Questioning of journalist at UK airport highlights increasing overreach of border forces

The police at London’s Luton airport worked through a list of questions. Did Broomfield consider his reporting to be objective? Did he include multiple sources in his work? How did he get paid? What was his opinion about beheadings, and did he ever send anybody a photo of a beheading? “Not answering the questions is a criminal offence, so I complied,” British journalist Matt Broomfield said about the questioning he was subject to in July. His laptop and phone were confiscated and he didn’t receive them back.

The questions indicated that Broomfield was a person of interest because of his journalistic work in Syria between 2018 and 2021. Besides reporting for media like VICE, the Independent and the New Statesman, he founded the Rojava Information Center, a news agency dedicated to improving the quality of reporting on the autonomously administered regions in the northeast of Syria (often referred to as Rojava) by making sources available and by working as fixers and translators for visiting journalists. But Broomfield said he wasn’t entirely certain about why was questioned: “They said they were doing a mopping-up operation, but didn’t give any details.”

It wasn’t the first time Broomfield, who is currently based in Belgrade, Serbia, had been questioned at an airport. In 2021 he was detained in Greece because, as he learned after being detained, he was banned from travelling to Schengen territory. He was eventually put on a plane to London, where he was again questioned. Broomfield said:

“After that, I have travelled to London several times without problems. You know, if you spend three years in Rojava, you can expect police wanting to talk to you. But now I needed to answer their questions again?”

After confiscating his equipment, the police asked if he had any confidential sources and material on his phone and laptop. Broomfield said no and explained that legally he doesn’t have to give police his password (police can only request your phone password if they have a warrant, something that many might be unaware of). Broomfield has since wondered what would have happened if he had said yes.

“What worries me is that the police ability to impound journalists’ tech reduces sources’ ability to trust journalists,” he said.

In 2019 Index investigated how border officials are increasingly demanding access to individuals’ social media accounts around the world. This is ushering in a frightening new era where people are worried that their words, their criticism and taking part in a protest will end in a travel ban and are, as Broomfield says, deeply concerned about their own sources.

Fiona O’Brien, the UK Bureau director of Reporters Without Borders, is also worried. In an interview with Index, she said: “We recognise the importance of national security and nobody says journalists are above the law, but press freedom is at stake here. Journalists have the right to work freely and without fear of the confidentiality of their sources.”

She said the police’s actions seem to be an overreach of the use of the law: “They have a duty to protect the public but their powers to do so should be used exceptionally.”

Recent statistics show that 2,498 people were subject to the use of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, but it remains unclear how many of them were journalists. O’Brien said she heard of three cases so far this year.

“The lack of transparency is problematic. We don’t know why exactly people are questioned, we don’t know what happens to their equipment, and the police are not allowed to search confidential information on journalists’ equipment but we don’t know how this works in practice. We have written to the counter-terrorism police to talk about this, but so far we received no response.”

What Broomfield himself is also curious about and can’t seem to find answers to is the extent Turkey is involved. The autonomous administration in Northeast-Syria is considered to be a ‘terrorist’ entity by Turkey, as it is founded on the ideology of the Kurdish political movement, of which the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is a part. While the PKK is not active in Syria, Turkish authorities have been calling on NATO members to crack down on all Kurdish activism they deem “terrorism”.

“I don’t know if Turkey shares lists of names with European authorities or if they just demand a firmer crack-down in general, but I do know that the UK and Turkey have shared security interests and the economic ties have strengthened, especially after Brexit,” said Broomfield.

He also points to the strong ties between Turkey and Germany, the latter being responsible for the Schengen ban he received and which is due to end (but may be renewed) in 2026. He is trying to find out more about the background of the ban and trying to get it reversed with the help of a lawyer in Germany. Broomfield said:

“This ban hampers my work much more than the questioning and the confiscation of my equipment. It would be good to be able to travel to key places in the Schengen zone to report on Kurds in Europe. I get invitations to speak at conferences in Europe but can’t accept them. The ban narrows my horizon.”

