Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) condemned the December 14 guilty verdict and 15-year prison sentence by a Belarus court against prominent blogger and RFE/RL Belarus Service journalist Ihar Losik. Said RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, “The Lukashenka regime’s treatment of Ihar Losik has been reprehensible. The closed-door trial he and his co-defendants have endured for the past five months has been an outrageous travesty of justice. We again call on the Lukashenka regime to stop their assault on news organizations and journalists and bloggers like Ihar and let him return to his wife and daughter.”
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly expressed deep concern for the health and safety of Belarusian Service journalist Andrey Kuznechyk, who was detained on November 26 by agents of the Belarusian government and remains in Belarusian custody despite the completion of two consecutive 10-day jail sentences. Said Fly, “Andrey Kuznechyk has completed his sentences. As far as we know, Belarusian authorities continue to hold him, essentially as a kidnapped hostage. Andrey should be allowed to return to his family immediately. Journalism is not a crime.” Also read: Crackdown In Belarus Among Reasons Behind Record Number Of Journalists Behind Bars.
Nobel Peace Prize winners Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa have warned that a rise in authoritarian governments requires a continued commitment to independent reporting. The two journalists received the award for 2021 at Oslo City Hall on December 10. "Yes, we growl and bite. Yes, we have sharp teeth and strong grip," Muratov said of journalists in his acceptance speech. "But we are the prerequisite for progress. We are the antidote against tyranny," he added.
Russian journalism experienced extreme highs and lows in 2021. On the plus side, a Nobel Peace Prize for newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov. But the downside saw an escalating government crackdown on independent media. News organizations and individual reporters were declared "foreign agents" and "undesirable elements," while some journalists went into exile.
A court in Minsk has sentenced noted blogger Eduard Palchys to 13 years in prison amid an ongoing crackdown on those who have challenged the official results of last year's presidential election that handed victory to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Judge Pyatro Arlou of the Minsk City Court sentenced Palchys on December 17, convicting him of inciting social hatred, organizing mass disorder and activities disrupting social order, and calls for activities that could damage the national security of Belarus. The trial, which was held behind closed doors, started on December 6.
A court in Minsk has sentenced blogger Volha Takarchuk to 18 months in a maximum security penal colony for her participation in protests against the government of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Among the charges for disrupting public order in August 2020, Takarchuk, a 36-year-old blogger and mother of two young children, allegedly "blocked traffic" and "shouted slogans." She was sentenced on December 20 as the court followed the sentencing request of prosecutors in the case.
The Prague-based MEDIUM-ORIENT news agency has been fined in Russia for failing 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 that he was informed on December 20 of a ruling a week earlier by the Taganka district court to fine the journal 500,000 rubles ($6,730) for violating the law on "foreign agents." Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor added the media group, which is registered in the Czech Republic, to the list of "foreign agents" a year ago.
A court in Moscow has fined investigative website The Insider for failing to mark its materials as being produced by a "foreign agent," a mandatory requirement for those added to the state's controversial registry. The Taganka district court on December 14 ordered The Insider to pay 1 million rubles ($13,600) for the lack of labels on its materials. The group was added to the "foreign agent" registry in July. The Insider's chief editor, Roman Dobrokhotov, has said the website will not mark its materials with the "foreign agent" disclaimer because The Insider is registered in Latvia and is not obliged to follow Russian law.
A court in Moscow has ordered Twitter, Facebook's owner Meta, and TikTok to pay more fines for violating the country’s rules on banned content. A magistrate court in the Russian capital ruled in separate hearings on December 16 that Twitter must pay 10 million rubles ($135,300), Meta 13 million rubles ($176,000), and TikTok 4 million rubles ($54,130) for failing or refusing to delete banned content as instructed in an earlier ruling. The fines are the latest in a series of rulings in recent months against Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, and TikTok on similar charges that the social media platforms are not heeding Russia's Internet laws.
Russia's state-owned media company RT says YouTube has blocked its newly launched RT DE channel, less than three months after the U.S. video-sharing platform deleted two German-language RT channels it accused of breaching its COVID-19 misinformation policy. YouTube deleted the RT auf Sendung (RT On the Air) channel "after only five hours of broadcasting," without sending advance notice or warning, RT said on December 16. Russian news agencies quoted the press service of Google in Russia as confirming the move, saying the channel was removed for evading the restrictions that were placed on RT DE in late September.
Russia's pro-government TV is depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin as the undisputed winner of the December 7, 2021 video call with U.S. President Joe Biden over the Russian military buildup along Ukraine's borders. Putin attending the call solo--at least, to the public eye--made him appear to voters as a "powerful" leader capable of contending with a U.S. president on his own, a Russian analyst notes. Russian TV is using footage from conservative, anti-Biden U.S. media to help further that message along.
Amnesty International has launched a Persian-language website, saying it aims to increase access to information on abuse in Iran amid "an all-out assault on human rights" by the authorities, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial executions. The new website, launched on Human Rights Day on December 10, includes, among other things, research and legal analysis of "shocking" human rights violations, as well as recommendations to the international community to tackle "this crisis of impunity," the London-based human rights watchdog said in a statement. The launch came as the BBC urged the international community to take "robust" action to force the Iranian authorities to put an end to their "escalating campaign" of harassment and intimidation against its journalists and their families at home and abroad.
INFOGRAPHIC: 2021: A Grim Year For Journalists