RSF Reports 2019

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JOURNALISM TRUST INITIATIVE of 19th December 2019


Previous Years Reports

Apologies for a gap in coverage. Casualty of the changes to Data Protection Laws.


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Erol Önderoğlu acquitted at one trial, but another due soon



   
Published 17th July 2019 | Read Online
 

After three years of persecution, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative in Turkey, Erol Önderoğlu, was finally acquitted today, as were his fellow defendants – human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and the writer Ahmet Nesin. But Önderoğlu is not yet off the hook. He faces another trial that is due to start on 7 November.

Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin were accused of “terrorist propaganda,” “justifying crime” and “inciting crime” because, in order to defend media pluralism, each of them symbolically took turns at being the Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem’s “editor for a day” in mid-2016. The victim of judicial persecution, this newspaper ended up being forcibly closed in August 2016.

In the second trial due to start on 7 November, Önderoğlu is again accused of “terrorist propaganda” along with 16 other activists for expressing with their solidarity with hundreds of university academics prosecuted in connection with 
a peaceful petition.

“Erol Onderoglu’s acquittal is an exceptional victory for justice and press freedom in a country where both are being trampled on every day,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. 

“Our deep relief is tinged with bitterness because our correspondent will be on trial again in four months’ time. The way this historic press freedom defender is being harassed is a deep injustice. We therefore urge the Turkish judicial system to demonstrate the same good sense that it showed today and to quickly abandon this new prosecution.”

Önderoğlu added: “I would like to express my deep gratitude to all those who supported us during this trial. This fight for all of our unjustly prosecuted or imprisoned colleagues continues.”

The already worrying situation of Turkey’s media has become critical since an abortive coup in July 2016. Many media outlets have been closed summarily, without any effective form of recourse, mass trials are being held and Turkey holds the world record for the number of professional journalists in prison. It is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)
Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director
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Reporters Without Borders
RSF Index 2019: UK rises in ranking, but press freedom climate remains worrying

 Published 18th April 2019 | Read Online
 
   

 
The UK has risen seven places in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2019 World Press Freedom Index, published today. Now ranked 33rd out of 180 countries, the UK has improved from its 2018 ranking of 40th, placing it between France and Slovenia in the 2019 Index. However, the UK remained one of the worst-performing countries in Western Europe, and a number of worrying trends continued, particularly in relation to national security, surveillance, and data protection.
 
Nearly three weeks after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar, journalists at Al Jazeera were stunned to learn from a news agency dispatch and tweets on 23 June that the 13 demands for ending this unprecedented regional crisis included the closure of Al Jazeera and other outlets directly or indirectly supported by Qatar, such as Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

RSF welcomed some positive steps in the UK in 2018, including the statement in March by then-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 - which contains a threatening cost-shifting provision - would not be implemented. The Magnitsky amendment adopted in May as part of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act could also serve as a powerful tool in holding press freedom predators to account.

“Although there have been improvements in some areas, unfortunately part of the reason for the rise in the UK’s ranking is that the press freedom climate deteriorated so sharply in other countries. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard, and seek to be one of the best, not worst-performing countries in Western Europe. Too often steps taken in the name of national security trample press freedom, and too often legislation is adopted without adequate protection for journalists. Press freedom must be respected at the very core of domestic law, policies and practices, in line with the UK’s international human rights obligations”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.

RSF has called for a number of specific measures to improve the UK’s press freedom ranking, including formally repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, ceasing efforts to force a backdoor into encryption tools, implementing the Magnitsky Amendment without further delay, and lifting the ongoing threat of legal action against journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in Northern Ireland, who remain under police bail. RSF also calls for a more consistent approach to press freedom across all governmental bodies, including the Home Office, and for parliament to take a more proactive approach in ensuring that new draft legislation does not further erode press freedom.

“We are encouraged by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s new media freedom campaign, as the UK plays an important standard-setting role internationally. We hope this commitment to championing these important issues abroad will in turn result in greater vigilance to our own press freedom climate, and lead to improvements in our areas of shortcoming here in the UK”, said Vincent.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)
Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director

2019 World Press Freedom Index – A cycle of fear

Published 18th April 2019 | Read Online
   

 

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows how hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.

The RSF Index, which evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories every year, shows that an intense climate of fear has been triggered — one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment. The hostility towards journalists expressed by political leaders in many countries has incited increasingly serious and frequent acts of violence that have fuelled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists.


If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.


