Albania

  • At the end of December 2019 there were 11 active alerts on Albania, with seven new cases submitted to the Platform in 2019, compared to one in 2018. This notable increase signals a deterioration of journalists’ working conditions in the country.
  • Four alerts focused on harassment and intimidation of journalists, includ- ing physical violence. A British journalist, Alice Taylor, who works for the web portal exit.al, was the target of a smear campaign following a statement she gave to Russia Today.[79] Local portals published photos accusing the journalist of having ties with and being paid by the Russian Federation and claiming that her portal was linked to an opposition party.

 

Seven new alerts in 2019 signal a deterioration of journalists’ working conditions in Albania.

 

  • On 13 April 2019, several journalists were injured when Albanian police fired tear gas into a crowd during a demonstration in Tirana. [80] One reporter was incapacitated by tear gas. Another was hit on the head with a metal baton, allegedly by a police officer. The Albanian authorities replied to the alert in June, stating that in no cases had police committed any violence against any journalists or camera crews.
  • On 29 June 2019, the journalist and cameraman Enver Doçi from the TV channel News 24 was attacked by police officers while filming the arrest of demonstrators in Dibra. [81] It was reported that the police beat him violently on the legs and one arm. The State Police replied to the alert, saying it regrets“the careless act committed by a police officer of the Rapid Intervention Force, pushing down the journalist Enver Doçi while he was filming the police operation“.
  • News 24 announced the closure of two talk shows: Ylli Rakipi’s “The Unexposed Ones”and Adi Krasta’s “Krasta / A Show”.[82] Both programmes were critical of Prime Minister Edi Rama. Journalist Adi Krasta had his employment terminated after the president of News 24, Irfan Hysenbelliu, was reportedly “threatened”by the Prime Minister and the mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj. On 19 July 2019, journalist Artur Cani revealed that the Prime Minister had met the News 24 to demand the dismissal of journalist Ylli Rakipi, warning that Adi Krasta was likely to lose his job too.
  • The Albanian Media Council, an NGO comprising journalists and media professionals, has accused Prime Minister Edi Rama of exploiting the earth- quake of 26 November 2019 to shut down or block critical online media.[83]
  • On 30 November 2019 the Electronic and Postal Communications Authority blocked the news portal joqalbania.com.[84]
  • A major issue in Albania was a set of legal amendments to the laws No. 9918 “On electronic communications in the Republic of Albania”and No. 97/2013 “On audio visual media in the Republic of Albania” that would empower the state authorities to regulate content published by online media.[85]This legislation was introduced as an “anti-defamation” package and approved by Albania’s Council of Ministers on 3 July 2019. In December 2019, the Albanian Parliament approved these amendments by a large majority. Media freedom organisations warned [86] that the package would replace the current self-regulation of online media by state regulation and dismissed the last-minute changes as cosmetic. Following the veto by the Albanian president, the parliamentary majority agreed to wait for the Venice Commission opinion before voting on the legislative package under an accelerated procedure in March 2020.

Azerbaijan

 

Seven alerts were submitted to the Platform in 2019 on Azerbaijan; the Azerbaijani authorities did not respond to any of them.

 

  • Over the years, Azerbaijan’s government has used detention to silence critical journalists. Four out of seven alerts in 2019 related to detention. Despite the March 2019 release of some wrongfully imprisoned journalists, including anti-corruption blogger Mehman Huseynov,[87] the detention and harassment of journalists continued.
  • Six journalists were behind bars at the time of writing. They include Polad Aslanov, chief editor of independent news websites Xeberman and Press-az, who faces a life sentence on treason charges and whose health is deteriorating; [88]and Afgan Mukhtarli, a journalist sentenced to six years in prison in January 2018 after being kidnapped in Georgia and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan in May 2017. [89]
  • In December, Mehman Huseynov said he was detained and severely beaten by several police officers after a protest in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.[90]
  • Azerbaijani authorities continued to dominate the country’s media landscape through regulations, direct ownership and indirect controls. Most independent media outlets have been forced to close or go into exile. Those still operating inside the country are subject to intimidation and pressure from the authorities and their surrogates.
  • Those in exile were subject to vicious smear campaigns. In April the pro-government broadcaster Real TV threatened to leak intimate pictures of journalist Sevinc Osmanqizi, who lives in the United States, unless she ceased her online TV programme.
  • The threats were reminiscent of the case of prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who faced a sex-tape smear campaign in 2012 after investigating government corruption. In January, the European Court ruled that Khadija Ismayilova’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression had been violated. <[91] Despite having been freed from prison, Ismayilova remains under a travel ban.
  • At least seven journalists were detained and subsequently released while covering peaceful protests in Baku in October 2019 and several others were subjected to violence by police officers, who also seized and damaged their equipment. Internet blockages and disruption to mobile phone services in central Baku during the protests were also reported. <[92]

 

Bulgaria

 

A major share of the country’s newspaper distribution business is under the control of a single conglomerate, owned by a politician.

