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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”100370″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Written by: Che Applewhaite, Samantha Chambers, Claire Kopsky and Sarah Wu
Survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, have been making headlines lately with their calls for more American students to help them change the country’s gun laws. Their right to protest and petition politicians is enshrined in their right to free expression under the First Amendment.
It is clear that the US student body — whether at high school or college — is conflicted over the issue of free expression and what is or isn’t acceptable speech. While some recent surveys and studies show attitudes to be generally supportive of freedom of expression as an important right, in practice this isn’t always the case.
At this vital moment, students around the USA should see why free speech is so vital on their campuses, whether high school or university and what they have to lose if they won’t fight for it.
“Free speech must apply to everyone — even those whose views we find objectionable — or it applies to no one,” says Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship. “Only by being able to express themselves freely and honestly, and also being exposed to as wide a range of viewpoints as possible can these get the most out of their education.”
In the past, the usefulness of free speech as part of such a campaign was much less in dispute. Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches and the student movements of the 1960s, which together changed a generation, relied on this very freedom. A lot of demonstrations today seem more geared towards the suppression of speech, such as those targeting conservative and alt-right voices like Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley and Richard Spencer at Michigan State University.
Students from four US universities weigh in on the issue and tell Index what is fair game on campus and what isn’t.
(Not) talking about race
The University of Missouri, colloquially known as a Mizzou and described as a “liberal student body in a red state”, is no stranger to racial tension. In 2015 the school saw protests by its football team and a graduate student go on hunger strike as part of a campaign to have the school’s president resign after mishandling racial issues on campus. This was followed by a drop in freshman enrollment and funding to the school.
Evan Lachnit, who studies journalism and sports at Mizzou, says that there are certain topics that, in the current political climate, are often too hot to touch. “As it relates to history, if there is one subject everyone appears to walk-on eggshells around, it would be slavery, one of, if not the largest, scars in American history,” he says. “It’s something many will just avoid altogether.”
The issue of “hate speech” — including speech considered to be insulting to a particular race — at Mizzou prompted the University of Missouri Police Department issued a campus-wide email asking “individuals who witness incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech” to call them “immediately”. The police admit that “cases of hateful and hurtful speech are not crimes”, leaving many to wonder why they feel this is an issue the force should be concerned with.
“There is no question that a great deal of ‘hateful and/or hurtful speech’ is protected by the First Amendment, and that punishing students whose speech is determined to meet such a troublingly vague and subjective standard will violate students’ constitutional rights,” Fire, an organisation that campaigns for individual rights in higher education, said in a letter to the school’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin. “It is crucial that students be able to carry out such debates without fear that giving offence will result in being reported to the police and referred for discipline by the university.”
Sophie Kissinger, a senior studying history at Harvard University, claims that the ways in which her subject was taught in the past limits knowledge of American slavery today. Recently gifted a 1926 Harvard syllabus that outlines the core requirements for a history student at the time, she notices the document’s “neglect of the oppressed”. “These narratives largely serve to perpetuate a system of erasure, reinforcing colonial ideologies and degrading the lives of oppressed peoples,” she says. “This erasure is all around us today: only 8% of high school senior can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War and most don’t know an amendment to the US Constitution formally ended slavery”.
Over at Villanova University, Emily Bouley, a junior studying business and psychology, says that privilege can be tricky to discuss because “everyone has different definitions of what privileged means”.
One topic in particular that’s likely to receive backlash, Bouley says, is affirmative action, those measures that are intended to end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination. “One time my professor was really passionate about racism against white males in job selection since there are more programs aimed towards diversity now than ever before, which is great, but sometimes candidates will get chosen because they are of a minority,” Bouley says. “Often this isn’t the case, but I felt so uncomfortable sharing my opinion because yes it happens and doesn’t support equality but it’s very hard to argue without sounding racist.”
Thanksgiving rule on campus: no politics
Located in the fifth most liberal city in America as ranked by Forbes, Boston University students are aware of the politically left-leaning environment they live in. But as with the family dinner table at Thanksgiving, heated conversation about politics is discouraged on campus.
