Brutal assault on journalist follows officials' attacks on media
Vladimir Kovačević, a journalist from BN TV, was viciously assaulted in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on 26 August. His unidentified attackers set about him with metal bars, leaving him in need of hospitalisation. In his condemnation of the attack, Harlem Desir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, linked it to the "negative rhetoric being used against the media" (BN journalists have recently suffered a series of verbal attacks by public officials). Kovačević had been covering a protest calling on the authorities to do more to resolve the case of an unexplained death of a 21-year-old man.
Bosnian Journalist Brutally Attacked in Banja Luka ~ Vladimir Kovacevic @corbapas, a journalist at BN TV, one of the main media in Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, was attacked on Sunday in front of his home by two persons with metal poles https://t.co/ixGUG3SVrz pic.twitter.com/nqxBhfkXUk— SEENPM (@SEENPM_org) August 27, 2018
The morning after the attack, BN TV began its morning programme with a blank screen and the message: "Open protest over the attack on a BN TV journalist. We are asking the Republika Srpska MUP [police] to reveal the attacker".
According to the Bosnian Association of Journalists, there have been five death threats and 14 assaults against reporters this year.
Turkey: the good, the bad and the satirical
There was excellent news on 15 August: Taner Kılıç, the chair of Amnesty Turkey, was released from jail. He was arrested on groundless terrorism-related charges in June 2017 and, until his release, had been behind bars for nearly 15 months.
Ok now we can start to celebrate. Taner really is free! pic.twitter.com/BdsY2QPki2— Andrew Gardner (@andrewegardner) August 15, 2018
Amnesty International is calling for the charges against Kılıç to be dropped.
Another civil society leader, Osman Kavala, is still in jail. He was arrested in November 2017 and faces charges of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order". His trial has not yet begun and isn't expected to until next year. President Erdogan, following the ugly example set by Europe's other authoritarians in their attacks on civil society, has called Kavala the "Soros of Turkey".
For a thorough overview of all the cases of persecuted journalists and activists, please check out the regular updates provided by Bianet, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Platform for Independent Journalism (and sister site Expression Interrupted) and the Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey.
Mention must be made here, however, of the conviction and heavy sentencing this month of 10 former employees of the Turkish state broadcaster TRT. They were all found guilty of "membership of a terrorist organisation" and were handed jail sentences of between six years and three months and eight years and nine months.
IFEX members publicly called on Turkey this month to withdraw recently-passed legislation that effectively continues the state of emergency (which officially ended in July) in all but name.
Other highlights of IFEX's Turkey work this month included a widely-shared article examining the strategies that academics have adopted to deal with Turkey's rights crackdown (which has had an extremely negative effect on the education sector).
IFEX also helped promote an action put together by the Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey, the aim of which was to show solidarity with Turkish students and opposition MPs who are under investigation for "insulting the president" after they shared "World of Tayyips", a satirical cartoon depicting President Erdoğan as various animals.
Imagine being investigated for sharing a cartoon. That's what's happening to Turkish students who shared this image depicting President Erdoğan in the form of various animals. RT to support our right to satirise politicians https://t.co/oVu3lVbmCQ #WorldofTayyips #tayyipleralemi pic.twitter.com/0ID4szqvWM— IFEX (@IFEX) August 3, 2018
This month saw the 6-month anniversary of the murder of Ján Kuciak, the investigative journalist who was shot to death at home alongside his fiancée in February. The International Press Institute (IPI) noted that officials in Slovakia have yet to confirm the motive or identify suspects.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, the investigative journalist murdered in Malta in October 2017, would have turned 54 in August. Activists from the Maltese anti-corruption group Kenniesa (Tina and Estelle) co-ordinated an online birthday card initiative to mark Daphne's birthday and, in doing so, commemorate her life and draw attention to the impunity enjoyed by those who ordered her killing.
Lots of rights organisations (including IFEX members) took part, as did journalists, some of whom are also long-standing victims of persecution:
Happy Bithday, Daphne! You live in our hearts https://t.co/LMxxws55f9— Khadija Ismayilova (@Khadija_Ismayil) August 26, 2018
You can read some of the birthday messages to Daphne on the Lovin Malta website.