 

  • In the last few years, Bulgaria has seen a worsening working environment for journalists, due to the polarising character of public debate, open hostility of elected politicians and sustained attacks on independent media through administrative and judicial harassment, as well as physical threats. Media ownership is opaque and characterised by the capture of the media market by oligarchs who use their media power to exert political influence and attack and denigrate rivals and critics. A major share of the country’s newspaper distribution business is under the control of a single conglomerate, owned by a politician. Independent journalists and media outlets are regularly subject to intimidation in person and online.
  • As of 31 December 2019, there were eight active alerts on Bulgaria, with four new alerts in 2019. Bulgaria replied to three of them. The independence of audio-visual media was undermined by questionable appointments and managerial decisions. [93] Three investigative journalists were forced to resign from Nova TV after the channel was acquired by an oligarch close to the government. The harassment against independent voices escalated, with smear campaigns and arbitrary judicial pressures being frequently used to intimidate and deter them.
  • On 21 May 2019, Bulgarian investigative journalist Rossen Bossev from the independent weekly Capital was convicted in a defamation case and fined 1,000 Bulgarian Levs (€500).[94]The case was brought by the former chairman of the country’s Financial Supervision Commission, Stoyan Mavrodiev, currently CEO of the state-owned Bulgarian Development Bank. The summoning of Rossen Bossev to court was seemingly intended to intimidate him and set an example for other journalists. The presiding judge, Petya Krancheva, had been the subject of critical Capital articles between 2010 and 2015, many of them authored by Bossev. She refused to recuse herself from the case. The case against Bossev was the last of three cases which Mavrodiev brought against journalists from Capital. The other two cases ended with acquittals. As of the end of 2019 the Bulgarian state had not responded to the alert.
  • In June 2019, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation opened a preliminary tax investigation against Asen Yordanov, the editor-in-chief and owner of the independent website Bivol, and reporter Atanas Tchobanov, shortly after Bivol published a series of reports revealing suspicious real estate deals involving the then Prosecutor General, Sotir Tsatsarov, and his deputy (and new Prosecutor General) Ivan Geshev.[95] The investigation was prompted by an anonymous complaint purportedly in the name of an anti-corruption NGO but later shown to be fabricated. Both journalists published official documents that disproved the accusation. Nevertheless, the prosecutors ordered full tax inspection of Tchobanov and Yordanov and their relatives, which was ongoing by the end of 2019. Bulgaria responded to the alert but did not address the concerns raised.
  • In September, the public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) was hit by a series of scandals that demonstrated the extreme fragility of its safeguards for editorial independence. Most prominently, Silvia Velikova, anchor of the prime-time morning talk show at the station, and a prominent court reporter, was suspended. Several journalists, including top editors from the BNR, said pressure was applied on the management of the radio to oust Velikova because of her critical reporting on the appointment of Bulgaria’s new Prosecutor General – one of the most powerful positions in the country. Velikova was allowed back as a result of a public outcry but her new role did not allow her to cover judicial issues.
  • The day after Velikova’s dismissal, BNR stopped transmitting nationwide for five hours. The interruption was explained as a “technical checkup”, but it was widely believed to have happened because journalists at the station refused to replace Velikova.
  • One month later, Bulgaria’s broadcast regulator, the Council for Electronic Media, terminated the mandate of the BNR director general. In a response to the Platform alert on BNR, the Bulgarian state said that he was dismissed in relation to the transmission suspension.
 

France: violence against journalists covering protests

 

Seven out of 13 alerts posted in 2019 related to France concerned violence or aggressive law-enforcement actions against journalists covering protests.

 

  • France was among the countries with the highest number of alerts posted on the Platform in 2019. After Italy, it was also the EU member state with the second-highest number of active cases recorded on the Platform. Seven out of 13 alerts posted in 2019 related to France concerned violence or aggressive law-enforcement actions against journalists covering protests.
  • First published in December 2018, one alert concerning excessive use of force by police during the “Yellow Vests” protests was updated five times in 2019 as scores of journalists were threatened or assaulted by law-enforcement officials, with the former sustaining injuries including hand fractures, broken ribs and facial injuries. [96] On 5 December 2019 Anadolu Agency photographer Mustafa Yalcin was hit by a sting-ball grenade and risks losing the use of an eye, despite wearing protective headgear. Most problematic is the frequent use by police of“defensive”ball launchers, sting-balls, explosive tear gas grenades and other so-called non-lethal weaponry. Alerts also reported on journalists being obstructed in their work, sometimes forcibly prevented from accessing public spaces [97] and in one case being banned by court order from covering “Yellow Vests” protests for six months - a decision that was overturned on appeal.[98]
  • The unions Syndicat national des journalistes (SNJ), SNJ-CGT and Confédération démocratique du travail (CFDT)-Journalistes recorded [99] in one year nearly 200 cases of journalists injured, intimidated, or prevented from working by police officers, gendarmes or magistrates.
  • On 2 May 2019, following a first escalation of anti-media violence over the “Yellow Vests” protests, SNJ, SNJ-CGT and CFDT-Journalistes denounced multiple and serious attacks on press freedom [100] and called for urgent meetings with the Prime Minister and the President. On 3 May 2019, at a meeting with the representatives of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), President Macron stated that “action will be taken” to restrain excessive use of force by law enforcement. RSF subsequently met Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner to submit recommendations and discuss measures regarding policing of protests.[101] Journalists initiated “Reporters en colère” to denounce “the repression and obstacles that [they] are increasingly subjected to on the ground”. On 20 December 2019, along with 13 journalists who were victims of physical assault by members of law enforcement, RSF filed a criminal complaint with the Paris Prosecutor. France also faced criticism from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights [102] and several UN bodies.[103]
  • Under French law, complaints against members of law enforcement are first investigated by the IGPN or the gendarmerie’s general inspectorate (IGGN), delaying the possible prosecution of many physical attacks. French journalists have complained that this additional step creates the conditions for impunity because it raises suspicions that the authorities might tolerate misconduct and ill-treatment.
  • Reporter David Dufresne has systematically documented physical attacks on 90 journalists by law-enforcement officials in 2019, mostly during street protests. [104] He established that 20 media workers were injured in the upper body, 18 in the lower body or legs, and 14 in the head. 26 journalists were beaten, 24 were hit by defensive ball launcher shots, 15 were injured by sting- ball grenades and two were struck by explosive tear gas grenades. An alert [105] was posted on the Platform after Dufresne was blacklisted by members of a police union as an “enemy of the police”.
  • On 15 January 2020, President Macron denounced the excessive use of force by police as unacceptable and asked for “clear proposals to improve the ethics”of law enforcement. On 22 January 2020 the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, SNJ-CGT, the European Federation of Journalists and the European Confederation of Police Officers launched the Press Freedom Police Codex [106] in Paris. The Codex is based on good practices and is being used as a basis for a dialogue with the Ministry of the Interior with the aim of enabling journalists to carry out their work safely.

