Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic Library

Serbia: Fresh attacks and smears on media raise threat…

Serbia: Fresh attacks and smears on media raise threat level

Break in at broadcaster N1 and latest high-level political smears underscore deep concerns over journalists’ safety.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today renews their serious concerns about the safety of journalists in Serbia, where independent media houses and their reporters face an intensifying and toxic climate of smear campaigns and political pressure directed by the government and public officials.


On 30 May, the private premises of the broadcaster N1 in the capital Belgrade was breached by around 30 protesters, who obstructed its work and demanded its editorial staff leave the building to face the “wrath of the people”. N1 and its journalists were accused of manipulating coverage of recent anti-government protests and the pandemic, and of working on behalf of foreign intelligence services.


While police were called and plainclothes officers were sent to take up positions outside the N1 building, they were not given orders to react and failed to remove the trespassers from the broadcaster’s private property. None of the protesters had their identification checked, according to media reports, and no arrests were made.

IPI and our global network are shocked by the lack of an adequate response by the police to this incident. While peaceful protest must be respected, trespassing of the premises of a media house clearly warranted appropriate action from law enforcement authorities. This raises serious questions about the ability of the police to protect journalists and must be immediately addressed by the Standing Working Group on the Safety of Journalists.

The security incident came days after the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and Serbian Progressive Party MP Nebojša Bakarec spoke in the parliament and separately accused N1 and Nova S of spreading hatred and violence and creating a “sick atmosphere in society” which leads to the tragedies such as two recent mass shootings. The Prime Minister accused so-called “tycoon media” of poisoning the nation and “sowing hatred minute by minute, hour by hour.”


These comments were the latest in an escalating smear campaign against broadcasters and news outlets owned by United Media, a media house staunchly critical of the Serbian government and President Aleksandar Vučić. It is often viewed as the last major bastion of journalism operating independently from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its network of business allies.


In recent weeks, United Media titles including N1, Nova S and Danas have been accused by multiple public officials of acting against the interest of the state, spreading disinformation, organizing anti-government rallies and being “fascist media”. These verbal attacks have been amplified by tabloid media and broadcasters supportive of the government.


IPI is alarmed by the dangerous escalation in rhetoric against critical media and journalists, which poses real life threats to the safety of journalists. Moving forward, IPI urges all government and public officials in Serbia to refrain from using hostile rhetoric and to lead by example in reducing tensions.


IPI notes that this situation again underscores the findings of both a coalition of international press freedom groups and the European Parliament, that no tangible progress has been made by Serbian authorities as part of their EU accession obligations to improve the landscape for media freedom. Independent journalism in Serbia continues to face a moment of crisis.


IPI renews support for the work of all professional and independent media in Serbia and calls for increased international attention to the plight of media freedom and pluralism in the country.

This statement was coordinated by IPI as 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 State and candidate countries.

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Slovenia: Media freedom groups welcome court ruling on RTV…

Slovenia: Media freedom groups welcome court ruling on RTV SLO reform

The undersigned members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today welcome the decision of the Slovenian Constitutional Court to approve the passing of amendments to the law on Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV SLO) and give our support to current efforts to depoliticise the public broadcaster.

Our organisations believe this ruling offers the necessary conditions for RTV SLO to finally unwind the capture of the broadcaster under the previous government, rebuild its editorial independence and carry out its public service mission free from political interference and institutional destabilisation.


On 29 May 2023, the Constitutional Court lifted a temporary suspension which had blocked implementation of amendments to the Act on RTV Slovenia, which had previously been passed by the new coalition government in July 2022 and then approved via a referendum in November.


The reform restructures the management of RTV SLO from the two current governing councils into a single, 17-member decision-making body. Appointments to this new Council of RTV will now be made by representatives of civil society and RTV SLO employees, rather than the National Assembly. This body will then appoint a four-member board to run the broadcaster.


As our organisations outlined in November 2022, these changes represent a principled revision of outdated legislation, which if properly implemented should enable the depoliticisation of the broadcaster and limit the ability of any government to use its parliamentary majority to interfere in RTV SLO’s management.


Such institutional safeguards could not come soon enough. The broadcaster has been driven into a period of crisis and is now beset by a staffing crisis, serious financial challenges, internal divisions and plummeting public trust. Historical issues were exacerbated during the previous government, which sought to exert greater control over news programming and appointed political allies to management, with damaging consequences for media freedom.


While rebuilding the trust and viewership lost in recent years and increasing professionalism will be no easy tasks, the enforcement of the new law offers a turning point in the modern history of RTV SLO and creates the legal framework in which to do so. The new management, when appointed, will take on a heavy responsibility to oversee positive change and rebuild credibility.


Priority must be given to finding a sustainable financial model for funding the broadcaster’s work, rehiring the next generation of journalists, and establishing the smooth functioning of the editorial teams and newsrooms. The demands of those RTV SLO union staff who continue their strike demanding editorial autonomy and better working conditions must be settled.


A period of stability is required to allow such a transition and rebuilding program to take place. We urge the acting Director General to work in a constructive manner with the new council as it begins the process to appoint new management. We further urge all parties to respect the court’s decision and create an enabling political climate for the stabilisation of RTV SLO.


