Mapping Media Freedom verifies 571 threats to press freedom in first half of 2017

September 20, 2017

This report is also available in PDF format.

Index on Censorship’s database tracking violations of press freedom recorded 571 verified threats and limitations to media freedom during the first two quarters of 2017.

During the first six months of the year: three journalists were murdered in Russia; 155 media workers were detained or arrested; 78 journalists were assaulted; 188 incidents of intimidation, which includes psychological abuse, sexual harassment, trolling/cyberbullying and defamation, were documented; 91 criminal charges and civil lawsuits were filed; journalists and media outlets were blocked from reporting 91 times; 55 legal measures were passed that could curtail press freedom; and 43 pieces of content were censored or altered.

“The incidents reported to the Mapping Media Freedom in the first half of 2017 tell us that the task of keeping the public informed is becoming much harder and more dangerous for journalists. Even in countries with a tradition of press freedom journalists have been harassed and targeted by actors from across the political spectrum. Governments and law enforcement must redouble efforts to battle impunity and ensure fair treatment of journalists,” Hannah Machlin, Mapping Media Freedom project manager, said.

This is a study of threats, violations and limitations to media freedom throughout Europe as submitted to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform. It is made up of two reports, one focusing on Q1 2017 and the other on Q2 2017.

Q1 2017: Arrest of media professionals quadruples

Journalists continue to face unprecedented pressure in Europe as reports submitted to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform in the first quarter of 2017 demonstrate. Media professionals—primarily in Turkey, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine—were arrested at an alarming rate, more than a fourfold increase over the fourth quarter of 2016.

“During the first quarter of 2017, the MMF database registered several trends that we find to be acute challenges to media freedom. Some European governments have clearly interfered with media pluralism. Others have harassed, detained and intimidated journalists. All of these actions debase and devalue the work of the press and undermine a basic foundation of democracy,” Hannah Machlin, project manager at Mapping Media Freedom, said.

During Q1, authorities in multiple countries shut down critical and independent media outlets and intimidated reporters who asked challenging questions. Turkey continues to be the largest jailer of journalists in the world with a total of 148 journalists in prison by the end of March according the Platform for Independent Journalists P24, a Turkey-based MMF partner, which monitors the number of arrests in the country.

Even reporters in countries often thought to respect freedom of the press, such as Sweden, France and Germany, faced obstacles to performing their professional duties. They were abused by the leaders of extreme populist movements and their supporters, who encouraged a distrust of “mainstream media”; and blocked by nervous politicians who were seeing, particularly in France, the old political certainties swept away.

Between 1 January and 31 March 2017, Mapping Media Freedom’s network of correspondents and other journalists submitted a total of 299 violations of press freedom to the database.

Throughout the first three months of 2017: one journalist was murdered; 42 incidents of physical assault were confirmed; and there were 89 verified reports of intimidation, which includes psychological abuse, sexual harassment, trolling/cyberbullying and defamation. Media professionals were detained in 69 incidents; 38 criminal charges and civil lawsuits were filed; and journalists were blocked from covering a story in 54 verified incidents.

“The spike in arrests and detainments during this period caused by the persecution of journalists in Turkey and Belarus is particularly worrying,” Melody Patry, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said. “Journalists are being targeted by government officials, confronting polarised political environments and being undermined by propaganda and accusations of fake news.”

About Mapping Media Freedom

Each report is fact-checked with local sources before becoming available on the interactive map. The platform—a joint undertaking with the European Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, partially funded by the European Commission—covers 42 countries, including all EU member states, plus Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Iceland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. In September 2015, the platform expanded to monitor Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and in February 2016, it included Azerbaijan. Since launching in May 2014, the map has recorded more than 3,200 violations of media freedom, with 1,393 reports documented last year alone.

Deaths

One Russian journalist was killed in the first quarter of 2017. In March, Yevgeny Khamaganov, editor-in-chief of Asia-Russia Daily and The Site of the Buryat People, died under unexplained circumstances. The editor lived in the Siberian republic of Buryatia and had been back in its capital Ulan-Ude for only two weeks when he was, according to friends, violently assaulted by unknown assailants. Khamaganov, who was known for articles critical of the Russian federal government’s policies, had left Ulan-Ude for his native village in 2015, after a previous assault in which his neck was broken.

Physical Assaults and Injuries

There were 42 incidents of physical assault on journalists who were pursuing their professional duties in Q1. In Russia, there were seven reported incidents in which media professionals were assaulted. In St Petersburg, the 73-year-old founder of Novyi Petersburg, Nikolay Andruschenko, was beaten on two separate occasions resulting in brain damage. The assaults took place in March and Andruschenko died in April. He was investigating corruption, abuse of power and torture by St Petersburg police.

