Slavko Ćuruvija. Photo by Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation / Predrag Mitić Library

Serbia: MFRR welcomes renewed convictions for murder of Slavko…

Serbia: MFRR welcomes renewed convictions for murder of Slavko Ćuruvija

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today welcome the confirmed guilty verdicts handed down to four former officials in the Serbian state security services for the murder in 1999 of leading journalist and editor-in-chief Slavko Ćuruvija.

The decision by the Higher Court in Belgrade to reaffirm the convictions in the retrial is an important victory for the family and all those involved in the long fight for justice for his assassination and represents another important milestone in the fight against engrained impunity for the killing of journalists in Serbia, where journalists continue to face multiple threats, attacks and pressure.

Ćuruvija, an investigative reporter, owner of the Dnevni Telegraf newspaper and Evropljanin magazine, and a vocal opponent of authoritarian president Slobodan Milošević, was shot 14 times with an automatic pistol outside his house in Belgrade in April 1999. He was considered an enemy of the state for advocating in his journalism for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War.

After a seven-year trial, four former spies working for the State Security Department were convicted for the killing and each sentenced to between 20 and 30 years in prison, in a landmark ruling in April 2019. In July last year, the Special Department for Organized Crime of the Court of Appeals overturned the first-instance verdict and ordered a retrial over the naming of an unidentified individual as the gunman, prolonging a 22-year fight for justice.

The retrial, which began in October 2020, suffered from multiple disruptions during the pandemic. However, the Trial Chamber of the Special Court finally reached its decision on 2 December 2021 and again sentenced those responsible to a total of 100 years behind bars. Former spy chiefs Radomir Marković and Milan Radonjić were sentenced to 30 years. Accomplice Ratko Romić was given 20 and Miroslav Kurak, who remains on the run, received 20 years. The verdict ruled that the Ćurvija was killed by an unidentified person.

While these renewed convictions are welcome, the fight for justice is not yet over. In the event of a further legal challenge, we hope the Court of Appeal will confirm final guilty verdicts for all four defendants. Full justice in this case will never be achieved, as the top state officials who may have ultimately ordered the killing are long gone. These renewed convictions nonetheless offer another damning indictment of the Milošević regime, which in its verdict the court found to have orchestrated the politically motivated killing through its security apparatus.

The fight against impunity for killings and attacks on journalists is an integral element of the efforts to improve media freedom in Serbia. As the MFRR stressed in our report following a recent mission to Serbia, impunity for the gravest crimes continues to cast a long shadow over the country’s climate for safety of the press. Serbia remains one of the most dangerous countries in Europe to be a journalist. In the last few weeks, our organisations have observed with concern several attacks and threats against journalists in Serbia, including a death threat against investigative outlet KRIK and the beating of photojournalist Andrija Vukelic by supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

This verdict in the case of Slavko Ćuruvija should therefore both act as a catalyst for authorities to redouble efforts to end impunity for the other unsolved killings of journalists since the break-up of former Yugoslavia – including Milan Pantić and Dada Vujasinovic – but also to work to establish an environment in which no other journalists face attacks because of their work.

Our organisations salute the work of the special prosecutor, the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists in Serbia and the Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation, who have fought for so long to achieve justice in this case. In the event of an appeal, representatives from our organisations will seek to travel to Serbia to observe the trial in person.

Signed by:

  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Ministry of Justice building in Belgrade, Serbia. February 18, 2021. Shuutertock/Ilapinto Library

Serbia: Penal Code amendments require open and comprehensive debate

Serbia: Penal Code amendments require open and comprehensive debate

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (YUCOM) express concern over the limited time and space available to openly debate various amendments of the Penal Code proposed by the Ministry of Justice of Serbia.

While well intentioned, the amendments are problematic from a freedom of expression perspective. Our civil society organisations call for a broader and open consultation that comprehensively integrates the implications of the amendments on the exercise of human rights in Serbia.

We recognise that journalists in Serbia face numerous threats to their physical safety and are often the target of harassment as a result of their work. Most of the latter take place online, especially on social media platforms, and are impacting on the activities of journalists and the independent media in Serbia.

