Monitoring and Advocating for Media Freedom: Policy recommendations for Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine
02 Dec 2019


Index on Censorship’s Monitoring and Advocating for Media Freedom project monitors threats, limitations and violations related to media freedom in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Previously these countries were also included in the Mapping Media Freedom project, which Index incubated and managed between 2014 – 2018.

This report summarises policy recommendations based on analysis since April, 2019. The recommendations are based on research by in-country correspondents and Index staff. Country reports published by the project since April are available on the project webpage.

After a brief background section, the report sets out key policy recommendations that apply to all the project countries, followed by key recommendations for each project country.



It is essential that media freedom groups and international organisations continue to monitor, verify and document threats, limitations and violations related to media freedom in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, continue to raise awareness about the challenges and to advocate for change. Media freedom is severely restricted in all these countries and journalists are under great pressure.

Violence against journalists; misuse of counter-terror and security legislation to silence journalists; travel bans that isolate journalists and impact them professionally; failure to investigate violent crimes against journalists and silencing and punishing journalists through defamation and insult laws – all these are familiar tactics and increasingly common. In more recent years the introduction of restrictive internet-related legislation, such as in Russia, has opened a new frontline in the fight to safeguard media freedom.




  • Governments and the EU must take a stronger stand for media freedom

Governments and multilateral groups, in particular the European Union (EU), must take a strong stand in defence of media freedom and journalists, both in their bilateral relations with the project countries and in multilateral processes. Governments and the EU should ensure that issues such as proposed or existing legislation that restricts media freedom, violence against journalists and failures to investigate crimes against journalists, form part of the agenda in strategic bilateral and multilateral discussions.

Countries that have a version of the Magnitsky Act (in the EU, this includes Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and The Netherlands) should consider making use of this legislation in cases where media freedom and the safety of journalists are at stake. Countries that have not yet introduced such legislation should consider doing so. The UK should put its Magnitsky amendment into use. 


  • Impunity must end

A man lays flowers near the picture of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, during a rally in Moscow, Russia, 7 October 2009. CREDIT: EPA / Alamy Stock Photo

Impunity is a major challenge in all the project countries. In Azerbaijan, the death of freelance journalist Rafic Tagi, who died in hospital after a stabbing in 2011, has never been investigated properly. Belarussian cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski disappeared in 2000 on his way to meet journalist Pavel Sheremet, later killed in Ukraine in 2016. Zavadski’s body was never found.

The instigator of the 2006 contract killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Russia is still not known, nor is the motive. In 2018 the European Court of Human Rights found that the Russian authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation into her killing. Turkey failed to investigate the death of editor Rohat Aktaş, killed when he was covering hostilities between Kurdish separatists and Turkish forces in 2016.

Ukrainan journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed by a car bomb in Kyiv in 2016 and, despite statements from the authorities that the case is a priority, there has been no progress. All the project countries should commit to investigating unsolved killings of journalists and should implement the guidelines in recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

In relation to impunity, the guidelines envisage that when investigations and prosecutions have not resulted in justice member states can consider establishing special inquiries or independent specialised bodies, and that the latter could involve participation by respected media and/or civil society figures.  


  • Council of Europe member states must engage fully with the platform for journalism

Council of Europe member states must engage more actively with the Council of Europe’s Platform for the protection of journalism and safety of journalists. The partner organisations of the platform, which include Index on Censorship, should continue to use the platform to raise awareness of media freedom violations and threats to journalists. This should include advocating for states to respond to all alerts communicated to the platform.

The overall response rate from states in 2018 was only 39%. It is also important that states provide substantive replies to alerts and engage in follow-up dialogue with the partner organisations. The platform is an underused mechanism, with potential to achieve more. Partner organisations can also be of assistance to member states that are willing to engage fully.

Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, but other international organisations and processes, such as the special procedures of the United Nations human rights council, should be engaged to follow up cases and issues in Belarus.


