In testimony before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) earlier this week, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly addressed the increased pressure faced by RFE/RL journalists working throughout the media organization’s 23-country region. During the bipartisan hearing, “In Pursuit of Truth: Media Freedom in the OSCE Region,” Fly noted the challenge to free media coming from authoritarian leaders who are “increasingly succumbing to the attraction of a media landscape without the independent checks and balances inherent in an impartial press.”
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Imprisoned RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko has appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden and U.S. lawmakers to do more to free the more than 100 political prisoners detained by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) over their activities in Crimea. Yesypenko, who has been in detention in Russian-occupied Crimea since March, made the appeal in a letter read publicly for the first time on October 21 at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington. "There can be no greater hell than being trapped in these four walls day after day, month after month, for half a year now, only allowed outside on command for a few breaths of fresh air and then back to your cell, helpless to change a thing," Yesypenko said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is urging authorities in Uzbekistan to swiftly investigate the numerous online death threats received by staff members of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service ahead of next week's presidential election, and to ensure that the journalists can work safely. The "unprecedented and repugnant" threats made to the RFE/RL employees in recent days should trigger a "clear response" from the authorities, the New York-based media-freedom watchdog said in a statement on October 21. "No journalist should have to work in the face of such threats, and the Uzbek government should take immediate steps to investigate these threats’ origins and hold those responsible to account," said Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.
U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher reiterated her support and that of the U.S. government during a phone conversation with Darya Losik, the wife of imprisoned RFE/RL Belarus Service consultant Ihar Losik. Losik has been in detention for more than 500 days. The charges against Losik are widely considered to have been fabricated by Belarusian authorities, who have in the past year faced protests against the continued rule of Lukashenka. (Belarus Service)
In comments regarding Russia's "foreign agent" legislation on October 21, President Vladimir Putin repeated the Kremlin's disputed argument that the United States has similar legislation that "goes all the way to felony liability." "It's not like that here," Putin claimed. However, while the Russian "foreign agent" laws do not themselves include criminal penalties, those designated can face criminal charges and years in prison under other laws if they fail to comply properly with requirements set out in the "foreign agent" legislation.
Hours after Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Novaya Gazeta, became a co-recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize on October 8, Russia’s Justice Ministry named five RFE/RL journalists as ‘foreign agents.’ One of the five, Current Time editor Yelizaveta Surnacheva, said during an interview that the “global aim” of those behind Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ legislation is to make “the overall mass of people...understand that ‘Aye, yai, yai, yai, this is forbidden!’” and vowed that, despite the designation, “I won’t be quiet.” Current Time and seven other Russia-focused RFE/RL reporting projects have already been designated as ‘foreign agents.’ as have three other RFE/RL journalists.
Taliban militants have attacked several journalists covering a Kabul rally by a group of women demanding "work, bread, and education," spurring concerns about the deterioration of the rights situation under Afghanistan’s new rulers. After it toppled the internationally recognized government in Kabul in mid-August, the Taliban claimed it would show more moderation than during its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, when girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work, education, and sports. (Radio Azadi, via Gandhara)
Many media outlets across Afghanistan have shut down in the wake of the Taliban takeover, with some journalists leaving the profession or the country out of fear of reprisals. Gul Ahmad Almas is one former freelance journalist whose life has been upended by the new regime. With no income from reporting, he is dependent on hand-to-mouth work collecting brush to sell as fuel. (Radio Azadi, via Gandhara)
A Pakistani television reporter has been killed in a bomb blast in the southwestern province of Balochistan that was claimed by a local separatist group. Journalist Shahid Zehri, 35, and a friend were traveling to the northwestern city of Karachi by car when a bomb exploded in the vehicle in the Hub area overnight, officials and colleagues said on October 11. Both suffered critical injuries. Zehri, a reporter for Karachi's Urdu-language Metro News 1 Television, was later declared dead. (Radio Mashaal via Gandhara)
Amnesty International says Russia, China, and many other countries have put in place “oppressive laws” that have restricted the right to freedom of expression and silenced critics during the coronavirus pandemic. Combined with a “flood of misinformation” across the world, attacks on freedom of expression by governments have had “a devastating impact on peoples’ ability to access accurate and timely information to help them cope with the burgeoning global health crisis,” the London-based human rights group said in a report released on October 19.
Ukraine's state-owned export-import bank has dismissed its chairman after a court ordered him to be put under nighttime house arrest while the authorities probe a confrontation with RFE/RL investigative reporters last week. During an interview on October 4 at Ukreksimbank's Kyiv offices, CEO Yevhen Metsher and his spokesman ordered a security guard to seize the cameras and memory cards of two reporters of Schemes (Skhemy) -- an investigative news project run by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in cooperation with UA: Pershy television. Amid condemnation from top government officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office, Metsher and the two other bank employees were criminally charged in connection with the confrontation.
The government of Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka has shut down independent media, blocked websites, and jailed and tortured journalists in an attempt to stamp out domestic criticism of his often-brutal rule. Now it may be turning its sights toward readers of the last vestiges of independent media inside the country. Belarus's Internal Police warned on October 13 that a new government resolution considers subscribers to Telegram channels labeled by the state as "extremist" to be participants in an "extremist" organization and, thus, subject to criminal prosecution.
Blogger and opposition activist Aleksey Garshin tells RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, that he had to leave Uzbekistan due to increased pressure from security services on government critics and political activists ahead of Sunday’s presidential election. Garshin helped RFE/RL investigate a secretly-built, multi-million dollar compound for President Mirziyoyev. Additionally, the head of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, Elena Urlaeva, told Ozodlik that on the eve of the elections she and her associates received a warning from law enforcement agencies not to go out, and Tashkent-based activist Klara Sakharova says that even though she does not violate the law, she is threatened with jail. (Uzbek Service)