Norway is ranked first in the 2019 Index for the third year running while Finland (up two places) has taken second place from the Netherlands (down one at 4th), where two reporters who cover organized crime have had to live under permanent police protection. An increase in cyber-harassment caused Sweden (third) to lose one place. In Africa, the rankings of Ethiopia (up 40 at 110th) and Gambia (up 30 at 92nd) have significantly improved from last year’s Index.


Many authoritarian regimes have fallen in the Index. They include Venezuela (down five at 148th), where journalists have been the victims of arrests and violence by security forces, and Russia (down one at 149th), where the Kremlin has used arrests, arbitrary searches and draconian laws to step up the pressure on independent media and the Internet. At the bottom of the Index, both Vietnam (176th) and China (177th) have fallen one place, Eritrea (up 1 at 178th) is third from last, despite making peace with its neighbour Ethiopia, and Turkmenistan (down two at 180th) is now last, replacing North Korea (up one at 179th).

 

 

 

Only 24 percent of the 180 countries and territories are classified as “good” (coloured white on the Press Freedom Map) or “fairly good” (yellow), as opposed to 26 percent last year. As a result of an increasingly hostile climate that goes beyond Donald Trump’s comments, the United States (48th) has fallen three places in this year’s Index and the media climate is now classified as “problematic” (orange). Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection. Hatred of the media is now such that a man walked into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, in June 2018 and opened fire, killing four journalists and one other member of the newspaper’s staff. The gunman had repeatedly expressed his hatred for the paper on social networks before ultimately acting on his words.


Threats, insults and attacks are now part of the “occupational hazards” for journalists in many countries. In India (down two at 140th), where critics of Hindu nationalism are branded as “anti-Indian” in online harassment campaigns, six journalists were murdered in 2018. Since the election campaign in Brazil (down three at 105th), the media have been targeted by Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters on both physically and online.

Courageous investigative reporters

In this climate of widespread hostility, courage is needed to continue investigating corruption, tax evasion or organized crime. In Italy (up 3 at 43rd), interior minister and League party leader Matteo Salvini suggested that journalist Roberto Saviano’s police protection could be withdrawn after he criticized Salvini, while journalists and media are subjected to growing judicial harassment almost everywhere in the world, including Algeria (down 5 at 141st) and Croatia (up 5 at 64th).


Abusive judicial proceedings may be designed to gag investigative reporters by draining their financial resources, as in France or in Malta (down 12 at 77th). They could also result in imprisonment, as in Poland (down 1 at 59th), where Gazeta Wyborcza’s journalists are facing possible jail terms for linking the head of the ruling party to a questionable construction project, and in Bulgaria (11th), where two journalists were arrested after spending several months investigating the misuse of EU funds. In addition to lawsuits and prosecutions, investigative reporters are liable to be the targets of every other kind of harassment whenever they lift the veil on corrupt practices. A reporter’s house was set on fire in Serbia (down 14 at 90th), while journalists were murdered in Malta, Slovakia (down 8 at 35th), Mexico (down 3 at 144th) and Ghana (down 4 at 27th).


The level of violence used to persecute journalists who aggravate authorities no longer seems to know any limits. Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October sent a chilling message to journalists well beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia (down 3 at 172nd). Out of fear for their survival, many of the region’s journalists censor themselves or have stopped writing altogether.
 


Biggest deterioration in supposedly better regions

Of all the world’s regions, it is the Americas (North and South) that has suffered the greatest deterioration (3.6 percent) in its regional score measuring the level of press freedom constraints and violations. This was not just due to the poor performance of the United States, Brazil and Venezuela. Nicaragua (114th) fell 24 places, one of the biggest in 2019. Nicaraguan journalists covering protests against President Ortega’s government are treated as protesters and are often physically attacked. Many had to flee abroad to avoid being jailed on terrorism charges. The Western Hemisphere also has one of the world’s deadliest countries for the media: Mexico, where at least ten journalists were murdered in 2018. Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s installation as president has reduced some of the tension between the authorities and media, but the continuing violence and impunity for murders of journalists led RSF to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in March.

 

The European Union and Balkans registered the second biggest deterioration (1.7 percent) in its regional score measuring the level of constraints and violations. It is still the region where press freedom is respected most and which is, in principle, the safest, but journalists are nonetheless exposed to serious threats: to murder in Malta, Slovakia and Bulgaria (111th); to verbal and physical attacks in Serbia and Montenegro (down 1 at 104th); and to an unprecedented level of violence during the Yellow Vest protests in France (down 1 at 32nd). Many TV crews did not dare cover the Yellow Vest protests without being accompanied by bodyguards, and others concealed their channel’s logo. Journalists are also being openly stigmatized. In Hungary (down 14 at 87th), officials in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s party Fidesz continue to refuse to speak to journalists who are not from media that are friendly to Fidesz. In Poland, the state-owned media have been turned into propaganda tools and are increasingly used to harass journalists.

