“I fear that Duda will continue his work as a strong supporter of the ruling nationalist coalition, obediently signing laws that will limit the power of the judiciary, freedom in academia and media, and the rights of minorities and women,” she said.
Duda has attacked the Poland’s independent media too, and thus the dissenting voices in the country have less of a platform to speak from.
This is due, in part, to the Polish state-owned oil company Orlen purchasing 20 of 24 regional newspapers previously owned by German company Polska Press. During the election there was mistrust around the media due to its German ties and accusations, therefore, that Germany was interfering in Polish politics.
All 24 of the papers have a combined readership of around 17 million people.
It is fairly clear that Orlen purchasing the papers is a deliberate attempt to change the editorial line to support Duda and consolidate support for him and his party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS). Four of the editors were recently fired, despite a court ruling by the Warsaw District Court to suspend the acquisition, pending a review.
Defamation laws also acta as a deterrent for open criticism of party officials. Under Article 212 of the criminal code, defamation is an offence that can be punished by up to two years’ imprisonment. According to Reporters Without Borders, there is “a growing tendency to criminalise defamation”.
Under Duda, the situation is unlikely to improve and there have been other attempts to control the narrative.
There is a bill supposedly designed to protect freedom of speech online and force social media companies to stop blocking content online by fining them, as well as the setting up of a “free speech council”. However, there are concerns that this will have a negative aspect on free speech and encourage disinformation online.
A changing nationalist narrative is worrying and this now extends to Poland’s role in the holocaust.
Two prominent Polish historians were forced to apologise to the niece of a former polish mayor. This, after the two had co-authored a book about Polish complicity in the holocaust.
Previously, the Polish government has attempted to criminalise any suggestion of complicity.
Free speech in Slovakia is currently at the mercy of a hugely significant murder case.
In February 2018, journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kušnírová were shot dead in their home, around 50 kilometres from the capital Bratislava.
Kuciak was heavily involved in investigating both tax fraud relating to the then ruling Slovak party Smer, as well as report examining an Italian mafia organisation. The murders caused country-wide protests.
Prime Minister Robert Fico insisted there would be an investigation, but had shown repeated showings of disdain for the media, generating what non-profit Freedom House describes as a “hateful atmosphere”. He was later forced to resign.
Two of the five original suspects were sentenced, and the retrial of influential businessman Marián Kočner in connection with the murders was ordered on 15 June. The judge ordered the retiral on the basis of “several mistakes” in the original trial that acquitted Kočner.
In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) spoke of the significance of the retrial.
“We welcome the Slovak Supreme Court’s decision to cancel the acquittals of Marián Kočner and Alena Zsuzsová and hope to see full justice in the killing of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.”
“This ruling is a crucial step toward ending impunity in Kuciak’s killing and ensuring that all journalists can work safely and freely in Slovakia.”
Any rightful conviction of Kuciak’s murderers will surely be a positive sign for journalists working in Slovakia and symbolic of a country that holds such murders accountable to the law and deter any acts similar to this in the future.
Other journalists have also received alarming threats. In June 2020, journalist for online news site Aktuality.sk, Peter Sabo, received a pistol cartridge in his mailbox.
Independent media in Slovakia is lacking. Much of the country’s news outlets are owned by a select few and there are also concerns over the impartiality of the public broadcaster Radio and Television of Slovakia after a number of its staff were sacked in 2018.
The far-right is on the rise in Spain. Populist party VOX have been relatively successful in helping to create an atmosphere where journalists are being targeted.
In 2020, protests against the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and VOX supporters were heard shouting abuse at Spanish reporters.
During the pandemic, controversy arose over the Spanish governments attempt to control the questions given in press conferences by ordering journalists to send questions into the press secretary beforehand. In response, over 400 Spanish journalists were forced to sign an open letter asking the government to reconsider.
The information released by the government during the pandemic was also problematic. Data journalists found that the information released by the governments was overly confusing. As the CPJ reported, one journalist explained why this was a problem: “In Spain, the government sometimes releases data on the number of people who have tested positive on viral tests, while at other times it also includes the number who have tested positive on antibody tests.”