 

 

Hungary and Poland

 

Two types of threats have been recorded in particular: the conversion of the public service broadcasters into state media or state capture of the private sector, and harassment targeting journalists or other media actors.

 

  • Despite some disparities, the overall media freedom situation in the two countries, both part of Central European Visegrád region, is a source of long-standing concern. Hungary has 10 active alerts on the Platform, with two new alerts in 2019, while Poland received nine alerts on media freedom threats, including two in 2019. Two types of threats have been recorded in particular: the conversion of the public service broadcasters into state media or state capture of the private sector, and harassment targeting journalists or other media actors. Both trends have had a deep impact on the plurality and freedom of expression in the two countries.
  • A press freedom mission to Hungary carried out in November 2019 by seven partner organisations found that since 2010 the government has systematically dismantled media independence, freedom and pluralism, achieving a degree of media control unprecedented in a member state of the European Union. [107]
  • The Hungarian Government has pursued a determined strategy of market manipulation and media capture, engineering the forced closure or effective government takeover of independent media and assembling a vast pro- government media empire sharing the same editorial line and sharing source materials from the same limited pool of news sources. At the same time, it has mobilised massive state resources, including state advertising, to marginalise remaining independent outlets. Due to the government’s hegemonic position in the media market, it has successfully isolated large parts of the population from access to critical and independent sources of news and information.<
  • The mission report noted that independent journalists in Hungary are subject to pervasive discrimination by the state, being denied access to information of public interest, excluded from official events and prevented or actively hindered from communicating with public officials. Earlier this year, as reported to the Platform, the Hungarian Parliament tightened restrictions on journalists‘ freedom of movement inside the building. [108] Independent journalists have also been regularly targeted in smear campaigns attacking them as political activists, “Hungary haters”, foreign agents or traitors. In November, two journalists with the online news outlet Index.hu were targeted in a vicious anti-Semitic smear campaign.[109] Notably, the campaign was given prominence by the country’s nominally public service broadcaster, which is now effectively a state broadcaster transmitting the government line only.
  • Actions carried out by the Polish authorities in recent years, including a reshaping of the public broadcaster into a pro-government broadcaster, have much in common with the Hungarian model. But alerts on Poland also indicate the specific methods that the Polish Government and ruling Law and Justice party have used to pressure and constrain independent media. Polish politicians regularly use libel laws to threaten and harass critical journalists. Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of the Law and Justice party, initiated a criminal libel charge against Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading daily, for publishing reports about his reported criminal involvement in the construction of a skyscraper in Warsaw. [110] This alert is an example of the widespread legal harassment of the media in Poland: Gazeta Wyborcza alone reported that 50 criminal and civil cases have been brought against it by various state or state-controlled institutions.
  • Kaczyński’s case against Gazeta Wyborcza was brought under Article 212 of the Polish Criminal Code, a provision allowing prison sentences for libel. It was used in 2019 to sentence Anna Wilk, a journalist in western Poland, to a criminal fine and to ban her from practising journalism for three years; the case was brought by an electrical appliance company over a story about the suicide of an employee. [111]

 

Malta

  • Malta, where Daphne Caruana Galizia, the country’s most prominent investigative journalist, was assassinated in October 2017, remained a country of exceptional concern for press freedom. Three further alerts were submitted in 2019. In June 2019, the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights noted “a series of fundamental weaknesses in Malta’s system of checks and balances… seriously undermining the rule of law” in the country. [112]
  • In October 2019, two years after the murder, the alert on the assassina- tion of Caruana Galizia was transferred to the category of impunity after the partner organisations determined that there had been a clear failure after that time to make the necessary progress in the investigation.
  • Important developments in the criminal investigation into the assas- sination ensued in November and December 2019. On 14 November Melvin Theuma, an alleged middleman in the assassination plot, was detained and granted immunity from prosecution on the advice of the Prime Minister in exchange for testimony to assist the prosecution’s case against another suspect. On 20 November 2019, Maltese police arrested businessman Yorgen Fenech. He was charged as the organiser and financier of the assassination. [113] Fenech’s arrest in turn led to the resignation of the tourism minister and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and Prime Minister Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri [114], over his alleged role in the assassination. In December 2019 the Prime Minister resigned.

 

Platform partners and media freedom organisations have repeatedly called for a repeal of laws allowing the posthumous pursuit of defamation cases.