 

Although the deterioration in its regional score was smaller, the Middle East and North Africa region continues to be the most difficult and dangerous for journalists. Despite a slight fall in the number of journalists killed in 2018, Syria (174th) continues to be extremely dangerous for media personnel, as does Yemen (down 1 at 168th). Aside from wars and major crises, as in Libya (162nd), another major threat hangs over the region’s journalists – that of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Iran (down 6 at 170th) is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. Dozens of journalists are also detained in Saudi Arabia, Egypt (down 2 at 163rd) and Bahrain (down 1 at 167th), many of them without trial. And when they are tried, the proceedings drag on interminably, as in Morocco (135th). The one exception to this gloomy picture is Tunisia (up 15 at 97th), which has seen a big fall in the number of violations.

 

Africa registered the smallest deterioration in its regional score in the 2019 Index, but also some of the biggest changes in individual country rankings. After a change of government, Ethiopia (110th) freed all of its detained journalists and secured a spectacular 40-place jump in the Index. And it was thanks to a change of government that Gambia (up 30 at 92nd) also achieved one of the biggest rises in this year’s Index. But new governments have not always been good for journalists. Tanzania (down 25 at 118th) has seen unprecedented attacks on the media since John “Bulldozer” Magufuli’s installation as president in 2015. Mauritania (down 22 at 94th) also fell sharply, in large part because the blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Mkhaitir is being held incommunicado though he should have been freed more than a year and a half ago, when his death sentence for apostasy was commuted to a jail term. In this continent of contrasts, bad situations have continued unchanged in some countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo (154th) was again the country where RSF registered the most violations in 2018, while Somalia (164th) continued to be Africa’s deadliest country for journalists.

 

The Eastern Europe and Central Asia region continues to rank second from last in the Index, the position it has held for years, despite an unusual variety of changes at the national level and a slight improvement in its regional score. Some of the indicators used to calculate the score improved, while others deteriorated. Of the latter, it was the legal framework indicator that worsened most. More than half of the region’s countries are still ranked near or below 150th in the Index. The regional heavyweights, Russia and Turkey, continue to persecute independent media outlets. The world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists, Turkey, is also the world’s only country where a journalist has been prosecuted for their Paradise Papers reporting. In this largely ossified region, rises are rare and deserve mention. Uzbekistan (up 5 at 160th) has ceased to be coloured black (the mark of a “very bad” situation) after freeing all the journalists who were jailed under the late dictator, Islam Karimov. In Armenia (up 19 at 61st), the “velvet revolution” has loosened the government’s grip on state-owned broadcasting. The size of its rise was facilitated by the fact that this is a very volatile part of the Index.

 

With totalitarian propaganda, censorship, intimidation, physical violence and cyber-harassment, the Asia-Pacific region continues to exhibit all of the problems that can beset journalism and, with a virtually unchanged regional score, continues to rank third from last. The number of murdered journalists was extremely high in Afghanistan (121st), India and Pakistan (down 3 at 142nd). Disinformation is also becoming a big problem in the region. As a result of the manipulation of social networks in Myanmar, anti-Rohingya hate messages have become commonplace and the seven-year jail sentences imposed on two Reuters journalists for trying to investigate the Rohingya genocide was seen as nothing out of the ordinary. Under China’s growing influence, censorship is spreading to Singapore (151st) and Cambodia (down 1 at 143rd). In this difficult environment, the 22-place rises registered by both Malaysia (123rd) and Maldives (98th) highlight the degree to which political change can radically transform the climate for journalists, and how a country’s political ecosystem can directly affect press freedom.

 

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Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries. It assesses the level of pluralism, media independence, the environment for the media and self-censorship, the legal framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. It does not evaluate government policy. 
 