Did Broomfield expect to face problems because of his work in Syria?

“I’m aware that reporting there comes with risks, both in the short term on the ground and in the long term. But the work my colleagues and me have done there, supportive of what the autonomous administration tries to build but looking at it with a critical eye, is important and we need more of it. The situation I am now in limits my ability to use my liberty as a British citizen to draw attention to the plight of the Kurds. To me, all this speaks to the trend of increasing Turkish influence on Europe’s security policies.”

Both Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists are supporting Broomfield in efforts to get his equipment back and to get more clarity on the background of his detention and interrogation. The NUJ didn’t want to comment, but did share that Broomfield’s case follows the recent similar case of Ernest M., a foreign rights manager for the French publisher Editions La Fabrique, who was arrested by British police under terrorism legislation when he arrived in London for this year’s London Book Fair.

Meanwhile, Broomfield is applying to several funds for journalists to cover his legal expenses.

Ukrainian investigative journalism on the eve of the presidential election


Bihus and members of his reporting team noticed several
unidentified people monitoring their activity from outside their Kiev office starting on February 20. Bihus wrote that the monitoring began after Bihus.Info sent requests for comment to law enforcement bodies in relation to an investigative article alleging corruption within Ukraine’s defense industry.

As Ukrainians head into the first round of a tense presidential election on 31 March, Ukraine’s incumbent president and candidate Petro Poroshenko is at the centre of a corruption scandal involving the military and the country’s press are feeling the heat.

The allegations swirling around the president were uncovered by the 2019 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award-nominated, a group of independent investigative journalists, who undertook a multi-year investigation. The revelations were central to the president’s decision to fire Oleh Hladkovskyy, a top national-security official, who was implicated in corrupt deals involving the armed forces.

Denys Bihus, editor-in-chief of, posted on his Facebook page that unknown persons had been surveilling members of his team ahead of the publication of the investigation. Bihus believes the surveillance was organised by Ukrainian law enforcement and was related to the outlet’s investigations into corruption involving the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Security Service of Ukraine, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the State Fiscal Service.

In February, journalists from the TV programme Schemes: Corruption in Details, another leading investigative journalistic project jointly run by public broadcaster UA:Pershyi and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported being followed and surveilled. Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov has been accused of hiring personnel to spy on journalist Mykhailo Tkach and the camera crew of Schemes. The journalists claimed these activities have been aimed at obstructing their work.

Akhmetov’s security firm has accused Schemes journalists of breaching the oligarch’s privacy and collecting information illegally. The company said that over the past few months unknown persons had secretly filmed the office of SCM, a company owned by Akhmetov, more than 200 times, as well as the private homes of a shareholder. The company claims that those persons had not identified themselves as media workers.

However, Tkach said that Akhmetov’s security firm knew that he and his crew were journalists as they had shown their press cards. Police initially questioned Tkach in late February after he filed a complaint about the firm’s obstruction of journalistic activity. At first, the investigators intended to interrogate him as a witness, but Tkach insisted that he should be defined as an aggrieved party. According to Ukrainian laws, an aggrieved party has more rights in a proceeding: to see material about the case, to file complaints and statements.

In another alarming trend, Ukrainian prosecutors demanded access to the electronic correspondence of the investigative journalist Ivan Verstyuk who collaborated with the Novoye Vremya weekly magazine. On 4 February a court in Kiev allowed law enforcement to gain access to the journalist’s emails.

In 2016 Novoye Vremya published an article by Verstyuk about Olexander Korniyets, a deputy prosecutor of the Kiev region, who paid for his daughter Anastasia’s expensive study in London. According to the UK National Crime Agency report, Korniyets spent about £120,000, while the official annual income of the prosecutor and his wife did not exceed £8,000 per year.

This report, which was the basis of Verstyuk’s article, had been sent exclusively to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, but was then leaked. Korniyets was fired in 2015, but Ukrainian prosecutors still haven’t finished investigating his case. They claim that Verstyuk’s story and his source breached the confidentiality of this investigation, despite the leaked report being readily available online.

