The coronavirus pandemic is expanding threats to media freedom around the world, where authoritarian regimes such as China and Iran are stifling details of the outbreak, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its annual press freedom rankings. RSF added that the pandemic had encouraged some regimes to "take advantage of the fact that people are stunned" to impose measures "that would be impossible to adopt in normal times."
The Kremlin has proposed to the State Duma draft amendments to the law "on police" that expand the rights of security forces. The bill grants officers the right to open a car, cordon off residential buildings, fence off places where mass events are held, and conduct personal searches of citizens. A separate clause grants police officers immunity from prosecution for any acts carried out while performing their duties. The draft makes no reference to the coronavirus pandemic. (in Russian, Current Time)
Russian media reports that arrests and convictions in Moscow have reached a four-year high amid trials that have excluded visitors and journalists because of restrictions associated with the coronavirus outbreak. 997 people were sent to jail or placed under house arrest between March and April, mostly on drug or theft-related charges, an increase of 46% over the same period in 2019. (Russian Service)
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. Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has threatened Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina and RFE/RL North Caucasus chief Aslan Doukaev. 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.” (Russian Service/Siberia Realities)
Residents of major Russian cities are holding rallies via the Russian web mapping service Yandex.Maps. For two days, people have demanded that emergency situations be declared in their regions and financial assistance be provided to persons suffering from the coronavirus. People have made status marks in front of local administrative offices on the map where they type their demands and mark titles. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has signed an order equating patients with viral respiratory infections to those infected with coronavirus, requiring the former and their relatives to observe a strict quarantine and submit to electronic monitoring of their location. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
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.
Moldova's government has approved $470 million worth of loans from Russia and the IMF to help plug a rapidly growing budget deficit that is expected to double because of the coronavirus outbreak, reaching an estimated 7 percent of gross domestic product.
Rights defenders in Kazakhstan say the government is using restrictions imposed to slow the coronavirus outbreak to crack down on dissent. Several leading civil and human rights activists in the Central Asian nation were arrested over the weekend on charges of distributing fake news about the pandemic.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia has accused a Moscow court of making a "mockery of justice" after he was denied admission to a closed-door hearing in the trial of Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen accused by Russia of espionage. "The fact that it is a closed hearing, that it is a secret trial – Paul hasn’t seen the evidence against him – it makes a mockery of justice," U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan said in an April 20 statement.
The U.S. has named career diplomat Julie Fisher, a top State Department official for Europe, as its first ambassador to Belarus in more than a decade. The Senate must approve the White House appointment, but it’s unclear when hearings will be held as lawmakers are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and presidential elections later this year.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (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..
Abdrakhman Naumov, a noted Islamic scholar in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, has been arrested on suspicion of creating and running a branch of a banned Islamic group. Naumov's lawyer told RFE/RL that his client was apprehended about a month ago on suspicion of being the leader of the Nurcular Islamic group. Nurcular was founded in Turkey by Islamic scholar Said Nursi, who died in 1960. It has been banned in Russia since 2008.
Former Georgian President and Odessa Governor Mikhail Saakashvili has confirmed that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has offered him the post of Deputy Prime Minister for Reform. Saakashvlili wrote on Facebook that he intends to present to the parliament his “proposals for urgent changes” in light of the “very difficult period both in the economy and life in general.” (Ukrainian Service)
Pirates have attacked a Portugal-flagged container ship off the coast of Benin and kidnapped eight crew members, including three Russians, one Ukrainian, and the Bulgarian captain.