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RUSSIA: 10.5- and 9.5-year prison sentences for two journalists

10.5- and 9.5-year prison sentences for two journalists

CPJ (17.11.2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the 10.5- and 9.5-year prison sentences issued to journalists Aleksandr Dorogov and Yan Katelevskiy, respectively, on Friday, and called on Russian authorities to release them immediately and not oppose their appeal. 

“CPJ strongly condemns the lengthy sentences imposed on Russian journalists Yan Katelevskiy and Aleksandr Dorogov, who have already spent more than three years behind bars on fabricated charges,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities should not contest Dorogov and Katelevskiy’s appeal, release them immediately, and stop jailing independent voices.”

On Friday, a court in Lyubertsy, in the Moscow region, convicted Dorogov, co-deputy chief editor of independent investigative website Rosderzhava, on two counts—extortion committed by a group of persons and extortion in order to obtain property on a particularly large scale— and sentenced him to 10.5 years in prison. The same court convicted Katelevskiy, co-deputy chief editor of Rosderzhava, on one count of extortion and sentenced him to 9.5 years in prison

Yevgeny Kurakin, chief editor of Rosderzhava, told CPJ that the journalists plan to appeal. In October, the state prosecutor had requested a 12-year sentence for Dorogov and 10 years for Katelevskiy. 

The extortion charges stem from a May 21, 2020, complaint filed by a traffic officer, who alleged that he paid Dorogov and Katelevskiy 1.3 million rubles (US$14,400) to stop them from making videos about him, according to human-rights news website OVD-Info. The two journalists had previously published YouTube videos on their channels mocking and criticizing the officer.

The journalists repeatedly denied the charges and claimed that their persecution stems from their investigative work, in particular their joint investigation into alleged corruption between funeral businesses and senior police officials, published on the YouTube account Dvizhenie, which investigates corruption and irregularities by the road police and has about 613,000 subscribers.

Dorogov and Katelevskiy have been in pretrial detention since July 2020, when they were arrested and beaten by police.  

CPJ’s email to the Lyubertsy City Court did not receive a response. Russia has imprisoned at least 19 journalists, including Dorogov and Katelevskiy, as of December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.

Photo credits: YouTube/RusNews

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KYRGYZSTAN media under threat of a “foreign agent” law

Kyrgyzstan media under threat of a “foreign agent” law

CPJ (25.10.2023) — Kyrgyzstan’s parliament should reject Russian-inspired legislation that would classify externally-funded media rights groups and nonprofits that run news outlets as “foreign representatives” and could force many nonprofits to close, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament passed in a first reading a bill requiring nonprofits that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign representatives,” according to news reports.

Semetey Amanbekov, a member of local advocacy group Kyrgyzstan Media Platform, told CPJ by telephone that the main aim of the legislation is to stigmatize nonprofits as “untrustworthy foreign agents,” saying authorities could use it to target media rights organizations as well as nonprofits that run several of Kyrgyzstan’s prominent independent news websites.

The bill would require organizations to provide regular, detailed reports on their activities, including an audit of funds received from foreign sources and the use of those funds, the composition of their management, and the number of employees and their salaries. In addition, they would have to publish a report on their activities in the media every six months.

Local human rights group Bir Duino said the requirements were “excessively burdensome” and provided “a path to the destruction of civil society organizations,” and the U.S.-based news organization Eurasianet warned that the costs involved could prove “unsustainable” for smaller non-governmental organizations (NGO).

“Amid Kyrgyz authorities’ ongoing campaign to silence leading independent media, plans to copy Russia’s foreign agent legislation threaten to seriously hamper the work of press freedom groups and further restrict the country’s beleaguered free press,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Kyrgyzstan’s parliament must show that it still respects its international obligations to safeguard human rights and freedom of expression by rejecting any attempts to stigmatize nonprofits as foreign agents and criminalize their work.”

In addition, the bill introduces a fine or up to 5 years in prison for creating an NGO that “incites citizens to refuse to perform civil duties or to commit other illegal acts,” and a fine or up to 10 years in prison for “active participation” in or “propaganda” of such NGOs. In an October 13 statement calling on Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to reject the law, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called this offense “ill-defined, broad and open to subjective interpretation” and said it could be used for “selective prosecution of legitimate human rights advocacy.”

