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Russian Media’s Take On Covid-19 in U.S.; The Infodemic Spreads; Belarus Journalists ‘Vaccinated From Fear’

CHECHNYA -- Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov visits a hospital for patients with suspected COVID-19 disease in Grozny, April 20, 2020
CHECHNYA -- Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov visits a hospital for patients with suspected COVID-19 disease in Grozny, April 20, 2020

RFE/RL Says Kadyrov Threat To Journalist Part Of ‘Dangerous Trend’
RFE/RL has called on Russian authorities to secure the safety of journalists and their relatives in Chechnya after regional strongman Ramzan Kadyrov openly threatened the broadcaster's North Caucasus Service chief, Aslan Doukaev. Last week, Kadyrov threatened Novaya Gazeta’s Yelena Milashina after she published an article critical of the region’s response to the coronavirus.


How Is Russian State Media Covering The Coronavirus Pandemic In The U.S.?
According to Russia’s Channel 1, “They say people will be buried in mass graves...The bodies of the dead are already being stored in Central Park...Trailers intended for transporting food are being hastily converted to storage for dead bodies...The country is expecting a new September 11th and Pearl Harbor combined.” Gruesome scenes of overcrowded hospitals and makeshift cemeteries are combined with claims about the incompetence of American medicine and the failed policies of American authorities to create a mood of apocalypse and panic and suggest the entire country is falling apart. (video)

EU Monitors See Coordinated COVID-19 Disinformation Effort By Iran, Russia, China
EU monitors have identified a “trilateral convergence of disinformation narratives” being promoted by China, Iran, and Russia on the coronavirus pandemic and say they are being “multiplied” in a coordinated manner, according to an internal document seen by RFE/RL.

Russia’s Regional Journalists Face Pressure From Authorities As Pandemic Spreads
Commenting on reports about the coronavirus on the Internet, Tomsk Governor Sergey Zhvachkin announced, it is “paramilitary time,” the state “knows your names and addresses,” and if you “cross the border, we will be forced to stop you.” RFE/RL St. Petersburg journalist Tatyana Voltskaya said that after she interviewed an intensive care doctor about the city's healthcare system, she received a call from law enforcement agencies. Maria Bukhtueva, editor-in-chief of TVK TV in Krasnoyarsk, says, "The recent law against fake news about epidemics is another way to get rid of unwanted journalists...The government does not want to work properly with the media, it prefers to dodge and use threats.”

Ukraine Targeted By 'Unprecedented' Coronavirus 'Infodemic’
Long on the frontlines of Europe’s information wars, Ukraine has now also become a hot spot for what the World Health Organization terms an “infodemic” of conspiracy theories, disinformation, and fake news about COVID-19. Facebook, the country’s most popular social network, expanded its Ukrainian fact-checking operations in March, signing on the local groups StopFake and VoxCheck as partners.

U.S. Ambassador Slams 'Egregious' Charges Against Journalists In Russia
In an online briefing on April 22, Ambassador Sullivan called extremism charges brought against RFE/RL Pskov-based contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva “egregious,” and slammed threats issued by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov against RFE/RL North Caucasus Service Chief Aslan Doukaev. Sullivan said the embassy is following the cases closely, adding, “Unfortunately freedom of the press is under pressure today in Russia.”

U.S. Congressmen Criticize Tajikistan Over RFE/RL Accreditation
U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff and Steve Chabot have addressed a bipartisan letter to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon about the government’s continuing refusal to accredit RFE/RL journalists and other harassment, urging the Tajik authorities to let RFE/RL's operations "continue unabated."

Five Journalists With Bulgaria’s Nova Television Removed
RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service reported on April 14 that five leading journalists have been removed from the popular Nova Television channel. The move follows the sacking of additional correspondents earlier. Reporters Without Borders ranked Bulgaria in 111th place in its latest World Press Freedom Index and called the country the “black sheep of the EU.”

HRW Says Azerbaijan Abuses COVID-19 Restrictions To Crack Down On Critics
Human Rights Watch has accused Azerbaijani authorities of "abusing" restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus to arrest government critics. In less than a month, at least six opposition activists and a pro-opposition journalist were sentenced to detention of up to 30 days on "spurious charges," an April 16 statement says.

Almaty Court Says Police Inaction On Attacks Against RFE/RL Reporters Was Illegal
A Kazakh court has ruled that an investigation should continue into the failure of police to act against individuals who attacked RFE/RL reporters and hindered their professional activities during mass anti-government rallies in Almaty in March 2019. The Almaty City Investigation Court on April 15 agreed with a lawsuit filed by Aiman Omarova, a lawyer for RFE/RL, against police and asking for a deeper investigation of the incident where several unknown people aggressively covered RFE/RL cameras with newspapers and began physically and verbally abusing them.

RSF 2020 Index: Eastern Europe and Central Asia – Clampdown Continues
Almost everywhere in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, strongmen are consolidating their grip on news and information. The increasing expertise in new technologies that the region’s authoritarian or unstable regimes are acquiring could result in more censorship of the media. The regional heavyweights, Moscow and Ankara, continue to set a bad example.


CURRENT TIME: Among the network’s unique reporting on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the lives of ordinary Russians, a social video documenting one patient’s perspective from a hospital bed in the purpose-built Demikhov hospital has attracted over 5.5 million views across social networks. An April 13 interview with a small-business owner who publicly urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pick up the pace on helping Russian businesses respond to the coronavirus pandemic has attracted 2.35 million views across social networks. Cafe manager Anastasia Tatulova told Current Time, “We constantly read about some measures, but, unfortunately, not a single one of these measures has anything to do with me and my business.”Tatulova was later removed from a government commission on small and medium businesses. A social video based on an interview with a truck driver attracted more than 2.3 million views across social networks. The driver, who had been blocked from entering Moscow because of new measures requiring e-permits, cited the Russian constitution and other legislation to argue that Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s fiat defies the rule of law.

GEORGIA: RFE/RL’s Georgian Service has continued its rigorous coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak, despite restrictions that limit journalists’ ability to report from the field. Recent reporting has focused on elucidating Russian propaganda and disinformation about the pandemic -- including anti-American and anti-EU narratives-- by exposing the direct connections between Georgian online platforms and Russian fake news sources.

AFGHANISTAN: RFE/RL’s Afghan Service gained unique access to a makeshift clinic west of Kabul in an area under control by Taliban militants. The rare report from an all-but forbidden place showed that some insurgents appear to be taking the threat from COVID-19 seriously. The video report generated 370,000 views on the Service’s Dari and Pashto Facebook pages and almost upwards of 900 comments.

MAJLIS PODCAST: The Coronavirus As A Means To Strengthen Control

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH WEBINAR:Covid-19 and Crackdown in Central Asia

BRIEFLY: Award-Winning RFE/RL Belarus Journalist Says Reporters ‘Vaccinated Against Fear’ (video)

PRESSROOM: As Coronavirus Spreads, Authorities Target RFE/RL Journalists In Effort To Control Information

About Journalists in Trouble

Journalists in Trouble is a monthly report of incidents targeting RFE/RL journalists and their work, and developments affecting press freedom in our coverage region.​

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