According to the school’s policies, students must not “impose” offensive or upsetting views on others. Nicole Hoey, a junior studying journalism and English at the school, says the overwhelming liberal majority, though welcoming of opposing ideas, has a tendency to silence conservative voices through the sheer volume of liberal students. “As a journalist, free speech is so important,” Hoey says. “And for the most part, BU does a good job at promoting free speech on campus.”
“But I think people who voted for Trump would feel more frightened to speak their minds because we’re so liberal,” Hoey adds. “I think the only time they would feel safe is if they’re in College Republicans”.
This is probably why, following the 2016 election and the election of Donald Trump as president, BU College Republicans have seen an increase in attendance.
International studies major at the University of San Francisco Adule Dajani notes that “professors make their political views known pretty discreetly”. As a left-leaning school in a democratic state, Dajani says that USF professors try to remain unbiased by “talking about both the pros and cons of an issue”. However, she finds the conduct of the classroom facilitated by professors to be the main silencer for those in the minority side on any debate. “I can see how someone would feel too uncomfortable to speak up because the students are hotheads,” she says.
Candace Korasick, a professor at the school’s department of sociology at Mizzou, says her classes often tackle difficult issues, but there are some too controversial to discuss. “There are topics that I once would have broached in a class that I, not avoid, but now don’t initiate. And if students initiate them, I feel as if I’m tiptoeing through a minefield,” Korasick explains. “The two topics that I’d rather avoid are abortion and the Confederate flag. It is difficult to have a conversation with more than one or two students at a time on issues like that.”
Journalism and business student Nina Ruhe says topics like race, sexual assault and political beliefs are ones professors handle with “delicacy” on a surface level. For her, that’s a shame because it means she’s not getting any depth of knowledge on these topics as part of her education.
“While doing this allows the educators to say they’ve covered the issues and say that they’ve taken part in these important discussions, they also don’t go deep enough as to letting there be any real form of discussion,” Ruhe says. “Unfortunately, when I have heard of educators that have attempted to go into in-depth conversations about these topics, they are shut down by complaints from parents or superiors and are forced to stop.”
The right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest are crucial in a democracy – and crucial to any success the students of Parkland may have in changing America’s gun laws. They must be in no doubt that it a right that is on their side.
Later this year Index on Censorship will release a report on the freedom of speech on campus[/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:1526388582695-a56b5824-ce86-7″ taxonomies=”8843″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The men from the Sinaloa cartel had made a mistake, and now they were looking to use it to their advantage.
It was July 2010, and Mexican television cameraman Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco and a colleague had been covering a riot at a prison in the town of Gómez Palacio in Durango state in northwestern Mexico. As they drove away from the prison, their car was stopped by Sinaloa gunmen, who mistook the two journalists for members of the rival Zetas cartel.
At the time, the Sinaloa cartel, led by the infamous drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, were in the midst of a bloody battle for trafficking routes in northern Mexico. In 2010 alone, more than 15,000 people would die in Mexico’s drug wars. In Hernandez’s nearby home city of Torréon, where he worked for a local Televisa station, there were 990 homicides in 2011, up from 62 five years earlier, according to Reuters.
The Sinaloa men forced Hernandez and a colleague out of the car and into the trunk.
“They told us they were going to kill us because they thought we worked for the other cartel,” says Hernandez, in an interview with Global Journalist. “We told them we worked for Televisa and showed them our phones, equipment, microphones and everything. And they saw we were telling the truth.”
That didn’t mean they were safe. For days, Hernandez and two other kidnapped journalists were shuttled from a series of Sinaloa safehouses, where they were beaten and threatened with death. Héctor Gordoa, a Mexico City-based Televisa reporter who had been working with Hernandez, was released on the condition that he file a report detailing collaboration between government officials and Sinaloa cartel’s rivals, the Zetas. Hernandez and fellow journalist Javier Canales were kept by the cartel as hostages.