The global indicator and the regional indicators are calculated on the basis of the scores registered for each country. These country scores are calculated from the answers to a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts throughout the world, supported by a qualitative analysis. The scores measure constraints and violations, so the higher the score, the worse the situation. Because of growing awareness of the Index, it is an extremely useful advocacy tool.
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Download the regional analyses:
North America
South America
European Union and Balkans
Middle East and North Africa
Africa

Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Asia-Pacific


Download the Index map 2019
Download the Index file 2019

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)
Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director

Press release
18.4.19
   
2019 RSF Index: Has a dam burst in Europe?
 The decline in press freedom in Europe, as seen in RSF’s Press Freedom Index over the past few years, has gone hand in hand with an erosion of the region’s institutions by increasingly authoritarian governments. What with murders, attempted murders, and physical and verbal attacks, Europe’s journalists are subjected to many forms of pressure and intimidation and increasingly to judicial harassment as well. Europe continues to be the continent that best guarantees press freedom, but the work of its investigative reporters is being obstructed more and more. 

The murders of three journalists in MaltaSlovakia and Bulgaria in the space of a few months has made the world realise that Europe is no longer a sanctuary for journalists. This is especially true for those who take an interest in corruption, tax evasion and misuse of European Union funds, often involving the mafia, who are among investigative journalists’ most dangerous predators.

Paolo Borrometi, a Sicilian journalist who has specialised in covering organised crime, owes his survival to protection from the Italian police, who thwarted a mafia attempt on his life in May 2018. Asked why they had tried to kill him, a detained mafioso replied: “One small death serves as a good lesson to all the others.” In Italy (up 3 to 43rd place), around 20 journalists, including Borrometi and Roberto Saviano, are currently protected by police bodyguards day and night. It is therefore all the more disturbing that interior minister, Matteo Salvini suggested that Saviano’s protection could be withdrawn after he dared to criticise the League party leader.

In a steadily worsening security climate, the need for police protection for journalists is even felt in the countries at the top of the Index. In the Netherlands (down 1 to 4th place), two journalists who have specialised in covering criminal gangs are getting full-time police protection, while Sweden (down 1 at 3rd place) has seen a surge in cyber-harassment of journalists who cover organised crime or religious issues.

Threatened by both organised crime and venal officials

Montenegro (down 1 to 104th place), a candidate for admission to the European Union, has seen a surge in serious attacks on journalists, but protecting them does not seem to be a priority. It took several months for the authorities to arrest the first suspects for injuring Olivera Lakic, a journalist who investigates crime and corruption, in a shooting attack outside her home in May. Jovo Martinovic, a reporter who specialises in Balkan organised crime, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in January 2019 despite overwhelming evidence that his contact with criminals was due solely to his research into arms trafficking in the region.

These journalists are targeted because they investigate corruption and trafficking at the international level, between politicians and organised crime, or the misuse of EU funding, as in Bulgaria (ranked 111th, still the lowest in the EU and the whole region). Bulgaria is constantly criticised for its endemic corruption and the ineffectiveness of its judicial system. Its journalists are targeted by both organised crime and the authorities, who heap abuse on them instead of defending them. In September 2018, the police arrested two journalists from independent media outlets who were investigating the misuse of EU funds.

Corruption-linked harassment

From one end of Europe to the other, journalists are harassed as soon as they shed light on sensitive subjects. In Romania (down 3 to 47th place), the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, journalists with the RISE Project investigative website had been looking into the misuse of EU development funding for the past several months. They were harassed by the authorities, who invoked the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as grounds for making them reveal their sources.

Physical violence is sometimes used to deter investigative reporting. In 2018, RSF repeatedly denounced a surge in violent attacks against journalists investigating corruption in Serbia (down 14 to 90th place). One of them, Milan Jovanovic, had to flee his home when it was set ablaze in December. The instigator of the arson attack, a mayor who is a member of President Aleksandar Vucic’s party, was briefly arrested and Jovanovic was placed under full-time police protection.

In Malta, which has continued to fall in the Index (down 12 to 77th place), a handful of journalists are trying to continue the work of anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia. They are shedding light on the island state’s rampant corruption and money-laundering, despite an oppressive and worrying climate still marked by Caruana Galizia’s murder in October 2017. As well as having to live in fear, they are subjected to intense judicial harassment.

Poland, which has fallen in the Index for the fourth year running (down 1 to 59th place), is no exception. After Tomasz Piatek’s prosecution before a military court for revealing the defence minister’s links with Russian organised crime, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza’s journalists are now threatened with the possibility of jail sentences for linking ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński with a questionable construction project.

Anti-media rhetoric

Another disturbing phenomenon took hold in Europe in 2018 – the adoption of an anti-media rhetoric in democracies. Journalists are being vilified, insulted and threatened by persons at the highest level of the political establishment. One of the countries where this trend is growing is France (down 1 to 32nd place), where Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), said it was “healthy and just” to hate journalists.