Following protests outside the broadcaster’s headquarters in Ljubljana earlier this week during which RTV SLO staff were verbally abused and obstructed, we also call on the current management to review security protocols to guarantee the safety of all journalists and media workers.


Our organisations renew our support for free, independent and professional public service broadcasting in Slovenia and stand beside all those who continue to work towards this democratic value.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • 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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Kosovo protests Library

Kosovo: Concern over attacks on journalists and media workers

Kosovo: Concern over attacks on journalists and media workers

The current political developments in Kosovo have once again stirred up an atmosphere that hinders the ability of journalists to carry out their responsibilities with credibility and without obstacles.

Together with our partners in the SafeJournalists Network, we express our deep concern over a series of attacks on journalists and media personnel in the northern municipalities of Kosovo from May 26th to May 31st, 2023.


During the period from May 26th to May 31st, 2023, Association of Journalists of Kosovo(AJK) AJK and SafeJournalists Network recorded a total of 20 incidents of assaults and attacks against journalists and media personnel in various municipalities of Kosovo. These incidents highlight the alarming rise in violence and intimidation targeting journalists, hindering their ability to carry out their vital work in a safe and unbiased manner. The list of all 20 recorded cases is available here.


Xhemajl Rexha, Chairperson of AJK, highlights the constant appeals to local and international security bodies, urging them to provide a secure perimeter where journalists can carry out their work without hindrance or fear of attack. Unfortunately, these appeals have not been heeded so far. 


The SafeJournalists Network and  Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR)  find  this situation extremely worrying, as journalists tend to be the primary targets during protests and riots in northern Kosovo. Testimonies from our colleagues, along with the documented attacks, provide further evidence of the dangerous working conditions in Zvecan, particularly the lack of adequate protective equipment.


The situation raises concerns and apprehension regarding the possibility of future, potentially more severe occurrences. The SafeJournalists Network, representing over 8,200 media professionals and the undersigned organisations, calls upon the international presence in Kosovo, responsible for ensuring stability, to prioritise the protection and welfare of journalists. We urge them to promote a secure environment that enables journalists to fulfil their professional duties without fear of violence or intimidation. Furthermore, we call upon all state and local officials to ensure equal treatment of all journalists in Kosovo.


The SafeJournalists Network will inform relevant national and international stakeholders about these cases of attacks on journalists from May 26th to May 31st, 2023. We emphasise that each attack on journalists is an attack on public interest, democracy, and the rights of all citizens.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Association of Journalists of Kosovo
  • Association of Journalists of Macedonia
  • BH Journalists Association
  • Croatian Journalists’ Association
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • Independent Journalists Association of Serbia
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Trade Union of Media of Montenegro

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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The team of journalists at KRIK. Credit: Oliver Bunic (NIN) Library

Serbia: Legal harassment of investigative media outlet KRIK must…

Serbia: Legal harassment of investigative media outlet KRIK must stop

The legal harassment against Serbian investigative media outlet KRIK continues as the portal was convicted for reporting on a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) case it was facing, at the same time as a new abusive lawsuit has been filed against it.

We, international press freedom and journalists’ organisations, stand in solidarity with KRIK’s newsroom, which is currently fighting 12 legal proceedings, and raise the alarm about the use of SLAPPs in Serbia, considered as a growing threat to independent journalism.


In recent months, KRIK has been facing multiple lawsuits as a result of public interest investigations exposing crime, corruption and other abuses of power committed by powerful people in Serbia, often affiliated with the ruling party.


The latest alarming development came from the Belgrade High Court on 3 May. In a first instance decision, the court condemned KRIK for naming in an article the individuals who sued them – police commander Goran Zivkovic and two of his colleagues from the Witness Protection Unit. In the article published in December 2021, the media outlet detailed the avalanche of lawsuits it is currently fighting: namely who brought the cases, on what grounds and their impact on the whole editorial team. As a result, KRIK must pay 374,200 dinars (almost 3,200 €) in compensation for “emotional pain” and for trial expenses. The court also ruled that part of KRIK’s web article must be deleted. KRIK has appealed.


In a reaction to the verdict, KRIK’s editor Stevan Dojčinović said SLAPPs are the outlet’s biggest challenge: “this latest ruling makes it clear that SLAPPs have become the regime’s main tool for shutting down the few remaining independent media outlets. Things have gone so far that we are no longer even allowed to complain in public about the fact that our newsroom is flooded with lawsuits – we are found guilty even for that.”


On 11 May 2023, KRIK reported that the media outlet is facing a new lawsuit in response to an article published on 11 April 2023. The lawsuit was filed by Nikola Petrović against KRIK’s editor and investigative reporters Bojana Jovanović and Dragana Pećo. He demanded the removal of the article and is seeking 200,000 dinars (1,700€) in compensation for “mental suffering”. Nikola Petrović has filed two other lawsuits against KRIK: one ended in favour of KRIK and the other is still pending.


This case is the last in a series of 12 lawsuits initiated in most cases by people from the government or businessmen close to them. The amount of damages claimed is completely disproportionate and exceeds by three times the organisation’s annual budget. While the financial burden is huge, the negative impact on the day-to-day operations is equally significant. The time spent on preparing the defence, presenting the evidence, analysing hundreds of pages of legal documents is effectively taking journalists away from their core work: investigating and informing citizens. 