“Other reports contain different figures, such as the number of asymptomatic cases. The constant changes “hinder good analysis and projections,” he said. To complicate things further, national and local data sets often do not add up with national authorities reporting far fewer deaths from the virus than the total number reported by local authorities.”
There have been several notable attacks in the past few years.
Police detained El País reporter Albert Garcia after he documented the arrest of a protester, while French journalist Elize Gazendgel reported two separate occasions where she “received blows” from police. Both were wearing the correct, identifiable media accreditation.
Earlier the same month, a particularly appalling incident took place when Laila Jiménez of Telenico TV, was repeatedly pushed and subjected to abuse, as well as having vodka poured over her head.
Despite protests being of vital importance to upholding free speech in a democracy, the Spanish Citizen Security Law (also known as the “gag law”) puts bureaucratic barriers in the way of organising a protest, where authorities must be informed beforehand. Sharing images of police officers that may “endanger” them is also prohibited.
Laws such as this have come under further scrutiny after the case of Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél earlier this year.
Hasél has been jailed for his lyrics, which are crass at best and he has rapped about a “noose for the king”. But Spanish law deems these words illegal.
His arrest sparked widespread protests, particularly among Spanish youths. In response, the government has promised a review in to Spanish free speech laws.
Sweden’s record on free speech is encouraging and were the first country in the world to adopt a press freedom law, they also have a media ombudsman to deal with ethical issues.
However, one damaging defamation case could set an alarming precedent, concerning the finance publication Realtid.
The case has seen Monaco-based Swedish businessman Svante Kumlin use a vexatious defamation lawsuit against Realid after they began to investigate his company Eco Energy World.’
The lawsuit is also known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (Slapp) and are used by governments or large corporations to saddle a journalist (or anyone publishing allegedly defamatory claims) with long term court cases and legal costs.
The case is awaiting a judgement from to see if it can be tried in England and Wales, where defamation laws are not constitutionally protected.
In December, Index, along with free expression groups RSF, Article 19 and Defence and European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) expressed their concern over the matter.
The letter read “Realtid is being sued by Svante Kumlin, a Swedish businessman, domiciled in Monaco. Realtid had been investigating Kumlin’s group of companies, Eco Energy World (EEW), ahead of an impending stock market launch in Norway, a matter of clear public interest. The investigation began in September when Realtid’s reporters wrote about another stock market launch and discovered off-market sales of shares in EEW.”
While Swedish journalists report in a relatively safe environment, there have been threats towards journalists foreign or exiled reporters in recent years. Turkish journalist Turkish journalist Abdullah Bozkurt was beaten by three men in Stockholm in September 2020 in an incident that was believed to be a threat to exiled Turkish journalists working abroad.
Critic of the authorities in the Chechen region of Russia, Tumso Abdurakhmanov was assaulted by two individuals in his hometown of Gävle, Sweden in February 2020.
England fans during Euro 2020. Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire/PA Images
In celebration of one of football’s biggest international tournaments, here is Index’s guide to the free speech Euros. Who comes out on top as the nation with the worst record on free speech?
It’s simple, the worst is ranked first.
We continue today with Group D, which plays the deciding matches of the group stages today.
1st Czech Republic
Thomas Schick’s stunner against Scotland may prove a useful distraction, but praising the Czech Republic’s record on freedom of expression is also something of a long shot.
One of their most revered figures, Václav Havel was a dissident writer and playwright turned president.
Grievances over free speech in the country exist with the smearing of journalists, as well as the influence of foreign powers within universities.
Chinese influence in western countries is growing and it is well known that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are trying to change the narrative both in their own state and abroad. It means that the cornerstones of free speech in any country, universities and academic freedom, are the first ports of call.
They do so either through the funding of projects or by setting up what is known as a “Confucius Institute”. These are in place, in theory, to build bridges between universities around the world and China, but are much criticised due to accusations of attempts to censor the teaching of Chinese ideals in a certain way. There are currently two Confucius Institutes in the Czech Republic.