Under the proposed law, state authorities would also have the right to request NGOs’ internal documents and to send government representatives to participate in NGOs’ internal activities, according to an analysis by the Washington, D.C.-headquartered International Center for Not-For-Profit Law.

On October 6, three United Nations special rapporteurs urged Kyrgyzstan to withdraw the bill as some provisions were contrary to the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, the right to non-discrimination, and the right to privacy. It said that proposals to give authorities the right to conduct unscheduled inspections could constitute “a tool of potential intimidation, surveillance, and harassment by authorities, which could be used against organizations that voice criticism or dissent.”

A similar “foreign agents” bill was submitted to parliament a decade ago but was rejected in its third reading in 2016 after facing opposition from civil society. In November 2022, a new version was presented, with the term foreign agent replaced with “foreign representative.” In May 2023, 33 lawmakers introduced the latest draft to parliament for discussion.

The bill defines nonprofits as “performing the function of a foreign representative” if they receive funding from foreign sources and participate in political activities, which it defines as “the organization and conduct of “political actions” aimed at influencing government policy or the “formation of public opinion”—a definition that the U.N. criticized as “overly vague”.

Organizations that fail to declare themselves as foreign representatives could have their activities and banking operations suspended for six months.

CPJ’s emails to Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and lawmaker Nadira Narmatova, who introduced the bill to parliament, did not receive any replies.

This year, authorities blocked and applied to shutter major independent outlets Kloop and Radio Azattyk, the local service of U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and in 2022 prominent Kyrgyzstan-born investigative journalist Bolot Temirov was deported in retaliation for his work.

In September, Kazakhstan published a register of organizations and individuals, including journalists and media outlets, receiving foreign funding without explicitly labeling them foreign agents.

In March, Georgia’s government withdrew a bill that would have labeled media outlets as foreign agents after public protests.


Photo credits: Human Rights Without Frontiers

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TURKEY: Turkish authorities detain 5 journalists over tweet, 1 remains in custody

Turkish authorities detain 5 journalists over tweet, 1 remains in custody

Turkish authorities should immediately release reporter Fırat Can Arslan and stop treating journalists like criminals, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

CPJ (26.07.2023) – On Tuesday, July 25, Turkish police detained Arslan, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, at his house in the capital city of Ankara, in relation to an investigation by the chief prosecutor’s office in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır over allegations that the journalist was “making targets of those who were tasked to combat terrorism,” according to multiple news reports. A court ordered him to be imprisoned pending investigation.

The investigation concerns a tweet Arslan posted on July 18 about the reassignments of a judge and prosecutor who are married to each other and are involved in an ongoing mass trial of journalists in Diyarbakır, according to those sources.

Turkish police also detained four other journalists in different cities for retweeting Arslan’s post: Mezopotamya reporter Delal Akyüz in the western city of Izmir, independent news website T24 editor Sibel Yükler in Ankara, independent news website Bianet editor Evrim Kepenek in Istanbul, and freelance journalist Evrim Deniz in Diyarbakır.

All but Kepenek were released on Tuesday after questioning and remain under judicial control with a foreign travel ban, according to news reports. Kepenek spent one night in jail before being released with the same restrictions on Wednesday, Bianet reported.

“Turkish authorities should immediately and unconditionally release reporter Fırat Can Arslan, who is being detained for reporting on publicly available information and did nothing to ‘make targets’ of anyone,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Authorities should cease detaining journalists or raiding their houses as if they are criminals. Posting news on the internet or retweeting it cannot be a crime. All actions taken against journalists in retaliation for their engagement with Arslan’s reporting must be reversed at once.”

During the first hearing of the trial of 17 Kurdish journalists in Diyarbakır earlier in July, it was revealed that the prosecutor who penned the indictment and one of the three judges hearing the trial were married. Arslan tweeted about the couple being transferred to another city from Diyarbakır after it was publicly announced by Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors, the regulatory body that oversees the appointment, promotion, and dismissal of judges and public prosecutors.  

