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The Record: 2011

Ukraine -- Exhibition "Stop Censorship", Kyiv, June 15, 2011
Ukraine -- Exhibition "Stop Censorship", Kyiv, June 15, 2011
RFE/RL journalists, many of them freelancers, suffered direct repercussions as a result of their work on 19 occasions this year.

The incidents range from harassment by police to beatings, death threats, detention and prison. In addition, RFE/RL language service bureaus experienced interference with their operations, including threats of closure and disruption of communications networks.

RFE/RL’s incident record tracks with the findings of major media and human rights advocacy groups that rate Azerbaijan, Belarus and Turkmenistan as deeply hostile to media freedom.

Abbas Atilay and Nushabe Fatullayeva were among three RFE/RL correspondents in Azerbaijan who were harassed, assaulted or detained while video-taping, photographing or reporting on public demonstrations. In one case, police questioned a reporter about her contacts with on-line activists who had helped organize protests.

Yafez Hasanov, a correspondent in Azerbaijan’s exclave of Naxichivan, was abducted by unidentified persons while covering a story and expelled to the Iranian border. In another incident, Hasanov received repeated, anonymous death threats after reporting on a development project in Baku. Azeri authorities have not investigated these cases, disciplined perpetrators or issued an official response.

Halina Abakunchyk and Aleh Hruzdzilovich were among several RFE/RL correspondents in Belarus who were threatened, assaulted and detained in a crackdown on protests that followed the December 2010 elections and continued throughout the year. Mikhal Karnievich was detained after reporting on demonstrations in the western city of Hrodno, and subsequently charged with “participating in an illegal protest” and fined.

In addition, the Belarus service's website suffered a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) at the height of nationwide protests in July. As part of a continuing campaign of intimidation and coercion that continued throughout the year, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs repeatedly threatened to strip RFE/RL correspondents of their accreditation, and security agents threatened the Minsk bureau with closure and arrests.

In Kazakhstan, Alima Abdirova, an NGO head who freelances for RFE/RL in western Kazakhstan, believes a libel suit against her group was brought in retaliation for her reporting for RFE/RL. Abdirova was acquitted for lack of evidence.

RFE/RL websites inside Kazakhstan were blocked for 12 days in February and March. Officials from Nursat, which together with KazTelecom dominates the country's internet, ultimately apologized for the “technical problems” and restored service.

Officials in Kyrgyzstan denied an accreditation request to Gulasal Kamolova, an Uzbek stringer who covered events in southern Kyrgyzstan for RFE/RL’s Uzbek service. In light of the ethnic violence that engulfed the region in 2010, Kamolova interpreted the denial as a threat to her security and left the country.

Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, an intrepid correspondent in Turkmenistan, was threatened with charges of disseminating defamatory information and provoking national unrest after reporting on explosions at a weapons depot in July. He was subsequently convicted and imprisoned on fabricated charges in October, before being amnestied by President Berdymukhammedov later that month.

Amangelen Shapudakov, a contributor to the Turkmen service, was forcibly confined to a psychiatric facility for one month after accusing a local official of corruption in a conversation with an RFE/RL correspondent over mobile phone.

RFE/RL journalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to experience direct threats this year, including from the Taliban. In addition, they and their colleagues in Iraq and were subject to extreme physical danger as a result of reporting in and around a conflict zone.

Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian language service, is banned in Iran. Persons accused of being associated with Radio Farda, listening to its broadcasts or accessing its website are subject to threats and prison.