Azerbaijan must halt its use of travel bans for journalists including Khadija Ismayilova



  • The EU must defend media freedom in negotiations with Azerbaijan

The EU must use its influence to defend media freedom and journalists in Azerbaijan. Negotiations on an agreement to replace the EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, in place since 1999, are at an advanced stage and will need to be brought to a conclusion by the new European Commission. It is extremely important that the EU raises media freedom and human rights in these negotiations.

In 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which recommended that the EU should make deepening of relations with Azerbaijan conditional on respecting democratic values and human rights, and that it should ensure that Azerbaijan frees its political prisoners (including journalists such as Afgan Mukhtarli) before the negotiations on a new partnership agreement are concluded. Mukhtarli remains imprisoned. 


  • End digital attacks

Azerbaijan must refrain from targeting journalists’ online activities, including through call hacking, internet blocking and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In October, internet blockages and disruption to mobile phone services were reported in central Baku in connection with ongoing protests. Several journalists were also detained or subjected to physical violence during the protests. Social media platforms such as YouTube should respect Azerbaijani users’, including journalists’ right to seek, receive and impart information. Platforms should implement terms and conditions consistently and transparently, including when dealing with harassment of journalists by alleged state-sponsored trolls.


  • Stop using travel bans

Azerbaijan must halt its use of travel bans for journalists. For example, the well known journalist Khadija Ismayilova is currently under a travel ban. OSCE Media Freedom Representative Harlem Désir has stated that it is a serious hindrance to her work as a professional journalist.




  • Amend the law on mass media

Belarus must amend the law on mass media. The legislation currently requires journalists, including freelancers, who work for media outlets registered outside Belarus to obtain accreditation from the foreign affairs ministry.  This has led to journalists being fined repeatedly. At a very minimum, Belarus must urgently establish procedures that enable journalists to appeal rejected accreditation requests.


  • Other governments must signal that restrictions are not acceptable

Other governments must make it clear to Belarus that restrictive and repressive actions against journalists will not be tolerated. This applies to the requirements for accreditation for journalists working for non-Belarussian media outlets above, but also to the practice of detaining journalists for short periods. Some observers have credited Belarus’ tendency to impose fines on journalists or to detain them for short periods – rather than sentence and imprison them – as an attempt to build alliances in the West at a time when relations with Russia are weak. Other governments need to signal clearly it is not acceptable.


  • Train journalists in human rights and United Nations procedures

In the case of Belarus, which is not a member of the Council of Europe, it is important that support and training aimed at enabling journalists to defend their rights includes training on other international organisations and processes, such as the special procedures of the United Nations human rights council, including the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.


Ivan Golunov

Russia must investigate cases of trumped-up charges against journalists such as Ivan Golunov



  • Halt the extension of foreign agent legislation to individual journalists

Russia must refrain from finalising the legislative changes that would extend the scope of “foreign agent” to individual journalists. Existing problematic legislation already requires media outlets that receive funds from abroad to register as foreign agents. At the time of writing the Duma has approved changes that would extend this to individual journalists, including freelance journalists and bloggers. Any one of these receiving payments for services, or a salary from abroad, would need to register with the ministry of justice. All published work would need to display a “foreign agent” label. This legislation should not proceed, and existing legislation that labels  media outlets as foreign agents should be reviewed.


  • Ensure access for journalists to court proceedings

Access to court proceedings is a frequent problem for journalists. As stated in Opinion No. 8 of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors: “Transparency in the performance of the prosecutor’s duties is an essential component of the rule of law, and one of the important guarantees of a fair trial. Not only must justice be done, but it must also be seen to be done. In order for this to be possible, the media should be able to provide information on judicial, criminal or other proceedings” (paragraph 30). The authorities must review existing processes for compliance with international standards.


  • Investigate cases of trumped-up charges against journalists

The authorities must thoroughly investigate cases of trumped-up charges against journalists and ensure that the instigators are brought to justice. Recent incidents include the high-profile case of Ivan Golunov, arrested for possession and trafficking of drugs, and what appears to be a fake letter sent in the name of Nikita Telizhenko with the aim of discrediting him. 