Kepenek was detained at her house in Istanbul in plastic handcuffs, and was later handcuffed as she was brought to the courthouse. Police also raided the houses of Akyüz and Yükler, reports said. Deniz told the Media and Legal Studies Association, a local free expression and press freedom advocacy group, that the Diyarbakır police could not raid her house because they did not know her address.

CPJ emailed the Diyarbakır chief prosecutor’s office but did not receive a response.

The Kurdish journalists on trial in Diyarbakır are facing charges of membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); if convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison. Turkey was the world’s fourth-worst jailer of journalists, with 40 behind bars at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2022, prison census. Of those, more than half were Kurdish journalists.

Photo credits: Mezopotamya News Agency

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BELARUS: Prosecutor requests lengthy prison terms for three journalists

Prosecutor requests lengthy prison terms for journalists Raman Pratasevich, Stsypan Putsila, and Yan Rudzik


CPJ (21.04.2023)–A Belarusian prosecutor requested a 10-year prison sentence for detained journalist Raman Pratasevich, a 19-year prison sentence in absentia for journalist Yan Rudzik, and a 20-year prison sentence in absentia for journalist Stsypan Putsila during a hearing on Friday, April 21, in Minsk, the capital, news reports said.

“The lengthy prison terms requested by a Belarusian prosecutor for Raman Pratasevich, Stsypan Putsila, and Yan Rudzik is yet another illustration of the regime’s vindictiveness against those who covered the 2020 protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should immediately drop all charges against the three journalists, release Pratasevich from house arrest, and allow members of the press to work freely.”

Belarusian authorities arrested Pratasevich, co-founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA and former chief editor of the Telegram channel Belarus Golovnogo Mozga (Belarus of the Brain), in May 2021 after diverting a commercial Ryanair flight and forcing it to land in Minsk. Pratasevich, who has since been forced into several televised “confessions,”  is currently under house arrest. 

Putsila, co-founder of NEXTA, and Rudzik, an administrator of NEXTA and former chief editor of Belarus Golovnogo Mozga, are in Poland, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.

NEXTA and Belarus Golovnogo Mozga extensively covered protests against Lukashenko’s disputed reelection in 2020. Authorities previously labeled NEXTA a terrorist organization and Belarus Golovnogo Mozga “extremist.”

The trial began on February 16, and authorities have filed more than 10 separate charges against each of the journalists, including organizing mass unrest, conspiracy to seize power, incitement to hatred, insulting the president, and creating an extremist group, according to news reports. The prosecutor also asked the journalists to pay a total of 30 million Belarusian rubles (US$11.9 million) in compensation for the damage inflicted on the country, according to media reports.

A representative from banned human rights group Viasna told CPJ via messaging app under the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, that a verdict in the trial could come in the coming weeks. CPJ’s email to the prosecutor’s office in Minsk did not receive a reply. 

At least 26 journalists, including Pratasevich, were detained in Belarus at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2022, prison census.


Photo credits: AFP / Wojtek Radwanski

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LATVIA: Broadcasting permit canceled for exiled Russian broadcaster Dozhd TV

Broadcasting permit canceled for exiled Russian broadcaster Dozhd TV

Committee to Protect Journalists (08.12.2022) — Latvian authorities must reverse their decision to cancel the broadcasting permit of independent broadcaster Dozhd TV (TV Rain), the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.


On Tuesday, December 6, the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP), the country’s media regulator, canceled the outlet’s broadcasting authorization “due to a threat to national security and public order” and accused the broadcaster of violating the country’s media law, according to multiple media reports, a statement by the regulator, and its official decision.


The regulator ordered the channel to stop broadcasting on Thursday, December 8, and ordered its programming on YouTube to be blocked in Latvia as well, those reports said.


Dozhd TV was based in Russia until March 3, when it was forced to suspend its work and flee the country amid a crackdown on coverage of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The channel resumed operations from exile in July after obtaining a broadcasting permit from Latvian authorities, news reports said.