When Televisa refused to air Gordoa’s report, some feared Hernandez and Canales would be killed. Instead, they were released. According to Gordoa, the cartel had determined that killing journalists would do them more harm than good.
As for Hernandez, he and his family fled to the U.S., where was granted asylum in 2011. Now working as a cameraman in Colorado, he spoke with Global Journalist’s Astrig Agopian through a translator about his kidnapping and flight. Below, an edited version of their interview:
Global Journalist: How did the cartels affect you as a journalist before you were kidnapped?
Hernandez: It was good and normal before the war between the narcos started about ten years ago. Torréon was a small town in a peaceful region. But in 2007 the violence arrived there. There were a lot of narcos, but there was no problem because the people did not mess with them and they did not mess with the people. But another cartel, the Zetas, arrived from the northeast of the country.
Then the war started between them and El Chapo’s band, the Sinaloa cartel. There started being murders, abductions, kidnappings…and that is when the fear started spreading in the population. There were killings everyday. Murders with a lot of sadism. It was not like just a bullet in the head, people were beheaded or they would take their eyes out.
GJ: How did the media you worked for cover this?
Hernandez: At the beginning, everything was okay. We would cover the assassinations and not include the names of the team who worked on the story to protect them. We started to get used to the reign of the narcos, the war, all the dead.
The problems started in 2009 when a colleague from a newspaper, Eliseo Barron, was kidnapped and killed. He was a police reporter for a newspaper in Torréon. We knew the narcos did it, but we didn’t know which group.
There were killings outside of television stations and newspapers. They used “mantas,” which are pieces of tissue where it was written that what happened to Eliseo will happen to others too if they don’t keep silent. So then many journalists started being scared.
GJ: What story were you working on when you were kidnapped?
Hernandez: A journalist came from Mexico City who worked for the [national] program “Punto de Partida,” or “Starting Point.” The host of the program sent people to Torréon to cover the narcos. The reporter [Héctor Gordoa] arrived, but without a cameraman because he missed the flight. He came to ask for help from the Televisa station where I worked. They asked me to go with him.
Our intention was to interview the mayors of the three cities: Lergo, Durango, Gomez Palacio, Durango and Torréon. The mayor of Gomez Palacio took a long time to receive us. When we left him, we were told that there was a riot in the CEFERESO [a federal prison].
We decided to go to the jail and do interviews. There were many relatives of the prisoners there, because there were reports of shots fired inside and they were crying and there was a lot of security. But with all the army and the security we felt safe.
When we [Hernandez and Gordoa] left the area, it was like 3 p.m. and two miles ahead, at a traffic light, we were intercepted by a car and some guys got out with guns and got in our car. They put me and my colleague in the trunk.
GJ: What happened next?
Hernandez: They told us they were going to kill us because they thought we worked for the other cartel [the Zetas]. We told them we worked for Televisa and showed them our phones, equipment, microphones and everything. And they saw we were telling the truth.
They still said they would kill us. They covered our eyes with cloth and tied our hands and feet. Then they put us in a truck and made some telephone calls. I don’t know if they were calling El Chapo or whoever.
On the Monday [July 26, 2010] when they took us, they called Televisa and told them that they had us and they would kill us if the network continued to publish stories about them. They said they wanted us to do a video for YouTube in which we would incriminate the Zetas with the [state] government of Coahuila.
We did a 15-minute video on Tuesday and Televisa broadcast it late at night..At this point, nobody knew we were hostages besides my family, the other’s families and Televisa.
GJ: So they used you to try to blackmail Televisa into broadcasting reports that would hurt a rival cartel?
Hernandez: On Wednesday, they wanted us to record another report [implicating the Zetas with additional government officials]. But Televisa refused, saying: ‘We won’t be responsible if something happens to them, because we [the network] cannot continue to be hostages of the narcos.’
The police were supposedly looking for us. We expected them to rescue us. They kept us in a room 4 meters by 4 meters. There were us three journalists, three kidnapped policeman, and a taxi driver. We were seven total. It was the summer and it was so hot. They gave us some water but nothing to eat. If you wanted to sleep or sit you had to ask for permission. We could not go to a bathroom, we had a paint bottle and that’s it.