In Hungary (down 14 to 87th place), officials in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s party Fidesz continue to refuse to talk to journalists who are not from “friends of Fidesz” media. A few months ago, Orbán refused to answer questions from the critical TV news channel HírTV, dismissing it as nothing more than a source of “fake news.” Some journalists no longer even have the right to address members of the government or ask questions during press conferences.

Criticism of the media is becoming a political weapon that weakens journalism when systematic. To this end, political leaders have had no scruples about using state-owned media that have been turned into propaganda outlets or at least enlisted in their cause. Use of state-owned media to harass journalists is not new, but the practice has been stepped up. In Poland, where the conservative PiS government has turned the public broadcast media into its mouthpiece, questions are being raised about the state-owned TVP channel’s role in Gdansk mayor Pawel Adamowicz’s murder. TVP named him 1,800 times in the course of the year, always with the aim of denigrating him. The head of the channel has promised to sue all journalists who try to establish a link between these hate messages and Adamowicz’s murder.

From words to acts, a line is crossed

The verbal attacks and threats against media throughout Europe is encouraging acts of violence against reporters in the field. These verbal attacks constitute hatred of journalism and pluralism, and are form of anti-democratic blackmail. Hatred of the media, a leading characteristic of the angry “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vest) protests in France, is the most worrying example and has resulted in unprecedented acts of violence and intimidation. A female reporter for La Dépêche du Midi was insulted and threatened with rape by a pack of angry protesters in Toulouse in January 2019. In all, several dozen serious incidents have been reported since the start of the protests. There have also been dozens of cases of police violenceand excessive firing of flash-ball rounds, usually against photojournalists.

Aside from threats and intimidation of this kind, more and more journalists are being harassed and worn down financially. In an effective dissuasive tool whose use is growing throughout Europe, journalists are being subjected to SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), in which the aim is to use the threat of sizeable legal defence costs to silence the targets, rather than obtain actual damages. In France, many journalists have been sued by big corporations such as Bolloré and Vinci. In response to print and broadcast media reports, Bolloré has brought many defamation suits in France and abroad that circumvent France’s 1881 press freedom law.

The technique of threatening to exhaust journalists’ financial resources is also widely used in Malta. Caruana Galizia was subjected to all-out judicial harassment until her murder and now the rich and powerful have turned their sights on The Shift News, an investigative website. Despite rising in the Index, Croatia (up 5 to 64th place) is beating all records in this regard. The Association of Croatian Journalists (HND) has registered more than 1,000 lawsuits against journalists and media outlets, most of them by politicians and public figures. Ironically, at least 30 of them were brought by the state-owned TV broadcaster HRT.


REPORTERS SANS FRONTIÈRES/ REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS
Pauline ADES-MEVEL
Responsable du bureau UE/Balkans 
Head of EU-Balkans desk

Published 16th April 2019 | Read Online

As an international delegation from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) looked on, RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu spoke in his own defence before a crowded court in Istanbul yesterday, explaining his fight for press freedom and demanding his acquittal in a trial that has dragged on for more than two and a half years.
Önderoğlu and his two fellow defendants – Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a human rights defender, and Ahmet Nesin, a writer who has fled the country – are facing possible jail sentences when the court finally renders its verdict, which could happen at the next hearing in mid-July.

Many observers, including RSF’s secretary-general and three other RSF representatives, packed the court for yesterday’s hearing in a show of support for the three press freedom defenders, who are accused of “terrorist propaganda,” “condoning crime” and “inciting crime” for participating in campaign of solidarity with a Kurdish newspaper that was being hounded by the authorities.

Responding to the summing-up delivered by the prosecution in February, Önderoğlu said the action for which he was being tried – symbolically serving as the newspaper’s editor for one day – was just one more expression of his decades-old commitment to press freedom.

RSF’s Turkey representative since 1996, Önderoğlu said the charges against him were completely baseless and were motivated by a desire to intimidate Turkish journalists and civil society.

“For the past 24 years, my work has consisted of supporting my fellow journalists – regardless of their political opinions or the opinions of their employers – whenever they are harassed as journalists,” he said. “I participated in this solidarity campaign because I believe a democratic society is impossible if the media cannot express themselves without censorship and persecution.”

“It is not these charges hanging over our heads like a permanent threat that worry us. It is the fate of our society in its entirety in the face of the erosion of the sense of justice that binds us together.”

