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65% of Turks fear sharing political views online, France bans 'fake' news, Ukraine imposes martial law

Europe and Central Asia: Ukrainian activist murdered, masterminds indentified in Daphne murder case, Turkey targets civil society, feminists take on fascists in Spain, Tajikistan copies China's Internet crackdown, Eiffel Tower dimmed for murdered journalists and more….

A demonstrator holds a photo of anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk, a candle and a placard reading in Ukrainian
A demonstrator holds a photo of anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk, a candle and a placard reading in Ukrainian "Who are the Murderers of Katia Handziuk?" during a rally outside the Interior Ministry in Kyiv, 4 November 2018

Danil Shamkin / Barcroft Media via Getty Images


'Masterminds' behind Daphne's murder identified, family not told

The Sunday Times of Malta reported this month that "more than two" individuals suspected of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia had been identified by police investigators.

Although no further details are known at this stage, the authorities believe that the suspects contracted three men who are currently in custody to carry out the killing. The late journalist's family are angry that they were not notified of these important developments before investigators confirmed them to media. Roberto Saviano, the Italian investigative journalist and mafia target, supported Daphne's sons in their expressions of frustration.


More high profile voices are speaking out about Daphne's murder; the author Naomi Klein appeared at the Malta Book Festival this month where she made a statement calling for a full public inquiry into the crime.


Martial law imposed, murder victim links own death to official corruption

On 26 November, the Parliament of Ukraine voted to impose martial law on regions of the country described as vulnerable to "Russian aggression". This came after Russian naval vessels fired on their Ukrainian counterparts off the coast of Crimea and then captured boats and crew members. President Poroshenko can now restrict rallies and regulate the media in the affected areas; some MPs are concerned that he could suspend the presidential election on 31 March 2019.

Police arrested a man in connection with the murder of rights activist Kateryna Handziuk, who died this month from injuries sustained in an acid-attack last July. The suspect is Igor Pavlovsky, a former aide to lawmaker Mykola Palamarchuk (a member of President Poroshenko's party). Five men were detained in August following the assault on Handziuk, in which she was drenched with a litre of acid. Pavlovsky is suspected of acting as an intermediary between the killers and those who ordered the attack.

Handziuk worked as an advisor to the mayor of Kherson and was a vocal critic of the regional authorities and national police. In September, she gave an interview from her hospital bed in which she spoke about the attack, suggesting that it might be connected to official corruption:

"Who ordered all these people? Who's covering up for those who ordered them? Why are so many investigations being frozen? Why do we need to suffer while the most active of us are murdered and tortured? Why do I consider it to be assassination attempt? Because the acid was poured on my head. If someone wanted to warn or silence me, they could have targeted my arms, legs, or face – anywhere. But they poured a litre of acid on my head".


Ukrainian lawmakers could recriminalize defamation before the presidential election next year. Defamation was decriminalized 17 years ago but a bill was introduced in the parliament on 20 November which, if passed, would make it a crime again with punishments of up to three years in jail.


Turkey: 65% fear expressing political views online

In a survey of 74,000 people across 37 countries, Turkey was the state where most people feared getting into trouble with the authorities for expressing political views online. According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018, 65% of Turks shared this concern. This seems a very reasonable response in light of Turkey's ongoing crackdown on social media: in the second week of November alone, legal action was taken against 182 social media users; among the charges they faced were "terrorist propaganda", "insulting state officials", and "hate speech".

The Platform for Independent Journalism's sister site, Expression Interrupted, reminded us this month of the risks Turkish journalists run just by doing their job: according to their records, as of 11 November, there were at least 175 reporters and media workers behind bars.

IFEX members continue to campaign tirelessly on behalf of their Turkish colleagues. A group of rights organisations, including six IFEX members, wrote a joint letter to EU officials who were involved in high political dialogue with Turkey on 22 November, asking them to raise Turkey's "freedom of expression crisis" in the course of their talks.

For a thorough overview of all the news related to persecuted journalists and activists, please check out the regular updates provided by Bianet, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Platform for Independent Journalism (plus Expression Interrupted) and the Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey.

What follows are highlights from some key cases this month.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-Chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party's (HDP), should be released from pre-trial detention. He has been behind bars for two years on terrorism-related charges. President Erdoğan publicly rejected the Court's ruling.

The crackdown on civil society continues. In mid-November, another 13 prominent academics and civil society leaders were arrested in connection with their links with the jailed civil society leader Osman Kavala. Twelve of them were released and issued with travel bans; one - Yiğit Aksakaloğlu - was placed in pre-trial detention pending completion of a criminal investigation.

Osman Kavala has been in jail for a year and there is still no clarity about the nature of the charges against him. President Erdoğan this month publicly accused Kavala of financing terrorism and - employing the anti-Semitic rhetoric used by some nationalist leaders in Europe and elsewhere - declared that he was being supported by "the Hungarian Jew George Soros". Soros's Open Society Foundations group announced afterwards that it would cease operations in Turkey.

