Sunday, May 01, 2016


Ukrainian Talk Show Host Loses Work Permit, Vows Hunger Strike

Ukrainian TV talk show host Savik Shuster

A prominent Ukrainian talk show host was stripped of his work permit on April 26, sparking an uproar that forced Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to defend his record on media freedom.

Savik Shuster -- a 63-year-old Canadian who was born in the Soviet Union and had previously worked for RFE/RL -- accused Kyiv of not supporting free speech.

"As it turns out, this government does not tolerate any criticism," he said on his satellite television channel.

He announced he was going on a hunger strike "until...my right to work in Ukraine is restored."

Ukraine's employment office told Shuster that his work permit was revoked because he had failed to notify authorities that he was under investigation by tax authorities.

"Freedom of speech is one of Ukraine's greatest achievements," Poroshenko countered on Facebook. "As the guarantor of the constitution, I have and will protect free speech in all its forms. That is why I hope that the corresponding agencies resolve this matter as soon as possible."

Shuster has produced his political talk show Shuster Live for years. He vowed to continue his work without a permit.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

World Press Freedom At Lowest In More Than A Decade, Watchdog Says

Turkish police use a tear-inducing agent against demonstrators during a protest over the arrest of two reporters in Ankara late last year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was singled out in the Freedom House report for his crackdown on journalists.

Eugen Tomiuc

A U.S.-based rights watchdog says press freedom in the world declined in 2015 to its lowest level in 12 years, under increased pressure from a combination of political, criminal, and terrorist elements.

"The forces against press freedom were strongest in the Middle East and Turkey, where governments and militants groups pressured journalists and media outlets to take sides, creating a 'with or against us' climate," Washington-based Freedom House said in its annual report, released on April 27.

The report, titled Freedom Of The Press 2016: The Battle For The Dominant Message, noted that Syria remained the deadliest place in the world for journalists in 2015, with at least 14 killed in the country, and three Syrian journalists assassinated in Turkey, apparently by the militant group Islamic State (IS).

Turkey's government used "real and perceived security threats to intensify its crackdown on the media," the report said, singling out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for "pursuing insult charges against journalists, bloggers, and social-media users."

The paper also described Russia as "an innovator of modern state propaganda" that tightened information control at home and also stepped up efforts to manipulate the media in "geopolitically significant" neighbor states such as Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic and Central Asian states.

Censorship Conundrum

"We have seen a lot of countries grapple with the idea of what to do with content that seems like news but sometimes has political motives," Freedom House research analyst Elen Aghekyan told RFE/RL.

"We've seen this happen in Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova, and it seems to be a remaining challenge as countries are trying to deal with the onslaught of such information but hopefully not also engage in censorship themselves."

She added, "This has especially gone global in the past few years through [Russian state-controlled information agency] 'Sputnik' which is broadcasting into many countries, and also through regular national Russian broadcasters which are received by audiences in neighboring countries that have Russian minorities."

The report describes Russia as "an innovator of modern state propaganda" that tightened information control at home.
The report describes Russia as "an innovator of modern state propaganda" that tightened information control at home.

The report also noted that, at home, the Russian government "reoriented the focus of its misinformation machine from Ukraine to President Vladimir Putin’s newest foreign exploit, the military intervention in Syria," the document noted, adding that authorities kept up the pressure on online journalism and blogging, the "small space left for free expression."

The report assesses media freedom in 199 countries and territories, each country and territory receiving a score from 0 (most free) to 100 (least free), which serves as the basis for a status designation of "free," "partly free," or "not free."

Five out of the world's 10 worst-rated countries and territories are in RFE/RL's broadcast area -- Belarus is ranked 192nd, Crimea 195th, and Iran 190th, while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan occupy the 197th and 198th spots, higher only than North Korea.

"In some Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan, there is year after year almost no change -- very closed environments. In others, like Tajikistan, we have seen a lot of repression on freedom of expression associated with a crackdown on the Islamic political parties," Aghekyan said, adding, "We saw a mix of continued closed environment, further oppression and a kind of a crackdown that is a backsliding on previous gains, so unfortunately, no good news out of that region."

