Sunday, December 21, 2014

Belarus Law Makes It Easier To Close Online Media

RFE/RL's Belarus Service

Lawmakers in Belarus have passed legislation allowing the state to close any Internet news site that receives two warnings about content in a single year.

Information Minister Liliya Ananich (eds: a woman), who presented the bill to the loyal parliament on December 17, said it will come into force on January 1.

The law does not require the official registration of online media outlets, but says the Information Ministry will monitor them "to ensure that materials used by the websites correspond to Belarusian legislation."

Website owners will be held responsible for their content.

The law also limits the foreign share of ownership of any news site to 20 percent, down from 30 percent under current law.

Western governments and opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka accuse him of violating the freedom of the media during 20 years in power.

Authorities in several ex-Soviet republics have increased their control over broadcast and print media but have had a harder time suppressing dissent on the Internet.


Russian Court Again Postpones Hearing On Bid To Close Memorial

Russia's highest court has postponed until January 28 a hearing on a Justice Ministry suit aimed at shutting the prominent human rights group Memorial.

The postponement, announced by the Supreme Court on December 17, marked the second time a ruling on Memorial's fate has been put off.

The Justice Ministry brought the case against Memorial in October, claiming the organization's charter does not correspond with its activities.

Government critics say it is an effort to silence a widely respected group that has fought for human rights, freedom, justice, and a reckoning with the crimes of the Soviet era since 1989.

A hearing set for November 13 was postponed until December 17 after Memorial said it would make changes in its charter to address the complaints.

The court ordered the new postponement after Memorial said it had submitted the changes on December 12 and the Justice Ministry had little time to examine them.

The ministry supported the request for another postponement, saying that there were still problems with Memorial's new documents but that they could be fixed.

Based on reporting by and Interfax


EU Ministers Warn Turkey Over Media Raids

European Union foreign ministers say Turkey is a "key partner" for the 28-nation bloc but warn that Turkish progress on EU membership would depend on "respecting the rule of law and fundamental rights."

Turkish police staged on December 14 a series of raids on media outlets said to have close links with opposition parties, arresting more than 20 people.

In a statement released after a meeting in Brussels on December 16, the EU ministers said the authorities’ actions “call into question the respect for freedom of the media." 

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara could not accept "such heavy criticism against Turkey and its government after the beginning of a judicial process." 

The United States has urged Turkish authorities to ensure their actions do not violate media freedom and other democratic values.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Russia’s Simonov Honored For Defending Freedom Of Speech

Russian film director, writer, and activist Aleksei Simonov has been honored for campaigning for freedom of speech and the rights of journalists in Russia.

Simonov received 10,000 euros ($12,000) in Warsaw late on December 16 as he received the Freedom of Speech Award from the International Association of Press Clubs.

Simonov heads the independent Glasnost Defense Foundation, which works to protect and support journalists who have been persecuted or imprisoned in Russia and is also member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organization.

The Warsaw-based International Association of Press Clubs promotes the ethics of journalism and the right to unrestrained access to information.

Its first award, in 2013, went to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders group.

Based on reporting by AP

Embattled Kazakh Lawyer Released From Psychiatric Clinic

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

Kazakh lawyer Zinaida Mukhortova, who was forcibly put into a psychiatric clinic, has been released from the institution.

Mukhortova told RFE/RL on December 15 that she was released on condition that she would visit the clinic every weekday and receive medication.

Mukhortova says her release is temporary, but she hopes it will be permanent next year.

She says she is the victim of a politically motivated campaign, with authorities investigating her mental competence only after she filed complaints against a high-ranking local official.

Mukhortova was detained and sent to the clinic on July 2 after she returned to her native town of Balkhash, Kazakhstan, from self-imposed exile in Russia.

Mukhortova, 57, fled Kazakhstan a year ago after a Qaraghandy regional court rejected her appeal to cancel her forced psychiatric treatment.

Mukhortova was forced to undergo psychiatric treatment twice before, in 2012 and 2013.


Two Suspects In Attack On Siberian Journalist Detained

Yevgeny Mezdrikov (file photo)

Police in the Russian city of Novosibirsk have detained two men suspected of attacking a local journalist.

The chief editor of online news site, Yevgeny Mezdrikov, said earlier that two men entered his offices on December 8 and punched him in the face several times with no explanation.

Vladimir Gorodetsky, the Siberian region's governor, told journalists on December 15 that two suspects had been detained on December 12.

The Novosibirsk Journalists Union had urged regional law enforcement officials to investigate, expressing concerns over frequent attacks against journalists in the region.

Advocacy groups say attack on journalists whose work challenges or displeases the authorities in Russia face daily risks and their attackers are rarely punished. is a private, independent media outlet that has been covering news and events in the region since 2004.

Based on reporting by, TASS, and Interfax

Jailed Azerbaijani Journalist Khadija Ismayilova's 'Letter Of Hope' For 2015

Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been held in pretrial detention since December 5.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Award-winning Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who hosts a daily program for RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, has been held in pretrial detention in Baku since December 5 after being accused of encouraging a man to commit suicide -- a charge that has been broadly condemned as a flagrant attempt to silence her critical voice.

She is widely perceived to have often been the target of harassment and intimidation by the Azerbaijani government and pro-government forces for months because of her groundbreaking investigations into corruption at the highest levels of power, including President Ilham Aliyev and his family.

Ismayilova was able to send this brief note from jail to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

The letter has been edited for style and grammar.

My dear friends!

Here in pretrial detention, my thoughts are with you. My only regret is that here I am restricted from helping you.

You are doing an important job helping oppressed people. Happy New Year to you and all like-minded people.

A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)
A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)
A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)

I am full of hope on the eve of this New Year that truth and justice will win.

Arrests and restrictions are part of our mission in telling the truth. My arrest proves one more time that it is important to make change happen: We need to build a new reality where truth will be a norm of life and telling the truth will not require courage.

You all know why I am here in prison. Uncovering corruption is the real reason. And the only way to prove oppressive regimes wrong is to continue uncovering corruption, to continue defending the rights of oppressed people. Yes, there is a price to pay. But it is worth it!

As Nazim Hikmet, the Turkish poet, wrote: "Those who carry the teardrops of their siblings as a heavy burden upon their neck shouldn't follow our path."

Stay strong!

Keep doing a good job!

More investigations, more efforts for justice and human rights -- this is my wish for 2015.


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