 

  • On 10 December 2019, an update to a 2017 alert was filed concerning the outstanding libel suits brought against Daphne Caruana Galizia before her death. It noted that on 6 December, Keith Schembri withdrew the two libel suits he had filed against her over her articles about his Panama company. [115] Businessman Yorgen Fenech, who was charged over his alleged role in the murder of Caruana Galizia, stated in court that Schembri had kept him regularly updated about the state of the investigation, beginning in the first week after Caruana Galizia’s assassination. The libel suit filed against Caruana Galizia by Prime Minister Muscat over her story that his wife owns the Panama company Egrant Inc. was adjourned at his request until March 2020.
  • Platform partners and media freedom organisations have repeatedly called for a repeal of laws allowing the posthumous pursuit of defamation cases. It is unacceptable that over 30 posthumous civil defamation proceedings against Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family are still under way.
  • A public inquiry – long advocated by the partners of the Platform – into the circumstances around the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was finally established in December 2019. This followed a June 2019 PACE resolution demanding the setting up of an independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding her murder within three months, and lengthy negotiations concerning the terms of inquiry and composition of the inquiry board. The inquiry was tasked with addressing key questions including whether the state knew or ought to have known of the risk to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s life; whether the state failed to take necessary measures to protect her life; and whether the state is complicit in her murder. The public inquiry is also to report on what measures the state should take to fulfil its obligations to protect journalists whose lives are at risk from criminal acts. The inquiry is due to continue for at least 9 months.
  • On the night of 29 November, following a press conference by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat concerning developments related to the assassination, a group of Maltese journalists including Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son Paul were locked inside the office of the Prime Minister. No explanation was provided by those responsible: a group of men who claimed to be security guards but were not officially identified and not in uniform.[116] The Government of Malta, in its reply, stated that “no journalists were locked anywhere following a press conference”. [117] Footage of the incident contradicts this assertion. [118]
  • In January 2019 the independent Maltese online news platform The Shift [119] experienced a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. The attack followed the publication of a series of investigative stories on a controversial hospital deal concerning Vitals Global Healthcare. Such DDoS attacks are designed to take sites and servers offline at critical times.

 

Russian Federation

 

17 alerts concerning the Russian Federation were submitted to the Platform in 2019; the Russian authorities have not responded to any of them.

 

  • The partner organisations renew their encouragement to the Russian Federation to engage actively with the Platform and respond to alerts.
  • Independent journalists and bloggers continued to be harassed and intimidated in Russian Federation in 2019, through prosecutions, physical attacks or threats. Other chilling effects on media freedom included attempts to limit access to information both online and offline, and the introduction of several restrictive laws.
  • Ivan Golunov, an investigative journalist with the online website Meduza, was detained by police on an unfounded suspicion of drug dealing. [120] Rashid Maysigov, a reporter for the investigative news website Fortanga, was detained by the local Federal Security Service and tortured in a bid to force a confession to possessing drugs. [121] Svetlana Prokopyeva, a Pskov-based freelance stringer for Radio Svoboda (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) and commentator for Radio Echo of Moscow, was charged with ‘justifying terrorism’ following comments she made on a radio show in November 2018. 122] Charges for drug-related crimes as well as alleged terrorism and extremism offences feature in six of the 17 alerts logged on the Platform. In several cases, drug-related charges were a pretext to restrict the activities of journalists.
  • In an attempt to limit access to information of significant public interest, the Russian authorities continued to forcibly disperse peaceful protests, and sought to censor reporting by journalists, bloggers and media outlets of public assemblies, including large street protests in support of free and fair elections in Moscow in July and August. [123]
  • Three alerts pertain to newly adopted legislation that imposed excessive restrictions on freedom of expression and further undermined media freedom in the Russian Federation.[124]
  • In March, President Putin signed into law two bills criminalising“insult”of the state and the dissemination of “fake news“. In August, Mikhail Romanov, a correspondent with the weekly Yakutsk Vecherniy, was found guilty of “abuse of freedom of information by publishing fake news that poses a threat to the public”and fined 30,000 rubles (approximately €408.15). His fine was cancelled on appeal in December 2019, over “lack of sufficient evidence”.[125]
  • The bill on “internet sovereignty”, signed into law by President Putin in May, [126] increases the government’s control over information by enabling the Russian internet to operate independently from the outside world. Another bill, signed into law in December, expanded the status of “foreign agents” to private persons including bloggers and journalists. Sanctions for non- compliance include fines of up to 500,000 rubles (approximately €7,000) or imprisonment of up to two years.[127]

 

Serbia

 

The number of attacks on media, including death threats,is on the rise, and inflammatory rhetoric often comes from public officials.