Concerns About Europe

The report also noted that media freedom declined "not just in repressive societies but also in Europe," singling out politicians in Poland, Serbia, and other states who "sought greater control over national media."

The new right-wing government in Poland passed legislation "allowing it to hire and fire the management of the state-owned media," said the report.

It adds that a large influx of refugees "indirectly resulted in a variety of limitations on journalistic freedom" on the European continent, singling out Hungary, where police attacked several foreign journalists reporting on violent clashes between police and migrants.

It criticized Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, "whose well-established influence over state media was evident in their overtly biased coverage of the refugee crisis during 2015."

In the Western Balkans, Serbia, which has been designated "partly free," and Macedonia, designated "not free," were listed among the countries that suffered the largest declines in 2015.

In Serbia, several journalists suffered physical assaults, while "attacks and death threats in Macedonia and Bosnia also raised concerns, with numerous violations committed against reporters who were investigating government corruption," said the report.

"Macedonia was cause for quite some alarm after the revelations of government wiretapping of journalists, and what we've also seen in the western Balkans is ongoing violence towards journalists which has been a concern in the entire region at large and this year we also saw in places like Croatia, which previously did not have as high a degree of violence as say, Montenegro," said Aghekyan.

"The region overall is giving us quite a lot of cause for worry, as its old problems seem to be persisting but also some of the better performers seem to be headed in bad directions."
 


Extremism Charges Made Against Russian Blogger For Syria Post

Blogger Anton Nosik says the charges against him the "delusional and ridiculous" nature of extremism as defined in the Russian Criminal Code. 

RFE/RL

Moscow investigators levied criminal charges against the man considered to be the godfather of Russia's blogosphere, accusing him of extremism for a post that called for "wiping Syria off the face of the Earth." 

The charges against Anton Nosik -- announced on April 26 by the capital's branch of the national Investigative Committee -- were widely anticipated. 

A prolific blogger whose writings are some of the most widely viewed on the Russian-language Internet, Nosik has not denied publishing the remark about Syria in October and making similar comments in a radio interview later. 

But he said the case highlighted the "delusional and ridiculous" nature of extremism as defined in the Russian Criminal Code. 

Nosik wrote the controversial post a day after Russian launched its air campaign in Syria to bolster the forces of longtime ally President Bashar al-Assad.

The post also likened the Assad regime to that of Nazi Germany.
 


Kasyanov Says Youth Leader From Russia's Parnas Party Kidnapped

RFE/RL

The head of Russia's Parnas opposition party, Mikhail Kasyanov, says a leading member of his party has been kidnapped by three unknown men in Moscow.

Kasyanov wrote on Facebook on April 26 that the kidnapped party official, Mikhail Konev, was the head of the Parnas youth wing.

According to Kasyanov, Konev was forced into a car as he was leaving a military commission building in Moscow, where he had been summoned on April 26.

Kasyanov also posted a photograph of the kidnappers' car on Facebook. The license plate of the car was legible.

Kasyanov said his party is demanding an immediate investigation into Konev's disappearance and has called on authorities to secure the young man's immediate release.

The Parnas party, led by Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister, openly positions itself as a Kremlin opponent.

The former co-chairman of Parnas, Russia's former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, was shot dead near the Kremlin on February 27, 2015.


Belarusian Activist Fined For Attending Anti-Russia Protest

Belarusian activist Dzmitry Paliyenka (file photo)

MINSK -- A court in Minsk has fined a Belarusian activist for participating in an anti-Russia rally.

The Minsk Central Court found Dzmitry Paliyenka guilty of taking part in the unsanctioned public gathering on April 26 and ruled that he must pay a fine equal to about $215.

Paliyenka was among a group of activists who protested against Belarus's alliance with Russia on April 2 in front of the Russian Embassy in Minsk. 

Paliyenka did not attend the trial.

Another Belarusian activist, Vyachaslau Kasinerau, also faced trial on April 26 for placing a large poster, saying "Hands off Antifascists!" in front of the Belarusian Investigative Committee's headquarters in Minsk on April 8.

Kasinerau said that his three antifascist comrades have been "falsely persecuted" by the Investigative Committee "for their political views."

Judge Viktorya Shabunya ruled on April 26 that the prosecution's case against Kasinerau was incomplete, saying investigators need to compile more evidence.
 