While the lack of or an inconsistent approach to investigation of these forms of attacks should be addressed, the solutions proposed in the Penal Code amendments need further and open discussion aimed at preventing negative implications on the freedom of expression of journalists and other individuals participating in public debate in Serbia.

The proposed amendments are extremely broad, based on problematic concepts, including penalising expression of opinions and criminal sanctions for “insult” and similar concepts, which can ultimately lead to sanctions against journalists.

The MFRR supports the call of civil society in Serbia to the Ministry of Justice to further extend the public consultations and enable in depth discussion on the different measures and mechanisms that can effectively improve journalists’ safety while complying with international freedom of expression standards.

The Ministry of Justice opened a first 20 day consultation in October and extended a second period of consultations in November, which will close today, after the request of civil society. However, this timeframe and the apparent drive to expedite the consensus over the proposed amendments have impeded a comprehensive discussion of the underlying issues of both the safety of journalists and the changes in the Criminal Code.

The MFRR, IJAS and YUCOM urge the Ministry of Justice to take these concerns into consideration and enable more comprehensive and adequate consultations , ideally with a three month window, to enable wide discussion among all stakeholders. Finally, the signatories to this statement recommend that these amendments are examined and assessed as part of the regular process of the ongoing wider review of the Penal Code in Serbia.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Polityka journalist Ewa Siedlecka. Photo credit: Polityka Library

Poland: Journalist’s criminal defamation conviction may impair freedom of…

Poland: Journalist’s criminal defamation conviction may impair freedom of expression

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) express deep concern over the recent judgement in the case brought by two judges in Poland in their private capacity against Polityka journalist Ewa Siedlecka, who was convicted of criminal defamation.

Amid the ongoing erosion of media freedom in Poland, we believe that this verdict sets a dangerous precedent which may further facilitate the attempts to muzzle critical media coverage on public officials in the country. The MFRR reiterates that the state should guarantee an enabling working environment for journalists in Poland in which they are able to report on vital, even controversial issues and raise difficult questions without a fear of legal harassment.

On 24 November 2021, the District Court for Warsaw-Śródmieście, convicted Siedlecka, a journalist of Polityka, a weekly news magazine, of criminal defamation in the case brought by two judges, Konrad Wytrykowski and Maciej Nawacki, acting in their private capacity. The court ordered the journalist to pay 5600 zł which consists of a fine, a compensation for both plaintiffs, a payment to the National Treasury and the cost of the trial. As the ruling was delivered by a court of first instance, the journalist may appeal the guilty verdict.

Siedlecka is one of the journalists who tackled in their reporting the issue of a so-called “hate campaign affair” that broke out in Poland in 2019. At that time, a journalistic investigation led by a digital media outlet Onet.pl revealed that the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, including deputy justice minister Lukasz Piebiak, orchestrated and coordinated a hate campaign aimed at several selected judges who openly opposed the controversial judiciary “reforms” pushed through by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). The “reforms” – in particular, creation of the disciplinary chamber – form an essential part of plans to “overhaul the judiciary” and were found incompatible with EU law by the European Court of Justice. In response to the ruling, Poland indicated its intention to dismantle the disciplinary chamber in the foreseeable future.

Siedlecka referred to the details of the investigations carried out by journalists of Onet.pl in her Twitter and blog posts as well as in three articles published by Polityka. In one of the pieces, Ms. Siedlecka called Wytrykowski and Nawacki, two judges allegedly involved in the hate campaign – “haters”. As a result, Wyrzykowski, a member of the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court and Nawacki, of the National Council of the Judiciary, who were both promoted to their current positions due to personnel changes stemming from the controversial judiciary “reforms”, filed a defamation lawsuit against her with the initial demand for 20 thousand złoty compensation, 24 hours of community work, and imprisonment for four months. During the trial, the court dismissed the defence’s motions to find out whether the plaintiffs were members of the aforementioned “hate group” operating in the Ministry. The judge explained that “the trials under Art. 212 of the Penal Code regarding the journalists focus on assessing the credibility of a reporter, not investigating the truth”.

