 50 journalists were attacked by mobs at different locations, including two RFE/RL Georgian Service reporters.
Uzbekistan’s communications regulator has restricted access to several social media websites for violating personal data laws. O'zkomnazorat announced the restrictions on July 2 without mentioning which social media sites fall under the order. However, Internet users in Central Asia’s most populous country reported disruptions to Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, and Skype. In particular, the restrictions reportedly involve throttling, or reduced speed when using the networks. O'zkomnazorat said social media websites had violated a new personal data law, in effect since April, which requires Internet companies to store the personal data of Uzbek users on servers in the country.
The Supreme Court of Ukraine has rejected the appeal of Oleksiy Pukach, a former top police officer who was convicted in the murder of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The court handed down its ruling on July 2, saying the verdict and sentence for the former police general remains unchanged and that his request for a retrial was rejected. The Pechera District Court in Kyiv sentenced Pukach, the Interior Ministry's former surveillance department chief, to life in prison in January 2013 after finding him guilty of personally strangling Gongadze to death.
An Estonian-based website about the Mari and Finno-Ugric peoples says it has been blocked by Russia's telecommunications watchdog for its content on a scholar who lit himself on fire to protest a government move to cancel mandatory Udmurt language classes. MariUver said on its Facebook page on July 7 that Roskomnadzor had blocked its website because Mari activists "honored" Albert Razin, saying postings contained information about how to commit suicide. "Why doesn't Roskomnadzor block others as well?" the website asked, noting that reports on some media websites publish information on people who have self-immolated.
A Minsk court on July 6 fined Current Time’s Belarus correspondent Raman Vasiukovich 870 rubles (around $343) for working without official accreditation and allegedly violating Belarusian law on the “preparation and dissemination of a mass media product.” Officials focused specifically on Current Time’s May 25, 2021 Newsday broadcast, in which Vasiukovich reported from Minsk that defense lawyers were not allowed to see detained Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich. Belarus' diversion of Pratasevich's May 23 Ryanair flight and his subsequent detention prompted international sanctions and a restriction of international air transportation to and from the country.
RFE/RL’s Belarus Service compiles the profiles of journalists wrongly detained in Belarus, including RFE/RL Belarus Service consultant Ihar Losik. (Belarus Service)
Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict against RFE/RL contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva, who was fined $6,687.76 in a case where she was accused of “justifying terrorism.” In July 2020, Prokopyeva was convicted by a court in Pskov over a commentary she prepared for the local affiliate of Ekho Moskvy radio in November 2018. Prokopyeva denies all charges, saying she was put on trial for doing her job and has already paid the entire sum of the fine. (Russian Service/Sever.Realii)
Russian journalist and RFE/RL contributor Denis Kamalyagin, labeled a "foreign agent" by the Russian government, turned the tables on several local lawmakers in the northwestern region of Pskov, including the regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov, by sending them money in order to make them “associates” of a “foreign agent” - as the law insists. However, local prosecutors are refusing to conduct an inquiry. According to the law, an entity or a person that receives money from a “foreign agent” must also be declared a “foreign agent.” Timofey Bezugly, a member of the Chelyabinsk chapter of Yabloko who filed the initial demand for an inquiry, said he will appeal the decision. (Russian Service/Sever.Realii)
Ukrainian political prisoner Valentyn Vyhovskiy, serving a prison sentence in a Russian penal colony in Kirov, was transferred to the general population after spending five years in solitary confinement after his plight was exposed in a story published by the RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Service project Idel.Realities. Vyhovskiy, a 32-year-old Ukrainian businessman, was arrested in 2014 in his native Crimea following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory in March 2014. The Moscow City Court sentenced Vyhovskiy to 11 years in prison on charges of espionage; Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) accused Vyhovskiy of collecting classified information related to Russia's aerospace technologies. (Tatar-Bashkir Service/Idel.Realii)