Belarusian authorities have blocked access to Germany's state-backed international broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, amid an intensifying crackdown on the media and civil society following last year’s disputed presidential election. The Information Ministry said on October 28 that the two news websites as well as that of Belarusian newspaper Novy Chas had been blocked for spreading material containing links considered “extremist” by Belarusian courts. Commenting on the situation, RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly said “the Lukashenka regime’s attempts to criminalize journalism know no bounds and are now depriving the Belarusian people of yet another independent source of news and information. Despite Lukashenka’s continued assault, Radio Svaboda and Current Time will continue to provide objective reporting to the people of Belarus.”
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
An 18-member group of nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, has expressed “deep concern” over what it calls the Russian government’s “intensifying harassment of independent journalists and media outlets” in the country. The statement, issued on October 28 under the name of the Media Freedom Coalition, was also signed by Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine . The statement said that “media freedom is vital to the effective functioning of free and open societies and is essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says justice for 17 Afghan journalists murdered over the past decade is likely to remain elusive after the Taliban’s takeover and the collapse of state institutions. “Taliban leaders appear even less likely than Afghanistan’s previous government to respond to local and international calls to end the country’s culture of impunity for crimes against journalists,” the New York-based media rights group said on October 28 with the release of its 2021 Impunity Index. (Gandhara)
Ukrainian prosecutors have opened a terrorism financing investigation after it emerged that the country’s state-owned export-import bank loaned an estimated $60 million dollars to companies owned by a businessman with interests in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. The Prosecutor-General’s Office told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on October 27 that it opened the probe last week after lawmakers demanded an investigation following an investigative report published earlier this month. Yevhen Metsher, the bank’s chairman was dismissed two weeks ago following an incident in which he ordered bank security to assault two investigative reporters with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service after they had confronted Metsher with documents concerning the loans.
The Prague-based MEDIUM-ORIENT news agency is facing a fine in Russia for its alleged failure to follow the requirements of Russia's controversial ‘foreign agent’ law. Islam Tekushev, the editor in chief of the online Caucasus Times journal founded by MEDIUM-ORIENT, told RFE/RL on October 25 that Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, had filed a protocol against the media group for violating the law on ‘foreign agents’. Roskomnadzor accuses MEDIUM-ORIENT of refusing to mark online materials by the Caucasus Times as products of an organization that meets the criteria of a ‘foreign agent.’ [RFE/RL has already been fined 4.4 million dollars for its refusal to label its contents in accordance with Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ provisions.]
Noted Russian journalist Sergei Reznik, who specializes in anti-corruption investigations, has been added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list. Reznik's name was added to the wanted list over the weekend, local media reported. He is thought to be living outside of Russia. No details about his placement on the list were provided, though some media reports cited law enforcement sources as saying that Reznik is wanted for the alleged "justification of Nazism." The accusation stems from unspecified social-media posts that appeared on accounts suspected of being connected to him, they added.
Belarusian police have detained dozens of people in the southeastern city of Homel on charges of subscribing to “extremist” social-media channels in the latest crackdown on freedoms in the country. Authorities have declared hundreds of opposition Telegram channels and social-media sites “extremist” since Belarus was engulfed by protests after a disputed presidential election in August 2020, and anyone operating or visiting such sites can face jail time or fines. The Viasna human rights center said on October 26 that around 30 people were charged the day before for allegedly using banned Telegram channels.
An analysis of content produced by the Russian television network RT indicates the existence of two “parallel universes”: one for its domestic audience and a completely different one for international viewers. Long-term research by Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, reveals that when it comes to COVID-19 messaging, RT--formerly known as Russia Today--says all the right things about prevention, the importance of masks, and vaccination to its Russian-speaking audience, but peddles conspiracy theories and coronavirus falsehoods on its foreign-language platforms, in English, German, French, Spanish, and Arabic.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is accusing Pakistani government officials of inciting a “violent smear and hate campaign” on social media against a columnist with the Urdu-language services of the British broadcaster BBC. The week-old campaign against Asma Shirazi “is being conducted by supporters of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI)…who have evolved into a formidable government weapon for intimidating critical journalists,” the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on October 26. (Gandhara)