Siedlecka wasn’t present in the court while the judgement was delivered. She did, however, comment on the case and the decision online. “The verdict may be perceived as a restriction of freedom of speech”, she wrote in a short opinion piece published on her blog, noting that she “does not know the details of the justification” of the court’s decision. She calls herself “the first person convicted in the hate campaign affair”.

“I did not insult the plaintiffs, I did not mock them. I simply expressed my opinions. The plaintiffs are high officials, they must thus be prepared – which was repeatedly stated by, inter aliaThe Court of Human Rights – to be a subject of criticism”, Ms. Siedlecka stressed in the comment.

The MFRR remains highly alarmed by the continuing deterioration of media freedom in Poland and multi-pronged attacks backed by the authorities aimed at stamping out critical voices. There is a justified fear that this verdict against Ewa Siedlecka might pave the way for a wider criminalisation of expressing an opinion based on information present in the public space. In addition, legal proceedings against a particular journalist may exert a major chilling effect on the journalistic community as a whole.

We have been observing the increasing use of defamation lawsuits targeting journalists that aim to dissuade them from reporting on a controversial story and drain them both psychologically and financially. We find the recent defamation conviction of Ewa Siedlecka deeply distressing, in particular given the fact that she mostly quoted the existing reporting and not formed accusations on her own. The MFRR stands in solidarity with the journalist and her inalienable right to express opinions, especially in regard to the activity of public officials.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Greece Flag Library

MFRR to hold press freedom mission to Greece

MFRR to hold press freedom mission to Greece

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will hold an online fact-finding mission to Greece in the first half of December to assess increasing concerns about media freedom and the safety of journalists in the country.

The online mission will be led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and implemented together with its partners in the MFRR and representatives from other international press freedom groups. The delegation will meet with a range of domestic stakeholders, including journalists and editors, journalists’ unions and associations, civil society and academics, and representatives of government and state institutions.

The aim of the mission is to better understand key developments and help develop solutions to the challenges media actors face. It will follow up on a host of recent concerns. These include primarily: the murder of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz and the limited progress of the investigation into the crime; numerous attacks on journalists; interferences faced by reporters specialising in migration, including surveillance by state authorities; the impact of the recent changes to the criminal code regarding so-called “fake news”; and, problems with weak media pluralism.

A mission report with findings and recommendations will be published following the online fact-finding mission. Depending on travel restrictions and sanitary measures, an in-person advocacy mission is expected to follow in the first quarter of 2022.

The MFRR monitors violations of press and media freedom in the EU Member States and Candidate Countries and responds with practical and legal support and advocacy. Since the project’s start in March 2020, a number of similar missions have been organised to Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Slovenia.

Polish journalist Katarzyna Włodkowska. Photo credit: Michał Ryniak. Via Gazeta Wyborcza Library

Poland: Journalist must not be jailed for refusing to…

Poland: Journalist must not be jailed for refusing to disclose source

MFRR urges district prosecutor to drop legal case. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today call on the District Prosecutor’s Office in the Polish city of Gdansk to drop its legal case against Gazeta Wyborcza reporter Katarzyna Włodkowska and to respect the journalist’s right of source confidentiality protected under the European Convention of Human Rights.

If the prosecutor issues a second demand for Włodkowska to reveal the identity of her source for a report on the investigation into the assassination of the city’s mayor, and she refuses to comply, she could face a prison sentence of up to 30 days. The threat of imprisonment puts undue pressure on Wlodkowska and, beyond her, has a chilling effect on the journalistic community in Poland.

The unjustified demand for the disclosure of Włodkowska’s source stems from an article she published in Gazeta Wyborcza and its supplement Duży Format in January 2020, entitled “Killer of Paweł Adamowicz: I will sit for two years and leave“. The report, published on the first anniversary of the murder of the mayor, published a fragment of a letter written by the alleged killer while in detention in which he said he would face a milder sentencing because he had been assessed as criminally insane.

