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Journalists in Trouble: October 2022

Kyrgyz authorities block RFE/RL websites, Darya Losik detained, Iranian authorities seize Radio Farda journalist’s remains, further repression in Russia, and more.

March in support of freedom of speech in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Oct. 14, 2022.
March in support of freedom of speech in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Oct. 14, 2022. Gulzhan Turdubaeva (RFE/RL).

Kyrgyz parliament suspends accreditation of RFE/RL journalists; Ukraine charges FSB officer for torturing Vladyslav Yesypenko; and more.

RFE/RL Responds to Kyrgyz Government Blocking Websites in Crackdown on Free Media

Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policy announced in a Facebook post on October 26 it was blocking RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service websites for two months after RFE/RL refused to remove a Current Time Asia report about the recent Kyrgyz-Tajik conflict. Kyrgyz authorities subsequently froze the Kyrgyz Service’s bank account in the country. These actions are the latest in a series emblematic of a deteriorating media climate in the country. They follow a recent protest outside RFE/RL’s Bishkek bureau that called on authorities to close the Service and other independent local outlets; and proposed legislation that would further limit media freedom.

In a letter dated October 24, the Ministry of Culture gave RFE/RL 24 hours to remove the Current Time Asia report, citing the controversial law on protection against false information adopted in July 2021.

“RFE/RL takes our commitment to balanced reporting seriously. We have reviewed the content in question and find no violation of our standards,” said RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly. “We will not succumb to pressure to remove balanced reporting from our sites, be it from the Kremlin or the Kyrgyz government. Threatening journalists and trying to silence independent media are authoritarian tactics that only serve to undermine Kyrgyz democracy. We will be appealing this decision.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists stated that the blocking was a “a flagrant act of censorship of a crucial and critical media outlet.” Human Rights Watch called it a “blatant attempt to control and censor independent journalism.” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price and EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore expressed concern.

Wife of Imprisoned RFE/RL Journalist Ihar Losik Detained in Belarus

Darya Losik, wife of jailed RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik was detained on October 18 after police searched her apartment in the western city of Baranavichy. According to Darya Losik’s parents, officials told their daughter she would be held for 72 hours in pre-trial detention in an unspecified criminal case. She was then taken to the regional capital Brest. As of October 31, Darya Losik had not been released.

The BGM Telegram channel, founded by Ihar Losik, cited several Telegram channels close to the government as reporting that Darya Losik faces a charge of “facilitating extremist activities” over an interview with the Poland-based Belsat TV.

“Darya is guilty of nothing more than advocating for her wrongly-imprisoned husband Ihar Losik,” RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly said. “She must be released immediately to care for her daughter Paulina. The Losik family has endured enough.”

Ihar Losik was arrested in June 2020 in advance of the rigged presidential election and later sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges including “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and “preparation for participation in riots.”

Write to Our Imprisoned Belarusian Journalists

According to the Viasna human rights center, as of October 21 there were 1,352 political prisoners in Belarus, including RFE/RL journalists Ihar Losik and Andrey Kuznechyk. Arrested in November 2021, Kuznechyk was sentenced to six years in a maximum-security prison in June 2022 on charges of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”

We encourage you to write to Ihar Losik and Andrey Kuznechyk. Both journalists are being held at: Penal colony No. 1. 211440, Navapolack, vulica Techničnaya 8, Belarus. Although letters may not be delivered, they demonstrate continued outside interest to the Belarusian authorities.

Vladyslav Yesypenko Honored at Oslo Awards Ceremony

Imprisoned Ukrainian Service journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko was honored at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway on October 17, where his wife Kateryna and daughter Stefania accepted a Free Media Award from the Fritt Ord Foundation and ZEIT-Stiftung on his behalf. Yesypenko, who has been imprisoned in Russia-occupied Crimea since March 2021, received the award for his crucial work as a journalist under extremely difficult conditions.

On September 30, Kateryna Yesypenko spoke about her husband’s plight at the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference.

Iranian Authorities Seize Body of Deceased RFE/RL Journalist

Intelligence agents from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the body of Reza Haghighatnejad, a journalist with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, later informing his family that it was secretly buried at a location outside Shiraz. In a video shared with Radio Farda on October 27, Haghighatnejad’s mother said her son’s body was abducted by authorities at Shiraz airport. Haghighatnejad’s remains were repatriated to Iran on October 25 for burial after he died of cancer at a Berlin hospital.

“The Iranian regime’s callous cruelty towards Reza and his family is utterly reprehensible,” said RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly. “They deserved better, and I hope they find peace.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on October 28 called on Iranian authorities to release Haghighatnejad’s body “immediately” to his family and said the episode “underscores just how much Iran’s leadership fears journalists.”

Haghighatnejad followed the ongoing protests triggered by the killing of Mahsa Amini in mid-September from his hospital bed. In his last tweet, on October 3, he posted a video of teenage girls protesting in a high school in Karaj.

Radio Farda provided extensive coverage of the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Kurdistan, while in police custody over alleged violations of Iran’s Islamic dress code, and the widespread protests and deadly regime crackdown that has followed. Many Iranians turned to Radio Farda for exclusive interviews with the relatives of young protesters killed during the crackdown, including Amini’s mother, the sister of 23-year-old Hadis Najafi, the mother of 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, the brother of 16-year-old Mohammad Eghbal Naeb-Zehi, and relatives of schoolgirl Asra Panahi and 16-year-old Sarina Esmailzadeh, all of whom described how authorities sought to cover up their deaths during the protests.

The Committee to Project Journalists stated that Iranian authorities have arrested at least 41 journalists in relation to their coverage of protests that broke out following the death of Mahsa Amini.

Tatar-Bashkir Service Contributor Iskander Yasaveyev Designated Foreign Agent

Iskander Yasaveyev, a sociologist and contributor to the Tatar-Bashkir Service’s Idel.Realities project, was among several people designated foreign agents by the Russian authorities on October 7. This brings the total number of RFE/RL contributors designated as foreign agents to 31.

“This latest round of foreign agent designations is yet another sign of the Kremlin’s desperation to hide the truth about Putin’s failed invasion of Ukraine,” said RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly. “We will not be deterred from our mission to provide the Russian people with the truth about what is happening in Ukraine and the consequences for Russia.”

Russian Service Freelancer Yulia Vishnevetskaya Jailed for Five Days

RFE/RL’s Russian Service freelancer and renowned documentary maker Yulia Vishnevetskaya was jailed for five days in Russia’s Republic of Dagestan for what authorities called “participation in illegal gatherings.”

Vishnevetskaya was in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala covering a rally and attempting to interview people about the recent mobilization when she was detained. She was released after serving her five-day sentence.

Yandex Blocked RFE/RL’s Russian Service Podcasts

At the request of Russian state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor, the Yandex.Music service blocked access to several Russian Service programs and podcasts on October 5 “in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law” about the war in Ukraine. They remain available on other platforms. This follows the blocking of the site of the audio streaming platform SoundCloud on September 22. According to sources, the move also targeted RFE/RL’s Russian Service.