Accusing the prosecution of failing to develop any case against him and his fellow defendants ever since their hasty indictment in June 2016, Önderoğlu concluded: “For the past two and a half years, we have been tried on the basis of an indictment that was prepared in a rush in a single day. I demand my acquittal and my right to continue my journalistic activities.”

As Fincancı’s lawyer was ill, Fincancı requested an adjournment so that she could present her defence arguments at another hearing. The court agreed, and scheduled a subsequent hearing – which Önderoğlu is not required to attend – for 17 July. The court’s verdict could nonetheless be issued at that hearing.

Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin were among the approximately 50 well-known figures who symbolically took turns at being Özgür Gündem’s “editor for a day” in mid-2016 because it had been the victim of judicial persecution. The newspaper ended up being forcibly closed in August 2016.

Önderoğlu and his two co-defendants were the only ones to be placed in pre-trial detention for their role in the campaign. That was in June 2016, when they were freed conditionally after being held for ten days.

The already worrying situation of Turkey’s media has become critical since an abortive coup in July 2016. Many media outlets have been closed summarily, without any effective form of recourse, mass trials are being held and Turkey now holds the world recordfor the number of professional journalists in prison. It is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Read Erol Önderoğlu's full defence statement

Sign the #SupportErol petition

   
Press release
03.25.19
RSF Report: "China's Pursuit of a New World Media Order"
 

In a report titled "China's Pursuit of a New World Media Order", Reporters Without Borders (RSF) investigates Beijing's strategy to control information beyond its borders, a project that poses a threat to press freedom throughout the world.
 
China, ranked 176 out of 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), is expanding its hold beyond its borders to impose its "ideologically correct" vocabulary, to deter any criticism of itself and to cover up the darker chapters in its history. Less well known than the Belt and Road Initiative, but just as ambitious, this project poses a threat to press freedom throughout the world. 
 
This is what RSF reveals in its investigative report entitled "China's Pursuit of a New World Media Order", available in French, English and Chinese versions on its website rsf.org. The NGO highlights the strategy deployed by the Chinese state to achieve its goals. These strategies include: modernizing its international TV broadcasting, buying extensive amounts of advertising in international media, infiltrating foreign media... but also employing blackmail, intimidation and harassment on a massive scale.
 
"In the spirit of the Beijing regime, journalists are not intended to be a counter-power but rather to serve the propaganda of states,” says Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of RSF. “If democracies do not resist, Pekin will impose his view  and his propaganda, which is a theart for journalism and democracy. "
 
Training “critical thinking” in Beijing
 
Over the past decade, China has invested massively in developing media capable of reaching an international public. And it has succeeded: state-owned CGTN broadcasts TV programmes in 140 countries and China Radio International broadcasts in 65 languages.
 
The regime has managed to convince tens of thousands of journalists in emerging countries to go on all-expense-paid trips to Beijing to "train their critical mind" in exchange for favorable press coverage. As for the Chinese diaspora media, many of which used to be critical of the regime, almost all have been bought out and disseminated into the propaganda apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
 
Beijing is also exporting its censorship and surveillance tools, including the Baidu search engine and WeChat instant messaging platform, and encouraging authoritarian states to copy its repressive regulations, a particularly effective strategy in Southeast Asia.
 
Violence and intimidation
 
Beijing is also exporting its censorship and surveillance tools, including the Baidu search engine and WeChat instant messaging platform, and encouraging authoritarian states to copy its repressive regulations, a particularly effective strategy in Southeast Asia.
 
Beijing calls for intimidation and violence to silence dissidents, even in democratic nations. From freelance reporters to major media outlets, from publishing houses to social media platforms, no link in the news production chain is immune to the "invisible hand" of Beijing. Even Chinese ambassadors no longer hesitate to openly denigrate press articles that question the official narrative of China, and often in rather undiplomatic ways. Democracies are struggling to react in the face of these threats.

 
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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)
Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director

   
Press release

7th February 2019
Fourty years of state lies: RSF unveils leaked Iranian justice file
 
No fewer than 860 journalists and citizen-journalists were prosecuted, arrested, imprisoned and in some cases executed in Iran between 1979 and 2009, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) revealed today on the basis of information in a leaked Iranian justice department digital file.

As the Islamic Republic of Iran was marking the 40th anniversary of its revolution, RSF held a news conference in Paris today to reveal the existence of this leaked file and to expose the scale of the lies that the regime has orchestrated about judicial persecution in Iran for decades.