 

  • As of 31 December 2019, there were 21 active alerts on Serbia, with six new alerts submitted in 2019. Serbia replied to four of them. There are two active cases of impunity for murder; the number of attacks on media, including death threats, is on the rise, and inflammatory rhetoric often comes from public officials.
  • One of the most severe cases of intimidation took place in February when the private TV station N1 received a letter threatening to kill its journalists and their families and to blow up the office. [128] The prosecutor’s office arrested a 70-year-old man from the town of Nova Pazova who was sentenced to eight months in prison.
  • In July 2019 Zana Cimili, a Kosovo [129] correspondent for the TV broadcaster N1, received death threats through social networks, including threats against her daughter. On 6 July, N1 reported that a Serbian national was arrested in connection with the case for “spreading religious and national hatred and imperilling safety”. The Ministry of the Interior informed the Platform that the perpetrator was identified, and a criminal case was opened. A court placed the suspect under house arrest and banned him from using the internet.
  • In March about 100 anti-government protesters stormed the building of the Serbian national broadcaster RTS in Belgrade, demanding to be allowed to make a public address on the air, [130] and were forcefully expelled by the police. According to the Association of Journalists of Serbia, some RTS staff were jostled and threatened by protesters. The Ministry of Culture and Information condemned the action and the Ministry of the Interior later replied to the alert, stating that a few intruders had been charged, prosecuted and sentenced.
  • In August 2019 a N1 crew and reporter of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s TV channel Federalna, Dejan Kožul, were threatened while reporting ahead of a Champions League football game in Belgrade. [131] While N1 journalists were recording interviews, a group of people shouted“spies”, “thieves”and“American mercenaries”at the journalists and tried to break their camera and microphone.
  • On 18 September Aleksandar Obradović, [132] working at the state-owned Krušic armaments factory in Valjevo was detained. He was the whistle-blower exposing that the private company GIM was given privileged treatment in an arms deal, at the expense of Krušic and other state arms producers. A criminal investigation was opened on charges of disclosing business secrets and in September 2019, the High Court in Belgrade ordered Obradović’s house arrest. He was later released but the investigation is ongoing.
  • In November 2019, Serbian journalist Miodrag Sovilj was the target of verbal attacks by officials and pro-government media. [133] The journalist had publicly confronted Serbia’s President Vučić with allegations of government corruption. After the president had been hospitalised for health reasons, his associates and pro-government media launched a campaign of smears, threats and intimidation against Sovilj, accusing him of worsening the president’s health.
  • After more than 25 years, impunity still prevails over the murder in 1994 of the Serbian journalist Radislava “Dada” Vujasinović, [134] who was shot dead in Belgrade. Despite the setting up in 2013 of a commission of enquiry to investigate a number of long-unsolved journalist killings, no progress has been reported in the case. The Ministry of the Interior declared it would renew its investigation according to the orders of the prosecutor’s office in April 2019.
  •  
  • In a welcome development, in April 2019 a Belgrade court convicted four former Serbian state security officers, including the former head of the Serbian State Security and the former head of the Belgrade branch of the secret police, for the 1999 murder of journalist and editor Slavko Ćuruvija. Ćuruvija was an outspoken critic of then Yugoslav President Milošević.

 

Turkey

  • As of 31 December 2019, there were 103 active alerts and 24 resolved alerts on Turkey. These include 91 journalists in detention and four impunity cases for murdered journalists. 18 new alerts were submitted in 2019. Turkey has not responded to any of the 2019 alerts.
  • The 2019 alerts included incidents of violent attacks on journalists, the expulsions of four foreign correspondents, arbitrary arrests during attempts to report on demonstrations in southeastern Turkey and criminal investigations for criticism of Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria.
  • Significant developments took place in some of the most prominent cases, often illustrating the arbitrariness and political interference that characterises the Turkish justice system. In September, the Supreme Court of Cassation vacated the convictions of 13 former Cumhuriyet journalists convicted in April 2018 of terrorism charges. The case was returned to a lower court, which largely ignored the Supreme Court’s ruling and acquitted only one of the defendants. Previously, in May, the Turkish Constitutional Court delivered contradictory rulings in which it found that the authorities had violated the constitutional rights of only some of the Cumhuriyet defendants despite the identical nature of these cases.
  • In July, the Supreme Court also overturned the convictions of journalists and writers Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and Mehmet Altan on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. In November, all three were retried on lesser charges of assisting a terrorist organisation. Ahmet Altan was sentenced to ten-and-a-half years and Nazlı Ilıcak to eight years and nine months. Mehmet Altan was acquitted. Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were subsequently released for the first time in over three years. Within a week, however, Ahmet Altan was re-arrested after the public prosecutor successfully argued that he was a flight risk despite an existing travel ban against him.
  • Judgments in the cases of about 10 journalists remained pending at the European Court at the time of writing. Idris Sayılğan, a Kurdish journalist who was held in pre-trial detention for over two years before being sentenced to eight years and three months in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organisation, was released without advance notice on 27 November. The Court is due to rule on whether Sayılğan was afforded domestic remedy after the Turkish Constitutional Court had failed to take up his case since July 2018.

 

2019 saw a significant effort by the Turkish government to convince international partners that it is engaging in serious reforms of the judicial system.

 

