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U.S. Cites Shrinking Space for Free Speech

Tajikistan - OSCE ODIHR logo
Tajikistan - OSCE ODIHR logo
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Thomas Melia, representing the U.S. at the OSCE HDIM session on Fundamental Freedoms held on September 24 in Warsaw, expressed concern about the shrinking space for freedom of expression and the threat of use of violence against journalists in the OSCE area.

Excerpts from his remarks are as follows:

"In the Russian Federation alone, 16 cases of murdered journalists remain unsolved, such as that of the prominent Dagestani journalist Khajimurad Kamalov, who was gunned down in front of his home last December 15. ...

"In Belarus, Anton Surapin, an independent journalist and blog editor, was detained by the KGB for over one month for uploading photos of teddy bears holding small signs calling for free speech that had been air-dropped into the country. Following his release he faces travel restrictions. Charges against him of “complicity in a crime and assistance to illegal entry” have not been dropped. As recently as September 18, several Belarusian and international journalists were manhandled and briefly detained in Minsk while covering a peaceful public action by the opposition movement Tell The Truth that was calling for a boycott of yesterday’s parliamentary elections. On the same occasion, three opposition activists were sentenced from seven to twelve days imprisonment.

"We urge the Azerbaijan authorities to ensure good faith, thorough investigations into the blackmail attempt against investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova and the beating of journalist Idrak Abbasov.

"On March 15, an appeals court in Uzbekistan upheld an additional five-year sentence imposed on political activist and journalist Muhammad Bekjanov for allegedly violating internal prison rules just days before his 13-year prison sentence was set to end. And we continue to have serious due process concerns about the administrative trial of independent Uzbek journalist Elena Bondar; the proceedings appeared to violate Uzbekistan’s own laws and procedure involving the rights of defendants.

"In Turkey, the high number of journalists imprisoned is deeply disturbing and the number of Kurdish intellectuals and political activists in jail is a chilling example of the use of anti-terror laws restricting speech on sensitive topics. In June, Turkish classical pianist Fazil Say was charged with insulting Islam in a Tweet. His case, scheduled to go to trial October 18, illustrates both the changing modes of censorship in the digital age and the familiar dangers that ensue when the state seeks to act as an arbiter of opinion.

"We also note with concern a recent lawsuit initiated by the official Hungarian News Agency against journalist György Balavany for a blog post he wrote critical of public service media."