19 November 2015 - 16.00-17.30 - Room 11,, Palais de l'Europe, Interpretation: FR/EN/RU - Sponsored by the European Endowment for Democracy


In many parts of the world, being a journalist means being an activist. Journalists in these states sometimes risk their lives for providing their fellow citizens with information. They often urge for political or social change. How can free media be supported when powerful governments or corporations exercise pressure upon journalists in the name of national security?

Initiative 1

SMART (Syrian Media Action Revolution Team), Syria

SMART is a Syrian civil society organisation created in spring 2011 to support the non-violent movement that rose up against the regime of Bachar Al-Assad. Working with hundreds of volunteers in Syria, SMART has successfully launched various infrastructure and media projects to help construct a democratic and pluralistic Syria. It has created a Syria-based media pool of approxiamtely 150 full-timers. Together with ASML, a Syrian NGO registered in France, it has supported free and independent media in Syria, including print press, radio stations and children’s media. Thanks to their work, more Syrians were able to access independent news.


Mr Chamsy SARKIS, Syria/France, Co-founder of SMART & ASML

With a PhD in Human Genetics, after 10 years in Genetic Engineering at the French CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique) and his own biotech company, Chamsy Sarkis co-founded SMART in 2011, at the start of the Syiran uprising, a Syrian Civil Society Organization providing non-violent activists in Syria with technical and other needed support. Two years later, Chamsy Sarkis began supporting Syrians on the ground to print and distribute independent news throughout the war-torn country. He also helped launch a radio, a news agency, a video production unit, as well as other media services.

Initiative 2

Grani.ru, Russian Federation

Grani.Ru, created in 2000, has established itself as a major source of information on such subjects as free speech violations, the plight of political prisoners and street protests. Its coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has been the polar opposite of the government’s propaganda. Since March 2014 the website has been blacklisted by the authorities and blocked by all internet access providers in Russia. Nevertheless Grani.Ru continues to operate, produce content and make it available to internet users. It has been counteracting the censorship ban in a number of ways.



Ms Yulia BEREZOVSKAYA, Russian Federation, CEO of Grani.ru

Yulia Berezovskaya is Grani.Ru CEO and co-founder. Before launching this project in 2000 she worked as a journalist for Echo Moskvy radio, as well as for daily newspapers and one of the first Russian online publications. After Grani.Ru was banned in Russia she moved to France to continue her work and created the Grani Association to promote Internet freedom.


Discussants are invited to take part in the Labs in order to share their experience with the presented democratic initiatives and try to bring broader perspectives to the following discussions.

Ms Salima GHEZALI, Algeria, Journalist, writer and women’s rights activist, Winner of the 1997 Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought

Salima Ghezali is an Algerian journalist, writer and women's rights activist. In the 1980s she became involved in the Algerian women's movement, amongst other things as a founder member of Women of Europe and the Maghreb and as editor-in-chief of NYSSA, the women's publication she herself founded. A teacher turned journalist, she edited the French-language Algerian weekly La Nation from 1994, the most widely-read weekly in Algeria. The paper was seized and suspended many times, and finally banned in 1996, after the appearance in Le Monde Diplomatique of Ghezali's report on the human rights situation in Algeria. The publication of La Nation resumed in 2011 on the Internet.  Salima Ghezali has won a range of human rights awards and continues her activism on women's rights, human rights and democracy in Algeria. In 1997 she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Mr Emin MILLI, Azerbaijan, Journalist and Executive Director of Meydan TV

Mr. Milli was imprisoned in 2009 for two and a half years for his critical views of the government. He was conditionally released in November 2010, after serving 16 months of his sentence, in part due to strong international pressure on the government of Azerbaijan. From 2002–2004, Mr. Milli was director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and also advised the Council of Europe on more than 40 cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, many of whom were released following pressure from the Council. Prior to that, he was a coordinator for the International Republican Institute in Azerbaijan. Mr. Milli is currently managing director of the independent online media platform www.meydan.tv that has been launched in 2013.

Ms Tetiana POPOVA, Ukraine, Deputy Minister of Information Policy


Ms Alexandrina-Livia RUSU, Romania, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Permanent Representation of Romania to the Council of Europe

Alexandrina-Livia Rusu is Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of Romania to the Council of Europe since August 2015. She holds an MA from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and a PhD at the Doctoral School within the Bucharest University of Economic Studies. She previously served in the Permanent Mission of Romania to the United Nations in New York, the Romanian Embassy in Rome and General Consulate in Milan. In the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she was part of diplomatic team preparing Romania’s accession to the European Union. She held posts as Director for EU External Relations and European Correspondent (2003-2007) and coordinated the elaboration of Romania’s first National Strategy on the international development cooperation policy adopted in 2006. Her experience covers also the Western Balkans area, the regional cooperation formats, election monitoring (Palestine in January 2005, Turkey in July 2014).



Lab 18 - Civic action for media freedom
Palais de l'Europe - room 11 19 Nov., 16.00-17.30
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Challenges 2015