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Protesters doxxed, journalists detained and violent neo-Nazis ‘defamed’ (Demo)

Daphne Caruana Galizia: Still no public inquiry

On 26 August 2019 investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia would have celebrated her 55th birthday, had she not been assassinated in October 2017. IFEX members and other free expression groups used her birthday to highlight the fact that no-one has yet been convicted of the murder, and that Malta has still not implemented an independent, public inquiry into the crime, as stipulated by the Council of Europe.

Mass arrests follow removal of Kurdish mayors from office

In Turkey, the crackdown on the press, free expression and other rights continues.

From 19 to 23 August at least 9 journalists were arrested during a wave of mass detentions that followed the government’s removal from office of three Kurdish mayors in Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van. Those arrested included Ziyan Karahan, Ayşegül Tözeren, Ahmet Kanbal, Mehmet Şah Oruç, Rojda Aydın, Nurcan Yalçın, Halime Parlak, Taylan Özgür Öztaş and Tunahan Turhan; ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists called for their immediate release.

The government’s decision to replace the mayors – whom it accused of “supporting terrorism” – with state officials was seen as an attack on local democracy and provoked street demonstrations in the affected cities. In Diyarbakir, police responded to protesters by using water cannons and batons.  In Van, protesters were also brutally beaten. The following video of police attacking protesters in Van was shared on social media by an MP of the ruling AKP (he condemned the attack):

Video footage also surfaced that showed a police officer deliberately firing rubber bullets at the head of a protester from short range.

Earlier in August, a court ordered that 136 websites and URLs including news sites and their social media accounts be blocked.  At first, it was reported that IFEX member Bianet was included among the 136 sites. However, following international protests by IFEX members and other rights groups, it was announced – bizarrely – that Bianet had been added to the list in error, and that it would therefore not be blocked.

To stay abreast of all the arrests, trials and attacks on freedom of expression in Turkey, 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.

Moscow protesters arrested, beaten and doxxed

The mass street demonstrations calling for fair local elections in Moscow, Russia, continued this month, as did the authorities’ retaliatory crackdown. Numerous journalists have been detained and/or assaulted by police during the protests in July and August; IFEX members and other free press organisations called on the authorities to cease targeting journalists for simply doing their job by reporting on these demonstrations.

Opposition leaders were among the record number of protesters arrested. These included anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who also saw a money laundering case launched against him in August and the bank accounts of his NGO, Anti-Corruption Foundation, frozen.

There has been broad condemnation of the police’s often violent tactics during the pro-democracy protests. One video clip of a riot police officer beating an already detained young woman went viral:

The Russian authorities also took their anti-protest crackdown online. Roskomnadzor, the communications regulator, demanded that Google censor video footage of the demonstrations by removing it from YouTube. According to Maxim Edwards, writing for the Global Voices website, there is evidence that state security agencies also pressured mobile network operators to reduce Internet availability in order to scupper attempts by protesters to coordinate.

Perhaps most disturbing was the news that personal information relating to approximately 3,200 people who were detained during the protests was published online by unidentified individual(s). The information reportedly comes from a police database and it was made public the day before a protest was due to take place.

Gender focus

In Uzbekistan, police targeted the family of LGBTQI+ activist Shokhruh Salimov after he made a public video statement calling for the authorities to tackle homophobic violence. When his video aired police raided his family’s home declaring that they wanted to arrest the activist. Salimov lives abroad because homosexuality is illegal in Uzbekistan.

A vigil was held outside the Russian Consulate in London, UK, to call for justice for the murdered LGBTQI+ activist Yelena Grigorieva. She was killed in St Petersburg in July and had been one of the names on a notorious list of LGBTQI+ people to be “hunted down”; the list was posted on numerous websites in Russia. Grigorieva had previously received death threats.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party is known for its anti-LGBTQI+ views, and recent research shows that Polish state companies have been spending huge amounts of money on advertising in publications that promote homophobia. According to a Reuters report, the conservative weekly Gazeta Polska, which disseminated “LGBT-free” stickers with one of its editions last month, saw “advertising inflows rise from just over 10,000 euros in 2015 to more than 2 million euros in 2018”.

In deeply disturbing news from Turkey, trans prisoner Buse self-mutilated in late July in protest at the prison authorities for continuing to deny her sex reassignment surgery. A court has ruled that Buse should have the surgery and that it is essential for her mental health.

Assaults, attacks, impunity

In the UK, Guardian journalist and political activist Owen Jones was viciously attacked by a gang when he was celebrating his birthday in London with friends. Jones, who has previously received death threats and homophobic abuse – and who has been spat on and shoved by far right activists in public – believes that the attackers were members of the far right and that the attack was premeditated. IFEX members and other free expression groups wrote to the UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, calling on her to ensure that the authorities bring to justice those responsible for the attack.

The European Federation of Journalists reported this month on a study of public attitudes to the press in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The statistics quoted tell a frightening story: over the last six years, there have been a reported 44 physical attacks on the press, 21 death threats and 48 serious cases of harassment. Worse still, 21% of the public believe that journalists bring these attacks on themselves.

In Northern Ireland, no-one has yet been charged with the murder of journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead while observing a riot in April 2019. The Real IRA, a terrorist group, has said that it was responsible for her death, but that she was not the intended target. Nine people were arrested in connection with the crime, but all were subsequently released. McKee’s partner said publicly this month that she understood why potential witnesses might feel too frightened to come forward.

In Poland, police targeted journalists who were reporting on a demonstration organised by the far right to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. One journalist was attacked and thrown to the ground by an officer; two others were ejected from the demonstration.

In brief

In Azerbaijan, the Supreme Court upheld spurious, politically motivated charges against the journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Ismayilova, who has been targeted for persecution by the Azerbaijani authorities for years, was convicted of tax evasion and embezzlement in 2014 and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison. She was released on probation in 2016 and given a suspended sentence, but she is prohibited from leaving the country and her bank account has been frozen.

In Germany, threats of legal action against journalists are increasing. According to a report published in August, media outlets’ legal departments are now receiving on average three letters a month threatening legal proceedings over stories. The report says that the aim of the letters is to intimidate editors and, importantly, influence how a story is reported before it goes to print.

In Belgium, journalists are protesting a draft law that would make journalists and whistleblowers liable to prosecution should they reveal classified information in the press. Reporters Without Borders has also added its voice to the protest, pointing to the draconian penalties attached: “Under article 22 of the bill”, it says, “journalists could be fined up to 5,000 euros while whistleblowers would face a possible five-year jail term”.

In Ukraine, a court ruled in favour of C14 – a far right nationalist group that espouses Nazi views and attacks Roma camps – by ruling that it had suffered “reputational damage” when internet TV station Hromadske published a tweet referring to the group as “neo-Nazi”. The media outlet was ordered to retract the tweet and pay US$136 in court fees. Human Rights Watch condemned the decision, noting that “freedom of expression has been steadily deteriorating in Ukraine just as violence by far-right groups like C14 has increased”. C14 is considered to be neo-Nazi by most experts.

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