Banned by Beijing: Is China Censoring Europe?

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Every time a European university pressures an academic to temper their criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), every time a filmmaker opts to amend their film to avoid offending the Chinese authorities, and every time a Chinese citizen living in Europe self-censors in an effort to protect themselves or their families in China, the CCP is effectively censoring Europe.

This virtual event will explore the extent to which the CCP is exploiting its growing influence in order to erode freedom of expression in Europe, and will look at what needs to be done to protect our fundamental rights and our democracy.



Mareike Ohlberg, China analyst and co-author of Hidden Hand: How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World

Tom Tugendhat MP, Chairman of the UK’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee

Edward Lucas, journalist and editor of the China Influence Monitor

Trevor Phillips, chair of Index on Censorship (event chair)


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Don’t SLAPP the Messenger

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116887″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Why abusive legal threats and actions against journalists must be stopped.

Journalists are public watchdogs: by bringing information that is in the public interest to light, they help to hold power to account. But what if powerful or wealthy people wanted to keep their wrongdoings a secret? Abusive legal threats and actions, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPPs, are increasingly being used to intimidate journalists into silence. They are used to cover up unethical and criminal activity and to prevent the public of their right to know. SLAPPs have a devastating impact, not only on media freedom, but on human rights, rule of law, and our very democracies. This webinar hosted by Index on Censorship, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), will examine the issue of SLAPP and why we need to take action in the UK and the EU to stop them.

Bill Browder, Head of Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign (chair)
Annelie Östlund, financial journalist
Herman Grech, Editor in Chief of Times of Malta
Justin Borg Barthet, Senior Lecturer at University of Aberdeen

With contributions from:
Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Index on Censorship
Paulina Milewska, Anti-SLAPP Project Researcher at ECPMF
Susan Coughtrie, Project Director at Foreign Policy Centre


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How coronavirus is affecting free speech in Europe

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”60471″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]As coronavirus spreads across Europe so too do issues surrounding the transparency and accuracy of information on it. This is deeply troubling given the importance of reliable information about the pandemic. So what exactly are the main roadblocks to accurate facts? Here are the key trends when it comes to coronavirus and free expression in Europe.


Scapegoating, an unhelpful habit historically used by Russian propagandists to foist blame onto their Cold War opponents, is now being used to suggest that coronavirus may have been brewed in a lab by the Americans in order to cripple the Chinese economy. This is one of many bizarre theories that were spread among the Russian population in a bid to confuse and distract.

Another form of scapegoating has reared its head in France, in particular, in the form of racism against people with Asian heritage.  There have been reports of French-Asians suffering racist abuse on the streets, public transport and in school. This has also been an issue in the USA, where President Donald Trump angered Chinese authorities by referring to coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus”.

Criminalisation of “fake news”

In the USA, the term “fake news” can easily be used to discredit accurate reporting that Trump doesn’t like, which is why the criminalisation of news designated as “fake” by world leaders generally is so dangerous. Hungary’s parliament has passed a law to let Prime Minister Viktor Orban rule by decree for an indefinite period of time, and the state has the power to imprison people considered to have spread false information – aka “fake  news” – about coronavirus.

This trend is present elsewhere in Europe as governments attempt to control information on coronavirus. Patrick Sensburg, a member of the ruling party in Germany, said in an interview that the government should consider “ratcheting up statutory offenses” to penalise those spreading news considered fake by the state.

Republika Srpska, one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has also introduced fines for publishing false news and allegations that “cause panic and fear among citizens” in the mainstream press and social media.

Opaque about the figures

While high numbers of recorded cases and deaths from coronavirus are something every country would rather avoid, transparency is key to members of the public being fully informed and understanding the risks. According to the Financial Times, Kim Jong Un has publicly denied any cases in North Korea while at the same time quietly soliciting aid from abroad. In Europe, Turkey has displayed signs of being unwilling to disclose accurate figures. On 23 March, after data showed fewer and fewer people were being tested over successive days, possibly to reduce the number of cases on record, the Turkish Medical Association urged the Turkish government to test more people. They believe the government figures may be propaganda, designed to flatter the state’s control of the situation, which a doctor, speaking anonymously, claimed was in fact “out of control”.

Ill-informed leaders

At a time of a global pandemic, world leaders would serve their citizens best by bowing to the greater wisdom of medical experts. Unfortunately, some European leaders have appointed themselves as “experts” in the field of cures for coronavirus, an unfortunate echo of leaders who made false claims about cures for Aids when it swept through Africa. Speaking on state television for instance, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus claimed that people in the countryside should continue working: “The tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone”. Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, said he had found a reason to have an extra drink every day, after he claimed health specialists had told him that coronavirus “doesn’t grow wherever you put alcohol”. Please note: there is no scientific evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol has any effect on coronavirus.

We have previously reported on how censorship in China was impacting the way news about coronavirus was being reported, and vital information being distributed. We are also mapping all of the attacks on the media right now, which are growing sharply by the day. This represents one of the most worrying attacks on free speech in Europe right now.