In Azerbaijan, blogger and human rights activist Mehman Huseynov was detained and tortured by police before being fined 105 euros for “disobeying police”. Huseynov frequently posts videos exposing corruption and criticising the lavish lifestyles of Azerbaijani government officials. He was later sentenced to two years in prison on defamation charges.

It continues to be physically dangerous to be a journalist in Belarus, where in March a Belsat cameraperson and TV journalist were dragged out of their car by traffic police as they drove to a protest. Both were severely beaten and their equipment was damaged. In France, three journalists were targeted by the police and protesters while covering demonstrations that turned violent.

In Italy, there were seven cases of journalists being physically assaulted during Q1. There were five assaults on journalists investigating corruption in the Naples area. In one instance in March, a reporter was beaten and needed  emergency care. Two Italian journalists were also hurt during demonstrations: one in Rome, who was recording a protest by taxi drivers, and the other in the southern town of Melendugno near Lecce, who was covering the construction of micro-tunnels for the Trans Adriatic pipeline.

Arrest/Detention

There were 171 journalists arrested or detained in the 42 nations MMF monitors in the first three months of 2017, more than four times as many than the previous quarter. Belarus was the country with the highest number of journalists detained in Q1, with 96 media workers including TV journalists, video bloggers, reporters and radio journalists held by police. All, bar one, were detained in March 2017 while trying to cover mass demonstrations in the country’s cities against a tax on the unemployed. Many were from the independent TV company Belsat. The biggest mass arrest came on 25 March, when 30 journalists, including a handful of foreign correspondents, were detained in Minsk while attempting to cover Freedom Day demonstrations. Eleven others were held on the same day across the country. Meanwhile, at least 19 journalists in Russia were held on 26 March for reporting on anti-corruption protests. A total of 11 others were held in March, most of whom were covering demonstrations, including a feminist protest marking International Women’s Day in Moscow. A reporter and photographer were also arrested by security services for covering gay culture in Svetogorsk, a city where the mayor said homosexuality did not exist.

Many arrests continued to take place in Turkey, where there were a total of 29 journalists and publishers detained during Q1. Some were held for their Kurdish connections, others for standing in solidarity with colleagues, and still others for just doing their job. Journalists for foreign newspapers were also targeted. Aylina Kılıç, who reports on Turkish/Kurdish relations and lives in London, was taken into custody in January while entering Turkey at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul. She was later released. The following month, a reporter for German newspaper Die Welt was also detained and remains in custody. By early March 2017, there were 148 journalists in prison in Turkey. In France there were two incidents of journalists being detained while trying to tell the story of migrants: one in Menton, on the border with Italy in January; and the other in February when a journalist following an NGO worker was detained while she was in a van carrying migrant children.

Criminal Charges/Civil Lawsuits

Belarus is the European country most likely to try to criminally prosecute journalists and accounted for 11 out of the 48 cases in Q1. Almost all of the detained Belarusian journalists were prosecuted for covering protests around Freedom Day on 25 March. In Malta, a property developer filed 19 libel cases against a journalist who had reported that the developer was cutting a deal with the government to build a hotel and two tower blocks on a large and valuable tract of public land. The previous month, the same journalist had her assets frozen through precautionary warrants filed by the economics minister and an EU presidency policy officer. This took place after she claimed they had visited a brothel while on a trip to Germany. Two civil libel suits were also filed against her by the pair.

Attacks to Property

There were 28 cases of attacks to property during Q1, with vehicles being repeatedly damaged. In Ukraine, cars belonging to three senior media workers were vandalised: in February a TV channel director reported having his tyres slashed. He said this happened because he had been too critical of local politicians in the city of Chernivtsi. In the city of Kamianske, unidentified assailants set fire to a car belonging to the editor-in-chief of two local news websites. The editor said he was targeted because local influential people did not like how his news sites reported on the city council. Two weeks later, the editor of the local newspaper in the same city had his car set on fire too. In Italy, a journalist in Brindisi also had their tyres slashed twice, allegedly because she was investigating local corruption. And a journalist in the southern German state of Bavaria had his car windscreen shattered in January. He had previously received threats of violence from a far-right group, the ultra-nationalist NPD, for his reports on the group.

Intimidation

Intimidation, including trolling/cyberbullying, psychological abuse, sexual harassment, defamation and discrediting, was widespread across Europe with 89 incidents this quarter. Particularly striking are those countries which have previously had good records on press freedom. France, for instance, had six cases which were primarily related to the French presidential election campaign with supporters and politicians intimidating journalists. Sweden also had seven incidents with far-right groups targeting journalists and media organisations. One journalist received death threats and threats of sexual violence after questioning a far-right blogger’s claims about the extent of violent crime committed by immigrants. Macedonia has also seen a spike in threats against journalists in this quarter. The president of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM), Naser Selmani, said that public officials, including representatives of state institutions, participated in these coordinated attacks: “It is sad that violence against journalists is coordinated by parties. These attacks have increased during a period when the political crisis in Macedonia has escalated. The violence against journalists is connected with recent heated political confrontations in Macedonia.” In Ukraine, a public website leaked the travel routes and car number plates of a large number of foreign correspondents reporting in the “anti-terrorist operation zone” (ATO). In Bosnia, a journalist was threatened by the brother of the head of the social services department in Banja Luka for investigating illegal adoptions.

