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Virus on Freedom of Expression: Press Freedom in three Not-Free Countries

Virus on Freedom of Expression: Press Freedom in three Not-Free Countries Before, During and After the Covid-19 Pandemic: China, Turkey and Russia

DATE: 18 August 2020

PLACE: YouTube

COMMITTEE: FreeWord Committee

On 18 August 2020, the FreeWord Committee of the Human Rights Solidarity hosted a series of panels on the situation of freedom of expression in three countries deemed as NOT FREE by Freedom House: China, Turkey and Russia. Hold under the Covid-19 Pandemic, the panels also looked at how the Pandemic did and would worsen the situation in these countries.

Already before the Pandemic the three countries in our radar had the worst press freedom reports in the world, with China and Turkey competing with each other by means of the number of journalists jailed every year, and Russia surpassing all nightmares with 58 journalists killed and seven gone missing only in 2019.

When Covid-19 hit the world, idealist-futurists hoped that the pandemic would open our eyes to the sufferings of others and teach us a valuable lesson of empathy. Unfortunately, expectations proved wrong when countries started to close their borders.

Just within a few weeks’ time, COVID-19 had radically transformed us, the society, and our governments. With its call for strict tracking mechanisms and limited freedom of movement, Covid-19 was now threatening the future of liberal democracies and their very values.

However, a greater challenge that remains is how the authoritarian governments of China, Turkey and Russia use this pandemic as a leverage to spread their own propaganda of their so-called success in controlling the infection. Starting from the authoritarian countries, executive branches of governments all over the world asked for further powers of controlling mobility of people and goods. Unfortunately, history proves that the powers attained at times of emergencies tend to become the new normalcies.

Our panellists discussed, not only the past and future of the freedom of press in these countries, but also alternative solutions peoples of these countries are innovating.

The webinar started with the keynote speech of Jeremy Dear, the Deputy General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists for 10 years. Jeremy worked for 25 years as a freelance journalist in the UK and Latin America covering human rights and freedom of expression issues. Jeremy has written for The Guardian and New Statesman among others. His keynote speech can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9LasgLSAGs

Russia Session

In Russia session we listened to three speakers; Dr James Rodgers, Gulnoza Said and Sofya Orlosky. The whole of the Russia Session can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPjJKaAIhEQ

Dr James Rodgers is a Reader in International Journalism, responsible for the MA International Journalism at the City University of London. James was a journalist for twenty years. He spent fifteen years at the BBC, completing correspondent postings in Moscow, Brussels, and Gaza, as well as many other assignments. His particular areas of interest in international journalism are Russia and the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. His presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXo7vtotwhc

Our second speaker on Russia was Gulnoza Said. Gulnoza is a journalist and communications professional with over 15 years of experience in New York, Prague, Bratislava, and Tashkent. She has covered issues including politics, media, religion, and human rights with a focus on Central Asia, Russia, and Turkey. Gulnoza Said is the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator in Committee to Protect Journalists. Her presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Hk-LCHuvjw

The third speaker of the Russia Session was Sofya Orlosky, a senior program manager of Eurasia at Freedom House. Prior to joining Freedom House Sofya was based in Moscow, with various local Russian NGOs and later with the National Democratic Institute for International Relations, designing and conducting immersion training for civic activists, local government officials and political party members on various aspects of civic engagement and political participation. Sofya’s presentation is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_G9IITpCn9M

Turkey Session

In the Turkey Session, we listened to three speakers: Yavuz Baydar, Julie Ward, Abdullah Ayasun. The whole of the Turkey Session can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdQLOYa8DZ0

The first speaker of the Turkey Session was Yavuz Baydar, an award-winning journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Ahvalnew.com. Ahval has become one of the few breathing places of the independent Turkish media. It is published in English, Turkish and Arabic. Ahval’s podcasts are some of the most listened podcasts about Turkey. Baydar blogged with the Huffington Post and Al Jazeera, sharing his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom and history. Baydar’s presentation can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3rvvPXIYKI

The second speaker of the Turkey Panel was Julie Carolyn Ward, a British Labour Party politician who served as a Member of the European Parliament. During her term in the office, she supported several campaigns for freedom of the press in Turkey, including personally flying to Turkey and observing court cases of prominent journalists. In 2016 she was even arrested while flying to Diyarbakir to attend a conference. So she had the first-hand experience of issues of freedom of thought and expression in Turkey. Her speech is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZviF610T34

Our third Turkey Session speaker was Abdullah Ayasun, a freelance journalist based in Washington DC. Abdullah has been contributing to Huffington Post, the Globe Post, Irish Times and appeared at CNN and BBC on occasions. He writes on American political affairs, Turkey, the Middle East, and beyond. His presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WEBkT79u-Y

China Session

In the China Session, we will be listening to four speakers: Melissa Chen, Jemimah Steinfeld, Megha Rajagopalan and Evan Fowler. The whole of the China Session can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHB8f5S1RPo

The first speaker of our China Session was Melissa Chen, the Managing Director of the nonprofit organization “Ideas Beyond Borders”. Melissa is also the New York Editor of Spectator USA  the American edition of the oldest English language magazine in publication. She is a human rights activist and a classical liberal who regularly talks on various podcasts, TV news, and at conferences. Her speech can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7f_QqQsCPMI

Our second speaker at the China Session was Jemimah Steinfeld, a journalist who has worked and lived in China. She has worked for the Global Times in Beijing. She also wrote freelance articles for CNN, Time Out and the Huffington Post on issues relating to China. She currently works at London’s Asia House in charge of their literature programme and is the Contributing Editor (China) for Index on Censorship magazine. Her presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfvfgIN97oM

Our third speaker at the China Session was Megha Rajagopalan, an award-winning international correspondent for BuzzFeed News. She has been a staff correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in China and Thailand as well as in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and before that, she was a political correspondent for Reuters in China. Rajagopalan was the first journalist to find and visit an internment camp for Uighur Muslims in China’s far west. She is a recognized expert on the subject of mass surveillance in authoritarian contexts. Megha’s presentation is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dro2vNMbqxo

Our last speaker at the China Session was Evan Fowler, an independent writer and researcher focusing on Hong Kong and China. He is co-founder and director of Hong Kong Free Press and a director of Stand News. He was also the China representative for the Kennedy Center for Human Rights. Evan’s presentation is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJOaSFP7kSY

Closing the Event

This half day event was finally closed by the closing remarks of Merve Aslangoren, the Co-Chair of Human Rights Solidarity. Merve is a law student at Coventry University. Her closing remarks can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRH3UlDK2A8