The ongoing trial of Amnesty Turkey Chair Taner Kılıç and the other ten human rights defenders known as the Istanbul10 (all of whom are charged with terrorism-related charges), was adjourned until 21 March 2019.

In light of Turkey's crackdown on freedom of expression and the radical constitutional changes which give the president massive power over all branches of government, the Turkey Rapporteur for the European Parliament, Kati Piri, demanded this month that EU accession talks with Turkey be formally suspended.



ECtHR rules in favour of Navalny, rapper faces jail

The European Court of Human Rights ruled this month that the multiple arrests of Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Russia's most notable opposition figure, were politically motivated and violated his right to assembly. Navalny is one of thousands who have been detained at 'unauthorised' protests over the last few years.


New rules were approved this month for the regulation of anonymous phone messaging services. The authorities say that the measure is aimed at cracking down on criminals and terrorists, but the suspicion remains that it will be used to undermine opposition activists' capacity to organise. According to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty: "Mobile phone network operators will be required to confirm the authenticity of a user's phone numbers within 20 minutes. If a number cannot be verified, messenger services are required to block users from their platforms. The Russian government will also require network operators to keep track of which messenger apps their users have registered for".

Rapper Husky (Хаски) faces two weeks in jail after he staged an unauthorised performance on 21 November in the southern city of Krasnodar. After being told that he was banned from performing (due to the "extremist" nature of his songs), the rapper carried out an improvised show for his fans from the top of a car. He was then detained. Husky is known for ridiculing the authorities and criticising the police; some of his videos are very popular with Russian youth. The charges he faces include unlawful assembly and refusal to submit to a medical exam.


France bans 'fake' news

This month the French Parliament passed a law allowing judges to order the immediate removal of news considered to be 'fake' during election periods. The law is the "brainchild" of President Macron, who has openly said that the Internet must be regulated. The law also gives the French broadcasting authority special powers over foreign-controlled TV channels during election time, enabling them to suspend transmission if they "deliberately disseminate false information likely to affect the sincerity of the ballot".

Other measures included in the law are the requirements that media consumers be provided with "information that is fair, clear and transparent" regarding how their personal data will be used, and that outlets disclose any payments received to promote certain material.

Violations of the law are punishable by a one-year jail sentence and a fine of €75,000.

Reporters Without Borders published a report on the law's shortcomings and drafted counter-proposals in June.

In light of the above news (and hot-on-the-heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal) it was interesting that France also announced this month that it would go into partnership with Facebook for six months in order to address how to combat hate speech online.


Gender in focus

In Spain, the feminist protest group, Femen, organised a protest against a fascist march commemorating the death of the dictator Franco. Femen, who are known for their shock tactics, demonstrated bare-chested in Madrid, with the words "Legal fascism, national shame" painted on their torsos; they were attacked and abused by members of the far-right crowd.


Towards the end of the month, Turkey's problem with misogynistic violence was laid starkly bare when it was reported that men killed at least 218 women and 12 children in the first 327 days of 2018.

However, there was some good news too this month - from the tiny Republic of San Marino:


In brief

The demonization of the press by populist politicians shows no sign of abating in Europe, and press workers continue to fight back. In Italy, journalists joined protests after leaders of the Five Star Movement (M5S) described media workers as "jackals" and "whores". Flash mobs were organised across Italy and in European capitals.

In Slovakia, journalists protested verbal attacks on their profession by former Prime Minister Robert Fico. Over 500 members of the press signed a petition condemning Fico's declaration that "all you comedians [journalists] should be knocked out". This is not the first time the ex-PM has insulted reporters. Fico's coalition government collapsed in the wake of the murder of Ján Kuciak in February and the mass anti-government demonstrations that followed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Germany to use its temporary seat on the UN Security Council to defend freedom of the press. Germany will hold its seat from 2019 to 2020.

As part of the Day to End Impunity (2 November), and at Reporters Without Borders's request, the Eiffel Tower's lights were dimmed for one minute on 1 November in remembrance of the murdered journalist Jamal Kashoggi and all the other murdered journalists whose killers remain unpunished.


In Hungary, state prosecutors charged investigative journalist András Dezső with "misuse of sensitive personal information" after he revealed important details about a Hungarian woman who had been involved in the government's anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant propaganda in the run up to the general election earlier this year. The woman, who had spent some time living in Sweden, claimed on state TV that she had left Sweden and returned to Hungary because of "safety concerns" around migrants and Muslims in the Scandinavian state. Dezső revealed that she had in fact returned following a series of convictions for defamation, harassment and violating public trust.

Reporters Without Borders pointed out this month that Belarus has handed down nearly 100 fines to journalists over the last eleven months, 91 of which were given to reporters working for Belsat TV, a Belarusian exile TV channel based in neighbouring Poland.

Reporters Without Borders also highlighted Tajikistan's increasing use of large-scale Internet censorship and blocking in response to popular protest. In recent months, the authorities have sought to smother coverage of troubling or embarrassing news stories - such as the murder of four foreign tourists and protests against government corruption - but have claimed that such Internet blackouts were due to "technical problems".

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