Legal Measures

Legislative measures and court decisions continued to curb media freedom. Russia used legal measures the most frequently in Q1, with 10 out of the 35 cases reported to MMF occurring in Moscow. The most egregious case took place in February when the Russian government stripped Demyan Kudryavtsev, the owner of two independent newspapers, of his Russian citizenship to prevent him from owning media outlets Vedmosti and the Moscow Times. Other Russian cases in the period also involved attempts to close or curtail the activities of television and radio channels by forcing an American company to withdraw from funding Echo of Moscow radio station. In Ukraine, there were four cases of legal measures which successfully shut down two independent Russian-language TV stations. In January, Dozhd TV was prevented from broadcasting in the country and the Hunting and Fishing Channel, Ohota i Rybalka, was closed in February. The Ukrainian authorities also did not renew the licence of one of the country’s most popular radio stations, Vesti radio (see case study below). In March, legal measures were introduced to stop reporters from covering the troops and security services deployed against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Blocked Access

There were 54 cases of blocked access across Europe during Q1, many of which were associated with more serious violations against journalists. Populist parties on the right and left continued to ban journalists from attending their events. In the Netherlands, Denk, the new pro-immigrant party, banned two journalists from attending a campaign event – one journalist because she had asked a critical question earlier that day, and the other because she had questioned the endorsement of the party by a controversial imam. The far-right alliance of European populist parties, Europe of Nations and Freedom, also denied Germany’s leading media organisations accreditation for their conference in Koblenz. The ENF was formed as an alliance at the European Parliament in summer 2015, and the French nationalist party, Front National, represents its largest faction.

 

Jobs lost

At least 114 media professionals lost their jobs across Europe due to political decisions during the first quarter of 2017. Some 100 staff at the Vesti radio station were left unemployed after the Ukrainian authorities refused to renew their licence. Meanwhile, in eastern Russia, the head of the Information Policy Department in Omsk dismissed the editors-in-chief of five state-funded district newspapers because of their critical and independent stance towards the regional government. In Turkey, the satirical magazine Girgir was closed down by its publishers after it published a cartoon which the company thought was “unpleasant”. The Doğan media group in Turkey also fired a television anchor and a columnist in February because they had announced they were going to vote against the amendments to the Turkish constitution. In Romania, a newspaper columnist resigned after being told that her op-eds were too critical of the newly elected social democratic government. In Poland, the host of a popular talk show, broadcast by the state-controlled Radio Merkury was terminated after a critical interview with MP Ryszard Czarnecki. In Albania, the director of TV channel ABC did not have his contract renewed after the owner changed the “editorial orientation” of the station to be more pro-government in January. In a separate case, the director of the Albanian newspaper Mapo said his contract had not been renewed because the newspaper’s owner decided to support the government and he refused to accept the new editorial line.

Works censored

In Q1, Mapping Media Freedom documented 24 cases where work was censored or altered. In Turkey, the government shut down two religious TV stations, bringing the number of media outlets closed to 181. Meanwhile, the Kremlin allegedly told Russian broadcasters to end their “fawning coverage” of US president Donald Trump.

Western democracies were not immune from censorship, with nervous TV bosses worried about causing too much political or religious offence. In March, two French comedians did not have their sketches about France’s presidential election and police violence aired on a national TV channel because, according to the French newspaper Libération, the president of the channel considered them “too violent”. In Spain, public broadcaster TVE removed footage of a drag queen – dressed as the Virgin Mary and Christ – from its website. The video, which disappeared without explanation, had been filmed during the 2017 edition of Las Palmas Drag Queen Gala.

Case study: Belarus

Mass detentions of journalists took place in three Belarusian cities during Freedom Day marches on 25 March, according to the Belorussian Association of Journalists. Freedom Day is an unofficial holiday in Belarus, which is celebrated to commemorate the proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic in 1918. The current regime does not recognise Freedom Day and often prevents opposition forces from celebrating it. This year the holiday events included a protest against a tax on the unemployed, the so-called “parasite tax”, that authorities intended to introduce.

