A roundup of key free expression news in Europe and Central Asia, based on IFEX member reports.
Viktoria, Jamal, Jan and Daphne
Europe was rocked this month by the murder of two journalists: Viktoria Marinova, a TV investigative reporter who was raped and murdered on 6 October in Ruse, Bulgaria, and Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was killed (after allegedly being tortured) at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on 2 October.
Marinova, like the murdered Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak, had been investigating massive corruption involving EU funds before she was killed. IFEX members and others – including EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir – demanded a speedy and thorough investigation into Marinova’s death. A few days after the discovery of Marinova’s body, police arrested a Bulgarian suspect in Germany. Index on Censorship and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) registered her case on the Council of Europe’s platform for journalists’ safety, highlighting the Bulgarian media’s concerns that Marinova might have been murdered because of her work. Towards the end of the month, the Bulgarian government responded by saying that (so far) there was no “apparent link” between Marinova’s murder and her reporting and that her death was most likely the result of a “spontaneous sexual assault”. Marinova was the third journalist to be murdered in the EU since October 2017.
(For more extensive coverage of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, please visit IFEX’s Middle East round-up for October.)
October saw the one-year anniversary of the murder in Malta of the anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. IFEX members held vigils in their respective countries to remember Daphne and demand that the Maltese authorities identify and arrest those who ordered the killing. There are widely-held concerns that the investigation has stalled and that the authorities are deliberately dragging their heels. For this reason, IFEX members joined a call for a public inquiry into the murder.
IFEX members and other press freedom organisations also organised a mission to Malta to coincide with the anniversary of Daphne’s death. The group met with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and concluded that Malta was not living up to its obligation to protect freedom of expression.
It’s hard to overestimate the effect that Daphne’s murder has had on the European political establishment and also the widespread scepticism with which many members of that establishment view Malta’s claims about the seriousness of its investigation into the murder.
Silent vigil in honour of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.We condemn the horrifying attack in strongest possible way pic.twitter.com/CNPA13hhhf
— European Commission ???????? (@EU_Commission) October 18, 2017
In Tajikistan, female journalist Sarvinoz Ruhulloh received abuse and death threats after she reported on a recent exhibition by a female artist, Marifat Davlatova, who paints nude portraits of women. Tajikistan is a very conservative, Muslim-majority country and Ruhulloh – who regularly talks about gender issues on Radio Ozodi – is no stranger to abuse. However, she says that the threats and insults are ongoing, and that she is accused of “imposing western values” on Tajik women and wanting them to become “whores”.
Davlatova has also been subjected to similar harassment, especially in the street. She says that her work is intended to challenge misogyny in Tajikistan: “I wanted to draw society’s attention to this big problem and to call out sexual harassment, catcalling, and disrespect against women in general,” she said in a recent interview.
Маърифат Давлатова: Рисуя полуобнаженных женщин, я протестую против неравенства в обществе https://t.co/gOOPcuYxWe
— Bruce Pannier (@BrucePannier) September 5, 2018
Translation of the tweet: Marifat Davlatova: While painting partially nude women, I protest against inequality in society
A referendum to ban same-sex marriage in Romania failed spectacularly in early October following an extremely poor turnout at the polls. Just over 20% of the electorate showed up to vote on changing the constitution so that marriage would be defined explicitly as the union of one man and one woman (this was well short of the 30% turnout that was required to validate the referendum). Activists had urged voters to stay away from the polls.
Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, continued his populist culture war on ‘non-traditional’ values when he signed a decree this month banning gender studies as a university discipline.
Turkey: a little bit of good news, but mostly bad
Turkey in October was the usual mix of very bad with a little good. 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 its sister site Expression Interrupted) and the Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey.
The following updates from October will be of particular interest to IFEX members:
President Erdoğan withdrew his lawsuit against the four ‘Kingdom of the Tayyips’ students who displayed caricatures of him on banners during a graduation ceremony in July 2018. The students were arrested a few days after the ceremony, charged with “insulting the president” and then detained for a month.
IFEX member Erol Önderoğlu, human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and writer Ahmet Nesin had their trial (on charges of “terrorism propaganda”) adjourned until 28 January 2019. All three face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.
#TrialUpdate: Istanbul court adjourned trial of @RSF_inter Turkey representative #ErolÖnderoğlu, rights defender #ŞebnemKorurFincancı and writer #AhmetNesin, who are charged with “terrorism propaganda” for joining Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign in 2016, until 28 January. pic.twitter.com/pkOptkblxn
— ExpressionInterrupted (@ExInt24) October 9, 2018
The court of appeal upheld the aggravated life sentences handed down (in February 2018) to writers Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak on charges of “trying to overthrow constitutional order” during the failed coup of 2016.