At the time, the initial investigation by a group of expert psychiatrists had concluded that the man, who is accused of fatally stabbing Adamowicz on stage at a Christmas charity event in December 2019, was mentally ill at the time, meaning he could not face criminal liability. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has claimed the liberal mayor’s killing was not premeditated and that the murder was instead the act of a mentally deranged individual.

Włodkowska’s reporting, and the information provided by an anonymous source with knowledge of the psychiatric assessment, presented a different version of events: that the assailant was fully conscious of his actions and had been planning the murder since December 2018. The report caused a scandal in Poland and led to significant media attention and criticism of the government. Since then, additional assessments have deemed the defendant mentally fit enough to stand trial and have suggested that his drive to murder Adamowicz may have been fuelled by reporting by the government-controlled state broadcaster, Telewizja Polska.

Following publication of the article, the Gdańsk prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation and Włodkowska was questioned. She declined to disclose her source, who believes their safety would be jeopardised if they were identified. After multiple failed attempts to pressure the journalist into revealing her contact, the prosecutor appealed to a court to try and force the disclosure. In January 2021, the Gdańsk district court sided with the prosecutor and ordered her to reveal the source. After multiple appeals, the verdict was upheld by the Court of Appeal in Gdańsk on 15 October.

Two weeks later, the District Prosecutor’s Office again interrogated Włodkowska about the source. With the backing of her newspaper, she again refused to reveal the source’s identity, citing journalistic confidentiality. On 5 November, she was ordered to pay a fine of PLN 500 (€108), which she rejected. An appeal is currently underway. If the prosecutor again orders her to reveal the source, and she refuses for a second time, under the Polish criminal code she could be fined again and/or jailed for up to 30 days.

If this happens, Poland could become the only EU member state to have a journalist in prison for doing their job. The protection and confidentiality of journalists‘ sources is a fundamental element of press freedom. It allows the media to report on matters of public interest without fearing that confidential sources or whistleblowers will face retaliation, and helps ensure that people with information feel comfortable approaching reporters. It is also a right protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and repeatedly recognised by the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Exceptions to this rule are extremely rare and European jurisprudence is clear: such disclosure can only be justified if there is an overriding public interest for the source’s identity to be revealed.

Our firm assessment is that this case comes nowhere near the threshold required to force the disclosure of a journalistic source. Rather, this prosecution appears aimed at punishing a journalist working for the country’s biggest critical newspaper over a story which undermined the prosecutor’s office and damaged the credibility of the state’s probe into Paweł Adamowicz’s murder. If Włodkowska is jailed, it would have a chilling effect on the country’s entire journalistic community and lead to a further deterioration in Poland’s standing on the freedom of the media. We urge the district prosecutor to drop the legal case immediately.

Our organisations stand in solidarity with Katarzyna Włodkowska. If she is arrested for upholding basic journalistic ethics and refuses to disclose her source, we stand ready to support Gazeta Wyborcza with further legal appeals, including taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, we urge international human rights bodies and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene immediately to ensure Włodkowska is not jailed for doing her job.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Credit: LOIC VENANCE / AFP Library

France: EFJ statement on four journalists who were shot…

France: EFJ statement on four journalists who were shot at in Martinique

Four French journalists covering the protests against the Covid-19 rules and civil unrest in Martinique have been fired upon three times. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates in France (SNJ, SNJ-CGT, CFDT-Journalistes) in expressing full support to the targeted journalists and strongly condemning a new attack on press freedom, which must be promptly investigated by the French authorities.

On the night of the 25 and 26 November 2021, photographer Loïc Venance from Agence France-Presse (AFP), journalists Maureen Lehoux and cameraman Julien Taureau from BFMTV/RMC Sport and journalist Raphaël Lafargue from Abaca Press were filming and taking pictures of a burning roadblock from a quiet street near the Levassor canal in Fort-de-France. The street was at the time deserted when two men on motorbikes drove by and started firing at them. No bullets hit them and they managed to flee the scene quickly, going for cover in their vehicle parked nearby and drove away.