In Minsk, 30 journalists were detained. There were also detentions in Babruysk, Homel, Vitebsk, Orsha and Brest. Seven reporters,  including one British journalist and one French journalist, reported they had been beaten by the police. Many detainees were subsequently released, but others were prosecuted for disorderly conduct, using profane language, disobeying the police and participating in an unsanctioned mass event. Across the country there were reports of TV crews and reporters being detained and intimidated, including some who were brought to police stations and held there while the protests were taking place. Various incidents happened in the major cities of Vitebsk and Homel. One journalist was fined for disorderly conduct in Polatsk. On 26 March, 16 more journalists were arrested to prevent them from reporting on people demonstrating in solidarity with protesters who had been beaten and arrested the day before.

Case study: Sweden

An ongoing campaign to discredit and undermine journalists was uncovered by the Eskilstuna-Kuriren newspaper in Sweden in February 2017. Journalists at the paper reported on a project, orchestrated by an organisation called Granskning Sverige, where journalists from Eskilstuna-Kuriren and other news outlets were secretly recorded. Granskning Sverige claimed that by doing so it was holding the media accountable. Granskning Sverige reportedly pays individuals to call journalists and then ask certain questions to get specific words and phrases on tape. The recordings were then heavily edited and posted online, often via YouTube, to make it seem as if the journalists were partisan in their coverage. The enterprise was run through the servers of Fria Tider, a far-right Swedish language newspaper based in Estonia, according to research by Eskilstuna-Kuriren. Granskning Sverige is still active and continues to call journalists to secure audio recordings.

Case study: Ukraine

One of the country’s largest and most popular local radio stations, Radio Vesti, was taken off the air in Ukraine. The National Radio and TV Council did not renew Radio Vesti’s license for broadcasting in the Kharkiv area on 23 February and failed to renew its licence in the Kiev area the following month.

Detector Media reported that representatives of the nationalist movement Vidsich and the Sich volunteer battalion attended the National Radio and TV Council meeting and reportedly demanded Vesti’s Kiev license be revoked. There were concerns expressed earlier in the process that the ultimate beneficiary of the radio station was the former Minister of Revenue and Fees, Oleksandr Klymenko. According to the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, as a result of the licences being revoked, 90% of  staff (almost 100 employees) will lose their jobs at the radio station which has the largest audience in Ukraine. “We support transparency of media ownership but the elimination of authoritative media because of disputes with the regulator is unacceptable,” said Sergiy Tomilenko, acting President of NUJU. “Today a hundred skilled journalists and media workers have lost their jobs and their right to communicate with a large national audience.”

Case study: Romania

The government in Romania has been carrying out a campaign of intimidation against journalists who have been covering the recent protests in the capital. In an alarming development, Minister of Internal Affairs Carmen-Daniela Dan issued a list of journalists at a press conference in February whom she said promoted the recent protests on social media. She named  and condemned nine people as “public personalities, opinion leaders or members of political parties”, who had supported the protests. All, bar one, were journalists.

ActiveWatch and the Centre for Independent Journalism, two Romanian NGOs advocating for freedom of speech, condemned the gesture of the minister, saying that it showed a totalitarian way of thinking. “The list is an attempt by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to intimidate and to put pressure on critical voices within society, with possible threats to their safety,” their joint press release said.

This report is also available in PDF format.

This report was prepared by Sally Gimson with editing assistance by Hannah Machlin, Ryan McChrystal, Sean Gallagher, Cassandra Allen, Mary Meisenzahl and Margaret Flynn Sapia.

Q2 2017: Inhumane treatment of journalists rises

The crackdown on media freedom throughout Europe — even within those countries perceived to be more democratic — continues, as demonstrated by reports submitted to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform in the second quarter of 2017. Between 1 April and 30 June 2017, Mapping Media Freedom’s network of correspondents and other journalists submitted a total of 272 violations of press freedom to the database, a decline of nearly 10 per cent on the first quarter of 2017.

“A decrease of incidents filed to the map does not indicate an improvement to press freedom in Europe and the situation across the continent remains extremely concerning,” Hannah Machlin, Mapping Media Freedom project manager, said. “The number of arrests has decreased because hundreds of journalists are sitting in jail or have fled because of their work. Based on the severity of the second quarter reports, inhumane treatment of media workers is actually on the rise.”

In Q2: two journalists were killed; 36 incidents of physical assault and injury were reported; 53 criminal charges and civil lawsuits were filed; 99 instances of intimidation, which includes psychological abuse, sexual harassment, trolling/cyberbullying and defamation, took place; journalists were blocked from covering stories 54 times; 20 legal measures were passed that curtail press freedom; and 19 works were censored/altered by the state or editorial teams.

Criminal charges and civil lawsuits against media professionals increased by 39% during the second quarter of 2017. “It is clear that authorities — especially in Turkey, Belarus and Russia — are using legal systems to censor journalists,” said Machlin.