SLAPPs threaten the future of independent journalism – aiming to intimidate, drain resources and isolate reporters so they abandon their hard-hitting investigations. We, the undersigned organisations, renew our support to the KRIK journalists and call on the Serbian judicial authorities to finally acknowledge SLAPPs as a means to silence voices and suppress information of public interest. Serbia continues to provide one of the most fertile grounds in Europe for suing journalists in retaliation for their work. By failing to recognise the threats posed by SLAPPs, the latest court decision sends a worrying signal to all Serbian journalists who investigate sensitive political and economic issues. We hope that the appeal process will consider the serious impact of SLAPPs against journalists, and will finally uphold the public interest and international standards on freedom of expression.

Signed by:

  • Blueprint for Free Speech
  • Civic Initiatives
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • Index on Censorship
  • Institute for Mass Media Cyprus
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Justice for Journalists Foundation
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
  • PEN International 
  • Reporters Sans Frontières / Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • SafeJournalists Network
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Solomon

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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Slovakia: Profound disappointment as suspected mastermind in Ján Kuciak…

Slovakia: Profound disappointment as suspected mastermind in Ján Kuciak murder acquitted again

Following today’s acquittal of the suspected mastermind in the killing of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, we, the undersigned international media freedom and journalist organisations, express our profound disappointment, renew our calls for justice and convey our steadfast solidarity with the families of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.

This acquittal of businessman Marian Kočner, which was announced earlier today following a retrial at the Specialized Criminal Court, represents another devastating blow to the fight for full justice for Ján and Martina’s killing. The judges voted 2:1 to find Kočner not guilty of ordering the 2018 assassination.

The judges did convict Alena Zsuzsová, a close associate of Kočner, of ordering the hit and sentenced her to 25 years in prison. She was also convicted of ordering the murder of two Slovak prosecutors. Both her and Kočner’s verdicts, which come after the Supreme Court revoked the initial acquittals in June 2021, can be appealed.

Kuciak and Kušnírová were shot dead in their home outside Bratislava on 21 February 2018. Judges again ruled that prosecutors had not presented the concrete evidence necessary to rule beyond reasonable doubt that Kočner – a businessman with links to Slovakia’s political, judicial and security elite – had ordered the journalist’s death. Both he and Zsuzsová are currently serving lengthy sentences for other crimes.

Our first thoughts go to Ján and Martina’s families, who have endured years of painful court hearings and who have yet again been denied full justice and accountability. We share their intense frustration regarding Kočner’s verdict and stand in full solidarity with the couple’s family, loved ones and colleagues at this difficult time.

This repeated failure to secure the conviction of the suspected mastermind is another damaging setback in the fight against impunity for the murder of journalists in Slovakia, and in Europe. This case follows an all-too-common pattern in which the hitmen and facilitators involved in such crimes are put behind bars while the suspected masterminds who ordered the murder evade justice.

Another acquittal for the most serious crime against journalism in Slovakia’s modern history also has worrying implications for the fragile media freedom progress made within the country in recent years. As we process this disappointing setback, we remain as committed as ever to securing full justice for Ján and Martina and will support the families during the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Those who order the killing of a journalist cannot be allowed to act with impunity. The fight for justice will continue.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19 Europe

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

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: TOK FM fine sparks renewed concerns about regulatory…

Poland: TOK FM fine sparks renewed concerns about regulatory capture

The International Press Institute (IPI) raises alarm over the controversial fine imposed on the independent radio TOK FM by the chair of Poland’s broadcast media regulator and warns of increasing regulatory pressure on the station ahead of a looming licencing decision.

On 28 April 2023, it was announced that the chairperson of Poland’s National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), Maciej Świrski, had levied a fine of PLN 80,000 (€17,680) on TOK FM for allegedly violating broadcast law and “inciting hatred” during a morning radio interview.

The financial penalty stemmed from an interview broadcasted in June 2022 in which the host Piotr Maślak spoke with a guest about a history textbook introduced into Polish schools. The book had been commissioned by the Ministry of Education and written by a professor who used to be a politician for the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Speaking critically about the textbook, Maślak stated that in his opinion some elements and language could be compared to Nazi propaganda within the Hitler Youth. His statement was followed by the presentation of specific quotes from the book which he described as problematic.

The fine by KRRiT came more than 10 months after the show was broadcasted. In his justification, the chairman claimed the language used on TOK FM had violated Article 18(1) of the Polish Broadcasting Act by “promoting illegal activities, views and attitudes contrary to morality and social good, and containing content inciting hatred and discriminatory content.”

The fine comes as TOK FM, which is owned by Polish media house Agora and is the fourth-most-popular radio station in Poland, awaits a decision on the renewal of its broadcast licence from KRRiT. The current ten-year licence is due to expire in November 2023. The radio station and Agora stood by the journalist and described the fine as “absurd”.


Deepening concern

“This fine against TOK FM is another example in the growing list of problematic regulatory decisions taken by the head of Poland’s National Broadcasting Council in response to legitimate journalistic content on issues sensitive for the government,” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The opinion expressed by the journalist during the show clearly does not meet the threshold for the serious violations alleged. On the contrary, IPI is concerned that this decision by the KRRiT chairman represents a disproportionate and discriminatory application of the Broadcast Act which penalizes a media outlet for exerting its right to free opinion on a matter of public interest.

