UN expert report: Journalists continue to face dangers even in exile

Доклад эксперта ООН: журналисты продолжают подвергаться опасностям и в изгнании

The UN calls for the protection of journalists and press freedom around the world. UN expert report: Journalists continue to face dangers even in exile Human rights

In recent years, hundreds of journalists have fled Belarus, Russia and Tajikistan, as well as several other countries around the world, including Iran and Turkey. However, emigration does not always provide security for these people. On Wednesday, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of the Press Irene Khan presented her report to the UN Human Rights Council on journalists forced to flee their countries. Many of them face numerous threats in exile.  

International Legal Framework

In his report, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression examines these threats and challenges and gives specific examples. She believes that international norms provide a strong basis for the protection of journalists in exile, but states often fail to respect their obligations.  

Attacks on journalists on foreign soil violate principles of human rights, as well as a cardinal principle of international law, according to which states are obliged to respect each other’s territorial sovereignty, expert notes.

Transnational repression

Irene Khan calls the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul “an outrageous and brazen act of transnational repression.” Enforced disappearances and state-sanctioned killings, she said, were violations of international law and the UN Charter, and Saudi Arabia was never held accountable.

In June 2023, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution condemning transnational repression as a growing threat to the rule of law and human rights. The authors of the resolution were particularly concerned about the actions in this area taken by Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Russian Federation and Turkey. Thus, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances found that the Turkish government systematically engaged in extraterritorial abductions and forced returns to Turkey of at least 100 Turkish citizens, including journalists, from several countries.

Kidnapping and rendition to the country of origin, followed by prosecution and imprisonment are a significant risk for journalists in exile

“Kidnapping and extradition to the country of origin, followed by prosecution and imprisonment, is a significant risk for journalists in exile, especially those without adequate legal status in neighboring countries,” writes Irene Khan.

The world, she said, witnessed an egregious example of a forcible abduction in May 2021, when Belarusian authorities, disregarding international law and air travel protocols, used a hoax bomb threat to intercept and divert a commercial airliner carrying Raman Protasevich, an exiled Belarusian media worker and activist, from Greece to Lithuania. He was removed from the plane, arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in prison before being pardoned.

Digital Surveillance

Civil society investigations have identified several cases of journalists being subjected to digital surveillance during their exile. Surveillance often preceded or followed threats, arrests, or killings. A civil society audit found Pegasus spyware on the devices of about 10 people linked to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, including his fiancee.

In September 2023 It became known that the phone of Galina Timchenko, head of the Russian-language news site Meduza, based in Latvia, was infected with the Pegasus spyware shortly after the Russian Prosecutor General recognized the Meduza site as an “undesirable” organization and banned its activities on territory of the Russian Federation.

In October 2023, Le Trung Khoa, editor-in-chief of the Berlin-based Vietnamese news site Thoibao.de, became a victim of Predator spyware via the social media platform X, formerly Twitter. His website is blocked in Vietnam, and his Facebook and YouTube pages are often targeted by hackers.

Criminal prosecution

“Following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian Federation introduced draconian laws imposing severe penalties on anyone who “discredits” the military or spreads “false information” about the armed conflict,” writes Irene Khan. The adoption of these laws resulted in independent media outlets in the Russian Federation self-censoring, closing down, or leaving the country.

Using these laws, Russian courts have sentenced several exiled journalists in absentia. The law banning “undesirable organizations,” passed in 2015, was used to outlaw several Russian media outlets operating abroad.

Such actions not only ban them work in the Russian Federation, but also make it a crime to cooperate with them, participate in their work, or even post materials created by them on social networks. As a result, these publications can no longer work openly with correspondents, sources and speakers and effectively interact with audiences in the Russian Federation.

Deprivation of citizenship

Although revocation of citizenship is prohibited by international law, some governments use it as a form of retaliation against independent journalists. In 2022, Belarus passed a law that covers 34 crimes, applicable only to those in exile, for which they can be tried in absentia and stripped of citizenship as well as property.

In addition, Belarus, as the report notes, prosecutes journalists, as well as dissidents and human rights activists in absentia and imposes harsh sentences on them. For example, in 2022, a court sentenced exiled journalists Stepan Putsila and Yan Rudik in absentia to 20 and 19 years in prison, respectively.

In Kyrgyzstan, Bolot Temirov, an investigative journalist and human rights activist, was accused of various trumped-up criminal offenses, of which he was acquitted by the court, but, nevertheless, was deprived of citizenship by a court decision and deported to the Russian Federation. The facts of the case suggest that the criminalization and deportation were carried out in retaliation for his reporting on government corruption.

Humanitarian Visas

Only a few countries, such as Germany, Norway, the US and Switzerland, provide humanitarian visas to journalists for urgent reasons. A number of European Union member states have introduced flexible visa policies for human rights defenders, which can also be applied to journalists.

Such measures were taken in response to crisis situations and applied only to citizens of certain countries, not all the journalists who need them. Another disadvantage of such special visas is that they depend on the political will of individual governments.

In 2022, Ireland issued several hundred humanitarian visas to Afghan human rights defenders, including some journalists, and the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania issued humanitarian visas to several hundred independent journalists, media workers and members of their families from Belarus and the Russian Federation.

Dozhd TV Channel

Political pressure from host countries can pose a threat to the existence of media in exile. For example, citing national security, Latvia suspended the license of the independent Russian television channel TV Dozhd under circumstances indicating controversy over its coverage of the armed conflict in Ukraine.

“Decision to suspend the license of this channel appears to be an unnecessary and disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression, contrary to Article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” notes the independent UN expert.

Opportunity to cover events in the country of origin

Despite the increased use of VPNs, connectivity remains a challenge for media outlets and exiled journalists in closed societies. For example, following the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, some companies took steps to cut off essential digital services for Russian and Belarusian users for fear of violating increasing sanctions against individuals and institutions in those countries.

“Over-enforcement of sanctions has limited the ability of independent media in exile to cover events in Belarus and the Russian Federation, provide news to users in these countries, and monetize their content,” the report said.

Save  profession

Maintaining journalism as a profession in exile is very difficult. On an individual level, while most journalists leave their country to continue their work, many leave the profession once abroad.

More than two-thirds of Afghan journalists who left the country are no longer working . According to one survey, about a third of journalists who left Belarus and the Russian Federation over the past three years left journalism after being expelled.

The reasons why journalists leave their profession are varied : from lack of personal security and fear of reprisals against one’s family in the country of origin to unfamiliarity with the local language and culture in the host country.

For some, the skills and knowledge for which they were hired in their home country are no longer relevant in the new country. For others, bureaucratic and administrative requirements, such as notarization of diplomas or journalistic accreditation in the country of origin, may be overwhelming.

Lack of work permits is a big problem. Many countries in which journalists find themselves in exile do not provide them with a residence permit, and without it they cannot obtain a work permit. Without a work permit, journalists cannot find work in the local media sector.

UN Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council as independent experts. They are not UN employees and do not receive a salary from the world organization for their work. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *