Serbia: Minister sues KRIK over Paradise Paper leaks

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Mapping Media Freedom

Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project verifies threats, violations and limitations faced by the media throughout the European Union and neighbouring countries. Serious threats verified by the platform in January indicate that pressure has not let up in 2018. Here are five recent reports that give us cause for concern.

Serbia: Minister sues KRIK over Paradise Paper leaks

A Serbian minister announced on 12 January that he is suing the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK), nominees for the 2017 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, over the publications reporting on offshore companies and assets outlined in the Paradise Papers, a set of 13.4 million confidential documents relating to offshore investments leaked in November 2017. 

Nenad Popovic, a minister without portfolio, was the main Serbian official mentioned in the leaked documents that exposed the secret assets of politicians and celebrities around the world. Popovic was shown to have offshore assets and companies worth $100 million.

“Serbian and Cypriot authorities have already launched lawsuits against various media workers so we’re particularly concerned that investigative outlets like KRIK are being sued for uncovering corruption of government officials,” Hannah Machlin, project manager, Mapping Media Freedom said. “Journalists reporting on corruption were repeatedly harassed, and in some cases murdered, in 2017, so going into the new year, we need to ensure that their safety is prioritised in order to preserve vital investigative reporting.”

KRIK was one of the 96 media organisations from over 60 countries that analysed the papers.

Cyprus: Suspended government official sues daily newspaper over leaks

In December 2017 suspended senior state attorney Eleni Loizidou sued the daily newspaper Politis, seeking damages of between €500,000-2 million on the grounds that the media outlet breached her right to privacy and personal data protection. The newspaper had published a number of emails Loizidous had sent from her personal email account that implied Loizidou may have assisted the Russian government in the extradition cases of Russian nationals.

On 10 January the District Court of Nicosia approved a ban which forbids Politis from publishing emails from Loizidou’s account which she claims have been intercepted.

The ban will be in effect until the lawsuit against the paper is heard or another court order overrules it.

United Kingdom: Iran asks to censor Persian language media content in the UK

On 4 January, the Iranian embassy in London asked the United Kingdom Office of Communications to censor Persian language media based in the UK. The letter said the media’s coverage of the protests had been inciting people to “armed revolt”.

The letter primarily focused on BBC Persian and Manoto. BBC Persian has previously been criticised by Iranian intellectuals and activists for not distancing itself sufficiently from the Iranian government.

Latvia: Russian journalist declared a “threat to national security”

A journalist who works for the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) was branded a threat to national security on 4 January and ordered to leave the country within 24 hours after being detained.

Olga Kurlaeva went to Latvia planning to make a film about former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Kurlaeva had interviewed activists critical of Latvia’s policies towards ethnic Russians and was planning on interviewing other politicians critical of Latvian policies.

Two days earlier, her husband, Anatoly Kurlajev, a producer for Russian TV channel TVC, was detained by Latvian police and reportedly later deported to Russia. 

Azerbaijan: Editor claims alleged assault was fabricated to silence his newspaper

Elchin Mammad, the editor-in-chief of the online news platform Yukselis Namine, wrote in a public Facebook post on 4 January that he is being investigated for threatening and beating a newspaper employee.

Mammad wrote that the alleged victim, Aygun Amiraslanova, was never employed by Yukselis Namine and potentially does not exist. Mammad believes this is another attempt to silence his newspaper and staff.

Mammad was previously questioned by Sumgayit police in November about his work at the newspaper. The police told him that he was preventing the development of the country and national economic growth. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1516702060574-c4ac0556-7cf7-1″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

#IndexAwards2017: Journalists from the Maldives and Serbia describe attacks on press freedom


Maldives Independent’s former editor Zaheena Rasheed and KRIK editor-in-chief Stevan Dojcinovic. (Photo: KRIK)

Thousands of miles separate the Maldives from Serbia, but Zaheena Rasheed, the Index award-winning journalist and former editor of Maldives Independent, and Stevan Dojcinovic, editor-in-chief of the Serbian investigative website KRIK, but both described similar attacks on press freedom at a panel discussion at the Corinthia Hotel in London.

Rasheed lives in exile, having been forced to flee the Indian Ocean archipelago after working on an Al Jazeera documentary critical of the Maldivian government. She said she escaped just in time – a man who left a day later “barely made it out of the airport”.

Rasheed spoke of the intimidation tactics that independent news media had been subject to in the country. “Some newsrooms had gangs going inside of the newsroom and saying specifically we are not leaving until certain articles were taken down,” she said.

The Maldivian government claims that these gangs are criminals beyond their control.