“IPI and our global network call for this fine to be rescinded immediately. A decision regarding TOK FM’s pending licence renewal should be made by KRRiT in a timely and independent manner and based on strict professional criteria. We further call on the KRRiT chairman to immediately cease imposing fines and ordering investigations against media carrying out legitimate journalistic work.”

“Worryingly, this is a pattern IPI has documented before: one in which the current KRRiT chairman, an ally of PiS, imposes meritless fines on media critical of the government. Many of these investigations appear to have been launched in response to calls for probes by PiS politicians or in retaliation for reporting on sensitive issues.”

Griffen added: “Crucially, this regulatory decision also has implications beyond the financial cost to the media outlet. It comes as TOK FM awaits a decision on the renewal of its ten-year broadcast licence. With its future on the airwaves in the balance, we are concerned that this fine represents a black mark against its name which some members of the KRRiT could now potentially use to argue for the non-renewal of the licence.”

This is not the first time such regulatory pressure has been applied to critical media organizations. The unjustified withholding of the licence renewal of TVN24 until the last moment by government-friendly figures within KRRiT in 2021 was a key example. While that licence was ultimately granted after a months-long standoff, this kind of pressure creates an unstable climate for media to operate in or make sound financial planning.


Regulatory capture

Griffen noted that the non-renewal of broadcast licences for independent media by captured regulatory bodies has been one of the key mechanisms used by illiberal governments to stifle press freedom and erode media pluralism in Europe in recent years. Hungary’s Media Council, which is controlled by appointees of the Fidesz party, is the prime example here, he said.

“IPI is concerned that  KRRiT, which has long been dominated by figures appointed by PiS and its allies, has increasingly become an instrument for applying politically-motivated pressure to media critical of the ruling party”, Griffen added. “While KRRiT retains some level of pluralism compared to Hungary’s captured Media Council, we believe the politicization of the body poses a threat to media freedom in Poland.

“Increased scrutiny must be given by EU institutions to KRRiT and the implications of its decisions on free media. Threats to KRRiT’s independence should be clearly highlighted in future EU Rule of Law reports. At the same time, safeguards must be implemented to increase the regulatory authority’s institutional independence moving forward.

“KRRiT, as well as the separate National Media Council, are therefore key examples of the need for a strong European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The fine imposed by KRRiT on TOK FM is also an example of a case in which scrutiny by the EMFA’s proposed European Board for Media Services would, in our view, be justified.”

In March, IPI warned about signs of increasing pressure on critical and independent media ahead of the general election in Poland in autumn 2023, with regulatory pressure by KRRiT highlighted as a key concern.

While Poland’s media landscape remains vibrant and pluralistic overall, in recent years independent media critical of PiS have faced a multi-pronged campaign of regulatory, financial and legislative pressure aimed at undermining their influence.

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. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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The scene of Giorgos Karaivaz’s murder Library

Greece: MFRR partners welcome first arrests over 2021 assassination…

Greece: MFRR partners welcome first arrests over 2021 assassination of journalist Giorgos Karaivaz

The undersigned partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) welcome the arrests announced last Friday of two suspects in connection with the 2021 assassination of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece. The two men, brothers aged 40 and 48, are now in custody and awaiting a hearing today, May 3rd.

The undersigned partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) welcome the arrests announced last Friday of two suspects in connection with the 2021 assassination of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece. The two men, brothers aged 40 and 48, are now in custody and awaiting a hearing today, May 3rd.


The exact alleged role of the suspects, both Greek nationals, in the murder has not yet been confirmed by prosecutors. News of the arrests was announced on social media by the Minister of Citizen Protection, rather than by law enforcement authorities. According to the Hellenic Police, two other suspects are still wanted in connection with the killing, but the motive remains unconfirmed.


Karaivaz, an experienced crime reporter, was gunned down by two men on a scooter outside his home in Athens on 9 April 2021. Following the killing, police said the “professional” style of the assassination indicated the involvement of organised crime. Last month, the case formally became an instance of impunity for murder, considering there had been no significant progress in investigating or prosecuting the crime for two years.


Last week’s arrests represent the first big step forward and have revived hope that at least some of those responsible for the despicable murder could finally be held accountable. However, to secure full justice for Karaivaz and his family, all those involved in the killing, from the gunman and getaway driver up to the middlemen and mastermind(s), must be prosecuted and put behind bars.


As our organisations mark World Press Freedom Day today, we continue to follow the case closely and do all we can to secure justice for Karaivaz and help strengthen media freedom and independent journalism in Greece, which remain in a poor condition.

Signed by:

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

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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Bulgaria: Investigative journalists hit by smears and lawsuits after…

Bulgaria: Investigative journalists hit by smears and lawsuits after corruption revelations

Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today raise the alarm about a latest wave of legal pressure exerted against two of Bulgaria’s leading investigative media platforms, and, over their recent revelations about alleged crime and corruption.

In recent weeks, journalists from both media have faced attacks and pressure on multiple fronts: a barrage of vexatious defamation lawsuits filed by the associate of a suspected organised crime boss, the deliberate revelation of journalistic source by the Sofia prosecutor’s office, and a discreditation campaign by Bulgaria’s Attorney General Ivan Geshev.