They psychologically tortured us because they were saying they would kill us. If [narcos] kill you during the day, they will leave your body outside. But if not, they hide your body.
What I really hoped, what I prayed for was that if they killed me, they would leave my body in sight so that people would find me and recognize me and that way I would not be a ‘desaparecido.’ That is so much worse for the families, worse than them knowing that you are dead.
We were very tired but we could not sleep at night because we were afraid they would take us and kill us.
GJ: How were you released?
Hernandez: The journalist from Mexico City [Héctor Gordoa] was released on Thursday [July 29, 2010]. They took us [Canales and Hernandez] to another safehouse. We were fragile like drunk people because we did not have food or enough water for days. We had no energy. They put us in a dark, abandoned room like a bathroom. It was dark, but I remember that there were cockroaches and animals there.
It was the middle of the night and we just wanted them to kill us because we were so tired of all the uncertainty. One moment they wanted to kill us, then they didn’t, then they did again.
We started screaming because there were neighbors. We shouted: “We want water! We want water!”
We tried to escape, tried to open the door. Someone arrived with a truck, and they started beating us. All the things they had not done the days before, they did that night. They bound us with wire by our hands and feet.
After the beating, they treated us very well. They gave us water and we were taken to yet another safehouse on Friday night. But there was blood all over the room where we were taken. There was a scalp. We thought that is where they tortured and killed people.
There was a person taking care of us, who even gave us water…a gallon of water for each of us. I told myself: ‘I want to escape, I’m not going to let them just kill me.”
But I didn’t succeed. I was at peace though because at least I tried. That was the moment when I could finally sleep. I do not know how many hours.
At that time, the government and El Chapo’s cartel must have been in talks [to arrange our release]. Next, they took us back to the safehouse where we had been earlier. The federal police were already there. It seemed they were there to pretend it was a rescue – I don’t know if the narcos were late bringing us back or the police came early. [When we were handed over] the police said: “Oh that’s you guys! Where were you detained? How are you?”
It was like a movie. We were free.
The police took us to do a press conference in Mexico City. They said they had rescued us and that there had been no shooting, and that the narcos did not do anything to us and that they released us because [the government] asked them to.
GJ: How did you decide to go to the U.S.?
Hernandez: They released me [Saturday July 31, 2010] and the police took me to Mexico City. I spent about 20 days total in Mexico City with my family.
The police caught some suspects. It was actually the ones who held us as prisoners. We went and identified them. But you know for drug traffickers, the guys with the guns are just soldiers. The boss turned them over.
During that time, I made calls to El Paso, Texas where I have family. They put me in touch with a great lawyer, who saved my life. I talked with my wife and lawyer and we decided not go back to Torréon. I took a truck, then a bus, then I walked.
I crossed the border on Aug. 22 to Texas with a tourist visa and then started the process to get political asylum. On Aug. 23, [the Sinaloa cartel] started looking for me. On Aug. 24, my wife crossed with our small children. We only took a small bag with clothes for the children and a folder with all the proof of what happened to me, pictures and articles in the newspapers. I asked for asylum in Houston.
GJ: How are things for you now?
Hernandez: Now I am a U.S. resident. I would love to be able to go back [to Torréon] but I cannot. I am angry at everyone, the police and the narcos, because my sons had to leave our home.
My children gave me a lot of courage. It was hard to arrive in another culture. My sons now go to school and speak English. When I arrived I worked at a local Spanish TV station in El Paso until 2015. Then I was offered a job in Colorado. Now I live there with my family and work as a cameraman. I am very grateful to this country because I arrived with a small suitcase and now we have a house, I have opportunity here.
With translation by Maria F. Callejon[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tOxGaGKy6fo”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”6″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”2″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1518457289356-25c6c2e3-cfc2-10″ taxonomies=”22142″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”97954″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]In hindsight, there were many clues that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government was making preparations to eliminate Turkey’s independent media even before it launched a massive crackdown in July 2016. But perhaps the biggest tip-off was the March 2016 police raid and seizure of Zaman, Turkey’s largest daily newspaper.