In Turkey, multiple journalists were slapped with lengthy sentences and jailed on charges related to the failed July 2016 coup.

DEATHS

Two journalists were killed in the second quarter of 2017. Dmitri Popkov, editor-in-chief and founder of local newspaper Ton-M, was shot five times by an unidentified perpetrator in the town of Minusinsk in Russia. Nikolay Andruschenko, an investigative correspondent for weekly newspaper Novyi Petersburg, died in a local hospital as a result of injuries on 19 April. The journalist was severely beaten twice in the first quarter, which led to a brain injury.

PHYSICAL ASSAULTS AND INJURY

Thirty-six reports of assault and injury occurred in the second quarter. Attacks were used to intimidate journalists. Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was based in Georgia since 2015, was abducted, beaten and taken across the border to Azerbaijan, where he was detained by authorities (see case study for more detail). In Sweden, investigative crime reporter Håkan Slagbrand sustained injuries to his face after being assaulted in his home by an unidentified man.  In Russia, Pyotr Pliev, a correspondent for state newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta in North Ossetia, was hit in the head from behind. In Hungary, Julia Halasz, a journalist working for the 444.hu news site, said a meeting organiser dragged her down several flights of stairs and out of a school by the arm while she was covering a Fidesz public forum.

Violence against media workers was also widespread in the Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Kosovo), where 15 journalists were assaulted or injured. In Kosovo, prominent journalist Arbana Xharra was beaten severely in a parking lot close to her apartment. In Macedonia two journalists, Dimitar Tanurov, a reporter for the online Meta news agency, and Nikola Ordevski, a cameraperson with the Makfax news agency, were physically assaulted during a protest in Skopje. In Croatia, Vedran Neferovic, the mayor of the town Pozega, shoved Mladen Mirkovic, a journalist for local news website 034portal.hr. “He pushed me against the wall and smacked my head against it,” Mirkovic stated.

ARREST / DETENTION

Eighty-six journalists were detained or arrested during the second quarter with the majority of incidents occurring in Turkey (49) and Russia (21).  In Turkey, journalists continued to be detained on terror charges related to the failed July 2016 coup,  according to P24, an Istanbul-based platform for independent journalists and a partner on MMF. Twelve of the 13 journalists who were released on 31 March were rearrested a few hours later on ties to the failed coup. Turkish authorities issued arrest warrants for four media workers connected to secular opposition outlet Sözcü. Three foreign journalists were also detained in the country including photographer Mathias Depardon, a French national, who was reportedly kept in solitary confinement for 14 days and went on a hunger strike. By the close of the second quarter 166 media workers were in prison in Turkey, MMF partner Platform for Independent Journalists confirmed.

In Azerbaijan, independent journalists were targeted by the state. Fikrat Faramazoglu, the former editor-in-chief of jam.az, a website that documents cases and arrests related to the ministry of national security, was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of extortion. He was first arrested in July 2016.  Nijat Amiraslanov, an independent reporter from the Gazakh region, was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention for allegedly resisting police. Aziz Orucov, a manager of the online TV platform Kanal 13, was detained along with his wife Lamiya Charpanova, the editor of the channel, and then sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention.

“Azerbaijan’s government has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to silence independent voices and critical media by using trumped-up charges to harass journalists. Index on Censorship and its partners have been monitoring the regime’s efforts to suppress journalism for years. It is clear that the international community must take concrete action to ensure that the government respect press freedom,” Hannah Machlin said.

Media workers were also detained in Russia, Hungary and Greece. In Russia, 21 journalists were detained and/or arrested,  a majority of whom were swept up during June’s anti-corruption protests (see case study). In Hungary László Szily, a journalist working for news website 444.hu was taken into custody and spent several hours in a small cell until his trial began for slander. He was taken to court in handcuffs and on a leash. In Greece publisher Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested following a lawsuit for libel against him filed by Lina Nikolopoulou, who is the wife of the Bank of Greece’s governor, Yiannis Stournaras.

CRIMINAL CHARGES / CIVIL LAWSUITS

Fifty-three criminal charges and civil lawsuits were filed against journalists in the second quarter. Severe sentences were imposed in Turkey to punish media workers accused of working to overthrow the government. An indictment of journalists and columnists for the defunct Zaman daily sought three consecutive life sentences for 30 defendants on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. Another indictment demanded two consecutive life sentences for 13 journalists including Meydan columnist Atilla Taş, former Yeni Şafak writer Murat Aksoy and TürkSolu magazine editor Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu. The prosecution claimed that they were part of the “media arm” of the group behind the 15 July coup attempt. Political commentators and brothers Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan were accused of “attempting to overthrow the government of Turkey” and using “subliminal messaging” to encourage the coup. Prosecutors demanded multiple life sentences for both, who have been in pre-trial detention since September 2016. Another prosecutor asked for a total of 46 years in prison for five journalists who supported the shuttered Özgür Gündem daily by standing in as an editor-in-chief for one day.