Authorities on the Caribbean island of Martinique ordered a curfew yesterday after protesters looted stores and burned barricades amid strong protests over Covid-19 measures in the French overseas territories. A general strike started five days ago, notably against the compulsory vaccination of health workers. It is reported that seven policemen have been injured last night in Fort-de-France.

EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez said: “The civil unrest in Martinique reflects a complex situation that is exacerbated by the virus and all that it entails, so it is crucial that journalists be able to do their work freely and safely in order to best inform the public and the rest of the world about what is happening there. We give them all our support. We have taken the matter to the Platform for the protection of journalists of the Council of Europe.”

The statue outside the headquarters of Slovenian public broadcaster Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV) in the capital Ljubljana Library

Slovenia: Concerns over controversial changes to RTV programming

Slovenia: Concerns over controversial changes to RTV programming

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express concern over proposed modifications to news programming at the Slovenian public television RTV, which would reduce the broadcaster’s ability to inform the public and scrutinise power. We therefore urge the broadcaster’s management to enter into dialogue with its editorial board to ensure adjustments are proportionate and in the best interest of public interest reporting.

Under the draft Program-Production Plan (PPN) for 2022, shows such as the flagship foreign policy programme, Globus, and many news talk shows would be cancelled. Daily news programs such as Dnevnik and Slovenska kronika would be shortened, while others would be shifted to the broadcaster’s second channel, which has far lower viewership. Election programming would likewise be transferred to the secondary channel, where it would be broadcast in the absence of major sporting events.

The proposed shakeup has already proven controversial. In October, the editor-in-chief of the TV Slovenia news program, Manica Janežič Ambrožič, stepped down in protest. She was followed by three other TV Slovenia editors: Dejan Ladika, Meta Dragolič and Mitja Prek. A letter criticising the scale of the changes was recently signed by more than 90 percent of employees, who argued it would limit their ability to produce quality public service reporting.

Since the letter was sent to the management, headed by new RTVSLO director Andrej Grah Whatmough, only minor amendments have been made to the draft changes. RTV management has said the alterations to programming are necessary due to the current financial situation, the departure of employees and low ratings of news shows. RTV’s program council is due to vote on the proposals during its next meeting on Monday, November 29.

The country’s biggest journalistic unions, the Slovene Association of Journalists (DNS) (DNS) and the Trade Union of Journalists of Slovenia, have spoken out against the changes, which they argue are unrealistic, unfeasible and will be detrimental to the quality of journalistic content and the future development of the broadcaster.

Our organisations are concerned that, in their current form, these changes will marginalise public interest reporting and undermine the broadcaster’s core mission: to provide the country’s citizens with professional and informative reporting on both domestic and foreign current affairs. We are also concerned that these changes have been developed without sufficient consultation. It is vital that such changes to programming must be proportionate and, crucially, have the support of the editorial board.

The quality and content of a country’s public broadcasting is a mirror to the overall strength of its media landscape. Despite its financial challenges, RTVSLO has historically ranked among the best and most independent public service broadcasters in the region. While all parties agree that reform to its funding model is urgently needed to improve its finances, it is crucial this is done without jeopardising its core journalistic mission.

We therefore call on the Radiotelevizija Slovenija program council to postpone its meeting until further dialogue is conducted by management with RTV employees. Separately, we also urge the National Assembly to ensure adequate and sustainable funding for RTVSLO that allows it to provide a high standard of news reporting, as well as uphold the commitment to public service news determined by the RTV Slovenija law.

Over the last year, journalists at RTV have faced increasing intimidation and threats both on social media and on the streets. Conspiracy theorist protesters recently stormed the headquarters and impeded broadcasting. Editors have endured relentless disparaging smears and attempts to discredit their work by elected politicians. Concerns have meanwhile been raised about politicised appointments to oversight bodies. We hope the proposed changes to RTV programming and production will not create additional pressures in the coming months.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Poland: Journalists must be allowed access to Belarus border

Poland: Journalists must be allowed access to Belarus border

Reporting crews facing increasing intimidation by border guards. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today call on the Polish government to respect and facilitate the free flow of information by allowing journalists access to the border with Belarus to report on the humanitarian situation. We also urge Polish police and military personnel to refrain from arbitrary detentions and intimidation of media workers working in the area around the restricted zone.