Confidential until now, the file is a register of all the arrests, imprisonments and executions carried by the Iranian authorities in the Tehran area over three decades. It was leaked to RSF by whistleblowers who want public opinion and international institutions to be aware of the terrible abuses perpetrated by the judicial authorities in their country.
 
Those participating in today’s press conferences included Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, a member of a committee that has been created to oversee how the leaked data is used – the Committee for the Observation and Use of Iranian Justice Data*.
 
The “Iranian Justice Data” file contains approximately 1.7 million records of judicial procedures concerning people from all categories of Iranian society – men, women and minors, members of religious and ethnic minorities, persons accused of non-political crimes and prisoners of conscience, including regime opponents and journalists.
 
Examination of the file’s contents has yielded previously unavailable evidence of crimes that the Iranian justice system has always tried to conceal or disguise. It has also shed new light on the conditions in which some journalists were held and the charges brought against them.
 
860 journalists and citizen-journalists in the file
 
After months of detailed research work on the file’s entries, RSF is in a position to say that at least 860 journalists and citizen-journalists were, arrested, imprisoned and in some cases executed by the Iranian regime between 1979 and 2009, the period on which RSF focused its research.
 
For each person in the register, the file specifies the name, date and place of birth, sex, nationality, date of the entry in the register and, as appropriate, the date of arrest, the authorities responsible for the arrest, the charges, the court and prosecutor’s office involved, the date of the verdict and the sentence. 
 
The detainee’s professional status is never specified. So the word “journalist” never appears in the file, which makes it easier for the regime to claim that it is not holding any journalist or, more broadly, any prisoner of conscience. This state lie is deliberately orchestrated in order to rebut criticism and deceive international human rights bodies.
 
Journalists have been detained on such spurious charges as “enemy collaborating with a foreign state,” “activity against domestic security,” “anti-government propaganda” and “spying.” Charges of “insulting what is sacred and Islam” and “insulting the Supreme Leader” have also been used to jail journalists. At least 57 journalists are registered in this file under a charge of this kind.
 
Most of these journalists were denied their basis rights, placed in isolation, forbidden to appoint a lawyer or talk to one, and even forbidden to talk regularly with their family. They were also deprived of medical care and even subjected to mistreatment and torture.
 
The very existence of this file and its millions of entries show not only the scale of the Iranian regime’s mendacity for years when claiming that its jails were holding no political prisoners or journalists, but also the relentless machinations it used for 40 years to persecute men and women for their opinions or their reporting,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “RSF is referring these state lies to UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet so that Iran can be held to account.”
 
Those whose names appear in this file include such well-known journalists as Farj Sarkhohi, Reza Alijani, Taghi Rahmani, Akbar Ganji,  Jila Bani Yaghoob et son mari Bahaman Ahamadi Amoee, Said Matinpour, Mohammad Sedegh KabodvandHengameh Shahidi, Narges Mohammadi, Ahmad Zeydabadi.
 
Detentions that were never officially recognized
 
Iran does everything possible to prevent the world from seeing how it persecutes its critics. The example of Farj Sarkhohi [Register No. 694968] is emblematic. The editor of one of Iran’s leading political and cultural magazines, he was kidnapped by the intelligence ministry as he was about to board a flight to Germany (for family reasons) on 3 November 1996. As his visa had been stamped, the regime was able to claim that he had disappeared after departing for Germany. However, the file confirms that he was detained in Tehran. Many NGOs including RSF voiced concern at the time and accused the authorities of orchestrating his disappearance. Under international pressure, the regime staged a press conference at the airport at which it produced Sarkhohi and claimed that he had just returned from Turkmenistan . In reality, he had just spent two months in prison.
 
The Iranian judicial authorities have always denied killing Zahra Kazemi [No. 1802166], a journalist with Iranian and Canadian dual nationality, in Tehran’s Evin prison in 2003. Arrested while photographing the families of detainees outside Evin prison on 23 June 2003, she was badly beaten while held and died of her injuries on 10 July 2003. The official report on her death that was published a few days later did not specify the cause. The file confirms that the authorities did everything possible to cover up the real circumstances of her death, going so far as to change the date of her arrest to 1 July 2003. It is strange, to say the least, that her name reappears in the file under a different number (No. 1834895] six months after her murder, where she is accused of “action against national security.”
 
