Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 2: Fundamental Freedoms I

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 2: Fundamental Freedoms I

Freedom of Opinion and Expression;
Media Freedom; Safety of Journalists 

As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak Head of Delegation
Warsaw, October 4, 2023

The United States condemns the Russian government’s continued repression of independent voices inside Russia.  Since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the climate in Russia for freedom of expression, media freedom, and safety of journalists has gone from bad to worse.  No independent media outlets are allowed to operate in the country and most independent journalists and organizations have been forced to move their operations abroad for their own safety. Independent journalists in Russia continue to be harassed, threatened, and even physically attacked for their work.  The United States condemns Russia’s wrongful detention of journalist and U.S. citizen Evan Gershkovich, and we call for his immediate release, as well as for the release of all journalists unjustly imprisoned for their work, including Vladimir Kara-Murza, Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, and Maria Ponomarenko.  

In the parts of Ukraine they occupy, credible reports show that Russia’s forces have curtailed freedom of expression through intimidation, arbitrary detention, and torture of journalists, activists, and civil society.  Russia’s security services maintain lists of potential dissidents and have forced some in occupied territories to denounce Ukraine.  Russian occupation authorities continue to imprison journalists in Crimea simply for reporting on life under occupation, including RFE/RL freelance reporter Vladyslav Yesypenko.

It is an unspeakable tragedy that at least 17 civilian journalists and media workers have been killed in Ukraine in the line of duty since the beginning of Russia’s senseless invasion in 2014.  Both Moscow Mechanism reports concluded that members of Russia’s forces deliberately killed journalists, which is a war crime.

In Belarus, authorities pressure unrelentingly independent media and journalists, including by criminal prosecution, raids of the homes and workplaces of journalists and their families, and the use of censorship to limit access to information.  We call on Belarusian authorities to release the dozens of journalists and bloggers it has detained simply for doing their work.  RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik and freelance journalist Andrei Kuznechyk are unjustly serving 15 years and six years’ imprisonment respectively for carrying out their journalistic duties.  Losik’s wife Darya is also serving two years’ imprisonment for doing an interview with independent media about her husband’s condition in prison.

The United States is concerned about systematic prosecution of journalists in Turkiye, with the number of journalists arrested doubling in 2022 alone.  The Turkish government has increased its efforts to censor the Internet and there are multiple cases of frivolous lawsuits against media that have been critical of the government.  The government controls nearly 90% of national media and we are concerned that the continued undermining of the rule of law in Turkey also further erodes the media’s ability to operate independently.

In Azerbaijan, the United States is concerned about serious restrictions on freedom of expression and of the media on and offline.  Such restrictions include harassment and incarceration of journalists on questionable charges, implementation of a restrictive media law that went into effect in February 2022, and the blocking of international news websites, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and independent domestic websites critical of the government. 

In Hungary, one single entity – sympathetic to the ruling party and exempt from regulatory scrutiny – controls almost all media outlets.  We urge Hungary to end its attempts to curtail media freedom through media capture.

Although Poland continues to have a diverse media environment, we remain concerned about inconsistent regulatory decisions, the government’s influence over the state broadcaster, and the purchase of media outlets by state-owned corporations.  We encourage the government to take further steps to maintain the pluralism and independence of this critical sector.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are deeply concerned by Republika Srpska’s adoption of a law criminalizing defamation.  This law, which imposes fines for making malicious or untrue statements against individuals, would undermine the right to freedom of expression and opinion that is essential to democracy.

The United States is concerned about efforts by the government of the Kyrgyz Republic to shut down the investigative outlet Kloop, which is well known for exposing corruption.  Recently passed and pending legislation can adversely affect freedom of expression, such as the Law on Protection from False Information, which was used to temporarily close Azattyk, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, and the passage in August of a bill prohibiting information deemed “harmful” to children, which freedom of expression advocates describe as an effort at censorship.  The deportation of Kyrgyz investigative journalist Bolot Temirov to Russia and stripping him of Kyrgyz citizenship appears politically motivated.  In neighboring Tajikistan, exiled journalists have faced pressure on their relatives, exemplified by threats and interrogation of the parents of Rustam Zhoni and Anora Sarkorova, former journalists living in Prague.  In Uzbekistan, we have seen the harassment and incarceration of independent journalists and bloggers, such as the detention of blogger Abduqodir Mominov.  Kazakhstan requires foreign platforms to register locally, and Turkmenistan authorities censor online content and block news websites, limiting citizen’s access to information.  Despite Kazakhstan’s decriminalization of defamation in June 2020, civil punishments and other laws targeting defamation and false information have been used to suppress criticism of the government, particularly after the January 2022 protests.

Media freedom and the safety of journalists are emblematic of free societies.  Whenever they are absent or threatened, the human rights of persons and the security of states are at risk.  We urge all OSCE participating States to ensure that members of independent media and civil society can exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, and can access information without interference.