“The politically motivated ‘show trials’ and long sentences being aimed at journalists for their critical reporting underlines the attitude of Turkish authorities, who are clearly seeking to send a silencing message to all other journalists. This is an unfolding tragedy for these journalists and their families that must be resisted and why Mapping Media Freedom takes pains to monitor and publicise the ongoing crisis in Turkey,” Hannah Machlin said.

Outside of Turkey, lawsuits were filed by government officials as reprisal for investigative reporting. In Albania, Gjin Gjoni, a judge for a court of appeals in Tirana, filed a lawsuit against four journalists who work for Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Shqiptarja newspaper, for their reporting on criminal investigations into his family’s assets. In Italy, Simone Monopoli, mayor of Cavan, a city in the province of Naples, filed a suit against blogger Pasquale Gallo for libel, for an article that accuses the mayor and a municipal councillor of paying for votes. In Russia, the Chechen interior minister, Ruslan Alkhanov, reported that the ministry will sue Novaya Gazeta after the newspaper broke the story of police detaining hundreds of gay people in the republic. In France, the new labour minister, Muriel Pénicaud, filed a complaint against an unknown person for theft, breach of professional confidentiality and possession of confidential information following the publication of an article about the government’s labour reform project. In Italy, the prosecutor’s office in Ravenna filed suit against freelance journalist Alessandro Bongarzone and Nevio Ronconi, editor-in-chief of Ravennanotizie.it, seeking €120,000 in compensation after an article criticised official conduct in a manslaughter case.

Fines were imposed to stifle the media. In Belarus, freelance journalists were fined a total of eight times in accordance with Article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offences, the illegal production and distribution of media products, totaling to 7,267 rubles (€3,174). Seven of the eight cases targeted Belsat TV, a Poland-based media outlet. Kastus Zhukousky was fined  twice in the second quarter. He was fined seven times on the same charges in 2016. The Istanbul 8th Criminal Court  issued a fine of TL 113,000 (29,045) to the editors and journalists of a pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, which was shut down under a cabinet decree in late 2016. In Spain, two journalists received fines for disrespecting the police. Cristina Fallarás received a notice informing her she was fined €600 for disobeying police officers during a protest in Madrid; Freelance journalist Raúl Solis was fined €150 for disrespecting a police officer during a protest in Seville.  

ATTACKS TO PROPERTY

Media outlet offices were raided and journalist equipment damaged in 22 verified incidents. In Ukraine, two unidentified assailants smashed the front door of Do TeBe TV channel in Kramatorsk located in Donetsk oblast. In Greece, a group of about 10 masked individuals barged into the offices of  daily paper Kathimerini in Thessaloniki shortly after midnight, throwing paint and flyers which had threats written on them, including “good news is a stone on a journalist’s head.” In Azerbaijan, police raided the offices of independent online television project Kanal 13 and confiscated documents and equipment.

INTIMIDATION

Journalists were pressured to reveal sources, threatened with rape and violence, and intimidated by public officials in 78 incidents in the second quarter. In Russia, editor-in-chief of local news website, Kurier.Sreda.Berdsk, Galina Komornikova, was threatened along with her staff by someone who promised to “come and handle us on behalf of law enforcement agencies following the article”. The day before, the site published a story on the secret funeral of Berdsk resident Yevgeni Tretyakov, who was a Russian military officer killed in Syria. In France, a letter containing death threats and a bullet was sent to the office investigative website Mediapart. The letter read: “Vigilance and protection don’t last Ad Vitam. On that day we will be there for you or one of your close ones.”

Pressure to Reveal Sources

Latvian police summoned Indra Sprance, a reporter for the weekly Latvian language IR, and demanded she reveal her sources for a story on the firing of an insolvency administrator. The Irish High Court reopened a defamation case in which airline Ryanair​ is demanding British TV station Channel 4, and an independent production company, Blakeway Productions​,​​ disclose sources used in the 2013 episode of Dispatches​,​ Secrets From the Cockpit. Six journalists, who  were summoned to testify by authorities following their investigations into police errors in the German state of Niedersachsen, were told they would face high fines if they refused to speak.

Right Wing Activists Intimidate the Press

In Norway, Harald S. Klungtvei, editor of news site Filter, was threatened by Martin Lorentzen, who is linked to neo-Nazi organisation NMR. In his messages Lorentzen called Klungtveit a “pig”, told him to “watch out for your family”. He is also reported to have written ‘ACHTUNG’ (English: Danger) and ‘RACE WAR!’. In the Netherlands, Loes Reijmer, a journalist and columnist for De Volkskrant, faced a storm of abuse including rape threats after the popular right-wing blog GeenStijl published her photo with the text: “Would you do her?” Laurent Burlet, a journalist for Rue89Lyon, suffered threats after writing an article on the rise of far-right groups in Lyon, news website Rue89Lyon reported. In France, Six days after Laurent Burlet published an article on the rise of far-right groups in Lyon on Rue89Lyon, he found a message by the door of his house, which said: “We know where to find you, Laurent”. The message was signed with a Celtic cross, the symbol of nationalistic far-right.

