Index deputy editor to stand for election as MP

Index on Censorship’s deputy editor Sally Gimson is making headlines of her own after being selected as a Labour candidate in the General Election on December 12.

Sally will be standing as a candidate to become MP of Bassetlaw, in Nottinghamshire, and she told the Nottingham Post: “It is a real privilege to be fighting for a Labour government in this constituency.”

Read more about this here:

Russia’s recent election was awash with media violations


Russia’s recent elections have been described as “the dullest in recent memory”. But as Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom (MMF)  project shows there was no shortage of media violations and claims of voter fraud.

On 18 September, the day of the vote, journalists across Russia were denied entry, attacked and arrested while attempting to monitor polling stations.

Rosbalt, a Russian news website, reported several instances of journalists – among them reporters for the BBC – being escorted out of a polling station by police officers and employees of the Vasileostrovsky district administration.  

Further reports of journalists’ rights being violated in Saint Petersburg were widespread.

In Siberia, reporters were obstructed even from entering polling stations. A number working for Reuters were denied entry after officials at the location said they needed permission from local authorities but there is no law requiring this of international reporters. A voter claimed the counter used by a Reuters reporter to keep track of people voting was actually a radioactive device, and the reporter should be removed. This was not enforced.

Denis Volin, editor-in-chief of local news site Orlovskie Novosti, was barred from entering a polling station in Oryol. Volin was attempting to take photos of the polling station but officials demanded he stop. Journalists in Russia have a right to take photos and observe voting.

A journalist in Samara was illegally barred from a polling station despite having the necessary accreditation. When the journalist tried to stay for the vote count, officials demanded additional accreditation, which does not exist.

Journalist Dmitri Antonenkov and an activist with the Public Monitoring Commission, Vasili Rybakov, were both detained at a polling station in Ekaterinburg while investigating the illegal use of the Russian state coat-of-arms in polling stations. The pair were detained for two hours and their identification confiscated without return.

MMF Russian correspondent, Ekaterina Buchneva, said: “In general, attempts to bar journalists from polling stations were very common. We saw a lot of reports from Saint Petersburg and Moscow but the investigation by Reuters (they sent journalists to 11 polling stations across central and western Russia) proves that it was common for the rest of the country too, but, unfortunately, remained under-reported.”

Another of MMF’s Russian correspondents, Andrey Kalikh, said: “What is common is that journalists monitoring elections are often threatened if they reveal voter fraud at a polling station. There were dozens of cases in the 2011-2012 election campaign (state parliament and presidential elections) where registered journalists were kicked out, beaten up or otherwise harassed.”

Vladimir Romensky, a reporter for the independent TV channel Dozhd, for example, was involved in an altercation at a polling station in Moscow. Romensky was visiting the station to verify information about voter fraud. Earlier in the day a member of the polling board told Romensky that certain ballots were marked for the United Russia party. A man who refused to introduce himself denied access to Romensky and his crew. While Romensky was inquiring, a nearby police officer called armed guards from the station. The guards demanded Romensky’s paperwork and, despite having all his documents, the guards forced Romensky and his crew out of the location.

In another incident, Fontanka news correspondent Dmitry Korotkov was investigating the process of “carouseling”, a form of rigging elections where a group of selected people vote multiple times in different polling stations. When asked whether or not carouseling is a recent trend, Kalikh said, “No, it is not. It has existed before, the most cases were registered in 2011-2012. But the [Korotkov] case… is one of the most outrageous ones.”

Korotkov received information that voters with a special passport stamp were given multiple ballots at a polling station in the Kirov district. Korotkov was able to receive the stamp and received four different ballots at the station, even though he was not registered for the district. The polling official allowed Korotkov to sign as another voter.

Korotkov reported the incident and the polling board promised to investigate. Instead, Korotkov was detained by police officers on charges of illegally receiving ballots. The police interrogated Korotkov and his case was taken to court on 28 September. The journalist could be facing charges of using someone else’s ballot in a general election; his case is still under investigation.

Buchneva said: “The Fontanka reported that after questioning Korotkov and a suspect, who acted as an election official and gave Korotkov ballots named after another person, ‘the judge apparently had no more doubt, that Korotkov signed for another person not to vote illegally, as it was stated in the police report’. However, it is too early to say that the journalist will not be punished.”

Journalist Dmitri Antonenkov and an activist with the Public Monitoring Commission, Vasili Rybakov, were also both detained at a polling station in Ekaterinburg while investigating the illegal use of the Russian state coat-of-arms in polling stations. The pair were detained for two hours and their identification confiscated without return.

Winning 54% of the vote, United Russia now has a majority in the Duma, allowing them to change the country’s constitution without the approval of other parties.

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at

Belarus: Media violations recorded during last month’s election

Belarus map

On 11 October, Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko won his fifth consecutive election. Whether it was a free and fair election is up for debate.

