Under cover of Covid, too many people have stopped paying attention

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116129″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]The last 12 months have been difficult for everyone. Whilst many of us have lost loved ones and tried to cope with the impact of lockdowns, social restrictions, closed businesses, redundancies, reduced wages, home schooling and the fear of illness, others have sought to exploit the situation – hoping that the world wouldn’t notice.

Our theme for the winter edition of Index on Censorship magazine was Masked by Covid – the underreported stories of 2020 which had been drowned out by the global public health emergency. There were simply too many for one edition of the magazine.

The news cycle has been dominated by Covid, Trump and Brexit with little else being able to break through. This in itself provided the ideal opportunity for leaders of repressive regimes to move against their citizens with impunity; after all the world wasn’t watching. But when you add the ‘legitimacy’ of emergency regulations to the mix under the guise of protecting the population against Covid, the perfect storm for repression and tyranny has been created.

When the virus spread last spring, Index started covering how it was affecting free speech around the world through a project called Disease Control. Documenting new legislation which closed local newspapers, new regulations which restricted or delayed access to government information, limitations on the free press, the end of the right to protest in numerous countries and arrests of political activists in dozens of countries.

As we all now await to be vaccinated and long for a return to normal, you would hope that maybe the dictators and authoritarian leaders, around the globe, would mitigate their actions knowing that the world might start to pay attention. Unsurprisingly that isn’t proving to be the case.

Only this week we have seen the Polish Government ban abortion, the Greek government propose a new university police force to deal with ‘trouble makers’ on campus and, in Russia, the coronavirus restrictions have been used as a cover to arrest Alexei Navalny’s allies – in the wake of his detention and the subsequent protests.

And it hasn’t just been Covid that has provided cover for oppression. In Turkey, on 27 December – when many of us were more focused on Netflix then the news – the government passed a new piece of anti-terrorism legislation, Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. I think most of us would welcome legislation that sought to stop the proliferation of WMDs.

Whilst this legislation has ostensibly been introduced to meet a United Nations Security Council counterterrorism resolution, unfortunately this new law actually goes well beyond that. It is an unfettered attack on civil society organisations across Turkey – with a clear emphasis on undermining those organisations which seek to protect minorities, especially the Kurdish population.

The legislation enables the Interior Ministry to replace board members of NGOs with state-appointed trustees. They can also suspend all operations and activities of an NGO if members are being prosecuted on terrorism charges – this would seem completely reasonable in many nation states, but as over 300,000 people are arrested for being a member of a terrorist group in Turkey every year, the definition of terrorist isn’t quite the global standard.

The legislation also gives the Governor’s office the right to undertake annual inspections of NGOs adding a new admin burden, international NGOs are also covered by new provisions and unsurprisingly financial assets and online donations to individual campaigns can be blocked by the government to “prevent terrorist financing and money laundering”.

Erdogan has just doubled down as an authoritarian leader and did so without global condemnation or even notice. It simply isn’t good enough…

All of these actions, and the many others from Hong Kong to Uganda, seek to cause division, undermine hope in the domestic population and entrench control. The world is getting smaller, technology means that we can know what is happening, as it happens, in every corner of the world. But too many people have stopped paying attention.

For Index it means that we have to double down and keep finding new ways to tell people’s stories so no one can claim ignorance.[/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]

Russia: Media freedom NGO faces closure

The Russian Ministry of Justice has added Glasnost Defence Foundation (GDF) to the list of NGOs it considers foreign agents. The decision was made after an “unplanned inspection”, Radio Liberty reports.

GDF, founded in 1991, is one of Russia’s oldest human rights organisations protecting freedom of the media. It provides Russian journalists with legal information and support. It also monitors media freedom abuses. GDF is the founder of the Andrey Sakharov journalist prize, Journalism As A Deed. The organisation has been headed by a well-known human rights defender, filmmaker and critic, Alexei Simonov.

GDF is not the first Russian journalist and media NGO unwillingly recognised as a foreign agent. At the beginning of 2015, another media freedom NGO, the Centre For The Protection Of Media Rights, was added to the list. In October 2015, Sobytie, a photoclub, became the 100th organisation on the list of foreign agents.


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 https://mappingmediafreedom.org/

Russia’s targeting of NGOs ensnares journalist associations

Russia MMF

The return of Vladimir Putin as president of the Russian Federation in 2012, after a wave of protests, was followed by the implementation of a new law that required non-governmental organisations receiving foreign support — in the form of funding or material aid — and engaged in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents” with the Ministry of Justice.

There are currently eight organisations advocating for media freedom and journalists’ rights included on a black list of 86 NGOs. Among them are organisations fighting for access to information (Freedom of Information Foundation), providing legal support to journalists (Rights of the Media Defence Centre and Media Support Foundation (Sreda)), organising education for regional reporters (Press Development Institute – Sibir in Novosibirsk and Regional Press Institute), an information agency (Memo.ru) and others.