“As a country that has been through the process of building vibrant independent media, Latvia knows well that this process is hardly smooth and easy. Latvian authorities should ensure that any regulatory violations by media outlets are handled proportionately, and that outlets’ licenses are only revoked as a last resort,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Authorities should reverse their decision to strip Dozhd TV of its broadcast authorization, and should continue hosting the media outlet and its journalists, who could otherwise become even an easier target for Russian authorities.”


Because Dozhd TV’s Latvian license granted the channel broadcast rights to other European countries, the cancellation will also result in the broadcaster being taken off-air in Estonia and Lithuania, according to media reports and the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission. CPJ was unable to immediately confirm the other countries where the broadcaster may be barred from broadcasting.


Before canceling the broadcaster’s license, the NEPLP cited Dozhd TV for multiple alleged violations. In November, the NEPLP fined Dozhd TV 4,000 euros (US$4,200) for failing to provide a Latvian-language soundtrack to its programming, according to the regulator’s December 6 decision, published on its website.


Dozhd TV chief editor Tikhon Dzyadko told CPJ via email and messaging app that the channel had appealed that decision as unfounded, given that Dozhd’s application for a Latvian license stated that the channel would not be able to provide a Latvian soundtrack before 2023.


“We had no desire to break the laws, but with the relaunch, we were not able to implement everything at once,” he told CPJ. He said the NEPLP had accepted the outlet’s application which stipulated that the channel would feature Latvian subtitles for its 2022 programming and its archives, but added that Dozhd TV had fallen behind on producing those.


On December 2, the NEPLP fined Dozhd TV 10,000 euros (US$10,500) for having shown a map that labeled Crimea as part of Russia and for referring to the Russian military as “our army,” according to media reports and the regulator’s decision.


Also on December 2, the Latvian State Security Service launched an investigation into Dozhd TV after journalist Aleksei Korostelev made comments during a broadcast the previous day that implied that the broadcaster had assisted the Russian military in Ukraine.


Korostelev, who was fired on December 2, later explained that he had poorly phrased his comments and did not support the invasion. The investigation concluded that those comments were “directed against the interests of Latvia’s national security,” according to a statement by the State Security Service.


The final December 6 decision to cancel Dozhd TV’s licence was made based on Article 21.3.8 of the Latvian Electronic Media Act, which empowers the regulator to cancel the broadcast permit of any outlet that “threatens national security or significantly threatens public order or security,” judging that Korostelev’s comments were calls “to support a country, recognized as a state supporting terrorism,” according to regulator’s decision.


The two fines were also considered when reaching that decision, NEPLP Vice-Chair Aurēlija Ieva Druviete told CPJ via email.


Dzyadko also wrote on Telegram that the channel “had never, is not, and will never” help the Russian army with equipment. During a live broadcast on Tuesday, he compared the ban in Latvia with the channel being taken off air in Russia in 2014.


In that broadcast, Dzyadko said that no Dozhd TV representative was invited to the NEPLP meeting that decided the outlet’s suspension, and the outlet was unable to argue on its behalf. The regulator wrote in its decision that the “urgency” of the situation allowed it to decide without hearing from the channel’s management.


NEPLP President Ivars Āboliņš wrote on Twitter that Dozhd TV’s management “did not understand the nature and gravity of each individual violation” of Latvia’s regulations.


In a statement reviewed by CPJ, Āboliņš added that Latvia had accepted “a large number” of Russian media outlets and journalists into the country, who had not violated the country’s laws. He said that Dozhd TV had “systematically, significantly and unequivocally violated the regulatory acts and has been punished accordingly.”


Dzyadko told CPJ via email that he believed the suspension was “absurd and unjustified,” and said the broadcaster’s staff “strongly oppose the accusations.”


In a statement, Dozhd TV said it will stop broadcasting on cable in Latvia, but would continue its work on YouTube. The station’s general director Natalia Sindeyeva told independent news website Meduza, and Dzyadko confirmed to CPJ, that about 20% of the station’s revenue comes from its cable broadcasting.


Dozhd TV has one month to appeal the decision, and Dzyadko told CPJ that the channel was “considering options.”


CPJ emailed the Latvian State Security Service for comment, but did not receive any reply.


Photo credits: Reuters

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