Associate editor Sally Gimson noted one particular case in the latest edition of the magazine: “In the Czech Republic, the head of the King Charles University’s Centre for Security Policy was sacked after the media revealed he billed the Chinese embassy (as well as the university) to run conferences on China.”
The relationship between the current government and journalists is frayed, with President Miloš Zeman sewing seeds of Trump-like distrust of the media among his people. Zeman’s government has also cracked down on independent media. For example, no press accreditation has been given to Forum 24 since 2020, who were critical of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
In 2018, Zeman was reported to have joked about the killing of journalists after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying “I love journalists, that’s why I may organise a special banquet for them this evening at the Saudi embassy.”
Taylor is a former lawyer working for the Monaco-based Dutch oil company SBM Offshore and revealed allegations of corruption in 2013. Bribes were exchanged in return for lucrative contracts.
He faces extradition to Monaco to be “interrogated”, from Croatia, where he has been detained since July 2020 after visiting on a family holiday.
In May, the Supreme Court of Croatia issued a judgement confirming the extradition. 40 NGOs, legal experts and campaigners signed an open letter to Croatian justice minister Ivan Malenica for the extradition to be stopped, with whom the decision now rests.
His treatment by the Croatian authorities has been poor. When Taylor raised concerns over his mental health with British diplomats, he was forcibly detained and forced to spend the night in a psychiatric hospital, where he was forcibly injected.
Though the media is considered to be highly polarised and severely reduced due to cut backs that arose because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is some hope for journalists and media in the country.
As the Croatia Journalists’ Association (HND) reported, nearly 1, 000 people protested in support of what was deemed to be by them as the unfair dismissal of the journalists Danijela Bašić Palković, Borka Petrović, and Zoran Angeleski from Croatian daily newspaper Glas Istre earlier this month, due to disagreeing with editorial policy.
Not exactly the tournament favourites, their head-to-head with England on the pitch proved to be close. Off the pitch, the two have similar records.
Despite close ties, criminal justice legislation is more of a devolved matter, but the recent Scottish Hate Crime Bill is cause for concern and its implementation just edges Scotland out over their friends a little further south.
The law was introduced, and passed in March 2021, with the intention of cracking down on hate speech. However, it was derided from the start by free speech groups who believe it would have a chilling effect on free speech. Perhaps most significantly, there is a threshold now in Scottish law that exists for charging people for “stirring up hatred”, but intent must be shown. Incitement in this regard is difficult to prove.
The original bill also spoke of a need to protect people from hate speech within their own homes. In The Times in November 2020, Ruth Smeeth said: “Common sense seems to have gone out of the window with regards to the Scottish hate crime bill. Let’s be clear, hate speech is appalling and if it’s inciting violence and illegal behaviour it should be banned. But this is now trying to regulate what people say to each other over dinner — it’s absurd.”
Despite acknowledgement of concerns regarding the threshold for what is accepted to be hate speech, amendments to the law did not go far enough.
It read, “When the bill was published last year, the police, the legal profession, academics, civil liberties groups and others cautioned that the offences could catch legitimate debate on a range of issues. The vague wording of the offences and a lack of adequate free speech protections could, they warned, place a chill on free expression in the arts, the media and the public square when it comes to discussions about contentious issues such as religion and trans rights.”
As well as this, during the Covid-19 pandemic and according to the Press and Journal, Scotland became the “first country in the world” to implement restrictions to freedom of information (FOI) access to journalists and keen public citizens.
FOI’s are a vital tool for journalists receiving data that is in the public interest to report, particularly in times of crisis, such as in a pandemic.
The plans came into effect as a result of emergency votes put through the Scottish Parliament by MSPs, arguing that the changes were necessary to ease the burden on public bodies.
The atmosphere around free speech and the media in the UK is deteriorating and there have been several alarming incidents in the past few years.
Attitudes around the media have worsened while populist politics has grown. Frequently, there have been arguments surrounding free speech and the so-called “culture war” where people have claimed they are being denied a platform to speak. In response, several government figures have responded with actions defending free speech.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has put forward proposals to protect free speech on academic campuses, by making universities liable for any breaches of free speech.
However, there are several other bills that are raising alarm.