Index on Censorship magazine editor Rachael Jolley leads chants in support of Turkey's jailed journalists ahead of Erdogan visit to Downing Street

Index on Censorship magazine editor Rachael Jolley leads chants in support of Turkey’s jailed journalists ahead of Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Downing Street in May 2018



  • Other governments should not support Turkey’s judicial reform strategy, at least not in its current form

The judicial reform strategy (JRS), launched in May, 2019, will not achieve any meaningful change, at least not in its current form. Turkey’s judicial system is not independent: it is overloaded with cases, many which concern journalists, and it has been undermined through the large-scale dismissal of judges. It is extremely important that other countries and international organisations scrutinise the judicial reform strategy, and make it clear that in its current form it is completely inadequate when it comes to addressing the enormous structural problems of the judiciary. 


  • Implement the recommendations of the United Nations special rapporteur

In May 2019, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression published a follow-up report to an earlier visit to Turkey in 2016. The rapporteur had made a series of recommendations in 2016, which included releasing jailed journalists and reversing the closure of media outlets. The follow-up report found that Turkey had either failed to implement or had contravened all the recommendations, with the exception of one (lifting the state of emergency). Turkey should urgently implement all the recommendations made by the United Nations special rapporteur.


  • Support trial observation

Diplomatic representations and international organisations, including the EU, need to support observation of trials that involve journalists and media outlets. High-profile trials in central locations can be well-attended by observers, but coverage of trials in remote locations is more limited. Support can include sending representatives to follow trials and/or financial support for organisations that monitor trials.


Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy must engage with the media. Photo: Wikimedia



  • The government must review state support for far-right groups associated with extremism

The government needs to undertake an independent and transparent review of state support, including financial support for far-right groups associated with extremism. The review should involve international experts. It should include investigating the possibility of state security force collusion with paramilitary and extremist organisations and thorough investigations of alleged involvement in violence against journalists, such as the unsolved murder of Oles Buzina.


  • Elected representatives must engage with the media

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reportedly held a 14-hour press conference in October, attended by 300 journalists. Whether it signals a new era in the relationship between Ukraine’s elected representatives and the media remains to be seen. The failure of the president and lawmakers to engage meaningfully with the media in the past has been a challenge for journalists and this needs to change. 


  • Invest in the public service broadcaster

In the highly divisive media landscape, the role of the public broadcaster is extremely important. Ukraine’s public broadcasting company is severely underfunded and currently has a very small audience. As Index on Censorship outlined in its Demonising the Media report a year ago, a significant but underreported trend in the region is the threat to public broadcasters. A number of national broadcasters in the EU and neighbouring countries were brought under closer government control in 2014-18. Ensuring both sufficient funding and editorial independence are crucial in ensuring the public’s right to know is defended.

One response to “Monitoring and Advocating for Media Freedom: Policy recommendations for Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine”