Foreign agents have additional responsibilities and duties, including having to report twice as often and providing more information to the Ministry of Justice than other NGOs. A notice reading “Published by an NGO – foreign agent” must mark everything they publish, although some refuse to comply. In the Russian language, “foreign agent” has strong negative connotations associated with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet-era political repression. Some would say the term implies that NGOs are spies or traitors.

Only one organisation in Russia had voluntarily identified itself as a foreign agent before July 2014 when new rules allowed the Ministry of Justice to put NGOs on the list as it sees fit.

Some of the media freedom organisations are in the process of shutting down, including Sreda and Freedom of Information Foundation, while others, such as the Regional Press Institute (RPI) in St Petersburg, continue their activities but are forced to pay large fines.

Anna Sharogradskaya, the director of RPI, says she would never register the NGO voluntarily. “Article 51 of the Russian constitution says that nobody is obliged to give incriminating evidence against himself or herself and labeling the RPI would be not only incriminating evidence, it would be slander on our donors,” Sharogradskaya says. “So why should I break the law?”

Since 1993, RPI has provided seminars for journalists from Russia’s northwest region, offered its facilities as a venue for independent press conferences and meetings, and organised discussions on topical issues.

The organisation has come under increasing state pressure. In June 2014, customs officers at the Pulkovo International Airport in St Petersburg detained Sharogradskaya and searched her luggage. She missed her flight to the USA where she had been visiting scholar at Indiana University. Her notebook, memory stick and other gadgets were confiscated without explanation. For more than 10 months, Sharogradskaya was suspected of terrorism and extremism, after which she was cleared of all charges and her belongings were returned — although not in working order.

In November 2014, Putin promised that the St Petersburg regional Ombudsman Alexander Shishlov would look into the RPI case. “And he did: some days after this meeting, the Ministry of Justice put my organisation on the list of foreign agents,” says Sharogradskaya.

A court in St Petersburg fined RPI 400,000 rubles ($6,150) for refusing of add itself to the list voluntary. Half of the amount was paid by Russian and international journalists around the world, and the rest was added from Sharogradskaya’s personal savings.

Despite the pressure, RPI continues acting as an independent help desk for journalists, giving the region’s media, bloggers, initiative groups, democratic opposition leaders, and activists an opportunity to raise their voice at press conferences, and advocating for those who are in trouble with the authorities.

Many, including Sharogradskaya, believe that Russian civil society, including the media, faces increasing pressure. NGOs advocating for the freedom of the press must now spend more time and efforts protecting themselves instead of protecting journalists and other parts of the media.

Sharogradskaya says that above everything else, the lack of solidarity among journalists is a major concern. “Our work is to raise this solidarity. This is the only way to withstand the time of repressions.”


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 https://mappingmediafreedom.org/

Hungary: Rapper and NGOs targeted by state crackdown

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (Pic © European People’s Party/CreativeCommons/Flickr)

People “working together with foreign intelligence services” have been labelled “traitors” by Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen. The comment comes after news site index.hu published a series of investigations exposing how Ukrainians and Russians are using fraudulent techniques to get Hungarian citizenship, and then travelling in Europe with Hungarian passports. The incident follows a spate of cases of government censorship and intimidation over the past year, tracked by Index on Censorship‘s media freedom mapping project.

Earlier this month, two Hungarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who received money from the Norwegian government under a 20-year-old deal to help strengthen civil society in the poorer parts of Europe, were raided by police officers from the National Bureau of Investigation.

Ökotárs and Demnet are just two NGOs who have recently come under attack in Hungary. A government “blacklist” of the 13 “most wanted” organisations was leaked in May. The total number of groups under investigation is at 58 and growing, and includes human rights and watchdog organisations like the Roma Press Centre, Labrisz Lesbian Association and Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU).

A campaign has been launched by a group of Hungarian volunteers through the site Blacklisted Hungarians, encouraging the international community to show their support for the case on social media by using the hashtag #ListMeToo to share content and media coverage.

In addition to this, rapper László Pityinger, known as Dopeman, is at the centre of an ongoing criminal investigation, after he kicked the detached head of a statue symbolising the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The rapper spoke at a demonstration arranged by political group Szolidaritás last October, during which the audience toppled and decapitated the statue.

He will be represented by HCLU. Dalma Dojcsák, the group’s political liberties program officer and freedom of speech expert, told Index they are trying to convince the police that Pityinger has not committed a crime.

“The police officer conducting the investigation implied that they think the same, but the prosecutors may force the case through the system until it gets to trial. We don’t know if it is going to happen,” Dojcsák said.

“In Hungary, prior, direct censorship is rare — it only happens in public service media that is ruled by the government. However, self-censorship is common among journalists, out of fear of legal procedures and losing state financed advertisement,” she added.


Deputy editor-in-chief fired from Nepszava daily

Two official bulletins appear in Kiskunfelegyhaza

28 journalists laid off by daily newspaper

Parliament speaker attempts to block interview from airing on Polish TV

Song with political reference cut from public broadcast

More reports from Hungary via mediafreedom.ushahidi.com

This article was posted on 26 September 2014 at indexoncensorship.org