Verstyuk is preparing a lawsuit for the European Court of Human Rights to protect himself from searches by the prosecutor general’s office.

The prosecutors’ efforts to obtain access to Verstyuk’s emails have drawn international condemnation. Harlem Desir, the representative on the freedom of the media at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged Ukrainian authorities to respect journalists’ right not to disclose their sources. The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the authorities’ efforts to get access to Verstyuk’s emails. Reporters Without Borders said that “it is becoming a habit to trample on the protection of journalistic sources in Ukraine. Head of the National Union of Journalists Serhiy Tomilenko commented that “It’s a shame! It’s an encroachment of media freedom”.

On 6 March journalist Kateryna Kaplyuk and a cameraman Borys Trotsenko from Schemes were assaulted by two deputies of the Chabany village head in the village of Chabany (Kiev region). The pair were filming on the premises of Chabany village council. The assailants were two deputies of the Chabany village head. The journalists called for an ambulance and, after a medical check-up at a hospital, Trotsenko was diagnosed with having a concussion. His camera was broken.  

Nataliya Sedletska, editor-in-chief of Schemes, said the journalists had gone to Chabany village council to get information for an investigation on public lands illegal detachment into private possession. A complaint was filed to the police.

On 28 March Schemes reported that unidentified individuals had been trying to access the programme’s accounts in Telegram, WhatsApp and social media sites. On 7 February at 4:07 am, unknown Kyiv residents received access to Telegram account of Maxim Savchuk. In a few minutes at 4:15am, an attempt was made to access the Telegram account of journalist Valeriya Yegoshyna, who suggested that an attempt to break into her account could be connected to her investigation of social media bots acting in the interests of politicians Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Mykola Martynenko, from the ruling People’s Front party. In early March, unidentified persons tried to break the Facebook account of Schemes journalist Katerina Kapluk and accessed the WhatsApp account of editor Daria Martynenko.

Sedletska said the attempts to access the accounts are directly related to the professional activities of journalists.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”10″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1553851892349-06473364-7471-4″ taxonomies=”742, 8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Losing a point of reference: Press freedom in the US

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Nicole Ntim-Addae and Long Dang. With additional reporting by Shreya Parjan and Sandra Oseifri.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”100888″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]“What do we do next? We are losing our point of reference. The loss of the United States and the United Kingdom as democratic beacons for the rights of journalists and the freedom of information is a bad omen for the rest of the world.”

The question was raised by Javier Garza of Article 19, a British human rights organisation, at the discussion about the growing threats to press freedom in the United States that took place at the Free Word Centre on Thursday 14 June. The panel was held to explore the findings of the unprecedented mission to the USA undertaken by six press freedom groups — Index on Censorship, Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, IFEX, International Press Institute, and Reporters Without Borders—in January 2018. Representatives of the groups conducted interviews with journalists in St. Louis, Missouri, Houston, Texas, and Washington DC. Their findings were published in a mission report in May 2018.

Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, stated the motivation behind the mission. “It is unusual for press freedom organisations to take a mission to the US”, she said. “According to the findings of the mission, violations of freedom of press and freedom of information may be closer to home.” The mission was carried out in recognition that discussions regarding press freedom are taken for granted in democracies in a way that they are not in authoritarian states.

At the same time, Trump’s hostile rhetoric directed against the US press is problematic for press worldwide. Rebecca Vincent, UK bureau director of Reporters Without Borders, noted that the Trumpian denunciation of the press as “fake news” and “enemies of the people” is gradually becoming a global phenomenon.

Vincent, Ginsberg, and Dave Banisar, senior legal counsel of Article 19 were moderated by Paddy Coulter, director of communications at Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative and member of the Article 19 board,  to review the mission.

According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, there were 34 arrests of journalists made by the authorities in 2017 alone. Along with that, there has been a noticeable uptick in border controls since 2017, with journalists being searched, forced to hand over their phones for inspection, and denied entry into the U.S. This kind of problematic border control renders it extremely difficult for journalists to travel for work. Moreover, the excessive phone screening not only poses a violation of journalists’ right to privacy, but also a risk to the safety of their sources.

