April was a grim month for press freedom, with a young journalist shot dead in Northern Ireland, Julian Assange facing extradition to the US, and cartoonist Musa Kart and colleagues returning to jail. But there was also good LGBTQI+ rights news from Turkey and justice in a 20-year-old murder case in Serbia…
“In the future they will apologize to our children”
In Turkey, attacks on press freedom continued.
Celebrated cartoonist, Musa Kart, and five of his former colleagues at Cumhuriyet newspaper, returned to jail in late April following the failure of their appeal against terrorism-related convictions in February. The defendants will each serve prison sentences of between three and four years; six other former colleagues who received sentences greater than five years are still waiting for a decision on their appeals.
Speaking to journalists before he returned to jail, a defiant Kart said: “We all know that they are throwing us into jail, just to create a climate of fear in this country. I am waiting for an apology. If not today, in the future they will apologize to our children”.
“We all know that they are throwing us into jail, just to create a climate of fear in this country. I am waiting for an apology. If not today, in the future they will apologize to our children.”@MusaKart https://t.co/ezFlOE8ZTf
— Can Dündar (@candundaradasi) April 26, 2019
April saw another hearing in the trial of Erol Önderoğlu, IFEX member and representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Turkey. He is being tried on absurd terrorism-related charges alongside Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin for taking part in a peaceful act of solidarity with Özgür Gündem, a newspaper that had been targeted for judicial persecution, in 2016. Erol and his co-defendants are facing lengthy jail sentences if convicted; the next hearing will take place in July, when a verdict could be announced.
Erol attended the 2019 IFEX Strategy Conference and General Meeting in Berlin on 8-10 April, where IFEX members came together to share ideas and develop strategies for defending freedom of expression globally. We used the opportunity to underline our solidarity with Erol and his co-defendants.
Thread: IFEX stands united in support of our colleague @ErolOnderoglu and his co-defendants @SKorurFincanci & @AhmetNesin1 on trial in #Turkey for press freedom activities. Their next hearing is April 15 and they face 14.5 years in prison if convicted. #FreeTurkeyMedia #IFEX2019 pic.twitter.com/hvRjgrmzYB
— IFEX (@IFEX) April 10, 2019
Teacher Ayşe Çelik, who was sent to jail in April 2018 for criticising government security activities in southeast Turkey, and whose prison sentence was deferred after her release in May 2018, has been sent back to jail where she will serve the rest of her 15 month sentence. Çelik is famous for declaring live on TV, “Don’t let children die and mothers cry” – a phrase used as evidence against her in her trial.
For more news on these and many other cases, please check out the regular updates provided by our regional members: Bianet, the Platform for Independent Journalism (plus sister-site Expression Interrupted) and the Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey.
Prosecuted and potentially imprisoned for exposing human rights violations
It’s hard to find anyone who is neutral on the subject of Julian Assange. However, his arrest in the UK this month brought together both his fans and some of his biggest critics as they voiced their concerns over what his potential prosecution in the US could mean for press freedom.
Assange was arrested by the Metropolitan Police at the Ecuadorian embassy on 11 April for breaching bail conditions set by a British court; he was later arrested again that same day under a US extradition warrant. Assange was quickly convicted of breaching his bail conditions and will be sentenced in May; he will appear in court on the extradition charges on 2 May.
The US indictment charges Assange with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, including accessing classified information, in relation to the leaking of US government materials by former military analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Assange faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Press freedom groups, journalists and even the leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, spoke out against extraditing Assange to the US.
IFEX members ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch (HRW), PEN International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued statements outlining the threat to journalistic practices. CPJ raised a general concern that the current charge against Assange might be the first of a series of charges which could potentially do even greater damage to press freedom. PEN International and HRW expressed concerns that Assange might be placed in detention conditions that “could amount to torture or other ill-treatment”. ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director, Thomas Hughes, said, “Extradition to the US will result in Assange being prosecuted and potentially imprisoned for exposing human rights violations”.
In a Twitter thread, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, outlined his concerns that “basic free press guarantees” would be damaged by the US prosecution of Assange.
many Americans and others may look at arrest of #JulianAssange as a kind of accountability for him & @wikileaks. in context of potential extradition to US, i urge ppl to put aside feelings and consider at least two questions https://t.co/Pbp28mnFl1
— David Kaye (@davidakaye) April 11, 2019
The English lawyer and legal commentator, David Allen Green, also tweeted his thoughts on the many aspects of the Assange case, including the Swedish investigation into rape allegations against him (this was shelved in 2017, but could now potentially be revived). Green, a thoughtful critic of Assange, opposes extraditing him to the US, but thinks that “there’s no good reason to oppose” an extradition request from Sweden, should it come. Helen Barr of HRW’s Women’s Rights Division also says that a possible extradition request from Sweden should be prioritised over the US request.