  1. Karel Vesely says:

     “brain death”….actually NATO is used as US tool to “brainwash” EU allies into more gunpowder militarization…see numbers
     Western Elite’s “Propaganda Democracy & HR ” …as mindset of Colonial Thinking !!! “Our World”: “Human Rights and Democracy Gunpowder Mill” through $ gun-barrel of arms sales US $226.6 billion + NATO Eu alliance: 80%+ = $320 billion+ of total global arms sales $398.2 billion in 2017 (China excluded!!!). There are 42 US arms companies in Top 100, collective sales $226.6 billion. Lockheed Martin as world’s largest arms producer, $44.9 billion. Russian 10 companies at Top 100, $37.7 billion. …..Saga on holding to the Colonial Power as GB of 18-19th centuries?
    “Defence” spending 2018 US $649 billion, China 250, SA 67.6, Ind 66.5, Fr 63.8, Ru 61.4, GB 50, Ger 49.5, Jap 46.6, S Kor 43.1, …
    United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad—from giant “Little Americas” to small radar facilities. NATO’s Britain, France …..and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined.
    “Increasingly Losing Its Standing On World Stage” in HR???. Value conflicts have roots in a cultural and political divide. Despite initial expectations, globalization has not replaced the world of nation-states, but rather introduced new conditions under which national identities, values and institutions express themselves by reviving old ideas and practices!!! …populisms???
    Militaries of Poland (Aleksander Kwaśniewski), Denmark (Rasmussen as PM, later as NATO Secretary …and NS2 anapproval?) together with militaries of USA, GB and Australia “introduced democracy” into Iraqu?? …is this really acting as a community of NATO Alliance ?
    The Road to Unfreedom …America both can and should spread democracy. It just needs to do so more effectively (Michael McFaul)… in Iraque, Libia, Yeman, Syria, ….with 100,000’s dead, millions in camps and running!!! Flooding Europe ….with populisms!!! feeding frenzies? ….EU’s transatlantic puppets and …Victoria Nuland’s “Fu.. EU”!!! State’s DNA culture.
    NS2 highly controversial?? and clear message of U.S. policy to US NATO’s “Subservient Protectorate of EU”!!! Maybe Mr Richard Grenell would like to include in his demand change of the “Traditional Family Values Law” in Russia?
    North Stream 2 Phobia and NATO’s Mercenaries as Anders Fogh Rasmussen (paid in hryvnias)
    Extra 2,000km transit: €4/MWh(94.79m3) gas via Ukraine versus €2/MWh via NS 1; as Arctic north with reserves for many decades, is main source of production!!! The avoidance of land and thereby transit fees in bl’s$ to Ukr, Sk, Cz or Blr, Pol; only 1 compressor 220bar instead 10? of 100bar every 120km (extra equipment, maintenance, personal)?? Offshore pipeline REQUIRE 70% LESS MW POWER/VOLUME/1200km (reff to Yamal)!! This savings of distance, expenses, environment are paying for North Stream 2 and checking gas prices (LNG?) for Eu consumers. Gasprom’s annual 1-2 bl$ ?? saving!! Europe’s Coal power output 5,289TWh in 1990 down 42% to 3,057TWh in 2015!!! Gas CCGT’s with efficiency 63% are complementary to Solar and Wind generations and to replace coal burning plants (2015) in Ger (42%, 48GW), Pol (80%, 29GW), Cz (52%), …to environmental requirements for renewable energy!! …and heating element (industrial, residential) of these gas power plants, not only electric!!! …to be GREEN as of 2017 it would require extra additional gas to replace COAL: Ger 242TWh = 32 blm3/a, Pol 131TWh = 17.3 blm3/a, Cz 45TWh = 5.7 blm3/a, … ??!! + nuclear Ger 76TWh = 10 blm3/a …total extra gas German requirement 42 blm3/a, Poland 17.3 blm3, Cz 5.7 blm3, … !!!
    Poland with 33 (66%) cities among the 50 most-polluted (CO2) cities in Europe in 2017 …COAL(Russian? Donbas? 10mlt/a?) HEATING, additional requirement for more blm3 of GAS.
    GREEN Eu FUTURE …DECARBONISE ..(2017 Carbon mlt: Ger 762, Pol 315, Cz 103) dominating carbon capture & storage (CCS) process (versus electrolysis, H2 has 1/3 energy of CH4/volume) based on natural gas to play a significant role for several decades!!!
    2017 Global Gas Production: 3,680.4blm3 …Traded 1,134.1blm3 !!!
    via Pipeline 740.7blm3 …via LNG 393.4blm3 (302.6mlt)
    LNG 302.6mlt = …4,000?? tanker loads (of 20 days journey?,300-400 tankers/a?)
    Europe imported eight times more gas by pipeline than in the form of LNG in 2017.
    LNG? …Arctic productions 10-15% more efficient; CO2 emissions 20-40% higher than piped gas delivery.
    Low Ruble exchange (sanctions) = cheeper labor costs in gas extraction, distribution for export, it is advantage to Russian exporters !!! Gazprom’s Siberian production costs are $0.90/mmBtu (27.8m3) and it has $1.20 transport tariff to the border of export.
    1MWh = 94.79m3 NG = 3.41mmBtu, …1mmBtu = 27.8m3 NG = 0.341MWhTransportation 1.0€ = 1MWh/1000km = 94.79m3 NG/1,000km; Ukraine E/W 1,500km?? ~3.0bl$/a?? …1.5€ = 94.79m3/1,500km (2.0$x150blm3 NG??) 200blm3 NG = 150mlt LNG(~2000 cargos???) = 2,400TWh, Gasprom’s Export to Eu !!!