“The US office [of RSF] now puts out a weekly violations report because there are so many of them” said Vincent. The UK is currently ranked 40th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The US is faring worse, ranking at 45th. Since the beginning of 2018 alone, two journalists have been arrested and 12 have been attacked. The panelists noted that these problems did not start with the Trump administration. “Don’t get complacent. The beautiful [Clinton-Bush-Obama]  administration’s era when nothing went wrong hasn’t existed for a long time.” said Banisar.

Banisar explained how little protection there is for whistleblowers and their sources under the Espionage Act of 1917. It is important to note that the improper use of the act had started before the Trump administration: under the Obama administration, the act was used to prosecute more whistleblowers than ever before. Banisar highlighted the case of Reality Winner, the former NSA contractor who was incarcerated only a few days after she released information that the Russians had hacked the 2016 presidential election. Jen Robinson from Article 19, an Australian human rights lawyer and barrister with Doughty Street Chambers in London and advisor to Julian Assange WikiLeaks founder noted that Wikileaks’ 2010 investigation was unprecedented. Never before has the Espionage Act been used in a civil lawsuit as that would have set the stage for larger news agencies such as The New York Times.

How could we do better?

Ginsberg stressed the importance of  “reverse education” – that is, showing people how to navigate the negative environments. Border stops, according to her, are “a deeply concerning intrusion on the confidentiality of a reporter’s sources”. Accordingly, when journalists travel to the US to work, they should be aware of the situation and take steps to protect themselves and their sources.  In that vein, Index has provided a journalist tool kit drawing from the experience of journalists who have had to deal with problems first hand. It has also corroborated with the Missouri School of Journalism in Project Exile, which documents the experience of journalists forced to live in exile because of their work.

Vincent reaffirmed that the hostile rhetoric directed at journalists needs to stop, since “the line between hateful, hostile terms and violence against journalists is blurring”.  Bainsar emphasized that legal changes needs to be made to facilitate the free flow of information. He also stated that the US government needs to strive to improve its laws on source protection, protection for whistleblowers and statutory rights. Banisar calls for the Espionage Act of 1917 to be “ceremonially buried”.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Ginsberg, pointing to the demonstrations taking place around the world, commented that there is “still a huge appetite to assemble freely”. Banisar reported that the influx of cash flow into organisations such as the ACLU and HRW shows citizens are aware that press freedom violations are not problems they want to see coming back. He also reminded the audience that  the president could just serve four years, and there are rules and regulations that would keep him in check. Despite Trump’s adamant dismissal of climate change, 10,000 documents— obtained through the US’s landmark Freedom of Information Laws—from the Environmental Protect Agency were published in The New York Times this past week, demonstrating that there is still professionalism in the use of laws.

“There are still those with liberal values.” said Rebecca Vincent. “There is a younger generation of journalists who care about issues. It’s also about making people realize that this is not just the happening in the ‘world’. This is happening in our borders. We must stand up to our own standards.” [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1529312741775-6402968b-d0c0-9″ taxonomies=”9044″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Censorship gone viral: The cross-fertilisation of repression

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”85524″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]For around six decades after WWII ideas, laws and institutions supporting free expression spread across borders globally. Ever more people were liberated from stifling censorship and repression. But in the past decade that development has reversed.  

On April 12 Russian lawmakers in the State Duma completed the first reading of a new draft law on social media. Among other things the law requires social media platforms to remove illegal content within 24 hours or risk hefty fines. Sound familiar? If you think you’ve heard this story before it’s because the original draft was what Reporters Without Borders call a “copy-paste” version of the much criticized German Social Network law that went into effect earlier this year. But we can trace the origins back further.