Journalist & LGBTQI+ activist killed in Northern Ireland
The 18 April killing of journalist and LGBTQI+ activist, Lyra McKee, in Derry, Northern Ireland, horrified the international community. A republican dissident group calling itself the New IRA admitted that it had shot McKee, 29, in the head while she was standing near a police van during a riot; in a statement, the group also implied that the journalist had not been the intended target.
Police suspect that McKee’s killer may have been a teenager but have yet to identify him.
IFEX members including PEN International, Index on Censorship, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists called for a thorough investigation into the crime and for the killer to be brought to justice.
McKee, whose funeral was attended by political leaders from Ireland and the UK, was the second journalist to be murdered in Northern Ireland since 1992; the other victim, Martin O’Hagan, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in 2001.
Lyra’s coffin leaving St Anne’s pic.twitter.com/o6jEuaTNXK
— Dawn Foster (@DawnHFoster) April 24, 2019
In London, journalists gathered at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street (the traditional home of British journalism) to remember her.
There are 29 candles lit before the altar at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street – one to mark each year of Lyra McKee’s life. The gathered journalists are now queuing to sign a book of condolences for Lyra’s partner, Sara. #WeStandWithLyra pic.twitter.com/VhJ3VEVwHD
— Press Gazette (@pressgazette) April 24, 2019
Veteran journalist Roy Greenslade has written an interesting overview of McKee’s brief life and work.
Gender in focus
On 1 April, it was announced that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first ever Pride Parade would take place in September 2019. The news was met with a decidedly mixed reaction. The BBC reported that Samra Cosovic-Hajdarevic, a deputy of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in Sarajevo Canton, described the parade as a “terrible” idea that would destroy “the state and its people”. The same BBC report cites a regional TV website poll where over 60% of respondents were against the parade.
The homophobia wasn’t confined to words and opinion polls. A Civil Rights Defenders intern and her girlfriend were targeted twice by the same man in Sarajevo following the announcement about the parade. In the first of these incidents, the unknown man threatened the pair with a knife for holding hands in public and said he would attack the parade because it offended his religious beliefs. In the second incident, he hit the intern and chased her girlfriend through the streets.
There was positive news from Turkey this month, where a ban on LGBTQI+ events in Ankara was removed by a court, following a legal challenge by KAOS GL, Turkey’s oldest and largest LGBTQI+ group. The ban had been issued by the governor of Ankara in November 2017. After the court’s decision was announced, the Middle East Technical University LGBTI+ Solidarity group said that the university’s 9th Pride Parade would go ahead on 10 May.
— Kaos GL (@KaosGL) April 19, 2019
Several LGBTQI+ individuals were reportedly arrested in Azerbaijan in early April. The reasons for the arrests are not clear, but it appears that the detentions were coordinated and that many of those arrested were transgender sex workers. As Eurasianet reports, sex work is illegal in Azerbaijan, but is only punishable by administrative fines. Some of those arrested were charged with hooliganism and given 30-day prison sentences. The police in Azerbaijan have a history of targeting the LGBTQI+ community.
In Bulgaria, a man was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the October 2018 rape and murder of television journalist, Viktoria Marinova.
Following the March election of Slovakia’s first female president – the lawyer and civil rights activist Zuzana Čaputová – IFEX members joined press freedom groups in addressing an open letter to the new president, calling for her support in tackling ongoing threats to the press in Slovakia, specifically the proposed “right to reply” draft law (which would oblige newspapers to publish politicians’ responses to any critical coverage of them), and former Prime Minister Robert Fico’s continuing verbal attacks on the media.
CPJ called for an immediate end to the travel restrictions placed on IFEX member and Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, Mehman Huseynov. Huseynov was prevented from leaving Azerbaijan on 9 April to attend a Council of Europe conference; he was released from prison in March, having spent two years behind bars after he was dubiously convicted of slandering an entire police station.
In Serbia, four former secret police officers were sentenced to a total of 100 years in jail for the murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija. Curuvija was shot to death outside his home on 11 April 1999 during the NATO air campaign. Before he was murdered, he had been targeted by pro-regime media and accused of siding with NATO against his home country. The individual who actually pulled the trigger was not among those sentenced.
In France, the Yellow Vest protests have now been going on for almost 25 weeks, though the number of protesters is falling. Journalists continue to suffer injuries, mainly due to police riot control tactics: RSF reports that more than 80 journalists have been injured by the police since the protests began. Freelancer Gaspard Glanz complained to the police that he had been targeted by a tear gas projectile while covering protests in Paris on 20 April; Glanz then got into an argument with an officer, allegedly insulted him (by giving him the finger) and was detained for 48 hours. IFJ reports that Glanz has also effectively been banned from covering the protests for the next six months. RSF has described Glanz’s treatment as disproportionate and constituting an “obstruction of the right to report”.