The British Government has zero moral authority

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116171″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Picture the scene.

A freelance photojournalist attends a demonstration, does his job, documents the protest, sells the images to a national newspaper and then goes home. A few hours later, five police officers arrive at his home, confiscate his equipment and his mobile phone. He is arrested in front of his family. He is taken to the police station, fingerprinted and has his DNA taken. He is then put in a cell.

You would assume that I’m describing an event that happened in Russia or Belarus or Myanmar. I could be outlining a plot in a Hollywood film. I’m not. This happened in Kent, on Thursday, last week.

Andy Aitchison is a freelance photographer. He was taking photos of a protest at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, where people had gathered to raise concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers held inside. Andy wasn’t part of the protest, he was there as a member of the press. He sold the images to The Guardian, among others, and then, job done, went home.

Six hours later, the police arrived at his home and arrested him in front of his children on suspicion of criminal damage. They weren’t interested in his press card or why he was there. But they knew enough to seize his equipment including the memory card holding the images and his mobile phone. He was taken to the local police station, processed, fingerprinted, had his DNA taken and then held in a cell for seven hours.

When they finally released him, he was remanded on bail until 22 February and barred from going back to the Napier Barracks. This prevented him from covering the impact of a fire that occurred on the site the following day.

Andy is a journalist. He is registered with the National Union of Journalists. He is protected under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.

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?

Index is truly disgusted at this behaviour. The authorities have absolutely no right to arrest a journalist for doing his job. Andy needs to be de-arrested immediately. His equipment needs to be returned to him immediately. And he needs an apology.

The British Government has zero moral authority to promote free speech and free expression around the world if they won’t abide by it at home.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index on Censorship calls for the immediate de-arrest of photographer Andy Aitchison


Photographer Andy Aitchison

Index on Censorship is extremely concerned at the arrest of freelance photographer Andy Aitchison, who was arrested at his home last Thursday after covering a demonstration at a former military barracks in Kent earlier the same day. The barracks is being used to house asylum seekers in allegedly substandard conditions.

“What is happening at Napier Barracks is an issue of significant public interest,” said Jessica Ní Mhainín, senior policy research and advocacy officer at Index on Censorship. “We have every right to know what is going on there and we need journalists and photographers like Aitchison to be free to document and report on it. But instead of enabling journalists to report in the public interest, the authorities are actively preventing them from doing so.”

Five police officers went to Aitchison’s home to arrest him on suspicion of criminal damage. They seized his memory card and mobile phone, and took him to the police station even after he had shown them his National Union of Journalists membership card. They took his fingerprints and DNA, and detained him for almost seven hours before releasing him on bail until 22 February.

“This is a blatant and appalling press freedom violation, which has already – due to the terms of his bail – resulted in Aitchison being unable to cover the fire that broke out at the same barracks on Friday afternoon,” said Ní Mhainín. “We call for Aitchison’s immediate and unconditional de-arrest, and for his equipment – which should have never been seized in the first place – to be immediately returned to him”.

“Serious questions need to be asked about how this could have happened and why it is taking so long for remediation. Has the UK forgotten that it has committed to leading the Media Freedom Coalition? This is what censorship looks like – not media freedom,” Ní Mhainín said.

Index on Censorship has filed a Council of Europe alert.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Freelance journalists in Belarus face fines for working with foreign media


In Belarus, dozens of freelance journalists were fined between 2014 and 2015 for working for foreign media without an accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a country dominated by state-run media, foreign outlets offer an alternative source of information.

Under Belarusian law, freelance journalists who co-operate with foreign media outlets are not considered legal employees of the organisation in question and aren’t entitled to receive the required accreditation. The first freelancer penalised was videographer Ales Dzianisau from Hrodna, a city in western Belarus. He was accused of illegally producing a video which ran on Belsat TV — a Polish state-run channel aimed at providing an alternative to the censorship of Belarusian television — about the opening night of a rendition of Goethe’s play Faust. He was fined €300.

Under Article 22.9(2) of the Belarusian Code on Administrative Offence, the courts can judge journalistic activities without an accreditation as illegal. In each case, the reason for the journalist having committed an offence was not the content of their work, but that they were published through foreign media.

As a rule, the police must consult witnesses — usually a person who was interviewed by the journalist — to prove that a work was made by the journalist accused. This doesn’t always appear to be the case.

An article published by Aliaksandr Burakou on the German website Deutsche Welle resulted in court hearings, talks at the tax office and the seizure of flash drives and computer systems. On 16 September 2014, Burakou’s apartment was searched, as was that of his parents. The journalist was charged with work without accreditation and fined €450. Burakou’s appeal to the country’s Supreme Court was rejected in May 2015.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) strongly condemns the continued prosecution of freelancers. It called the prosecutions a gross violation of the standards of freedom of expression.

In December 2014, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović wrote in a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Vladimir Makei, stating: “These undue restrictions stifle free expression and free media. Mandatory accreditation requirements for journalists should be reformed as they hinder journalists from doing their job.” She reiterated her call on to stop imposing restrictive measures on freelance journalists in April 2015.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) issued a statement on the situation at its June 2015 annual meeting. It called on the Belarusian authorities to drop the practice of holding freelancers accountable for work without the accreditation. The union also called on the OSCE and the Council of Europe to pay more attention to violations of freelancers’ rights in Belarus.

Nevertheless, since the beginning of 2015, 28 Belarusian journalists have been fined with 23 of those cases taking place in the last six months. Since April 2014, 38 freelance journalists have been fined €200-500, totalling over €8,000.

Dzianisau, the freelance cameraman penalised for making video reports in Hrodna, said: “The most complicated thing for me in this situation is that the authorities shut off the air. At present, I cannot report in the history museum or the museum of religions. I cannot report in the puppet theater, and now in the exhibition hall on Azheshka Street.”

Some freelancers have been brought to trial several times during this period. Kastus Zhukouski has been fined six times and Alina Litvinchuk four times. Some see the pressure on the media in Belarus as increasing due to the upcoming presidential elections on 11 October 2015.

Not so long ago, President Alexander Lukashenko was asked what should be done about journalists receiving fines. In response, he acknowledged that the practice was improper and the matter should be investigated by his press service.

However, many Belarusian freelancers do not believe their situation will change soon. Larysa Shchyrakova, a freelance journalist from Gomel who has been penalised twice this year for co-operating with foreign media, said: “I do not believe there will be any liberalisation because it is contrary to the logic of the authorities. The system in Belarus is ineffective and the prosecution of journalists will always be a priority for the government.”


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