At least four professional journalists executed
 
At least four professional journalists – Ali Asgar Amirani [No. 588071], Said Soltanpour [No. 280838], Rahman Hatefi-Monfared [No. 569803] and Simon Farzami [No. 390641] – were executed by the regime during this period. The file confirms for the first time that Farzami was indeed arrested and what exactly he was charged with. A Swiss-Iranian of Jewish origin, Farzami was AFP’s Tehran bureau chief and editor of the Le Journal de Téhéran, a French-language newspaper. Arrested in May 1980 and charged with spying for the United States, he was executed six months later in Evin prison, aged 70. Dozens of other prisoners of conscience, including bloggers and political activists who produced press mouthpieces, were also executed by the regime.
 
218 women journalists in the file
 
Of the 61,924 women in this register, 218 are journalists. They include Jila Bani Yaghoob [No. 2225407], a leading women’s rights defender, reformist and editor of the Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Centre) website. She was arrested for the first time at a meeting organized for International Women’s Day in 2003 and spent a week blindfolded in Evin prison, an experience that she turned into a book published outside Iran. In 2010, a Tehran court sentenced her to a year in prison and a 30-year ban on working as journalist on charges of “anti-system propaganda” and “insulting the president.” She is registered several times in the file, highlighting the systematic nature of the judicial persecution to which she has been subjected. All of the repressive state agencies that had a hand in her various arrests on spurious grounds are mentioned in the file.
 
Tens of thousands of citizens arrested
 
The file also allows us to say for the first time that a total of 6,048 persons were arrested for participating in protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009. Until now it had been impossible to give a figure because the Islamic Republic has always denied arresting citizens just for demonstrating. During this period, more than 600 women and more than 5,400 men were accused of “action against national security,” a charge widely used to arrest and convict journalists and citizen-journalists who covered the protests.
 
The file provides information about the 61,940 political prisoners since the 1980s, of whom at least 520 of them were aged between 15 and 18 at the time of their arrest. And it sheds light on the 1988 massacre in which around 4,000 political prisoners, who had previously been given prison sentences, were executed on Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini’s orders from July to September of that year. Most of the victims were killed in prisons in the Tehran region and were buried in mass graves within Khavaran cemetery, on the south side of the city. The regime has always denied that these summary executions took place. On the basis of the file, it can also be affirmed for the first time that 5,760 members of the Baha’i religious minority were detained and in some cases executed for “membership of a sect” although the regime has always denied persecuting them for their beliefs.  
 
Many well-known Iranian figures appear in the register. They include Shirin Ebadi, the human rights lawyer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003; Nasirin Sotoudeh, who was awarded the Sakharov Prize in 2012; Abdolkarim Lahiji, a former president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); and women’s rights defender Mansoreh Shojai. Most were able to flee the country and were never arrested. The fact that they nonetheless appear in the file proves that the regime planned to prosecute them and that a warrant for their arrest had been issued.
 
APPENDIX
 
How the information in this file has been handled
As soon as RSF received the file, it began verifying its contents. It worked for months comparing the information in the register with its own lists and the lists that other national and international NGOs have compiled of journalists detained during these three decades, and with the information published by United Nations special investigations. Many experts and the members of the specially created Committee for the Observation and Use of Iranian Justice Data were asked to confirm information and the accuracy of data in the file, especially as regards prisoners who have been released and the survivors of the purges in the 1980s and 1990s.
 
Tehran’s notorious Evin prison 
Built by the last shah to jail and torture his political opponents, Evin prison grew steadily after the revolution and was able to hold around 15,000 detainees at one point. In theory, it is used for preventive detention but in practice detainees can spend several years there awaiting trial and many have also served their entire sentence in Evin. Executions have also been carried out there.
 
*Committee for the Observation and Use of Iranian Justice Data
Centred on Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, this ad hoc committee consists of persons who are well-known and respected for their knowledge of the human rights situation in Iran. The committee:
- observes and ensures that the use of the information in the leaked Iranian justice register complies with international human rights standards;
- observes and ensures that the use of the data helps to improve the human rights situation in Iran and, in particular, the right to truth and justice of the victims of human rights violations named in the file, and their families.
 
The Committee’s members:
Shirin Ebadi– human rights lawyer and Nobel peace laureate
Monireh Baradarn– human rights defender, author of several books on justice in Iran and a former political prisoner during the 1980s
Iraj Mesdaghi– human rights defender, academic, author of several books about executions of political prisoners in Iran, expert on the 1988 massacre, and a former political prisoner during the 1980s
Reza Moini– RSF representative
 
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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)
Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director
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