As violence does not deter outlets like Maldives Independent from their investigative work, president Abdulla Yameen’s regime resorted to legal means, including imposing a draconian defamation law.

Rasheed said: “The definition of defamation is so broad that I could be sued for something I think, it doesn’t have to even be expressed. It could be a gesture. If it’s a gang or criminals after you, you can hide and avoid it, but when it’s the government you just can’t.”

On Serbia, Dojcinovic said that most in the West do not realise the extent of the country’s problems. “There’s not a real, clear picture of Serbia in the EU regarding how wild corruption and crime are,” he said.

Both journalists have seen hard-won democratic freedoms erode quickly. In Serbia this slide began in 2012 when Aleksandar Vučić was elected prime minister (this month, Vučić was also elected as the country’s president). Dojcinovic said: “The government has managed to destroy and undermine all of the democratic institutions built over 12 years within two years. We no longer have an independent judicial system and it’s the same with the media.”

In the Maldives, 2012 also left its mark. “Since the coup, a lot of democratic gains have been lost. What we saw in the first couple of years after the coup were physical assaults against journalists,” Rasheed said. “There were murder attempts, death threats and one TV station was even torched.” 

She said that police turned a blind eye to these attacks. “All of the CCTV cameras were turned away from the building. The police just weren’t there.”

Whilst the threats are different in Serbia, Dojcinovic described a choked media landscape: “It’s not possible to see criticism of the government in the mainstream media. Not on any newsstand or on any TV frequency. They have destroyed all of these institutions.”

Dojcinovic said that the Serbian government is falling into the same patterns as Slobodan Milosevic’s regime: “It’s the arrests of journalists by the same group of people who were behind the murder of journalists back in the 1990s. They can’t cross this line now because it would ruin their reputation with the EU, so they find a way to make your life a nightmare without leaving fingerprints.”

Reprisals for his work have included three smear campaigns: he has been tagged as a criminal for his links to organised crime, branded a foreign agent, and had his personal life put on display.

“You cannot fight this much either because you can only publish on the internet,” Dojcinovic said. “That’s nothing compared to the newspapers which present us in this way.”

In the Maldives, however, there appears to be no such line. Rasheed said: “A member of our team was disappeared in 2014. Then a well-known gangster, who we think was involved in our colleague’s disappearance, vandalised the security cameras [at our office] and left a machete at our door. And then I got a text message saying: ‘You’re next.’”

Rasheed thinks that her colleague Ahmed Rilwan was targeted because he was seen to be in favour of secularism, and negative stories about Islamic radicalisation raise the government’s ire. “What really bothers them are these stories of growing radicalisation in the Maldives because that is what puts tourists off,” she said.

Rasheed also spoke about the difficulties of constantly fighting such repression. She told the audience that she had, to some extent, been traumatised by her experiences. However: “As a journalist, the most important thing to do is to live to tell the story.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1492769899588-d49a7ccf-cd47-5″ taxonomies=”8148, 9028, 8734″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Dangerous words, words in danger

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”89122″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship, London Press Club and the Foreign Press Association will host a discussion about global media freedom at a special event to mark Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards.

The finalists – crusading news platform Maldives Independent and fearless Serbian investigative journalists KRIK – will explore the challenges they face, ways in which they’ve successfully evaded censorship and their future predictions for global press freedom.

Featuring editors-in-chief from both outlets, chaired by Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. Panel discussion followed by drinks.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

When: Tuesday 18 April  6-8pm
Where: Corinthia Hotel, Westminster, London SW1A 2BD
Tickets: Free. Registration required.

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#IndexAwards2017: KRIK exposes crime and corruption in Serbia


Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) is a new independent investigative website which was founded by a team of young Serbian journalists intent on exposing organised crime and extortion in their country which is ranked as having widespread corruption by Transparency International. In their first year they have published several high-impact investigations, including forcing Serbia’s prime minister to admit that senior officials had been behind nocturnal demolitions in a Belgrade neighbourhood and revealing meetings between drug barons, the ministry of police and the minister of foreign affairs. KRIK have repeatedly come under attack online and offline for their work –threatened and allegedly under surveillance by state officials, defamed in the pages of local tabloids, and suffering abuse including numerous death threats on social media.

“KRIK has become a recognised source of discoveries and news on crime and corruption in the country,” KRIK editor Stevan Dojčinović told Index on Censorship.

See the full shortlist for Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2017 here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content” equal_height=”yes” el_class=”text_white” css=”.vc_custom_1490258749071{background-color: #cb3000 !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Support the Index Fellowship.” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:28|text_align:center” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]

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