Intimidation from the State

In France, the president’s head of communication, Sylvian Fort, insulted journalist Yann Barthès, a presenter of the show Quotidien on channel TMC, by calling him a “dickhead” and a “retard.” In Bulgaria, Betina Joteva, a member of the committee on culture and media at the national assembly, told journalist Kudrinka Kudrinova to “be careful” and said “If you open your mouth one more time with me, you will see what happens.” In Russia, CEO of the state-owned oil corporation Rosneft, Igor Sechin, and the head of the Chechen republic,  Ramzan Kadyrov, stated that they were thinking of suing the Financial Times and Open Russia.

LEGAL MEASURES

Legislative measures and court decisions that curtail press freedom were verified 19 times in Q2 2017. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko signed a national security and defence council decree banning a number of Russian media and social media sites including VKontakte and Odnoklassniki along with search engine Yandex and email service Mail.ru. Internet service providers will be forced to block access to these sites for three years. The German parliament passed two laws that curtail press freedom: a new telecommunication surveillance law allows law enforcement to monitor all encrypted messages, such as Whatsapp and iMessage, and access all stored information; Germany’s second chamber of parliament passed the Network Reinforcement Act, which obliges social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to remove “clearly unlawful content” within 24 hours of notification. Lack of action results in high fines, and consistent non-compliance can be punished with fines between €5 and €50 million.

In Poland, an MP for the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party, Krystyna Pawłowicz, appealed to the national broadcasting council to withdraw the licence from private television station TVN, for broadcasting news programme Fakty, arguing the programme was not accurate or reliable, and has provoked political tensions. Lithuania’s Vilnius region administrative court ordered Latvian company Baltijas Mediju Alliance (BMA), to stop its online broadcasts, which are primarily in Russian, for not having the proper licence.

BLOCKED ACCESS

Journalists were barred from reporting and media outlets were blocked 46 times. In Ukraine, the state border guard service barred two journalists from Russian state TV channel Life and a blogger from entering the country. Their ban will last for three years for visiting the annexed peninsula of Crimea. In the United Kingdom, three journalists for Cornwall Live were shut in a room, prevented from filming and severely limited in the questions they could ask during Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to a factory in Cornwall. In Montenegro, President of Parliament Ivan Brajovic ordered camera operators and photographers not to film the return of the opposition party MPs, who had been boycotting parliamentary sessions. Spain’s left-wing Podemos party did not invite six Spanish media outlets to an “off the record” breakfast briefing where they introduced the new party spokespeople to the rest of media.

Media outlets were also blocked repeatedly in Azerbaijan. The e-Security Centre at the Ministry of Transportation, Communication and High Technologies applied to block four news websites and two satellite TV channels. Criminal.az reported that their website has been experiencing issues with access since 15 June. Anar Mammadov, editor-in-chief of the platform, said he assumed the website was blocked following the recent publication of a story on the death of an Azerbaijani soldier whose body was returned to his family after being killed at his base.

LOSS OF EMPLOYMENT

Six incidents were verified in which journalists were fired for their reporting. In Russia, the entire editorial staff of news website Vashi Novosti announced they were dismissed from their roles. The announcement followed staff’s refusal to publish a critical piece on Mikhail Krivov. In the Czech Republic, a journalist for Mladá fronta Dnes, Marek Přibil, was fired in the wake of incident in which media mogul and ex-finance minister Andrej Babi accused Přibil of being an agent who had infiltrated the MAFRA media organisation following the publication of several recorded conversations between the two.

PIECES OF WORK CENSORED OR ALTERED

Twenty-two works were censored and/or altered in the second quarter of 2017. Agence France Presse decided to not publish a story about allegations of corruption against Richard Ferrand, a minister who resigned on 19 June to lead En Marche, President Emmanuel Macron’s party. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality announced that it was shutting down its cultural publication, 1453 Istanbul Culture and Arts magazine for publishing a photograph featuring the slogan “Erdo-Gone! İnşallah – Maşallah”. An op-ed piece written by law professor Octavio Salazar published in Spain’s El Pais newspaper was then removed from the web because the editor-in-chief called it “inappropriate”. The article criticised the behaviour of the center-right party Partido Popular MP Rafael Hernando. Atkhyz 24, a local TV channel based in Russia’s  Karachay-Cherkess Republic, deleted a report about Russian Orthodox church claims on Alanian churches (churches built on the territory of ancient Alana, now Ossetia).