    Naftogaz Ukr “plan B”…Jan-Oct 2018: 48.5% pipeline capacity 86.4blm3/a of 178blm3/a, Oct 2018: 1.076blm3 (reverse flow of Russian gas to Ukr) from Sk, Hun, Pol !!! 2017: 13.9blm3/a at $3.228 billion; 2018 Jan-Nov: 10.01blm3 worth US$3.02 billion.Ukraine consumes around 35blm3/a, producing slightly more than 20blm3/a in 2017.”plan X?” making the network more commercially viable – such as through reverse flow(of returning Russian gas back to Russia?), resilience plan: Ukr Naftogas’s scrap-metal (a lot after 2019?)) with Pennsylvanian coal (or RSA) for Metalworks as NGO’s “NEP”?

    Western “Intellectual Freedom Right” denied to Americans by American Academia! “Tolerance”?
    “Mystery of wrapped riddle” ….Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn *Dec 11,1918 …100YEARS American Academia CryptoBolshevism and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ban! Bolshevik’s ban of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn at 1970’s ….versus ADL, AJC, AIPAC, ICJP, Kennan, NED, CSIS, Cato’s “Delenda est Carthago”, ….American academia’s ban?
    Democracy and intellectual freedom preachers and propaganda reality contradiction. People who deny access to intellectual freedom act are overstepping their moral obligation to Americans and getting us into Orwellian world of arrogance and hypocrisy. Russian speaking Chabad-Lubavitch in USA have choice to read or not to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books “Two Hundred Years Together” as offered on Amazon, but to the “rest” of Americans this is absolutely denied! Who is writing reviews actually for these Solzhenitsyn’s books? …not the “rest”!!!
    American Library Association: “Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.”
    Away from commissars in the candle’s light we read samizdats pages of this Great Humanist writer with hope to get into hands few more typewritten following pages (in 1960’s) and now…….few decades later, several time zones west we are back to candle’s light with Solzhenitsyn’s work, “Two hundred years together” still not published in English (lingua franca) after more then 10 years, which should be part of educational curriculum pointing to man who stand-up to the evils of totalitarian oppression,…..and opening window to those events. Commissars of Thought Police in the forefather’s footsteps as in early years of 20th century Great Russia regions are mostly giving literary reviews to the contemporary goyims, as the historians, professors in higher learning. Behind accusation of “anti semitism” they are imposing their supreme judge Newspeak Correctness. Solzhenitsyn wrote not because of Nobel Price, but as human being who stand-up to the evils of totalitarian oppression with their Gulags and Thought Police. Western commissars at the time of Cold War priced his bravery, admired underground samizdats of forbidden literature & smuggling Bibles into USSR. But now, zealous “New Speakers” gained English publishing rights for the purpose to actually completely block globally printing of Solzhenitsyn’s books. Maybe, we should ask Mr Putin to samizdat Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “200 years together” in English and underground smuggling into “free press” our world. This is “free press” witch is lecturing others all over the world, or are we really free from this New Correctness, or in Dark Age under totalitarian Thought Police?
    Taboo discourse addressed by Solzhenitsyn’s books was well documented in the writings of 1920’s, 30’s,….(as Winston Churchill)..but it was pronounced as anti-semite, lunatic and sealed in “Taboo box” by these historians, professors of higher learning commissars, it did not fit in theirs interpretation of “Official History”. Now, we entered with English non publication of Solzhenitsyn’s books into another stage of “Pandora Taboo Box” to be kept closed by American academia’s ban!!!
    Karel Vesely, 79 Shadberry Dr. Toronto M2H-3C9
    I red 50-70% of this book in Czech PDF, but I would like have English edition. Czech books are not available and reediting got into International Tribe of Thought Police death hole. What coincidence? ….German and French editions have been published,….as “Intellectual freedom right” applied !!!

    Sent from my iPad