Protests are integral to upholding democracy, but the proposed Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill aims to impose a start and finish time on protests and set noise limits on them. Not accounting for one of the basic principles of protests, that they are intentionally (and peacefully) disruptive. Those who partake in the desecration of memorials could receive up to ten years in prison. Essentially, the bill lowers the threshold for the police to intervene heavily with protests to break them up, even after accusations of heavy-handedness regarding recent protests, such as the Sarah Everard vigil in March 2021.
Police heavy handedness is of genuine concern. In February, photographer Andy Aitchison was arrested and his fingerprints taken after working at a protest outside the refugee camp at Napier Barracks, in Kent.
Index’s CEO Ruth Smeeth said at the time: “The British Government talks a good game on media freedom. They are launching a National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists. They are proposing legislation to protect free speech on campus. They have spoken out about Putin’s show trial of Navalny. Of Lukashenko’s repressive regime. Of the military coup in Myanmar. But what credibility do they have if they are enabling British journalists to be arrested on UK soil – for doing their job?”
Further problematic legislation lies with the proposed Online Safety Bill (also known as ‘online harms’), currently in its white paper stage.
Due to particular language included in the bill, namely “legal but harmful”, there would be inconsistency between what is illegal online, versus what would be legal offline and thus a lack of clarity in the law regarding free speech.
England (and Wales) is very much a country that feels as though it is standing on the precipice when it comes to freedom of expression. There is hope that problematic bills such as these will be reconsidered.
A Russian fan at the Euro 2020 match between Belgium and Russia. Stanislav Krasilnikov/Tass/PA Images
In celebration of one of football’s biggest international tournaments, here is Index’s guide to the free speech Euros. Who comes out on top as the nation with the worst record on free speech?
It’s simple, the worst is ranked first.
We continue today with Group B, which plays the deciding matches of the group stages today.
Unlike their relatively miserable performances on the football pitch, Russia can approach this particular contest as the clear favourites.
The group would be locked up after the first two games, with some sensational play from their three talismans: disinformation, oppressive legislation and attacks on independent media.
Russian disinformation, through the use of social media bots and troll factories, is well known, as is their persistent meddling in foreign elections which infringes on the rights of many to exercise their right to vote based on clear information.
Putin’s Russia has increased its attacks on free speech ever since the 2011 protests over a flawed election process. When protests arose once again all over the country in January 2021 over the detention of former opposition leader Alexei Navalny, over 10,000 people were arrested across the country, with many protests violently dispersed.
Human rights organisation, the Council of Europe (COE), expressed its concerns over Russian authorities’ reactions to the Navalny protests.
Commissioner Dunja Mijatović said: “This disregard for human rights, democracy and the rule of law is unfortunately not a new phenomenon in a country where human rights defenders, journalists and civil society are regularly harassed, including through highly questionable judicial decisions.”
Unfortunately, journalists attempting to monitor these appalling free speech violations face a squeeze on their platforms. Independent media is being deliberately targeted. Popular news site Meduza, for example, is under threat from Russia’s ‘foreign agents’ law.
The law, which free expression non-profit Reporters Without Borders describes as “nonsensical and incomprehensible”, means that organisations with dissenting opinions receiving donations from abroad are deemed to be “foreign agents”.
Those who do not register as foreign agents can receive up to five years’ imprisonment.
Being added to the register causes advertisers to drop out, meaning that revenue for the news sites drops dramatically. Meduza were forces to cut staff salaries by between 30 to 50 per cent.
Belgium is relatively successful in combating attacks on free speech. It does, however, make such attacks arguably more of a shock to the system than it may do elsewhere.
The coronavirus pandemic was, of course, a trying time for governments everywhere. But troubling times do not give leaders a mandate to ignore public scrutiny and questioning from journalists.
Alexandre Penasse, editor of news site Kairos, was banned from press conferences after being accused by the prime minister of provocation, while cartoonist Stephen Degryse received online threats after a cartoon that showed the Chinese flag with biohazard symbols instead of stars.