At the time, Abdullah Bozkurt was bureau chief in the capital Ankara for the paper’s English-language edition, Today’s Zaman. On March 4 of that year, Bozkurt found himself struggling to put out the newspaper’s final edition – even as he watched on live television as police in riot gear fired tear gas and water cannons on protesters and stormed Zaman’s headquarters 220 miles (350 km) to the west in Istanbul.
Shortly before court-appointed trustees seized control of the newspaper’s computer system, Bozkurt wrote the headline for the last cover of Today’s Zaman. “Shameful Day for Free Press in Turkey,” it read. “Zaman Media Group Seized.”
Zaman had been in Erdogan’s crosshairs for some time for its sympathies with the Gülen movement, an opposition group affiliated with a U.S.-based Islamic cleric that Erdogan has branded a “terrorist” organization. It had particularly angered the government for its aggressive coverage of a 2013 corruption investigation that led to the arrests of three sons of ministers in then-prime minister Erdogan’s government, Bozkurt says.
“Initially, they started calling in public rallies [for people] not to purchase our newspaper,” says Bozkurt, in an interview with Global Journalist. “Amazingly, at the time our circulation went up because we were one of the few media outlets in Turkey that were still covering the corruption investigation…later they started putting pressure on advertisers. That didn’t work out either because our circulation was quite high.”
After Zaman’s closure, Bozkurt briefly opened his own news agency. A few weeks later, on July 15, 2016, a faction of the military attempted to overthrow Erdogan. The coup was put down in a matter of hours. But in its aftermath, Erdogan unleashed a nationwide purge.
Over 100,000 government workers were fired and 47,000 people were jailed on suspicion of terrorism, according to a tally by Human Rights Watch. An additional 150 journalists and media workers were also jailed, giving Turkey the highest number of jailed journalists in the world. Many others fled the country.
Bozkurt was among those who chose to flee rather than face arrest. Ten days after the failed coup, he left for Sweden. The day after he left, the offices of his fledgling news agency were raided by police. Police later searched the home of Bozkurt’s 79-year-old mother and detained her for a day. Bozkurt’s wife and three children later followed him.
In Sweden, Bozkurt received threats via social media and a Wild West-style ‘wanted photo’ of him was published by pro-Erdogan newspapers and the state-run news agency. The government has brought anti-state charges against 30 of his former Zaman colleagues, seeking as much as three life sentences in jail.
Bozkurt, 47, now writes regular columns for the news site Turkishminute.com and works at the Stockholm Center for Freedom, a rights group focused on Turkey. He spoke with Global Journalist’s Denitsa Tsekova about his last weeks in Turkey and his exile. Below, an edited version of their interview:
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) March 4, 2016
Bozkurt: I was based in the capital, Ankara, but our newspaper’s headquarters was in Istanbul. The storming of our newspaper happened in Istanbul, we were watching on TV. We were on the phone talking to our colleagues in Istanbul, trying to find what’s going on, what we can do. The police were coming into our Istanbul’s newsrooms, ransacking the place, and shutting the internet service. It was up to me and my colleagues in the Ankara office to write the stories. We were actually printing the last edition of Zaman from Ankara. I was the one who drew the headline in the English edition and we managed to get out the last free edition. In the Turkish edition, we managed to finish and print the first one, but the second and the third edition couldn’t make it to the printing place. It was interrupted by the police and the government caretakers who took over the company.
GJ: There were protests after the closure of Zaman. What happened?
Bozkurt: It was on the day when the takeover judgment by the court was publicized. We didn’t call our readers to come and protest.
We knew it might be very dangerous because the government uses very harsh measures often rubber bullets, pepper spray and pressurized water against peaceful protesters. We didn’t want to put them on the risk.
Around 400 people showed up and they were beaten and targeted brutally by the police who stormed the building.
GJ: What was the last article you wrote for Today’s Zaman?
Bozkurt: It was about prisons. When I wrote that article I didn’t know the government was taking over the company, it was written a day before.