The pressure stems from multiple articles, published separately by the two platforms throughout 2022 and 2023, involving alleged corruption at the border between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece involving food imports, and separate reports about the alleged bribery of police in the cover-up of a high-profile murder.


Both media’s investigations centre on suspected organised crime boss Christophoros Amanatidis, who allegedly monopolized control over the food imports and truck parking at the EU’s biggest external border crossing, depriving the Bulgarian state of tax revenue. An additional article revealed how Amanatidis also allegedly bribed police to cover up the murder of wanted crypto fraudster Ruja Ignatova in November 2018.


In response, an associate of Amanatidis, Razmig Chakaryan, filed two lawsuits against BIRD journalist Dimitar Stoyanov and three against BIRD editor-in-chief Atanas Tchobanov. A sixth lawsuit was filed against Nikolay Marchenko from All six lawsuits are understood to have been filed at the Sofia District Court and each demanded BGN 10,000 (5,130 euros) for alleged defamation and “moral damage”. All lawsuits were brought against the individual journalists, rather than their media outlets.


These lawsuits against BIRD and Bivol are the latest in a wave of SLAPPs targeting watchdog journalism in recent years. BIRD and its journalists are currently facing 10 lawsuits, while Bivol and its reporters are facing four. Both media are partners of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).


In a further development, on 7 April 2023 the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office published a transcript and screenshots of private chat conversations between Stoyanov and one of his sources, who is currently detained on drug-related charges. This was linked to a story that BIRD published on 17 February, which reported that a document found in the safe of a murdered police chief revealed that Amanatidis had bribed the head of the homicide department at the Bulgarian National Police and others to leak sensitive information to him and cover up his criminal activities.


Publication of the conversation came after a press conference held by the Prosecutor’s Office on 16 March 2023, during which Attorney General Ivan Geshev described reporting by journalists as part of an alleged plot to incriminate him and the high-ranking magistrates and police officers. While Geshev did not identify the journalists directly, a screen behind him projected the names of Tchobanov and Stoyanov.


Our organisations are deeply concerned by these interconnected attacks on investigative journalists in Bulgaria. While the full details about the lawsuits has not yet been confirmed, our assessment and that of local media associations is that they clearly represent retaliatory and vexatious legal actions intended to pressure legitimate watchdog reporting. These lawsuits display many of the characteristics of Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). Our organisations stand ready to provide advice and legal support to all three journalists to help fight these lawsuits.


Moreover, the decision by the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office to publish screenshots of a journalist’s private communications with a source is an unprecedented and deeply alarming violation of source confidentiality. Even if the chats are part of an ongoing criminal probe, the Prosecutor’s Office has a clear responsibility, in line with Bulgarian and European law, not to arbitrarily reveal the journalists’ source, let alone publicly publish screenshots of their conversation. In the course of their investigations, it is standard practice for journalists to communicate with multiple sources if the information they can provide is of public interest.


Attempts by the Attorney General to try and discredit the work of Stoyanov and Tchobanov, both respected investigative journalists, are also highly problematic and should be ceased immediately. We are concerned that the allegations launched against both journalists appear to be aimed at muddying the serious revelations published by the media outlet. In the context of Bulgaria’s already weak landscape for press freedom, these pressures have a clear intimidatory effect on media freedom.


Concerningly, this case is yet another example of the many threats that journalists probing crime and corruption in Bulgaria regularly face in carrying out their public service mission. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, our organisations express our solidarity with and and their journalists. We have reported these cases to the Council of Europe’s platform for the safety of journalists and Mapping Media Freedom, and will alert relevant European bodies about this case. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will respond to additional attempts to pressure or silence investigative journalism in Bulgaria.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • 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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Serbia: Independent journalism faces biggest crisis in years

Serbia: Independent journalism faces its biggest crisis in years

Following a visit to Belgrade on April 10 and 11 2023 to commemorate the murder anniversary of editor and publisher Slavko Ćuruvija, the undersigned international press freedom and journalists’ organisations today issue a stark warning over the state of media freedom and journalists’ safety in Serbia.

Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, our shared conclusion is that 24 years after the murder of Ćuruvija in 1999, poor conditions for the safety of journalists, the weak landscape for the rule of law, media capture and a festering climate of hostility towards critical reporting mean that the likelihood of a serious physical attack on a journalist remains a possibility. Independent journalism in Serbia continues to face a period of crisis.


The dedicated work being done by some stakeholders to prosecute attacks on journalists is being undermined by the wider climate of hostility being generated by leading politicians in Serbia. Until this is addressed and the public discourse regarding critical journalism is normalised, tangible progress will remain elusive.


These conclusions come after multiple meetings with independent journalists and editors, media associations and unions, the Standing Working Group for the Safety of Journalists, which included a representative of the Ministry of Interior.


Serbia exhibits a unique situation in which insults and attempts to discredit watchdog journalism stem overwhelmingly from leading politicians, including the President Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić  and ruling party MPs. Our assessment is that Serbia is one of the EU candidate states where journalists face the strongest verbal pressure and attacks from the state leadership. Critical and investigative journalism is still viewed by many public officials as an unpatriotic threat to be fought, rather than a healthy and necessary part of the country’s democratic fabric. 