Russian Court Bans Crimean Tatar Executive Council As Extremist

The chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, told journalists that the Crimean Tatar council and other related bodies would move their operations to Kyiv.

RFE/RL

A Russian-run court in the annexed Crimean Peninsula has branded the executive council for the region's Tatar minority an extremist organization and ordered it banned.
 
The April 26 ruling by the region's Supreme Court was the latest in a series of moves restricting the activities of Crimean Tatars, many of whom have strongly resisted Russia's efforts to consolidate authority over the Ukrainian region.
 
Last week, Russia's Justice Ministry said the Crimean Tatar council, known as the Mejlis, had been placed on a list of civic and religious organizations for alleged extremist activity.
 
The court ruling endorsing that Justice Ministry announcement gives local officials new authority to begin shutting down enterprises, including newspapers, or potentially confiscating computers or other property.
 
Many Tatars, who make up around 12 percent of the peninsula's 2.5 million residents, fled Crimea after Russia occupied then seized the region two years ago.
 
Russia's top prosecutor for the peninsula, Natalya Poklonskaya, was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as saying that any actions taken by the Mejlis on Crimean territory would now be considered unlawful.
 
Refat Chubarov, a Tatar lawmaker who heads the Mejlis, told reporters in Kyiv that the council, and other related bodies, would move operations in full to Kyiv.
 
Many Tatars who have remained complain of persistent harassment under the Moscow-backed authorities. An unknown number have disappeared as well, possibly detained by security agencies.
 
The Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnic group has had a tortured history on the peninsula, going back centuries, and an uneasy relationship at times with Russians, Ukrainians, and other ethnic groups living there.
 
During World War II, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tatars were deported to Central Asia by order of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, who alleged they were collaborating with Nazi Germany.
 
Many of those deported and their descendants began returning to Crimea in the 1980s. The Mejlis itself was established in 1991 amid the Soviet breakup, but was only authorized by the central government in Kyiv in 1999. 

During the 2014 referendum in occupied Crimea that Moscow organized as a prelude to the annexation, the Mejlis declared Crimean Tatars would boycott the vote.
 
The United Nations has voted overwhelmingly to insist on Crimea's status as Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry condemned the ruling, and called for "unhindered access" by human rights organizations to the peninsula to monitor problems there.
 
Many Western governments, along with rights groups, have also repeatedly criticized Moscow and local authorities for policies restricting Crimean Tatar activities.
 
Last year, authorities closed down the peninsula's Tatar-language TV channel, along with other independent broadcasters.
 
The U.S. government responded to last week's announcement by the Russian Justice Ministry by saying Russian authorities have no jurisdiction over Tatar issues in Crimea.
 
"This action is the latest in a series of abuses perpetrated by de facto authorities against those in Crimea who oppose the occupation, including Crimean Tatars and members of other ethnic and religious minorities in Crimea," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said on April 21. "Such abuses include arbitrary detentions, beatings, and police raids on their homes and places of worship."
 
Crimean authorities have targeted other individuals and organizations who have criticized the Russian annexation or reported on some of the problems that region has faced.
 
A local journalist who has contributed to RFE/RL and its Krym.Realii website is under criminal investigation for allegedly "undermining the Russian territorial integrity via mass media." 

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
 

Iran Said Ready To Release Jailed Cartoonist Farghadani Soon

An attorney for Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani says she may be released from jail soon.

A lawyer for prominent jailed Iranian artist and activist Atena Farghadani has said that the authorities will soon release his client.

Mohammad Moghimi told The Associated Press and Cartoonists Rights Network International on April 25 that an appeals court reduced Farghadani's 12-year, nine-month prison sentence to 18 months, which means "she will be freed soon."

Moghimi said the exact date for her release had not been set yet.

In June 2014, a court sentenced Farghadani for a cartoon that depicted Iranian politicians who passed a law limiting women's access to birth control as goats and monkeys.

"Eighteen months in jail for a simple satirical drawing is still an insanely harsh fine, but the international outcry against the even harsher sentence may have helped get her jail time reduced," Heidi MacDonald of Comicsbeat.com said.

Based on reporting by AP and Comicsbeat.com

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More