Artist and journalist Zehra Doğan, jailed since June 2017, was moved from her jail in Diyarbakır to another detention centre known for its harsh conditions in Tarsus; the reasons for the transfer are not yet clear. Doğan was sentenced to 33 months in jail in 2016 after she published paintings of conflict areas in Mardin (where government forces were clashing with Kurdish groups) on social media. This month she received the Courage in Journalism Award 2018 from the International Women’s Media Foundation.
Independent Russian publications threatened
Russia continues along a dark path.
This month, Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s best known independent newspaper, received a series of death threats. These included a funeral wreath and note sent specifically to one of its reporters, Denis Korotkov, whom the sender described as “a traitor to his motherland”. Novaya Gazeta has been targeted numerous times over the years for its criticism of the Russian authorities and endemic corruption. Anna Politkovskaya, perhaps its best known reporter, was murdered on 7 October 2006.
12th anniversary since #AnnaPolitkovskaya paid the ultimate price for her bravery in investigating & reporting on #humanrights violations. Achieving justice & establishing the truth about her murder must become a top political priorityhttps://t.co/2vDxxiZr9E… pic.twitter.com/Z8yP3aRf1I
— Dunja Mijatovic (@Dunja_Mijatovic) October 7, 2018
There was a threat of a different kind this month for another critical publication – the magazine New Times – which was ordered to pay an exorbitant fine of 22.25 million roubles (USD$ 340,000) for allegedly failing to provide requested information about alleged foreign funding. Payment of the fine will probably result in the closure of magazine.
— RSF_EECA (@RSF_EECA) October 26, 2018
October also saw special recognition of the work of Oyub Titiev, director (in Chechnya) of the human rights organisation Memorial. He is currently on trial on fabricated drugs possession charges and has been targeted by the authorities many times over the years because of his work. He was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 8 October.
The jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Russia on bogus terrorism charges, said this month that he would end his hunger strike (which had been going on for almost 145 days). Sentsov is in a critical condition. You can read the letter in which he made his announcement on PEN International’s website. Both PEN and the Ukrainian IFEX member, Institute for Mass Information, have called for Sentsov’s immediate release.
Ireland voted to remove the offence of blasphemy from its constitution on 27 October; every single constituency, including some traditionally very conservative ones, voted in favour of getting rid of it.
After my previous run-in with Ireland’s blasphemy law, it’s encouraging to see that it could be repealed soon. Lots of fine Irish people will once again need to go #HomeToVote to help usher in the new, tolerant, liberal Ireland: https://t.co/ZYyV52IAGz
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) October 25, 2018
In sad contrast, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a blasphemy conviction in Austria against a citizen who had insulted Mohammed. The judges ruled that there had been no violation of the citizen’s right to freedom of expression and gave priority to protecting “religious feelings” and “religious peace”.
The International Press Institute has a very useful guide to the state of blasphemy legislation in Europe on its website.
In Norway, police filed ‘procedural’ accusations against several suspects in the 1993 shooting of president of Norwegian PEN and IFEX member William Nygaard (who was severely wounded in the attack). Nygaard was targeted as the publisher of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses because a fatwa called on Muslims to kill Rushdie and others associated with the book for alleged blasphemy. The ‘procedural’ accusation was filed to keep the case active before a statute of limitations ban came into force.
In the UK, IFEX members have raised their concerns about a new counterterrorism and border security bill that they say will restrict press freedom and threaten the protection of journalistic sources. The organisations are particularly concerned by the vagueness of the language in the bill that would criminalise ill-defined offences such as expressing opinion that is “supportive” of a terrorist organisation and “hostile activity”. For more information, read the group’s open letter to the House of Lords.
The European Parliament unanimously approved a resolution this month on the “deterioration of press freedom” in Belarus. It called for an end to the harassment and detention of independent journalists and for the authorities to cease in their attempts to block independent news websites.
In France, Reporters Without Borders raised the alarm over France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s increasingly inflammatory and aggressive rhetoric aimed at journalists. The organisation described his language as “irresponsible and dangerous”.
The Central European University (CEU) could be forced out of Hungary if the government does not sign an agreement with the institution by the 1 December. Founded by George Soros, the CEU has been one of Prime Minister Orbán’s targets for over a year. In 2017, Hungary passed laws making it illegal for independent universities to operate in the country. Although the CEU fulfils the new criteria outlined in this legislation, Human Rights Watch says that there are reliable reports that Orbán’s government won’t sign the required agreement.