Incidents tend to be spaced apart, but notable. In 2020, journalist Jérémy Audouard was arrested when filming a Black Lives Matter protest. According to the Council of Europe “The policeman tried several times to prevent the journalist, who was showing his press card, from filming the violent arrest of a protester lying on the ground by six policemen.”
There is an interesting debate around holocaust denial, however and it is perhaps the issue most indicative of Belgium’s stance on free speech.
Holocaust denial, abhorrent as it may be, is protected speech in most countries with freedom of expression. It is at least accepted as a view that people are entitled to, however ridiculous and harmful such views are.
The law means that anyone who chooses to “deny, play down, justify or approve of the genocide committed by the German National Socialist regime during the Second World War” can be imprisoned or fined.
Belgium has also considered laws that would make similar denials of genocides, such as the Rwandan and Armenian genocides respectively, but was unable to pursue this due to the protestations of some in the Belgian senate and Turkish communities. It could be argued that in some areas, it is hard to establish what constitutes as ‘denial’, therefore, choosing to ban such views is problematic and could set an unwelcome precedent for future law making regarding free speech.
Comparable legal propositions have reared over the years. In 2012, fines were introduced for using offensive language. Then mayor Freddy Thielemans was quoted as saying “Any form of insult is from now on [is] punishable, whether it be racist, homophobic or otherwise”.
Denmark has one of the best records on free speech in the world and it is protected in the constitution. It makes a strong case to be the lowest ranked team in the tournament in terms of free speech violations. It is perhaps unfortunate then, that they were drawn in a group with their fellow Scandinavians.
Nevertheless, no country’s record on free speech is perfect and there have been some concerning cases in the country over the last few years.
2013 saw a contentious bill approved by the Danish Parliament “reduced the availability of documents prepared”, according to freedominfo.org. Essentially, it was argued that this was a restriction of freedom of information requests which are vital tool for journalists seeking to garner correct and useful information.
Acts against freedom of speech tend to be individual acts, rather than a persistent agenda.
Impartial media is vital to upholding democratic values in a state. But, in 2018, public service broadcaster DR was subjected to a funding cut of 20 per cent by the right-wing coalition government.
There have been improvements elsewhere. In 2017, Denmark scrapped its 337-year-old blasphemy law, which previously forbade public insults of religion. At the time, it was the only Scandinavian country to have such a law. According to The Guardian, MP Bruno Jerup said at the time: “Religion should not dictate what is allowed and what is forbidden to say publicly”.
The change to the law was controversial: a Danish man who filmed himself burning the Quran in 2015 would have faced a blasphemy trial before the law was scrapped.
In 2020, Danish illustrator Niels Bo Bojesen was working for daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten and replaced the stars of the Chinese flag with symbols of the coronavirus.
Jyllands-Posten refused to issue the apology the Chinese embassy demanded.
The Council of Europe has reported no new violations of media freedom in 2021.
A good record across the board, Finland is internationally recognised as a country that upholds democracy well.
Index exists on the principle that censorship can and will exist anywhere there are voices to be heard, but it wouldn’t be too crass of us to say that the world would be slightly easier to peer through our fingers at if its record on key rights and civil liberties were a little more like Finland’s.
Vehkoo described Oulou City Councilor Junes Lokka as a “Nazi clown” in a private Facebook group.
A statement by the CPJ said: “Junes Lokka should stop trying to intimidate Johanna Vehkoo, and Finnish authorities should drop these charges rather than enable a politician’s campaign of harassment against a journalist.”
“Finland should scrap its criminal defamation laws; they have no place in a democracy.”
Indeed, Finnish defamation laws are considered too harsh, as a study by Ville Manninen on the subject of media pluralism in Europe, found.
“Risks stem from the persistent criminalization of defamation and the potential of relatively harsh punishment. According to law, (aggravated) defamation is punishable by up to two years imprisonment, which is considered an excessive deterrent. Severe punishments, however, are used extremely rare, and aggravated defamation is usually punished by fines or parole.”
The study also spoke of another problem, that of increased harassment or threats towards journalists.
Reporter Laura Halminen had her home searched without a warrant after co-authoring an article concerning confidential intelligence.