Since early September, journalists have been unable to report from inside a three-kilometre-wide stretch of land along the Belarusian border placed under a state of emergency. The measure limits the ability of journalists and aid workers to enter the restricted area and prohibits the taking of photographs or video footage that shows the border or its infrastructure. Those convicted of violating the state of emergency can face a prison sentence of up to 30 days or a fine of up to 5,000 Polish złoty.

Concerns about the lack of information and transparency about what is happening within the restricted areas escalated in November as thousands of migrants and asylum seekers attempted to enter Polish territory via Belarus, sparking a geopolitical dispute that Polish and EU leaders have accused authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating in retaliation for Western sanctions.

The disproportionate restrictions have severely limited the ability of journalists and media organisations from Poland and around the world to cover this dire human rights situation and ensure adequate protection is given to those stranded in inhumane conditions. The state of emergency is also resulting in the criminalisation of journalists trying to report on a matter of significant public interest. Such restrictions on media freedom within a member state of the European Union are unprecedented.

Earlier last week, two journalists from RT France were detained by police near the city of Usnarz Gorny for allegedly violating the state of emergency. A police spokesperson said that the two French nationals, reporter David Khalifa and cameraman Jordi Demory, were detained for working without a permit inside the restricted zone. They were interrogated at a police station and ordered to pay a fine.

In late September, three journalists from French-German broadcaster ARTE TV were arrested, held in a cell overnight and then taken to court the next day in handcuffs to face charges of violating the state of emergency. They were released without a fine. Earlier in September, Onet journalist Bartłomiej Bublewicz and his camera operator faced criminal charges from police for violating the same rules due to their reporting.

In the last week, even those reporting from outside the restricted zone have faced arbitrary detention and intimidation from police and military personnel. On 16 November, three photojournalists, Maciek Nabrdalik, Maciej Moskwa and Martin Divisekwere, had been taking photos at a temporary army base outside the zone when they were detained by soldiers in the Polish Army. They were aggressively pulled from the car and handcuffed for over an hour. The guards searched their car and memory cards on their cameras, violating journalistic privacy. The trio were later released without charge.

On 14 November, a reporting team from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) was pulled over outside the zone near a checkpoint in Czeremcha and briefly detained by police and border guards, who demanded the unique identifier of their mobile phones, which can be used to track the device. When reporter Claudia Ciobanu and photojournalist Jaap Arriens questioned the legal basis of the demand, the officers said they were suspected of stealing the phones. The guards also falsely claimed the emergency zone had been extended to where the journalists were at that time.

These acts of intimidation and restrictions mean journalists are facing major barriers in verifying information from the border. Allegations of rights abuses remain extremely difficult to either verify or debunk, including claims of illegal pushbacks by Polish border guards. With media barred, the only snippets of news and images from the barbed wire border come from Belarusian and Polish authorities’ social media posts. The result of this information blackout is that disinformation is thriving and facts are hard to come by, meaning a severe humanitarian crisis, likely involving serious human rights violations, is going unreported.

Despite protests by Polish media and rights groups, the state of emergency remains in place. We find it hard to avoid the conclusion that part of this decision by Polish authorities has been to intentionally keep the media from documenting the scale and nature of the crisis and shielding itself and border security services from scrutiny. The free and uninterrupted flow of information at the border is vital. We therefore join the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, in urging the Polish authorities to immediately allow journalists to re-enter the border zone.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Greece: Answers needed over alleged state surveillance of journalist

Greece: Answers needed over alleged state surveillance of journalist

Intelligence service leak reveals monitoring of investigative platform and journalist in Greece. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today urge the Greek government to immediately provide clarity over allegations that a state intelligence agency conducted surveillance on journalist Stavros Malichudis and the investigative media organisation Solomon, which focuses on refugees and migration in Greece.

The revelations published by Greek newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton (EFSYN), which indicated the government’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) had secretly been conducting monitoring of Malichudis, pose serious questions over journalistic source protection and the right to privacy in Greece, which is already facing growing questions over a decline in media freedom.