This failure of the political class to accept and respect the role of critical journalism is dangerous. Smears launched by political figures are routinely picked up and reported by a network of tabloid media outlets owned by allies of the government who amplify the messaging, fomenting distrust and hatred against certain journalists. This behaviour by politicians normalises hostility towards independent media and, in many cases, acts as a signpost for physical as well as online threats by non-state actors.


It is no surprise that Serbia remains one of the most dangerous places in Europe, outside of Ukraine, to work as a journalist. In 2022, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS) documented 137 violations: 34 verbal threats, nine physical attacks, four attacks on property and 84 different attempts to pressure the media. Until the end of March 2023, 33 serious incidents were recorded: eight verbal attacks, three physical attacks and 22 acts of pressure on media and journalists. Investigative journalists probing high level crime and corruption are particularly at risk and are demonised as foreign mercenaries and national traitors.


While multiple state-backed initiatives have been launched to address the safety of journalists, their effectiveness is undermined by political attacks on journalists which compromise authorities’ efforts. The Standing Working Group on the Safety of Journalists, established in 2016, is an important initiative and a platform for the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities and media, allowing more systematic monitoring. The prosecutor’s office has established a network of dedicated contact points across Serbia which must act quickly in cases of threats. The 24/7 toll-free SOS helpline for journalists whose safety is threatened represents an important instrument for quick responses, along with networking of competent institutions and offering assistance to endangered journalists. In a welcome development, the number of physical attacks recorded in 2022 dropped compared to the previous year.


However, while law enforcement authorities have increasingly identified alleged perpetrators and brought indictments, justice has proven much harder to secure. In 2022, 81 criminal reports were submitted to the public prosecutor’s offices, yet just five convictions were reached. Though certain investigations have faced legitimate barriers in securing evidence, in some cases journalists complain that serious threats are assessed by prosecutors as not meeting the threshold of criminal offences. As of March 2023, 41,96% of cases submitted to the prosecutor’s office were dismissed for this reason. Journalists also raised concerns that politically sensitive cases, including attacks involving members of the ruling party, were not addressed appropriately. While the Standing Working Group functions adequately on paper and stakeholders are committed to its success, its work is undermined by a lack of political will and the wider climate of hostility. The separate Working Group for Security and Protection of Journalists, established in December 2020 with the backing of the Prime Minister, has been a failure.


On the other hand, the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists is another important initiative and has been fundamental in the fight for justice for Slavko Ćuruvija. Despite progress in the investigation of the Police Working Group within the Commission in identifying possible killers, the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime continues to hesitate on taking over the investigation into the murder of journalist Milan Pantić, while the mysterious death of Dada Vujasnović remains unsolved.


Despite the many challenges, there are some positive developments this year. The March 2023 retrial verdict sentencing perpetrators including a former Belgrade (Grocka municipality) president to five years in prison for the arson attack on the home of journalist Milan Jovanovic is a welcome victory. With an appeal underway, however, justice for this attack has not yet been secured. Swift indictments and prosecutions in early 2023 for the threats made against journalists at OK Radio by a powerful businessman in Vranje were positive. The recent sentencing to one year of house arrest to a man who issued appalling death threats against TV Nova S journalist Jelena Obućina is also a welcome development. However, the willingness and ability to effectively prosecute such attacks appear to extend only to cases where there was political pressure or where the alleged perpetrators lack political connections, indicating a lack of independence of law enforcement bodies.


At the wider level, however, no progress has been made in strengthening the landscape for media freedom and freedom of expression. Media pluralism remains particularly weak, with independent broadcast media systematically disadvantaged in the market. The clearest example was the controversial decision in July 2022 by the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) to again award all four national frequencies to pro-government television channels, overlooking applications by independent media houses. A fifth licence has yet to be allocated. The REM continues to display a lack of functional independence and has failed to carry out its duty of sanctioning violations of broadcast law by private channels close to the government. Delays continue in the long-overdue reform of the law on public information and media and the law on electronic media.


The public broadcaster continues to suffer from a lack of editorial independence and displays clear bias in its programming and reporting in favour of the government. State advertising – which has for years been the largest advertiser in media – also continues to be distributed in an arbitrary and non-transparent manner, largely in favour of pro-government media outlets. Rather than being disqualified from the co-financing program for regular violations of journalistic ethics, as identified by the Press Council, tabloid media continue to receive large amounts of public money. This use of state resources is one of the prime levers for the government to co-opt and control media coverage. While the direct ownership of private media by the state is banned, the purchase by state-owned and controlled Telekom Srbija of multiple media assets in recent years has established an indirect state ownership model. This is a prime example of media capture in Serbia. Taken together, these developments have cemented a pro-government narrative at the expense of independent journalism.


In addition to physical threats, independent media also face numerous legal challenges. Investigative platforms such as KRIK are being buried under an avalanche of vexatious lawsuits, both civil and criminal, meaning they are forced to dedicate valuable time and money to defending themselves in court. While the courts have recently thrown out clearly vexatious lawsuits, Serbia continues to be one of the worst countries in Europe for Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) and the number of documented cases is on the rise. Plaintiffs are most commonly public officials, politicians, businesspeople and companies. A recent case involving two SLAPP cases initiated against BIRN by the mayor of Belgrade is a prime example.