  • Journalists in Turkey continue to suffer violations of the rule of law and their right to a fair trial, including insufficient evidence to justify arrest and detention, limits on access to defence lawyers, restrictions on appearing personally in court and extensive pre-trial detention in violation of European Court jurisprudence.
  • The readiness of the authorities to regulate critical speech and information online was brought into sharp focus in October when, within 48 hours of the launch of the military actions in northern Syria, over 120 investigations had been launched against social media users, including journalists, on terrorist propaganda grounds for publicly criticising the military intervention. This followed a RTÜK statement warning radio and TV broadcasters “including online media”to be mindful of their reporting, which if determined to contain “anti-operation propaganda sourced by terrorist organisations”would not be tolerated.
  • 2019 saw a significant effort by the Turkish government to convince international partners that it is engaging in serious reforms of the judicial system. Some elements of a “judicial reform package” have brought relief to some journalists, in particular the lifting of a ban on journalists sentenced to less than five years from appealing to the Supreme Court, a change that has led to the release of a number of defendants pending appeal. However, the package largely fails to address the most significant demands made of Turkey by institutions such as the Venice Commission, including ensuring that journalists are not subject to anti-terror charges based on their writing and that the authorities demonstrate “relevant and sufficient” reasons for the detention of journalists. [135]
  • Meanwhile, the powers of the Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK) have been extended to online broadcasters, which are now required to apply or expensive licenses. The lack of clarity on what is deemed an“online broadcaster”means that RTÜK could potentially begin to police critical social media.
  • The readiness of the authorities to regulate critical speech and information online was brought into sharp focus in October when, within 48 hours of the launch of the military actions in northern Syria, over 120 investigations had been launched against social media users, including journalists, on terrorist propaganda grounds for publicly criticising the military intervention. This followed a RTÜK statement warning radio and TV broadcasters “including online media”to be mindful of their reporting, which if determined to contain “anti-operation propaganda sourced by terrorist organisations”would not be tolerated.
  • Although the number of jailed journalists in Turkey according to Platform figures declined from 110 to 91 in 2019, Turkey remains a highly repressive environment for the press. Turkish authorities and courts continue to treat critical journalism as criminal terrorist activity. This pattern can effectively not be challenged until the politicisation of the courts is ended. The partner organisations call with the utmost urgency for the necessary amendment or repeal of the country’s anti-terror legislation and for secure safeguards for the independence of the judiciary. European governments, the Council of Europe and the EU are urged to give the highest priority to the task of assisting the Turkish authorities to undo the systematic violation of democratic norms and to restore press freedom and the rule of law.

 

Ukraine

 

A worrying number of cases of violence against journalists in Ukraine leading to injuries were reported in 2019.

 

  • As of end of 2019 there were 10 active alerts on Ukraine, not including the regions of Crimea and Donbass which are outside the Ukrainian government’s control. 11 alerts were submitted to the Platform in 2019. Ukraine has responded to all but one alert.
  • In 2019, presidential and parliamentary elections took place in Ukraine. According to the OSCE, private media outlets showed clear biases toward certain candidates in both the presidential and parliamentary elections.[136]
  • In several instances, politicians and public figures were behind the attacks. On 20 June 2019, investigative reporter Vadym Komarov died from injuries following a vicious attack that left him in a coma. The attack came the day after he announced he would publish material showing that two city council- lors were involved in extortion. In their reply to the Platform, the Ukrainian authorities said that “all investigative measures” were being taken to identify the perpetrators, but no suspects have been identified to date. [137] There was also a rise in the number of physical attacks against women journalists: according to the National Union of Journalists, as many as 28 women were victims of physical attacks in the first 10 months of 2019.
  • None of those responsible for the deaths of the eight journalists killed in Ukraine since 1992 have so far been brought to justice. [138] The Partner organisa- tions await progress following the announcement of the arrest of five suspects in relation to the 2016 killing of Pavel Sheremet.
  • Of the 10 alerts filed on Ukraine in 2019, at least four related to incidents reportedly perpetrated by far-right extremist groups. In June and July, four suspects – at least one of whom is reported to have links to far-right extremism – were identified in the investigation into the life-threatening attack on Vadim Makaryuk. [139] The suspects were placed under house arrest until mid- September, at which point their periods of detention ended. On 15 September, one of the suspects was pictured chatting and drinking coffee with police officers in Kharkiv. [140]

 

Crimea and eastern Ukraine [141]

 

The fact that comparatively few alerts were recorded last year in Crimea does not indicate any lessening of the stifling of media freedom in the region, but rather the difficulty in verifying information in the area.

 

  • Two new alerts that relate specifically to threats to media freedom in Crimea were posted to the Platform in 2019. They concern four cases of ethnic Crimean Tatar journalists who were arrested on terrorism-related charges. Both alerts were filed under Ukraine. However, given that the Ukrainian authorities have no effective control over the territory, the partner organisations saw it necessary to highlight separately the conditions for independent media outlets working in territory de facto controlled by the Russian Federation.
  • The fact that comparatively few alerts were recorded last year in Crimea does not indicate any lessening of the stifling of media freedom in the region, but rather the difficulty in verifying information in the area.
  • The four detained journalists are Nariman Memedeminov, Osman Arifmemetov, Remzi Bekirov and Rustem Sheikhaliev. Memedeminov, known as the founding father of civic journalism in Crimea, was detained in March 2018, but the partner organisations were not aware of his case until October 2019 when a military court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced the journalist to two years and six months in prison. [142] Osman Arifmemetov, Remzi Bekirov and Rustem Sheikhaliev have been awaiting trial since their arrest on 27 March 2019. [143]
  • The four journalists reported on human rights violations by Russian authorities in Crimea and on Crimea’s indigenous Crimean Tatar population. [144] The Russian authorities have prosecuted them for their alleged links to “Hizb ut-Tahrir”, an Islamist group that operates legally in Ukraine but is considered a terrorist organisation in the Russian Federation. Arifmemetov, Bekirov and Sheikhaliev face prison terms of up to 20 years if convicted.
  • Following the Russian Federation’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the authorities passed a law requiring media outlets to register with the media regulator Roskomnadzor, imposing severe penalties for those continuing to broadcast without registration. Most Crimean Tatar-language media outlets were not given licenses despite submitting multiple applications. The number of media outlets in Crimea has shrunk by more than 90% since the annexa- tion, and Russian authorities have restricted access to Ukrainian TV and other media outlets. [145]
  • The Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine also maintained harsh controls over free speech. In August 2019, members of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic handed the Ukrainian journalist Stanyslav Aseev, detained since June 2017, [146] a prison sentence of 15 years after finding him guilty of “espionage, extremism, and public calls to violate the territory’s integrity”. [147]
  • The Ukrainian authorities condemned Aseev’s detention.[148] On 29 December 2019, Aseev was released as part of a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.[149]

 


 

[79] Alert “British journalist targeted by smear campaign”, posted 8 March 2019.