In 2016 the EU-Commission and a number of big tech-firms including Facebook, Twitter and Google, agreed on a Code of Conduct under which these firms commit to removing illegal hate speech within 24 hours. In other words what happens in Brussels doesn’t stay in Brussels. It may spread to Berlin and end up in Moscow, transformed from a voluntary instrument aimed at defending Western democracies to a draconian law used to shore up a regime committed to disrupting Western democracies. 

US President Donald Trump’s crusade against “fake news” may also have had serious consequences for press freedom. Because of the First Amendment’s robust protection of free expression Trump is largely powerless to weaponise his war against the “fake news media” and “enemies of the people” that most others refer to as “independent media”.

Yet many other citizens of the world cannot rely on the same degree of legal protection from thin-skinned political leaders eager to filter news and information. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented the highest ever number of journalists imprisoned for false news worldwide. And while 21 such cases may not sound catastrophic the message these arrests and convictions send is alarming. And soon more may follow.  In April Malaysia criminalised the spread of “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false”, with up to six years in prison. Already a Danish citizen has been convicted to one month’s imprisonment for a harmless YouTube video, and presidential candidate Mahathir Mohammed is also being investigated. Kenya is going down the same path with a draconian bill criminalising “false” or “fictitious” information.  And while Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump has been unduly influenced by Russian President Putin, it seems that Putin may well have been influenced by Trump. The above mentioned Russian draft social media law also includes an obligation to delete any “unverified publicly significant information presented as reliable information.” Taken into account the amount of pro-Kremlin propaganda espoused by Russian media such as RT and Sputnik, one can be certain that the definition of “unverified” will align closely with the interests of Putin and his cronies.

But even democracies have fallen for the temptation to define truth. France’s celebrated president Macron has promised to present a bill targeting false information by “to allow rapid blocking of the dissemination of fake news”. While the French initiative may be targeted at election periods it still does not accord well with a joint declaration issued by independent experts from international and regional organisations covering the UN, Europe, the Americans and Africa which stressed that “ general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas, including ‘false news’ or ‘non-objective information’, are incompatible with international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression”.

However, illiberal measures also travel from East to West. In 2012 Russia adopted a law requiring NGOs receiving funds from abroad and involved in “political activities” – a nebulous and all-encompassing term – to register as “foreign agents”. The law is a thinly veiled attempt to delegitimise civil society organisations that may shed critical light on the policies of Putin’s regime. It has affected everything from human rights groups, LGBT-activists and environmental organisations, who must choose between being branded as something akin to enemies of the state or abandon their work in Russia. As such it has strong appeal to other politicians who don’t appreciate a vibrant civil society with its inherent ecosystem of dissent and potential for social and political mobilisation.

One such politician is Victor Orban, prime minister of Hungary’s increasingly illiberal government. In 2017 Orban’s government did its own copy paste job adopting a law requiring NGOs receiving funds from abroad to register as “foreign supported”. A move which should be seen in the light of Orban’s obsession with eliminating the influence of anything or anyone remotely associated with the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros whose Open Society Foundation funds organisations promoting liberal and progressive values.

The cross-fertilisation of censorship between regime types and continents is part of the explanation why press freedom has been in retreat for more than a decade. In its recent 2018 World Press Freedom Index Reporters Without Borders identified “growing animosity towards journalists. Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies”. This is something borne out by the litany of of media freedom violations reported to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom, which monitors 43 countries. In just the last four years, MMF has logged over 4,200 incidents — a staggering array of curbs on the press that range from physical assault to online threats and murders that have engulfed journalists.

Alarmingly Europe – the heartland of global democracy – has seen the worst regional setbacks in RSF’s index. This development shows that sacrificing free speech to guard against creeping authoritarianism is more likely to embolden than to defeat the enemies of the open society.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”100463″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” img_link_target=”_blank” link=””][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]


A podcast on the history of free speech. 

Why have kings, emperors, and governments killed and imprisoned people to shut them up? And why have countless people risked death and imprisonment to express their beliefs? Jacob Mchangama guides you through the history of free speech from the trial of Socrates to the Great Firewall.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1526895517975-5ae07ad7-7137-1″][/vc_column][/vc_row]