Belarusian observers, particularly Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, note the electoral process did not meet a number of core international standards. Claims include that candidates did not receive equal media access, there was a lack of impartiality among election commissions and administrative resources were used in favor of the incumbent. While ballots were cast, political prisoners were held in penitentiaries and there were reports of journalists being harassed.

Even the record share of 36 per cent for early votes need not signal enthusiasm from the electorate. In fact, the early casting of ballots raises concerns of electoral fraud. On 6 October, the deputy dean of the Brest State Technical University, Sviatlana Coogan, stopped two freelance journalists, Aliaxander Liauchuk and Milana Harytonava, from recording interviews with students at a polling station, who said they were forced to participate in early voting by a university representative.

Observers could not visibly ensure the safety of ballots after 7pm and a number of journalists were blocked from working at polling stations during early voting.

Arciom Lyava, a correspondent for the independent newspaper Novy Chas, was forced by clerks to stop photographing a polling station in the Leninski district of Minsk. “As set forth by law, I was taking photos,” he said. This angered Alena Pazenka, headmaster of the school where the station was located. “She stated I was hindering the electoral process. Poll clerks then drew up a statement in relation to me and turned me out from the polling station.”

On election day, at least three other journalists were blocked from documenting events at polling stations. A correspondent for the Polish website was blocked from filming the vote count by clerks of a local electoral commission in the Pervomaisky district of Minsk. The chairperson of the commission, Natalia Kunouskaya, threatened to call the police and clerks had fenced off the counting area with chairs so observers couldn’t get close.

As state-run media dominates the landscape in Belarus, the internet is a very important alternative source of information. However, online freedoms were also curbed during the election. During the presidential campaigns, two websites of the privately-owned press agency BelaPAN, were temporarily inaccessible. Sources at the press agency said cyber attacks were launched after they published a critical article about a multi-religious ceremony attended by Lukashenko. The piece featured interviews with students who say they were ordered to attend the event and meet the president. The Belarusian Association of Journalists has expressed concern about the attack, especially in the midst of the electoral campaign.

Blocking access to information about the work of electoral commissions is a common practice for the Belarusian authorities. The independent newspaper Nasha Niva claims that results at some polling stations were re-written after counts were finalised. The data publicised upon completion of vote counting at district electoral commissions did not always coincide with respective results announced at territorial electoral commissions, she says. Niva requested an opportunity to see the results of all polling stations in Minsk from Lidziya Yarmoshyna, chairperson of the Central Electoral Commission. The reply said that the commission did not have the documents, which were at the Minsk City Commission. The city commission did not respond to the request.

The election was followed by an attack on prominent blogger Viktar Nikitsenka who contributed to Radio Liberty Moscow, the radio station Echo Moskvy and, influential Ukrainian news website. On 13 October 2015, Nikitsenka protested in Minsk’s Independence Square to make his disapproval of the election result known. Friends photographed him outside government buildings holding a sign that read “Lukashenka On Trial”.

Several men in civilian clothes watched from nearby. One of them later approached Nikitsenka and demanded to see his ID and notebook. Half an hour later, when the blogger was leaving the square with his friends, a group of alleged plain-clothes officers seized him in an underpass and dragged him onto a bus. While he was detained, Nikitsenka said was insulted, intimidated and beaten. All his equipment was stolen and data was deleted from his phone and camera. He was taken to the police station, where he was held for approximately two hours before being found guilty of holding an unsanctioned picket, disobeying police officers and insulting a judge at the Maskouski district court. He was fined $492.68 (£319.87).

Nikitsenka later filed a complaint against the officers for unlawful use of force, threats and insults, but it was rejected by the Chyhunachny police department.


Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at

#IndexDrawTheLine: Are voting restrictions a free speech violation?

By Rama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr (], via Wikimedia Commons

(Photo by Rama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr], via Wikimedia Commons)

The right to vote has long been a symbol that you are seen as a valuable and worthy citizen by your government. The removal of this right is a restriction on your free expression and your ability to contribute to change in your country. But is restricting our right to vote a violation of free speech?

In the recent United States midterm elections there was controversy over the Republican’s use of voting restrictions to prevent groups — who they assumed would vote Democrat — from access to the polling station. The voter ID “fraud” laws have been accused by liberals as a shady measure to attempt to reduce voting by racial and ethnic minorities. It would also affect young people who lacked the supposedly necessary identification.

Voting age is another example of an ongoing debate surrounding this issue. Sixteen-year-olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum earlier this year. Since then, people have questioned whether the voting age should be reduced to 16 for the upcoming UK general election, and whether sixteen year olds are capable of making a well informed decision. And if voting is an act of free speech, does this mean prisoners should have the opportunity to vote? If voting is truly a human right should we all have the right to vote?

This article was posted on 12 November at