Overall, media freedom in Serbia remains in a poor condition. No one has yet been ultimately found guilty of the murder of a journalist. The climate of threats against journalists is at its worst point in many years. Media pluralism continues to be weak, with the ruling party overseeing a captured media ecosystem. The shared view of our international organisations is that, while important work on effectively prosecuting attacks on journalists has had a positive impact, this progress has been undermined by engrained challenges in ultimately securing justice and the wider climate of hostility towards critical journalism being fostered by political leaders. On balance, these combined factors mean Serbia continues to be held back in its commitments to improve media freedom as part of the EU accession process. We therefore recognise no overall progress since the fact-finding mission of the MFRR in April 2021.


This status quo must not continue. It is vital that the international community recognise the seriousness of the current situation for independent journalism in Serbia. In the coming months, our organisations will be giving as many platforms as possible to independent Serbian journalists to share their experiences first hand. International pressure will be central to enacting positive change. We therefore call on the European Union to ensure that media freedom in Serbia is a priority in the context of  the rule of law and democracy. We also urge EU leaders and officials to urgently raise the issue of pressure on journalists by high-ranking politicians during meetings with Serbian officials. Future progress reports on EU accession should fully reflect the seriousness of the situation and outline  for meaningful reforms. International bodies such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe must continue to address these issues head on. The upcoming report by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression following her mission to the country should be forceful in its assessment of the situation.


Twenty-four years after the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija, the conditions for the safety of journalists in Serbia are alarmingly reminiscent of the period in which he was killed. The upcoming appeal court verdict for the murder will be the most consequential for media freedom and journalism in decades, and will act as a litmus test for the rule of law and democracy more widely. If guilty verdicts are secured, we hope this can act as a catalyst for concrete change moving forward. Our international press freedom and journalists’ organisations will do all we can to support free and independent journalism during this time.


  • The challenges facing independent journalism in Serbia will be discussed in an upcoming MFRR webinar on May 3. Register here.

Signed by:


  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

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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Turkey: International groups demand release of Kurdish journalists, lawyers,…

Turkey: International groups demand release of Kurdish journalists, lawyers, political party officials detained in pre-election crackdown

Media freedom, freedom of expression, and human rights organisations call on Turkish authorities to stop the systematic harassment and intimidation of Kurdish journalists, media workers, media outlets, the lawyers that defend them, and Kurdish political party officials, give them access to legal counsel, disclose full details of charges brought and to ensure that they are released from detention. We reiterate the need for a free and pluralistic media atmosphere in the run up to the elections that will be held on 14 May 2023.


Available in Turkish here.

On 25 April, coordinated dawn raids in Turkey targeted homes and offices of 126 people including journalists, lawyers, rights defenders, political activists and artists in 21 provinces, based on unclear charges. The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that the Diyarbakır-based operation is related to anti-terror investigations led by Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.


Among those that have been detained so far are 10 journalists and a lawyer who represents arrested journalists. Technical equipment, computers, books and documents belonging to journalists were also confiscated by the police during the raids. It was also reported that arrest warrants were issued against 216 people and the search continues for other journalists.


The detained journalists so far include Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) editor Abdurrahman Gök and reporters Ahmet Kanbal and Mehmet Şah Oruç; editor-in-chief of Yeni Yaşam daily newspaper Osman Akın; the publisher of the only Kurdish print newspaper in Turkey, ​​Xwebûn Weekly, Kadri Esen; JinNews reporter Beritan Canözer; and journalists Mehmet Yalçın, Mikail Barut, Salih Keleş and Remzi Akkaya.


Lawyer Resul Temur, who represented imprisoned journalists in Diyarbakır and Ankara after similar raids in June and October 2022 respectively, was also detained in the raids.


The Diyarbakır Bar Association announced that the charges against the detained people are still unknown due to a confidentiality order covering the investigation and a 24-hour restriction on access to lawyers for those detained.


The raids are taking place in the run up to the parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey which will be held on 14 May 2023, and represent another step in the systematic harassment and intimidation of Kurdish media and political opposition in the country.


Previously in June 2022, a similar raid resulted in 20 journalists in Diyarbakır being initially detained of whom 16 were placed in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges pending a trial that begins on 11 July, 2023. In October 2022, a further 11 Kurdish journalists were detained on terrorism charges in the provinces of Ankara, İstanbul, Van, Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, Mersin and Mardin in simultaneous house raids as part of an anti-terror investigation led by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Their trial begins on 16 May, 2023.


The Mapping Media Freedom database records 27 alerts impacting 91 Kurdish journalists, media workers or outlets over the last 12 months. The alerts primarily consist of legal incidents usually leading to arrest, detention, imprisonment, prosecution and convictions.


We call on the authorities to immediately give the detained journalists, lawyers and political activists access to legal counsel, to disclose full details of any charges brought and to ensure that they are released from detention.