CASE STUDY: RUSSIA

Demonstrations occurred across Russia protesting government corruption on 12 June. This was the second wave of protests to be organised by opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his  anti-corruption foundation. The St Petersburg Ombudsman Aleksandr Shyshlov also issued a press release condemning police actions during the rallies where “hundreds of people were detained, among them minors, media representatives, observers and passing civilians who did not commit any unlawful action.”

In Moscow, Andrey Poznaykov, a reporter for the Echo of Moscow radio station covering the demonstrations, was detained while taking a break on a cafe’s terrace. Though he showed officers his press card, he was taken to a police van and released soon after. Other detainees in Moscow include: Novaya Gazeta photographer Evgeni Feldman, a correspondent for Open Russia Nikita Safronov, independent photographer Georgi Malets, and independent journalist Denis Styazhkin. Aleksei Abanin, a photographer for the RTVi, wrote later that a police officer had threatened “to break my camera and break my face if I continue to photograph”.

Ignacio Ortega, a Moscow-based reporter for Spanish news agency EFE, was detained while reporting from the anti-corruption rally. Officers held Ortega in a van with dozens of other individuals before bringing him and the others to a police station.

In Sochi, Andrey Kiselyov, a correspondent for Radio RFE/RL, was detained and issued him a warning to not commit any further violations.

In Makhachkala, Dagestan, Caucasian Knot journalist Patimat Makhmudova said that unknown people had broken her camera during the 12 June protests. Additionally, Bariyat Idrisova and Saida Vagabova, correspondents for the independent Dagestani news website Chernovik, were assaulted and prevented from filming at the same anti-corruption rally, Chernovik reported.

In Saratov, an unknown person attempted to prevent filming by correspondents from the Open Channel, a local TV station. The unknown individual approached the TV crew, asked whether everything was OK and then tried to run away with the camera.

In St Petersburg, among those who were detained were David Frenkel, a contributing photographer for Kommersant and Mediazona, and Ksenia Morozova, the journalist for local website Sobaka.ru, who were both covering the rally. Both journalists were detained despite showing their press cards. Frenkel was released soon after while Morozova was taken to the police station, where she was kept overnight before facing a trial for “public order disturbance”. After spending 35 hours in the police station, Morozova was brought to the court for trial. She was sentenced to 10 days administrative arrest and a fine of 15,000 rubles (€250).

CASE STUDY: AZERBAIJAN

Afgan Mukhtarli, who has been based in Tbilisi, Georgia, since 2015, was reportedly abducted, beaten and taken across the border to Azerbaijan where he was immediately detained. Mukhtarli was kidnapped from his neighbourhood, forced into a car with his hands tied and beaten. His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, stated: “He was beaten, has a broken nose, bruises all over his head and right eye, his rib may be broken.” Mukhtarli was then transported across the border into Azerbaijan without his passport. He was then charged with illegal border crossing, smuggling and resisting law enforcement. Azerbaijani police also claim Mukhtarli was in possession of €10,000 during police search. Mukhtarli, whose wife and child are still in Tbilisi, fled to Georgia from Azerbaijan in 2015, after receiving threats over his investigative reporting on corruption in the Azerbaijani defence ministry. The following day Mukhtarli was sentenced to three months in pretrial detention.

CASE STUDY: UKRAINE

Blogger and writer Stanyslav Aseev disappeared in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and was reportedly detained by militants of the self-proclaimed DPR. Aseev, who uses the alias Stanislav Vasin, contributes to a number of news outlets including Radio Liberty Donbas Realities project, Ukrayinska Pravda, Ukrainian week, Dzerkalo Tyzhnya and runs a prominent blog via Facebook. Tetyana Jakubowicz, one of Aseev’s project managers, said their contact with Aseev had been lost on 2 June.

The journalist’s mother found evidence that his flat was broken into in Donetsk, and noted that his some of his belongings were missing, including a laptop.

“We are trying to understand exactly what was happening to him. We are still trying to gain access there to understand where he is,” Fiona Frazer, head of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, stated.

On 12 July 2017, a confidential source reported that Aseev is under the custody of the de-facto “ministry of state security”. On 16 July, 2017, Yegor Firsov, a former member of Ukrainian parliament, wrote on his Facebook separatists had charged the journalist with espionage. He added that if the separatists convict him, he could face a jail sentence of up to 14 years, citing written confirmation provided from Aseev ‘s mother.

This report is also available in PDF format.

This report was prepared by Hannah Machlin with editing assistance by Ryan McChrystal, Sean Gallagher, Cassandra Allen, Mary Meisenzahl and Margaret Flynn Sapia.

Categories: Mapping Media Freedom

Categories