The November 14 report revealed that the EYP, which gathers intelligence on national security, had requested information on citizens, including a lawyer, a journalist, a worker for a United Nations agency focused on migration and protest organisers. The information was leaked to the newspaper by a whistle-blower. The newspaper redacted the names and private information of the journalist and others who were monitored. However, Malichudis recognised the description of events and identified himself as the journalist in the story.

The alleged surveillance relates to an article that Malichudis and the director of Solomon, Iliana Papangeli, had published in April 2021, seven months prior to the newspaper’s revelations. Their article had reported on a 12-year-old boy from Syria living in a refugee holding camp on the island of Kos, whose artwork was exhibited in a museum and then published on the website of the French newspaper Le Monde. In April, Malichudis, a freelance journalist who works for AFP, is a member of Solomon and collaborates with Investigate Europe and Reporters United, had tried to track down the boy to interview him about his artistic success and the experiences of his family reaching Europe. The journalists had not informed anyone outside Solomon of their plans.

A redacted file published by EFSYN showed that while Malichudis was researching the story, officials at EYP’s headquarters sent a request to colleagues based on Kos asking them to confirm whether the boy and his family were being held in the camp and to gather information. The request included Malichudis’s name and ID number and said the EYP had information “from a source of high reliability” that the journalist was planning to speak with the family. Solomon was also mentioned by name. It also requested information on an employee of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Greece, a source with whom Malichudis had spoken on the phone before the conversation switched to an encrypted messaging app.

The Greek authorities have yet to deny the alleged surveillance of the journalist. Given the seriousness of the allegations, and the paucity of information provided by authorities so far, our organisations urge the government to provide immediate answers to parliament as to why the National Intelligence Service had knowledge of Malichudis’s reporting before it was published. Information should also be made public about exactly how this information was gathered and the nature of the “reliable sources” the EYP had on his work. Details must also be provided about why a request was made to monitor the journalist’s confidential source, with whom he spoke only in a telephone call and an encrypted messaging app, and how the EYP had knowledge of these private communications.

The evidence provided so far indicates that Malichudis and possibly other members of the team at Solomon have had their communication illegally monitored without their knowledge and that this information was then shared with a state security agency tracking their work. In addition to raising serious privacy concerns, this surveillance would constitute a clear interference in the freedom of the press and a serious violation of the confidentiality of journalistic sources, which is protected under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. These rights are a fundamental element of media freedom, and confirmation of their violation would have a chilling effect on watchdog journalism and undermine transparency by discouraging whistle-blowers to come forward.

Given that the EYP’s mandate is to investigate threats to Greece’s national security, we also question why a journalist’s reporting on a refugee’s experience in a holding camp should even be justified as a legitimate target for intelligence gathering of any form. Immediate justification should be provided as to why this was the case. If such a human-interest story drew the attention of the EYP, it then begs the question to what extent the security services are monitoring the work of investigative journalists probing an issue such as illegal pushbacks. We hope this case is not the tip of the iceberg of wider surveillance of journalists by state authorities, which we have recently observed in other EU member states. The longer the Greek government remains silent or dodges questions, the longer it will invite scrutiny. The Special Standing Committee on Institutions and Transparency should examine this case as a matter of priority.

Our organisations stand in solidarity with Stavros Malichudis and the journalistic team at Solomon, which is a current grantee of the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund led by the International Press Institute (IPI), and whose work documenting the stories of unaccompanied minors in Moria’s refugee camp was nominated for a major European journalism award. Moving forward, we will continue to monitor this case closely and will demand concrete answers from the government on this issue during an MFRR media freedom mission to Greece later this year. In the meantime, we also urge the European Commission and European Parliament to seek immediate responses from the Greek government about these extremely serious allegations.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Dutch journalist forced to leave Greece after threats and…

Dutch journalist forced to leave Greece after threats and intimidation

The IPI global network today expresses regret over the involuntary departure of Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel from Greece, after she faced physical and online threats following a heated exchange with the Greek prime minister over refugee pushbacks in the Aegean Sea. IPI stands in full support and solidarity with Beugel and calls on Greece to provide a safe working environment for all journalists.