Maltese news site The Shift revealed this month that Facebook pages administered by the Maltese Labor Party and government officials carried thousands of vile, dehumanising images of Daphne in the months prior to her murder.
Tajikistan: campaigning and advocacy works!
Tajikistan relented in the face of international pressure - and the #FreeKhayrullo social media campaign - and released journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov from jail in August; he had been sentenced to 12 years behind bars on bogus corruption charges. However, Mirsaidov's conviction remains in place and he will have to pay approximately 7,300 Euros (a huge sum in Tajikistan) in financial damages. IFEX members campaigned for his release and demanded that his conviction be overturned.
Today for first time in years, in response to serious international pressure, #Tajikistan has released a political prisoner! Hopefully, the first of many hundreds to come. Am so proud to say that #KhayrulloisFree! A picture of his family, with tears of joy, outside the courthouse pic.twitter.com/C3gqVFX0Wq— Steve Swerdlow (@steveswerdlow) August 22, 2018
Azerbaijan: IFEX member denied parole but activist released
IFEX member and chair of the Institute for Reporters Freedom of Safety, Mehman Huseynov, was denied parole on 24 August. Absurdly convicted in March 2017 of slandering an entire police station, he is serving a two-year jail sentence. He was also denied temporary compassionate release in order to visit his terminally ill mother, Fragiz. She died on 6 August.
At #MehmanHuseynov's parole hearing prison officials stated that he wasn't ready for early release because he hasn't reformed himself, wasn't engaged in entertainment activities & not sincere in his relations with prison guards! Outrageous! What a mockery of justice! #FreeMehman pic.twitter.com/p3BHh4dLJg— Giorgi Gogia (@Giorgi_Gogia) August 24, 2018
However, there was some good news from Azerbaijan: political activist Ilgar Mammadov was released from jail after serving over five years behind bars; he will serve the remaining two years of his seven-year sentence suspended, with restrictions on his movement.
Russia: Another reporter found dead in Nizhny Novgorod, Oleg Sentsov's hunger strike
On 2 August, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, called on the Russian authorities to investigate the circumstances surrounding the violent death of Russian television journalist Denis Suvorov. Suvorov was killed last month in Nizhny Novgorod. The day before Azoulay's announcement, it was reported that another Russian journalist, Sergei Grachyov, had also been found dead in Nizhny Novgorod; he had been missing for 11 days and the cause of death has not yet been made public.
This month saw the 100th day of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov's hunger strike; his condition is now critical. Sentsov was handed a 20-year prison sentence on fabricated terrorism charges in 2015 and is currently in jail in the North of Russia. PEN International and various PEN centres have been campaigning to have Sentsov released, and have persuaded numerous high profile people in the arts to join their call for justice.
You can watch Margie Orford, a novelist and board member of PEN International, speaking about Sentsov's case on France 24.
Both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Global Voices website reported this month on the growing trend of prosecuting social media users under anti-extremism laws: even sharing memes mocking religion is enough to see you put on trial. Human Rights Watch highlights the case of 19-year-old Daniil Markin, who faces an almost incredible five years in jail for social media posts joking about Christianity. Russia's Federal Financial Monitoring Service has also banned him from accessing his bank accounts.
Opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, Alexei Navalny, was jailed once again for 30 days for violating Russia's rules on organising mass protests. He will be unable to attend the demonstration that he has been organising against Russia's raising of the retirement age.
Human Rights Watch reports that a homophobic attack in Armenia has generated a public discussion about human rights and LGBTQI+. The attack took place in a small village in the southern part of the country and involved a crowd of men who assaulted nine LGBTQI+ people, several of whom were injured. Armenia has a poor record on prosecuting homophobic attacks, and the police have reportedly not yet charged anyone in connection with the assault. The new Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, is a supporter of LGBTQI+ rights, but homophobia is pervasive in Armenia and numerous public figures have used homophobic language when talking in the media about the attack.