The incidents on the map are collated by our staff, contributors and readers as well as our partners at the Justice for Journalists Foundation and verified by our team before pubication. Please check out the map here and do notify us via the map of any attacks we might have missed.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index on Censorship calls for Europe’s leaders to protect free flow of information to tackle COVID-19

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Media freedom is more essential than ever during the current coronavirus pandemic. An independent media is a trustworthy source of information at a time when misinformation and disinformation is rife and a way to hold those in power to account. Nonetheless journalists are being threatened, attacked and censored in the name of the pandemic.

Index on Censorship, alongside eight other media freedom organisations, is calling on European leaders to protect the free flow of information and to ensure that governments do not take advantage of the pandemic to suppress the media.

Please see our joint statement below:


Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Charles Michel, President of the European Council and David Sassoli

President of the European Parliament

25 March 2020

Re: Call for Europe’s leaders to protect free flow of information to tackle COVID-19

Dear Presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, 

We, the undersigned press freedom and freedom of expression organisations, are writing to express our profound concerns about the dangers of governments taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to punish independent and critical media and to introduce restrictions on the access of media to government decision making and action. 

The free flow of independent news is more essential than ever, both for informing the public on vital measures to contain the virus as well as in maintaining public scrutiny and debate on the adequacy of those measures. 

In this respect we support the joint statement put out by the three global and regional special rapporteurs for freedom of expression, David Kaye (U.N.), Harlem Désir (OSCE) and Edison Lanza (OAS), that the “right to freedom of expression, ……, applies to everyone, everywhere, and may only be subject to narrow restrictions”. 

While we appreciate that certain emergency measures are needed to combat the pandemic, all such measures must be necessary, proportionate, temporary, strictly time-limited and subject to regular scrutiny, in order to solve the immediate health crisis. Unfortunately, numerous governments around the world are already using the pandemic to claim excessive powers that can undermine democratic institutions, including the free press. These dangerous developments could easily outlive the current health crisis unless we act urgently to stop them.

This week, the Hungarian government is demanding an indefinite extension of the state of emergency and the power to impose prison sentences of up to five years on journalists and others for promoting false information related to COVID-19.

Our organizations are acutely aware of the dangers of disinformation and how it is used by unscrupulous groups to spread panic and division. However, this does not justify draconian powers that risk being used against journalists whose work is indispensable in protecting public health and ensuring accountability.

It is little surprise that Hungary, with its record of undermining media freedom, should be the first EU member state to make such an extreme and opportunistic power grab. The few remaining independent media outlets in the country are regularly attacked and accused of spreading “fake news” for raising simple questions about the government’s preparedness and strategy for tackling the pandemic. If approved, this new law would grant the Hungarian government a convenient tool to threaten journalists and intimidate them into self-censorship. We fear this is a step toward the complete repression of media freedom in Hungary that could outlive the pandemic.  

Were this law to pass it would set a fearful precedent for other European Union member states tempted to follow Hungary’s example – troubling signs exist in other states as well – and do untold damage to fundamental rights and democracy as well as undermining efforts to end the pandemic.

Secondly, our organizations are also concerned about the proliferation of enhanced surveillance measures introduced to monitor the spread of the virus. While we understand the potential benefits, the use of surveillance must have proper oversight and be clearly limited to tackling the pandemic. Unchecked surveillance endangers privacy and data rights, while journalists’ ability to protect sources is undermined and self-censorship rises.

Thirdly, our organizations are concerned about media access to government officials, decision makers, medical experts and those on the front line of the pandemic. Many countries have introduced restrictions on freedom of movement which we insist must not be used to prevent media from bearing witness to the crisis. 

At the same time many governments are restricting access to officials by reducing the physical presence of journalists to press conferences. Slovenia and the Czech Republic for example announced ending them altogether. Such measures must not be allowed to restrict media scrutiny of government. 

We are in the early stages of the pandemic where, for the most part, governments and media are cooperating closely as they struggle to respond to this unprecedented threat to public health. They both have a duty to ensure the public are fully informed and the response to the pandemic is as effective as possible. 

However, we are acutely aware that as the crisis persists, the death toll mounts and as widespread job losses and a certain global recession loom, the actions and decisions of government will come under intense examination. The temptation for some governments to abuse new found emergency powers to stifle criticism will, in some cases, be overwhelming. This must not be allowed to happen.

In a period when our citizens’ fundamental rights are being suspended around Europe, the need for media scrutiny to ensure no abuse of these new powers are stronger than ever. 

We therefore call on you to use the power of your offices to ensure that fundamental human rights and press freedom will be guaranteed as the European Union strives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. 


In particular we ask you to 

  1. Robustly oppose the measures currently before the Hungarian parliament and make it clear that the European Union will not accept the application of Emergency legislation that undermines fundamental human rights and media freedoms 
  2. Demand that governments ensure full access for media professionals to decision makers and actors on the front line of the health crisis as well as the broader workings of government,
  3. Declare journalism and the free flow of information as essential to Europe’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic


Kind Regards,


Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Index on Censorship

International Federation of Journalists

International Press Institute (IPI)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)


Index on Censorship has created a monitoring map to track media violations during the coronavirus crisis. If you know of an attack on media freedom during this crisis, please use this form to report it.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]