Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) strongly condemns the July 16 arrest in Belarus of three RFE/RL correspondents as well as the raiding of its bureau in the Belarus capital, Minsk. This latest assault on independent media in Belarus occurred as the country approaches the one-year anniversary of the August 9 rigged election to reinstall leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a sixth term as president. As of July 22, three Radio Svaboda journalists Ales Daschynski, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, and Ina Studzinskaya remain in detention center in Minsk. Ina Studzinskaya is on a hunger strike.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Amid the global controversy over reports of smartphone hacks, said to be carried out via the powerful spyware program Pegasus, Azerbaijani journalists and activists have responded with anger. They say there's evidence that they were targeted by their government's security agencies. Hundreds of alleged targets have been identified. Two people RFE/RL spoke to said some kind of court action would ensue, while one journalist said that her phone had been hacked since 2019. An official spokesman in Baku dismissed the reports as "nonsense." Additionally, France opens probe into spyware as global scandal grows; and RFE/RL infographics Pegasus: Hacking Journalists’ Mobile Phones Worldwide & Pegasus Spyware: How Does It Work?
As Taliban militants gain more territory amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, The team of reporters at RFE?RL’s Radio Azadi continues to carry out its work across the country. For security reasons, their identities can't be revealed, but one journalist says freedom of the press and freedom of expression are precious gains that must be preserved.
Rights groups have called on the international community to defend Belarus's leading journalists' association as the regime of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka seeks to close it down amid an intensifying crackdown on independent media and civil society. Belarus's Justice Ministry has asked the Supreme Court to close the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) for "repeated violations of the law," while the authorities have frozen all BAJ bank accounts following police raids on its offices last week. Also: Without ‘Any Guarantees’ For Safety, Independent Belarusian Media Carry On.
A Russian court has again fined U.S. social-media giants Facebook and Twitter and messaging app Telegram for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal. The Magistrates Court in the Taganka district said on July 22 it had fined Facebook 6 million rubles ($81,000), Twitter 5.5 million rubles, and Telegram 11 million rubles ($149,000) on multiple protocols filed by Russia's communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor. Moscow claims it is trying to rein in Western tech giants and bolster what it calls its Internet "sovereignty."
Current Time TV reports that the Russian Federal Security Service has published a list of 61 military & military-technical topics that could result in an individual being designated a “foreign agent” if they are found to be collecting open-source information about the topics that a foreign state, foreign citizen, or international organization could "use against the security" of Russia. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
On the morning of July 14, two deputy directors of the Eastern Mining Company (VGK) showed up at the office of the editor in chief of the municipal newspaper Uglegorskiye Novosti, Zinaida Makarova, to discuss "the direction" of the Sakhalin Island paper's coverage of the company. At 4pm the same day, Makarova was summoned to the mayor's office, where she was handed formal notice that she had been fired. When Makarova returned to the office, the electricity had been turned off.
A special session of the Georgian parliament on July 18 in Tbilisi, where Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri was to address the violence that erupted on July 5 in the Georgian capital, was disrupted by opposition deputies who surrounded the tribune, holding photos of Pirveli television cameraman Lekso Lashkarava and demanding the resignation of Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and his government. Lashkarava died on July 13, several days after he was viciously beaten while covering the actions of an anti-LGBT mob that had taken to the streets of the capital to block a planned LGBT parade.
The Russian investigative news outlet The Project has announced the "liquidation" of its U.S.-registered company a day after being declared an "undesirable" organization by the Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow. The Project's editors wrote on Telegram on July 16 that their company "is in the stage of liquidation and has no financial relations with journalists working in Russia," They thanked their audience and wrote that “the investigations will continue.” Following the designation, Instagram blocked the publication’s account.
The European Commission has slammed Hungary and Poland for eroding media freedoms and judicial independence, adding that corruption remains a major challenge in both EU members. The European Union has repeatedly warned that democratic standards are being challenged in Hungary and Poland. In a new rule-of-law report released on July 20, the commission also singled out Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc, for violating freedom of the media, citing online harassment and threats against Slovenian journalists.
Belarus’ Justice Ministry has filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court of the country to liquidate the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers that aims to expand cooperation among representatives of creative professions and protect their rights. A letter from the court, which the organization received on July 22, says that a civil case has been initiated by the Justice Ministry and asks the addressees to appear for interrogation and prepare for a trial. Earlier on Thursday, it became known that the Belarusian PEN Center, headed by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, had accused authorities of harassing cultural figures. (Belarus Service)
Dozens of relatives, friends, colleagues, and supporters gathered in the Ukrainian capital to mark the fifth anniversary of the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet, whose death underscored concerns about a climate of impunity for attacks on journalists and others who challenge the authorities. Sheremet, who worked for the online newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda, was leaving his apartment on July 20, 2016, en route to a studio to host a morning radio program when an improvised explosive device planted under his vehicle detonated and killed him.
Single-person protests have been held in Siberia's largest city, Novosibirsk, to express support for journalists who have been named to the controversial registry of “foreign agents.” On July 15, Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office banned investigative news outlet The Project after declaring it an "undesirable" organization and added eight journalists, including The Project's chief editor Roman Badanin and four of his colleagues, as well as RFE/RL freelance correspondent in Moscow Yelizaveta Mayetnaya, the chief editor of Open Media news outlet Yulia Yarosh and her deputy, Maksim Glikin, to the list.
Pakistani authorities say they have blocked access to TikTok over content deemed immoral, the latest move by authorities in the conservative Muslim country against the Chinese-owned video app. "The action has been taken due to the continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and [TikTok’s] failure to take such content down," the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said on Twitter on July 21. TikTok representatives did not immediately comment on the move. (Radio Mashaal/Gandhara)