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RFE/RL President Jamie Fly (file photo)

International broadcasters are increasingly concerned about their ability to reach audiences in Iran as the authorities there crack down on journalists working for foreign media outlets and hamper access to the Internet, the president of RFE/RL said in an interview with its Persian-language service, Radio Farda.

"We are very concerned about the targeting of our journalists here at Farda," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly. "Our colleagues in VOA Persian, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and other international broadcasters…are [also] facing this situation."

Fly's comments come in the wake of sometimes-violent mass protests across Iran following a government decision to raise gasoline prices. During the protests, Tehran shut down access to the Internet for several days.

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"I think some of it is probably just a function of how fragile the regime feels that the situation is," Fly said. "A reaction to the protests, a moment of crisis, this sense that they need to clamp down."

"The thing we are watching very closely is -- is this just a recent development related to the protests, this uptick in pressure, or is this the new normal?" Fly said. "Is this the way that the regime is going to go after those brave Iranians who are trying to bring fact to the Iranian people?"

He said RFE/RL is part of the Open Technology Fund, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for Global Media and the U.S. Congress, in order to develop "innovative solutions" for reaching audiences in countries where the governments are actively restricting access to the Internet.

"It's not the sort of problem that is just facing the Iranian people," Fly said. "It's facing those in Russia, China, and elsewhere."

"We will be working very closely [with the Open Technology Fund] to make sure that we can use the tools that they develop to help get our news and information into Iran, whatever the regime does," he said.

Ukrainians in Kyiv mark the enactment of the State Language Law in July 2019.

The Council of Europe’s constitutional experts have criticized controversial language legislation adopted in Ukraine earlier this year and previous regulations regarding educational institutions signed into law by the country's previous president, Petro Poroshenko.

The so-called Venice Commission on December 6 said it specifically took issue with what it sees as an extremely short transition period for the converting of Russian-language schools into Ukrainian-language institutions.

The commission also said it considers quotas for minority languages in radio and TV programs to be unbalanced.

"To avoid the language issue becoming a source of inter-ethnic tensions within Ukraine, it is of crucial importance to achieve an appropriate balance in its language policy," the commission said. "The authorities have so far failed to do so."

The State Language Law, which went into effect on July 16, declares that Ukrainian is "the only official state language" in the country.

It adds that "attempts" to introduce other languages as the state language would be considered an effort to "forcibly change the constitutional order."

Poroshenko signed the bill into law days before he left office following his electoral defeat to rival Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Previous legislation, signed by Poroshenko in September 2017, made Ukrainian the required language of study in state schools from the fifth grade on. The bill did not outlaw instruction in other languages, allowing students to learn their native languages as a separate subject.

Tensions with Russia remain high in the former Soviet state following Moscow's seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Some native Russian speakers in Ukraine claim Kyiv is deliberately curtailing the use of the Russian language. The Kremlin has also assailed the language laws.

Ukrainian speakers argue that the prominence of Russia is a legacy of the Soviet era that undermines Ukraine's identity and cite efforts to suppress the Ukrainian language during communist times.

Ukrainian is the native language of some 67 percent of Ukraine's almost 45 million population, while Russian is the native language of almost 30 percent. Russian is spoken mostly in urban areas. Almost 3 percent of Ukraine's inhabitants are native speakers of other languages.

The Venice Commission noted that the transitional period for the implementation of an education law has been extended from September 1, 2020, to September 1, 2023, "but only for students whose native language is an EU language, and not for those with other native languages, including Russian."

"In view of the particular place of the Russian language in Ukraine, as well as the oppression of the Ukrainian language in the past, the Venice Commission fully understands the need to promote the use of Ukrainian as the state language," it said.

“It is, therefore, commendable that the State Language Law provides for positive measures to this end by obliging the state to provide each citizen of Ukraine with an opportunity to master the language through the educational system, to organize free language courses, and to promote access to films and other cultural products in Ukrainian."

However, it stated the need for "balance" and urged Ukraine to consider postponing implementation of State Language Law provisions already in effect until a Minorities Law can be enacted to protect other languages.

Separately, Hungary's foreign minister on December 4 said Budapest would block Ukraine's membership in NATO until Kyiv restored the rights that ethnic Hungarians had before the September 2017 language law went into effect.

Ukraine, under Zelenskiy, has vowed to continue "wide-ranging reforms” that are anchored in European democracies, including the "respect for minority rights."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Reuters, dpa, and TASS

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"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.

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