Signed by:

  • Articolo 21
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Croatian PEN
  • English PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Foreign Media Association (FMA Turkey)
  • Freedom House
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • PEN America
  • PEN Canada
  • PEN International
  • PEN Melbourne
  • PEN Netherlands
  • PEN Norway
  • PEN Québec
  • Platform for Independent Journalism (P24)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • San Miguel PEN
  • Scottish PEN
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Swedish PEN

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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Türkiye: Uluslararası gruplar, seçim öncesi baskınlarda gözaltına alınan Kürt gazeteciler, avukatlar ve siyasi parti yetkililerinin serbest bırakılmasını talep ediyor


Medya özgürlüğü, ifade hürriyeti ve insan hakları örgütleri olarak; Kürt gazeteciler, medya çalışanları, medya kuruluşları, onları savunan avukatlar ve Kürt siyasi parti yetkililerine yönelik sistematik taciz ve gözdağı uygulamalarına son verilmesi, bu kişilerin avukata erişiminin sağlanması, kendilerine yöneltilen suçlamaların tüm ayrıntılarının açıklanması ve serbest bırakılmaları yönünde Türkiye yetkililerine çağrıda bulunuyoruz. Bu vesileyle, 14 Mayıs 2023 tarihinde gerçekleştirilecek seçimler öncesinde özgür ve çoğulcu bir medya ortamına duyulan ihtiyacı yineliyoruz.


25 Nisan’da Türkiye’nin 20 ilinde aralarında gazeteciler, avukatlar, hak savunucuları, siyasi aktivistler ve sanatçıların da bulunduğu 128 kişinin ev ve ofislerine henüz tam anlamıyla belirlenmeyen suçlamalarla şafak vakti eş zamanlı baskınlar düzenlendi. Devlete ait Anadolu Ajansı, Diyarbakır merkezli operasyonun Diyarbakır Cumhuriyet Başsavcılığı tarafından yürütülen terörle mücadele soruşturmalarıyla ilgili olduğunu bildirdi. Toplam 216 kişi hakkında yakalama kararı çıkarıldığı bildirildi.


Şu ana kadar gözaltına alınanlar arasında 10 gazeteci ve tutuklu gazetecileri temsil eden bir avukat da bulunuyor. Baskınlar sırasında gazetecilere ait teknik ekipman, bilgisayar, kitap ve belgelere de polis tarafından el konuldu.


Şu ana kadar gözaltına alınan gazeteciler arasında Mezopotamya Ajansı (MA) editörü Abdurrahman Gök ve muhabirleri Ahmet Kanbal ve Mehmet Şah Oruç; Yeni Yaşam gazetesi genel yayın yönetmeni Osman Akın; Türkiye’deki tek Kürtçe basılı gazete olan Xwebûn’un imtiyaz sahibi Kadri Esen, JinNews muhabiri Beritan Canözer ve gazeteciler Mehmet Yalçın, Mikail Barut, Salih Keleş ve Remzi Akkaya bulunuyor. 


Haziran ve Ekim 2022’deki benzer baskınların ardından Diyarbakır ve Ankara’da tutuklu gazetecileri temsil eden Avukat Resul Temur da baskınlarda gözaltına alındı. 


Diyarbakır Barosu, soruşturmada gizlilik kararı olması ve gözaltına alınanların avukatlarıyla görüşmelerine 24 saat kısıtlama getirilmesi nedeniyle gözaltına alınanlara yöneltilen suçlamaların henüz bilinmediğini açıkladı.


Baskınlar, Türkiye’de 14 Mayıs 2023 tarihinde yapılacak olan meclis ve cumhurbaşkanlığı seçimleri öncesinde gerçekleşiyor ve ülkedeki Kürt medyasına ve siyasi muhalefete yönelik sistematik taciz ve gözdağının bir başka adımını temsil ediyor. 


Daha önce Haziran 2022‘de benzer bir baskın sonucunda Diyarbakır‘da 20 gazeteci gözaltına alınmış, bunlardan 16’sı 11 Temmuz 2023’te başlayacak olan duruşmaya kadar terör suçlamasıyla tutuklu yargılanmak üzere tutuklanmıştı. Ekim 2022‘de, Ankara Cumhuriyet Başsavcılığı tarafından yürütülen terörle mücadele soruşturması kapsamında Ankara, İstanbul, Van, Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, Mersin ve Mardin illerinde yapılan eş zamanlı ev baskınlarında 11 Kürt gazeteci daha terör suçlamasıyla gözaltına alındı. Duruşmaları 16 Mayıs 2023’de başlayacak. 


Türkiye’nin, terör suçları da dahil olmak üzere, bağımsız gazetecilere yalnızca gazetecilik faaliyetlerinden dolayı ceza davası açma konusunda uzun bir geçmişi vardır. Mapping Media Freedom veri tabanı, son 12 ay içinde 91 Kürt gazeteci, medya çalışanı veya kuruluşunu etkileyen 27 uyarı kaydetmiştir. Bu uyarılar çoğunlukla tutuklama, gözaltı, hapis cezası, kovuşturma ve mahkumiyetle sonuçlanan yasal vakalardan oluşmaktadır. 


Yetkilileri, gözaltındaki gazetecilere, avukatlara ve siyasi aktivistlere derhal avukat erişimi sağlamaya ve yöneltilen suçlamaların tüm ayrıntılarını açıklamaya çağırıyoruz. Görevi kötüye kullandıklarına dair inandırıcı bir kanıt bulunmadığı takdirde, bu kişiler derhal serbest bırakılmalıdır.