Rights are under attack in Europe. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine constitutes an act of war and a blatant breach of international law and treaties: undertakings designed to protect and defend us all.
Free expression is the cornerstone of democracy. Today, freedom of expression is profoundly threatened in Europe. The initial assault on fundamental rights began long before Russian forces crossed the sovereign borders of Ukraine. For decades, the Kremlin in Russia has worked to dismantle free expression within its borders, cracking down on independent media, conducting large-scale misinformation campaigns and intimidating civil society into silence.
Journalism, protest and freedom of speech have become extremely dangerous occupations in Russia. The Kremlin has empowered copycat actions in neighbouring Belarus and now, its actions threaten the lives of millions of people in Ukraine, and the wider region.
For too long, the world has chosen not to address the erosion of rights and rising authoritarianism. Too little attention has been paid to understanding the oxygen authoritarians need to survive. How historical narratives are revised in opposition to historical fact. How human rights defenders are threatened, imprisioned and murdered. How elections are manipulated. How truth is denied.
Standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and with all those suffering in the war, ARTICLE 19, our partners, activists and experts will work to ensure the facts can no longer be ignored.
On this page, you will find analyses, resources and information relating to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the situation in Russia, Belarus and other countries in the region, as well as what the threats to freedom of expression posed and exacerbated by the events in Europe might mean to other countries around the world.
ARTICLE 19 advocates for freedom of expression of those affected by the actions and influence of authoritarian regimes. We are calling for protection of journalists and respect for independent media. We urge governments to respect civil society’s right to information and freedom of assembly.
Belarus: Release rights defender Nasta Lojka now
Belarus: Stop mistreating opposition politician
Perugia Declaration for Ukraine: Journalists must be protected
Ukraine: War crimes against journalists and civilians must be investigated
EU: Emergency visas for Russian and Belarusian journalists fleeing repression
Russia: Internet freedom must be upheld
International: Sanctions against Russia must not undermine human rights
ICANN: Human rights law calls for an open Internet at a time of war
Ukraine: UN must take action on Russia’s acts of war
Ukraine: Journalists covering Russian invasion must be protected
Ukraine and Russia: Accurate information is crucial in a time of war
Ukraine: We stand with the people and defend free media
Safety of Journalists
The work of journalists, activists and human rights defenders is vital, as they strive to document, report and tell the truth about the situation and suffering on the ground, providing accurate reporting to counter rampant disinformation. Journalists on the ground in Ukraine are working in the most difficult of conditions, facing ongoing threats to their and their loved ones life and health. Many were forced to leave their homes and flee with their families to safer locations. Their safety and protection must be guaranteed, so they can continue reporting without fear of deliberate attacks.
Protecting Independent Media
It is precisely during times of war and conflict that media freedom should be most vigorously defended. Independent media have to be free to report accurate information and hold power to account. In Russia, independent journalists and media outlets are accused of spreading false information and face 15 years in prison for using the term ‘war’. This move effectively silenced independent media, further contributing to the spread of propaganda and misinformation, designed to obscure the reality of the war.
At the same time, independent media in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus face ongoing financial instability and struggle against actions designed to block access to their reporting. More support is needed to ensure they can continue their vital work.
Access to the Internet
For several years, Russia has been building a digital online curtain by tightening governmental control over online expression and online companies operating in the country. Through its plans around ‘sovereign internet’ separated from the global network, Russia created infrastructure which could block its citizens from accessing all independent information and reliable news and networks.
Russia’s blocking of several social media platforms and independent news sites is already impacting the ability of civil society to organise and communicate both within and outside of Russia, further stifling pro-democracy sentiments in the country.
As Russia wages information war on its own citizens, Western companies must ensure their actions do not have an adverse impact on Russian people’s ability to access independent information and on the work of the civil society groups based in the country.
Misinformation and propaganda increasingly become a war tactic, designed to control the information environment.
To counter those efforts, we need continuous investment in media literacy and individual’s ability to critically analyse and fact-check information they are presented with. Simultaneously, we need efforts to expand access to diverse, plural and independent sources of information, who can provide access to reliable and trustworthy news.
Thousands of people across Russia and Belarus bravely took to the streets, at great personal risk, to protest the war and many have been detained for demonstrating their support for Ukraine.
The arrests follow on from the ones made in 2020, when hundreds of people were detailed in Belarus, as the government strived to clamp down on protests which erupted following the reelection of president Lukashenko. Many still remain behind bars.
In both countries, the remarkable displays of courage in calling for political reform continue to be met with force and repressions.
For too long, the international community has turned a blind eye to oligarchs’ money, often tied to corruption, money laundering and illegality. Individuals with ties to the Kremlin were free to exercise their power and influence with impunity.
The sanctions imposed by the international community are an important step in the right direction. What is now needed urgently is a robust system of transparency and accountability, to ensure they are effectively implemented and properly enforced.
Importantly, those who work on uncovering the dirty money ties should not be intimidated or harassed for the work they do. We need urgent action to tackle the rise of vexatious lawsuits (SLAPPs) in Europe, to stop the wealthy and the powerful from abusing the legal systems in order to intimidate journalists and public watch-dogs into silence.
How did we get here?
We know that undermining freedom of expression starts with restrictions imposed on independent media, on civic space and threats to journalists. Here are some key stages from the last decade of the Kremlin’s playbook to do just that.
Joint call to make respect for press freedom a cornerstone of all demands towards Belarus
Russia: Article 19 supports media group’s petition to the European Court
Russia: ‘Foreign Agents’ Bill threatens journalists
Requiring media to register as ‘foreign agents’ poses threat to free speech
UN HRC: Civic Space Restrictions in Central Asia and Eastern Europe must be addressed
Russia: Mass Media Defence Centre, latest target in continued NGO crackdown
Joint Letter with INGOs call on President Putin to repeal ‘Foreign Agent’ law