[80] Alert “Albania: Journalists injured by police during anti-Government protests”, posted 18 April 2019.

[81] Alert “Police assault on journalist Enver Doçi“, posted 3 July 2019.

[82] Alert “News 24 channel shuts down two critical talk shows”, posted 29 August 2019.

[83] Alert “Prime Minister pressures online portals and information channels”, posted 5 December 2019.

[84] Alert “Information website joqalbania.com blocked”, posted 5 December 2019.

[85] Alert “New ‘anti-defamation’ legislative package threatens online media freedom”, posted 29 July 2019.

[86] European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (2019), “Albanian authorities pursue highly problematic media laws despite public outcry”, at: https://www.ecpmf.eu/archive/news/threats/albanian-authorities-pursue-highly-problematic-media-laws-despite-public-outcry.html, accessed 27 February 2020.

[87] Alert “Mehman Huseynov sentenced to two years on defamation charges”, posted 10 January 2017.

[88] Alert “Journalist Polad Aslanov arrested and charged with high treason”, posted 19 June 2019.

[89] Alert “Exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli abducted, detained and faces charges in Azerbaijan”, posted 30 May 2017.

[90] Alert “Blogger Mehman Huseynov beaten by police”, posted 30 December 2019.

[91] Khadija Ismayilova v. Azerbaijan, application No. 65286/3, judgment of 10 January 2019.<

[92] Alert “Journalists detained and subjected to police violence while covering peaceful protests”, posted 24 October 2019

[93] Alert “Suspension of Bulgarian National Radio broadcasts points to vulnerability of editorial independence”, posted 17 September 2019.

[94] Alert “Bulgarian journalist’s conviction in defamation case called ‘threat to journalism’”, posted 4 June 2019.

[95] Alert “Reporters Atanas Tchobanov and Asen Yordanov subjected to judicial probe”, posted 22 July 2019.

[96] Alert “Repeated police violence against journalists covering protests”, posted 11 December 2018, updated in 2019.

[97] Alert “Journalists banned from covering the evacuation of Amazon France’s headquarters”, posted 5 August 2019.

[98] Alert “Journalist Gaspard Glanz banned from covering ‘Yellow Vests’ protests”, posted 25 April 2019.

[99] Syndicat National des Journalistes (209) “Violences policières et atteintes à la liberté de la presse: le ministre de l’Intérieur doit rendre des comptes“ (French only), at: www.snj.fr/article/violences-polici%C3%A8res-et-atteintes-%C3%A0-la-libert%C3%A9-de-la-presse-le-ministre-de-l%E2%80%99int%C3%A9rieur-doit-rendre-des-comptes-043088985, accessed 27 February 2020.

[100] Syndicat National des Journalistes (2019), Communiqué intersyndical: Liberté de la presse: des atteintes multiples et graves en France“ (French only), at: www.snj.fr/sites/default/files/field/document/9-05-03%20communiqu%C3%A9%203%20mai.pdf, accessed 27 February 2019.

[101] Reporters Without Borders (2019), “Note à l’attention du M. Christophe Castaner, ministre de l’Intérieur“ (French only), at: https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/preconisations_de_rsf.pdf, accessed 27 February 2020.

[102] Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (2019), “Memorandum on maintaining public order and freedom of assembly in the context of the‘Yellow Vests’movement in France”, ComDH(2019)8, at: https://rm.coe.int/commdh-209-8-memorandum-france-en/1680932f57, accessed 27 February 2020

[103] UN Working Group on arbitrary detention/UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression/UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association/UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (2019), untitled letter (French only), at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24320, accessed 27 February 2020.

[104] Dufresne, D. (209), “Allô Place Beauvau? “ (French only), at : https://alloplacebeauvau.mediapart.fr/presse, accessed 27 February 2020.

[105] Alert “A French police union releases a list of journalists described as enemies”, posted 9 December 2019.

[106] European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (2019), Press Freedom Police Codex, at: https://www.ecpmf.eu/archive/files/police_codex_mail.pdf, accessed 27 February 2020.

[107] International Press Institute (209) “Hungary dismantles media freedom and pluralism”, at:https://ipi.media/new-report-hungary-dismantles-media-freedom-and-pluralism/, accessed 27 February 2020.

[108] Alert “New restrictions on journalists working in Hungarian Parliament”, posted 25 October 2019.

[109] Alert “Anti-semitic posters stigmatising Hungarian journalists”, posted 27 November 2019.

[110] Alert “Polish party leader initiates libel charge against critical newspaper”, posted 25 February 2019.

[111] Alert “A Polish court bans reporter Anna Wilk for three years from journalism in criminal libel suit”, posted 6 June 2019.

[112] PACE, Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Report 4906 (2019), “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges”, at: http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=27724&lang=en, accessed 27 February 2020

[113] The charges identify Fenech as the mastermind. However, Fenech implicated Schembri during interrogation by the police and Schembri is currently under investigation.