I talked to many people in the government and some from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Something was very, very off because the government planned to build a lot of prisons in Turkey under the disguise of a modernization plan.
However, when you look at the numbers, it didn’t really match. We didn’t need that many new prisons in Turkey, but the government was making a projection that the prison population would increase.
When the European officials asked the justice ministry on what basis were they making this projection, they did not have a response.
In hindsight, I could understand it was because they were preparing a new mass prosecution in Turkey and they needed more prisons to put these people away. Even the prisons we have now are not enough; people are living in very crowded cells. After the coup, the government even granted amnesty for some 40,000 convicted felons… just to make space for the political prisoners and journalists.
GJ: How did you decide to leave?
Bozkurt: I actually hung around for a while after the failed coup, because I thought eventually things will settle down, and I wasn’t planning to move out of Turkey at all.
[Ten days] after the coup, the government issued an arrest warrant against 42 journalists on a single day. I realized this is going to get worse, and I said it’s time for me to move out of Turkey.
It was a rash decision, I didn’t even know to which country I would go, so I had to go to Germany first and then to Sweden.
My mother was getting old, she has some health issues and I wanted to be there for her. But it wasn’t up to me. Sweden was a stopover for me, I wasn’t planning on staying permanently.
The day after I left Turkey, the police raided my office in Ankara, so it was the right decision. If I was there I would have been detained and dragged to jail.
GJ: Were you getting threats?
Bozkurt: I was getting threats all the time. If you are a critical and independent journalist, you will get them. That’s the price you pay for it. Sometimes you try to be vigilant, you try to be careful and you just ignore that kind of threats or pressure from the government or pro-government circles.
But after the massive crackdown after the coup attempt, I thought it’s no longer safe for me. I moved out alone, I didn’t even take my family, because I thought they will stay in Turkey and I can hang around abroad and then come back to Turkey. That was my plan.
After a while, the Turkish government started going after the family members of the journalists. Bülent Korucu was a chief editor of a national daily [Yarına Bakıs], which was also shut down by the government, and he was facing an arrest warrant. The police couldn’t find him and they arrested his wife, Hacer Korucu. She stayed in prison for a month on account of her husband. At that moment, I thought my family is no longer safe either, so I decided to extract them out of the country.
GJ: Was your family directly threatened?
Bozkurt: When I moved out of Turkey I kept writing about what’s going on in Turkey. I guess they felt uncomfortable with my writings.
It was part of the intimidation campaign to go after family members, including my mother. She is a 79-year-old, she lives alone but sometimes my sister helps her out. Police raided her home in my hometown of Bandirma in December 2016, searched the house and placed her in detention for a day. She was questioned about me.
Why does she deserve that? They want me to shut up, to be silent even though I feel safe abroad.
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) July 15, 2017
GJ: What will happen if you go back to Turkey?
Bozkurt: Of course I will get arrested. They even posted a “wanted” picture of me, and it was run in the pro-government dailies and in the state news agency. It’s like in the old Western movies: there is a picture of me and where I live. I have no prediction when I can go back to Turkey. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tOxGaGKy6fo”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”6″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”2″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1517591299623-14a913d2-eca2-3″ taxonomies=”22142″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”97735″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Kseniya Kirillova thought her stay in the U.S. would be only temporary.
When she left her hometown of Ekaterinburg, Russia in the spring of 2014 to move to Seattle with her husband, a Ukrainian software engineer, she had little experience in international affairs.
But all that changed as Russia began to openly back separatists in eastern Ukraine, and eventually invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Kirillova, who had previously worked for Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper known for its investigations of corruption and criticism of the Kremlin, was taken aback. She had many friends in Ukraine, and was determined to do all she could to counter what she saw as Russian propaganda that was feeding the war effort.
She began writing about Russian propaganda for the website Novy Region. Often critical of President Vladimir Putin, the site had been founded by a friend, Russian journalist Alexander Shchetinin. Shchetinin had founded the news outlet in the 1990s but was forced to leave the company under pressure from the Russian government in 2014. He later relaunched the site in Ukraine.