Disturbing reports about #hatecrime attack against 9 LGBT activists in #Armenia's Syunik region, several injured. "It seemed that we wouldn't survive," says one of the activists. Prompt & thorough investigation needed! https://t.co/orXnwyneSk pic.twitter.com/k5JHUSlxAz— Giorgi Gogia (@Giorgi_Gogia) August 4, 2018
In Kazakhstan, an LGBTQI+ and women's rights activist - Zhanar Sekerbayeva - was arrested in Almaty after she and a women's group called Feminita took part in an awareness-raising public picket in early August. The aim of the action was to highlight the taboo in conservative Kazakhstan around discussing menstruation. Placards carried by the activists included messages such as: "Periods are shameful and violence isn't?". One placard showed a giant woman menstruating over a collection of yurts. Sekerbayeva and her fellow activists were verbally-abused by men in the street during the protest. At her subsequent trial, the judge subjected Sekerbayeva to a series of invasive, irrelevant personal questions. She was found guilty of "minor hooliganism" and fined.
UPDATE: Kazakh #queer #feminist activist Zhanar Sekerbayeva awaits sentencing for 'petty hooliganism' for photoshoot on stigma surrounding #menstruation. Stay tuned for our interview with Zhanar & Feminita org on threats to #LGBT activism in #Kazakhstan. https://t.co/3Sfvqom91y pic.twitter.com/JFfj2koTXq— Queer Here (@WeAre_QueerHere) August 17, 2018
In Denmark (since the start of August) wearing a burqa or niqab in public carries a fine of 1,000 kroner (US$ 156). It took only a couple of days before the first woman was hit with a fine after she refused to comply with an order by the police to either remove her face veil or leave a public space. France, Germany and Austria have also imposed full or partial bans on the face veil.
Mass targeting of reporters in Romania and Belarus
IFEX members ActiveWatch, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the police's violent attacks on journalists during the anti-corruption protests that took place in Bucharest, Romania on 10 August. At least 15 journalists were targeted. Both RSF and ActiveWatch suggested that the police officers might have been directed to stop the journalists reporting on the protests.
Several journalists, including a @deutschewelle correspondent, were attacked by police during anti-corruption protests in #Bucharest this week.DW lodged an official complaint to Romanian authorities alleging police brutality. #Romania #MediaFreedom pic.twitter.com/Cd3z7BY7Q4— DW Freedom (@dw_freedom) August 17, 2018
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), RSF, the CPJ and IFJ protested the mass arrest in Belarus of approximately 18 journalists in early August. Most of the arrests were made during raids on the Minsk offices of three news outlets: news website Tut.by, news agency BelaPan and the academic newspaper Nauka. The authorities accused the journalists of illegally obtaining information from the state-owned BelTA website by using passwords not belonging to them in order to get past the site's pay-wall: this is a criminal offence which carries punishments ranging from fines to a prison sentence. According to BAJ, the authorities began releasing the reporters after a day in custody. One of the journalists, Tut.by chief editor Maryna Zolatava, reportedly confessed to the offence. All detainees were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements before being released.
Far-right targets literature
The Nobel Prize-winning author, Svetlana Alexievich, was forced to cancel her attendance at an event at the Green Theatre in Odessa, Ukraine, after a Ukrainian far-right group listed her as an "enemy of Ukraine" on its website. Her name was later removed from the list, but Alexievich and the theatre decided to cancel the event in order to avoid any risk to the audience. There has been a sharp rise in far-right violence in Ukraine in recent months.
In the UK, a group of far right thugs attacked Bookmarks, a London-based, socialist bookshop in early August. They damaged displays, tore up books and harassed the staff. They weren't the smartest vandals, however: they filmed themselves carrying out the attack unmasked and - as a result - three of them were identified as being members of UKIP (the hard-right UK Independence Party) and suspended from that organisation.
Also in the UK, IFEX member Privacy International is working with the human rights campaigning group, Liberty, to force the police to reveal if they are conducting mass surveillance of mobile phones and, in doing so, retaining the personal information collected. A 2016 court decision allowed the police to "neither confirm nor deny" whether they are doing this. Privacy International and Liberty say that this decision violates the Freedom of Information Act and are seeking disclosure of records associated with the police's purchase and use of surveillance tools targeting mobile phones.
Both CPJ and RSF expressed their concern for the physical and psychological well-being of the Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev who this month "confessed" to spying for Ukraine on Russian TV. Aseyev has been held for more than a year by separatists in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Both press groups have called for his immediate release.