On 17 November 2021, Beugel, a Dutch freelance correspondent, revealed she planned to leave the country over fears for her safety after she experienced an aggressive smear campaign online and in pro government media following her questioning of PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis on 9 November over allegations of his country’s illegal pushbacks.

During the joint press conference with the Dutch PM Mark Rutte, Beugel openly asked the Greek PM when he would “stop lying” about the pushbacks, to which Mitsotakis responded: “Look, you will not come into this building and insult me. Am I very clear on this?” The exchange was shared widely on social media, garnering both praise and criticism.

Beugel was then targeted with insults and accused of spreading Turkish propaganda. She was also the focus of attempts to discredit her by numerous media in Greece, including comments which accused her of spreading lies and being a “pro-Turkish” agent. Other reports delved into her personal life. Recently, she was hit by a stone thrown at her by a man in a dark street, who called her a “Turkish spy”.

“The threats and violence against Beugel, as well as her involuntary departure from Greece, are unacceptable”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Journalists fulfilling their watchdog role and asking uncomfortable questions – however pointedly – about a matter of clear public interest should never face such extreme intimidation. The shameful and coordinated attempt to discredit Beugel work and bully her out of the country raises yet more worrying questions about press freedom in Greece. IPI stands in full solidarity with the journalist and will offer practical assistance through the Media Freedom Rapid Response project.”

Since the press conference, the threats directed at her have become increasingly severe, Beugel told IPI. “I cannot return to the island of Hydra where I have a house, because people will throw stones and tomatoes at me, and I will be attacked. I cannot leave the house unaccompanied anymore. Some newspapers now write multiple negative stories about me each day. My life here has become very unsafe.”

Beugel, who is a permanent resident and has lived in Greece for 40 years, said that the online harassment and threats she was facing had made it impossible to remain in the country. “People write that my head should be shaved, that I should drown together with the refugees, that I deserve to be tarred and feathered. Many of the comments are very sexist. I cannot read it anymore.”

Beugel said the harassment was part of a wider campaign to silence critics of Greece’s migration policies. “They intimidate, demonize and criminalize aid workers and NGOs that help refugees, and all those who question the policies and the pushback of migrants”, she said. “Many journalists on the Aegean islands are arrested and interrogated, their material is taken from them and from TV crews. Many get slapped with court cases. I have two court cases against me. The only goal is to make people afraid and to have a chilling effect on others to speak out.”

Beugel made the decision to leave the country after security advice from the Dutch Foreign Ministry and the Dutch embassy in Greece, as well as the Dutch Journalists’ Association NVJ. “They all told me my safety is not guaranteed here”, she said. “Then the only right decision is to come home for a while at this point.” She said she would return home for an “indefinite period” and one day wished to return to Greece.

The journalist will file a complaint with the Greek police over some of the threats she received. When exactly she will return to the Netherlands has been kept a secret for her safety. She was previously arrested in June 2021 and is currently facing trial in Greece on charges of illegally hosting an Afghan refugee in her house, which carries a 12-month prison sentence and fine of €5,000.

Despite the threats, her questions at the press conference have also led to some positive development, she added: “After my remarks, a fierce debate has finally exploded in Greek society about the close government involvement in the media”, she said. People tell me that I have brought both matters – lies about pushbacks and the quality of journalism – on the political agenda with just one question.”

IPI is concerned about Greece’s deteriorating state of press freedom, after multiple violations against journalists occurred this year. On April 9, the Greek journalist George Karaivaz was brutally murdered by unknown individuals in a suburb of Athens. More recently, parliament voted to approve a vaguely-worded legal amendment to the criminal code which allows journalists to be prosecuted and jailed for publishing “false news” deemed capable of causing “concern or fear to the public or undermining public confidence in the national economy, the country’s defense capacity or public health”. On November 15, the Greek journalist Stavros Malichudis was reported to have been secretly surveilled and monitored by the National Intelligence Service over a report about a refugee child from Syria.

 

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.