RFE/RL called charges of “publically justifying terrorism” brought against Svetlana Prokopyeva “unacceptable,” saying they were punishment for the expression of an opinion, and an attempt “to send a message” to other independent media.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Eight U.S. senators have sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein, calling on him to uphold American democratic values in Hungary. As RFE/RL moves toward restarting service in Hungary, the signatories also seek assurances that "firewall" legislation ensuring objective and independent reporting by RFE/RL and the U.S. Agency for Global Media's other networks be respected.
September 22 marked two years since Crimean journalist and RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena was convicted by a Russian-controlled court in Crimea on a charge of “separatism” because of an opinion piece he wrote protesting the annexation. As part of his sentence, Semena has been banned from speaking and publishing in the media, changing his place of residence, and traveling outside Crimea, including to receive medical care. When the ban on his public activities ends, his lawyer, Alexander Popkov, told RFE/RL, “he will be able to resume all this. But taking into account his situation and the situation in Crimea, he, I think, will be forced to engage in self-censorship.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has “expressed concern” over the possibility that Oleksiy Pukach, a former Ukrainian police general who confessed to the 2000 murder of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, may have his life prison sentence commuted.
RFE/RL journalist Darya Komarova was briefly detained on September 19 in Izhevsk, Udmurtia, and questioned for about one hour by an officer from the anti-extremism unit about her work, home address, and plans in Izhevsk. Her detention coincided with the visit to the capital by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Komarova had recently published an interview with the widow of Albert Razin, 79, an Udmurt activist who set himself on fire on September 10 in protest of Russia’s restrictive policies on minority languages. Komarova reports for RFE/RL’s Idel.Realii, a Russian-language website for the Volga-Urals region.
Dozens of journalists who work for Bulgarian National Radio protested against the state-run broadcaster’s management, causing the station to go off the air for five hours, after a colleague known for covering Bulgaria's corruption-prone judicial system was suspended.
The international rights campaign Prove They Are Alive! told the OSCE's human rights conference in Warsaw on September 16 that Turkmenistan is backtracking on promises to curtail the practice of enforced disappearances in its prison system. Calling the practice “systemic,” the campaign lists 121 documented cases as of this month, but adds that the total number of victims is “in the order of hundreds,” with some prisoners being held incommunicado since 2002.
The case of student activist Omurzak Omarkuliev exemplifies the plight of hundreds of Turkmen who've vanished as part of a government effort to silence dissent. He was last heard from on March 9, 2018, when he spoke to RFE/RL just before he was arrested and tried behind closed doors on charges that have never been publicly revealed.
Pakistani media advocates, human rights activists, and opposition politicians have strongly denounced a government plan to set up special tribunals to deal with media-related cases, calling the move yet another attack on press freedom in the country. The All Pakistan Newspapers Society has stated that the decision marked a "black day" for Pakistani media. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged the government to "refrain from pressurizing the media further."
Political satirist Kiumars Marzban is among the recent victims of an intensified state crackdown in Iran that has resulted in unusually harsh prison sentences for journalists, human rights lawyers, women protesting the compulsory hijab rule, labor rights activists, and others. Marzban, who has freelanced for RFE/RL's Radio Farda and other media outlets, will have to serve 11 years if his prison sentence is upheld.
At the OSCE/HDIM conference, RFE/RL condemned attacks on the independent press, fundamental OSCE principles, and threats against the safety of RFE/RL journalists in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Russia-controlled regions of Ukraine, and Azerbaijan.
RUSSIA: Current Time reported on Moscovites’ outraged response to the sentencing of young actor Pavel Ustinov for allegedly dislocating the shoulder of a police officer during an unsanctioned rally on August 3. A video about the pro-Ustinov online flash mob campaign garnered some 1 million views across social networks, while a video about one-person pickets in Moscow received more than 800,000 views, mostly on the Russian social network VKontakte.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE PRISONER SWAP: In his first post-release press conference, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap with Russia on September 7, expressed his appreciation to RFE/RL’s Crimea unit for unstinting reporting of his case. A captioned video by RFE/RL’s Ukraine Service of Sentsov addressing the annual Yalta European Strategy (YES) conference in Kyiv on September 13 received more than 2 million views. Ukrainian authorities say 227 people remain held by Russia-backed separatists in the country’s eastern regions, including RFE/RL contributors Stanislav Aseyev and Oleh Halaziuk.
BULGARIA: RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service has launched a project called See the News, a weekly newscast for the country’s large community of deaf people, who have little or no access to the news.
KAZAKHSTAN: RFE/RL was the only media to report live during protests that continued to roil Kazakhstan’s two largest cities, Nur-Sultan and Almaty, on Saturday, September 21. The Kazakh Service’s live streaming on YouTube and Facebook attracted about a million views and generated thousands of comments. Current Time’s live video coverage received 2.5 million views across social media. Kazakh Service veteran reporter Saniya Toiken was briefly detained during the protests because she wasn’t wearing a press vest. In a now-familiar tactic, unknown persons used black umbrellas to block journalists’ efforts to film. Footage of a mother trying to stop police from detaining her daughter generated 2,600 comments on Current Time’s Instagram post.
PAKISTAN: Two videos received by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal and published on September 21 provide evidence of the Afghan Taliban’s presence in Pakistan, contrary to the government’s claims otherwise. The videos record Afghan Taliban leaders in Quetta, in southwest Pakistan, serving as mediators between two Pashtun tribes in an effort to settle their one-year-old dispute.