Kirillova wasn’t unfamiliar with the difficulties reporters face in challenging the Russian government. At least 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1993, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That includes several Novaya Gazeta journalists who were killed or died in mysterious circumstances since 2000.
Living in the U.S., was safe. But in August 2016, Shchetinin, who had called Putin his “personal enemy,” was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his apartment in Kiev. A suicide note was found near Shchetinin’s body. Kirillova doesn’t believe Shchetinin killed himself, and Ukrainian authorities opened a murder investigation.
Soon after Shchetinin’s death, Kirillova found a pro-Russia site online listing the names of “anti-Russia extremists.” Her name was on the list. A return to Russia, already dangerous, now seemed potentially deadly.
Today Kirillova, 33, lives in Oakland, Calif. and is a contributor to the Russian service of U.S.-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as well as the Ukrainian broadcaster TCH. She spoke with Global Journalist’s Jiwon Choi about the death of her collaborator and her efforts to counter propaganda in Russian media.
Global Journalist: How has the conflict between Russia and Ukraine affected you?
Kirillova: All my problems in Russia started because of my activity in America. Before I came here, I worked for several years…for Novaya Gazeta in the Urals branch. I lived in my hometown Ekaterinburg. I came to America accidentally. My husband, who is a citizen of Ukraine, he had a temporary work contract in the U.S. At the same time, the Russian and Ukrainian war began [in] March 2014.
It was a real shock for me. I considered it my duty to do something, so I began to analyze Russian propaganda, [their] fears and their mentality. The main importance for me was if this information could prevent new Russian provocations around the world.
GJ: How has journalism in Russia changed in recent years?
Kirillova: When I was in Russia, I sometimes covered some dangerous topics. Before the war, Russian [media] was defending Putin’s regime, but not as aggressively as it is now. It wasn’t so hard to talk about the government. We [reporters could write about] corruption and tell the truth about political, social and other spheres. Local government authorities were independent from the federal.
In 2010, the government changed in my region. They created a united power system and added a position like a city monitor, who was appointed by the federal government. It became impossible to cover any social problems, because any problems have something to do with government officials. It became impossible to publish any critical articles.
GJ: When did you first hear that the Russian government was targeting you and Alexander?
Kirillova: My close friend Alexander Shchetinin warned me that both of us would be charged with state treason. It was in in the spring of 2015. Russian authorities were accusing even ordinary people who didn’t have any access to state secrets, including simple housewives and saleswomen. The Russian Supreme Court recognized [Nova Region] as an extremist site only because it was in Ukraine and was opposed to Russian aggression. Thus, we officially became journalists of an “extremist” resource.
The Russian authorities instituted criminal proceedings against my friends, Russian dissidents from Ekaterinburg, even for innocent posts in social networks condemning the war. Thus, we already understood that a criminal case was waiting for us in Russia.
GJ: How did you feel when you learned that Alexander was dead?
Kirillova: Alexander was someone who made the same choice as me – supporting Ukraine as a Russian journalist. Before his death, he lost most of his business, couldn’t visit his family and his adult children in Russia. He fought against Russian propaganda and agents of Russian influence in Ukraine.
I don’t believe that it was a suicide. He died a month after the murder of another Russian opposition journalist in Kiev, Pavel Sheremet. After the strange death of Alexander in Kiev, I found an article on an official Russian propaganda website which was later removed. It said that all Russian journalists who support Ukraine might be killed. My name was on the list.
GJ: What is the most difficult part of living in exile in the United States?
Kirillova: For a long time, I didn’t even have a work permit in the U.S. I was waiting for asylum [for] two years, even before the murder of Alexander. I was working for two years as a volunteer, without any payment. Now everything is fine, I have a work permit.
I lost everything because of my decision–I don’t mean the decision to come here, but the decision to start this work. But I never had illusions about this topic. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tOxGaGKy6fo”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”6″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”2″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1516813685289-3cea7194-74a5-4″ taxonomies=”22142″][/vc_column][/vc_row]