In 2020, 235 journalists and media workers were imprisoned and 42 were killed around the words. Here are the places where it's riskiest for them.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to extensive investigations by Bellingcat and various Western media into the poisoning of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. During his annual news conference on December 17, Putin made the claim, without any evidence, that the media outlets were merely "laundering" U.S. intelligence materials. He also said that if Russian security services had wanted to poison Navalny, "they would have finished the job." Also read -- “I don’t understand why I should be involved in this,” -- Regional journalists on Putin's press conference.
Belarusian blogger Ihar Losik, who has been recognized by rights organizations as a political prisoner, has started a hunger strike to protest a new charge against him. Fellow blogger Anton Matolka said that Losik was additionally charged on December 15 with helping prepare mass disorder. Losik was initially charged in June with helping prepare for violations of public order, which has a maximum punishment of three years in prison. If found guilty of the latest charge, Losik, an RFE/RL Belarus Service consultant for new media technologies, faces up to eight years in prison.
Russian state media have been slow to react to a detailed investigation reportedly showing that Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny was poisoned by members of the Federal Security Service (FSB), raising questions about whether authorities have been caught off guard. Bellingcat said in its December 14 report that it had used "voluminous evidence in the form of telecoms and travel data" to conclude that Navalny was poisoned by operatives from the FSB, the successor to the KGB, during his trip to the Siberian city of Tomsk this past August.
The Moscow City Court has postponed the high-profile trial of several former police officers suspected in the illegal apprehension of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov last year, after the lawyer of one of the defendants said he had lost his legal license. Aleksei Kovrizhkin, the lawyer for Igor Lyakhovets, a former chief of the Moscow police's illegal-drugs department, told the court at the start of the trial on December 14 that the Moscow Chamber of Attorneys revoked his license to practice for unspecified reasons in October.
The National Security Services of Latvia conducted searches and interrogated seven journalists working for Russian state media outlets. Latvia’s security policy concluded that, as the general director of "Russia Today" Dmitry Kiselev is under EU sanctions, any cooperation with his company is illegal, and opened criminal cases against several authors of the Internet publications Baltnews and Sputnik Latvia. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Iran faced growing international condemnation on December 14 over its recent execution of opposition journalist Ruhollah Zam, whose online work helped inspire anti-government protests in 2017, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denouncing the move as "unjust" and "barbaric." Zam, a 47-year-old Iranian exile living in France, was hanged on December 12 after being convicted of "corruption on Earth," a charge often leveled in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government. Zam had been held in jail in Iran after local intelligence services reportedly seized him while he was traveling in neighboring Iraq in 2019.
Belarusian security agents seized the computer and documents of a journalist at Minsk's airport after briefly holding him upon arrival from Ukraine. Roman Vasyukovich, a correspondent for Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, said he was held at the airport for about an hour before he was allowed to leave, but his laptop was seized for examination of "extremist" content. Also read: Belsat journalist Stanislau Ivashkevich fined by authorities and Reporters Without Borders recognize Belarus as the most dangerous country for journalists in Europe.
A court in Khabarovsk dropped the administrative case against Tatiana Khlestunova, a journalist with Prosto Gazeta, who spent two weeks in a special detention center. Khlestunova was detained while covering a November 28 protest in support of arrested governor Sergei Furgal, who is accused of organizing the murders of entrepreneurs 15 years ago. The former official does not admit his guilt. Khlestunova was found guilty of participation in a mass event that interfered with the work of the city. The court later determined that Khlestunova was on assignment from her editors, and did not participate in the protest rally. (Russian Service)
A court in Russia’s Leningrad region has fined RFE/RL Russian Service journalist Tatyana Voltskaya approximately $411 under an administrative article on spreading fake news about coronavirus, for an article she published in April 2020 that cited an intensive care doctor who talked about shortages of medical equipment, including ventilator pumps, in St. Petersburg. Voltskaya rejects the court’s verdict and will appeal the decision. (Russian Service/Sever Realii)
Russia’s “Memorial” human rights center announced on December 11 that a journalist from Ingushetia, convicted this past September of possession of drugs, is a political prisoner. The journalist, Rashid Maisigov, is also accused of calling for separatism. According to human rights activists, Maisigov is being persecuted for exercising his right to freedom of speech. A statement published on the Memorial website reads (in part), "The purpose of the repressions is to force Maisigov to stop criticizing the authorities and to intimidate society. We demand that Rashid Maisigov be released, and that those responsible for his persecution be punished." Three journalists from Russia’s North Caucasus region, including Maisigov, were included in the Committee to Protect Journalists’s annual database of attacks on the press. (Russian Service/Kavkaz Realii)
A Kazakh blogger and journalist forcibly committed to a psychiatric clinic last month by the court following accusations of involvement with a banned political organization, has been released. Lawyer Ghalym Nurpeisov told RFE/RL that his client, Aigul Otepova, was released from the facility on December 11 after experts deemed she was of sound mind. "She is at home now but remains under house arrest until January 17," Nurpeisov said.
At a ceremony in the city of Lviv on December 12, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reporting project Crimea.Realii was awarded a “High Standards of Journalism 2020" prize in the category "For a quality regional / niche media project". Krym.Realii editor-in-chief Volodymyr Prytula said that the financial portion of the award will be given to the children of Crimean victims of Russia's 2014 annexation of the peninsula. (Ukrainian Service/Crimea.Realii)
Merman Radio, a female-led station in the Afghan city of Kandahar, has received a 2020 Prize for Impact from the media-freedom group Reporters Without Borders. The broadcasters won praise for their programs on issues that affect Afghan women, keeping the station on the air in spite of ongoing threats to journalists' safety throughout the country. In the latest attack on the press, female TV anchor Malala Maiwand and her driver were killed by unknown assailants in eastern Afghanistan on December 10.
Remembering Our RFE/RL Colleagues Who Tragically Died In 2020
The journalists and staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) mourn the violent death today of their colleague Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, a journalist for RFE/RL's Dari-and-Pashto-language Radio Free Afghanistan service, who was killed in a targeted bomb attack in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province. His younger brother, a former reporter for Deutsche Welle, was also injured in the attack.
RFE/RL is devastated by the loss of Vladimir Mikhailovski and Maksim Gavrilenko, two colleagues with the documentary project “Unknown Belarus,” who died in a car accident on May 13 in Belarus, as well as project director Lyubov Zemtsova, who died on May 22 from injuries sustained in the same crash.