[114] Daphne Caruana Galizia reported on the companies and trusts which Mizzi and Schembri allegedly set up in Panama and New Zealand.

[115] Alert “Malta Economy Minister issues four libel suits and warrants against Daphne Caruana Galizia”, updated 10 December 2019.

[116] Alert“Journalists locked inside the office of the Maltese PM following a press conference”posted 29 November 2019.

[117] Government of Malta response, posted on 6 December 2019.

[118] Lovin Malta (2019) “Journalists locked inside Castille by‘security guards’” Video footage available at https://lovinmalta.com/news/watch-journalists-locked-inside-castille-by-security-guards-following-joseph-muscats-press-conference/, accessed 27 February 2020.

[119] Alert “Cyber-attack against Maltese online news platform”, posted 16 January 2019.

[120] Alert“Investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, known for his investigations into political corruption, arrested for ‘selling drugs’”, posted 22 November 2019.

[121] Alert “Ingushetia Court orders two months pre-trial detention for journalist Rashid Maysigov”, posted 16 July 2019.

[122] Alert “Russia investigates reporter Svetlana Prokopyeva, seizes property over allegations of ‘justifying terrorism’”, posted 13 February 2019.

[123] Alerts “Journalists beaten and detained at protests in Moscow”, posted 28 July 2019, “Roskomnadzor requests the take-down of information about Moscow protests”, posted 14 August 2019.

[124] Alerts “‘Sovereign Internet Bill’ adopted, posted 2 May 209; “Russia: President Putin signs into law Russia’s‘fake news’and‘Internet insults’ban”, posted 23 April 2019; “Russian draft legislation would ban distribution of foreign print media without Government permission”, posted 19 April 2019.

[125] Alert “Russian Journalist Mikhail Romanov found guilty of ‘abuse of freedom of information’ and ‘fake news’”, posted 2 August 2019.

[126] Alert “‘Sovereign Internet bill’ adopted”, posted 30 April 2019.

[127] Alert “Duma Committee approves legislation to label individual journalists ‘foreign agents’”, posted 6 July 2018.

[128] Alert “NTV journalists subjected to death threats”, posted 14 February 2019.

[129] All references to Kosovo, whether the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.

[130] Alert “Public TV building stormed by anti-government protesters”, posted 19 March 2019.

[131] Alert “Journalists physically and verbally attacked at Marakana stadium”, posted 30 August 2019.

[132] Alert “Whistleblower Aleksandar Obradović under house arrest”, posted 21 November 2019.

[133] Alert“Journalist Miodrag Sovilj targeted by smear campaign after interviewing President Vučić”, posted 28 November 2019.

[134] Alert “Impunity in the Case of the Murder of Dada Vujasinovic”, posted 28 April 2015.

[135] Council of Europe Venice Commission (2017), “Turkey – Opinion on the Measures provided in the recent Emergency Decree Laws with respect to Freedom of the Media”, adopted at its 10th Plenary Session, at: https://venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2017)007-f, accessed 27 February 2020

[136] OSCE Office for Democratic Institutitons and Human Rights (2019), “Election observation mission: final report”, at: www.osce.org/odihr/elections/ukraine/439634?download=true, accessed 28 February 2020.

[137] Reply to Platform alert, “Ukrainian Journalist in coma following assault”, posted 9 May 2019.

[138] Committee to Protect Journalists (2020), “Killed since 1992”database, at: https://cpj.org/data/killed/, accessed 28 February 2020.

[139] Institute of Mass Information (2019), “Court extended home arrest for suspected assaulter of Kharkiv cameraman Vadym Makaryuk”, at: https://imi.org.ua/en/news/court-extended-home-arrest-for-suspected-assaulter-of-kharkiv-cameraman-vadym-makaryuk-i29270, accessed 28 February 2020.

[140] Юрій Ларін (2019), Photo, at: www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=207275409464386&set=a.399587226899879&type=3&theater, accessed 28 February 2020.

[141] Areas in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, not controlled by the Ukrainian government.

[142] Alert “Crimean Tatar journalist Nariman Memedeminov sentenced to 2.5 years on terrorism charges”, posted 20 December 2019.

<[143] Alert “Crimean Tatar journalists Osman Arifmemetov, Remzi Bekirov and Rustem Sheikhaliev detained by Russian authorities”, posted 20 December 2019.

[144] Committee to Protect Journalists (209), “Annual report on imprisoned journalists“, at: https://cpj.org/reports/209/12/journalists-jailed-china-turkey-saudi-arabia-egypt.php, accessed 28 February 2020.

[145] Committee to Protect Journalists (205) “Russian media regulator denies registration to Crimean news outlets”, at: https://cpj.org/205/03/russian-media-regulator-denies-registration-to-cri.php, accessed 28 February 2020.

[146] Alert “Ukrainian journalist Stanyslav Aseev missing in Donbass”, posted 22 June 2017.

[147] Committee to Protect Journalists (2019) “Donetsk militants announce 15-year ‘sentence’ for Ukrainian journalist Stanyslav Aseyev”, at: https://cpj.org/209/10/donetsk-militants-announce-5-year-sentence-for-uk.php, accessed 28 February 2020.

[148] Reply of the Ukrainian government to the alert condemning the journalist’s detention, posted 16 August 2017.

[149] Alert updated 30 December 209. Marked as “resolved” 6 January 2020.