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Regional corruption crisis deepens

Eastern Europe and Central Asia are experiencing a corruption crisis. Reporting on corruption, whether local or national, lands journalists in danger and in prison across the region; the majority of journalists in prison in Russia and Azerbaijan were covering this topic.[1]

A car bomb targeted journalist Sead Sadiković in Montenegro (2nd quartile) in April, but did not harm him. Sadiković is a TV reporter who reports on corruption and organised crime. He suspected the attack was political, ordered by someone in local government.[2] A month later, investigative journalist Olivera Lakić was shot in the leg outside her home. Her injuries were not life-threatening, but she had also been attacked before. Lakić has written numerous articles about Montenegro’s crime and corruption.[3]

Serbian investigative journalist Milan Jovanović´s home was firebombed in December, with shots fired to prevent those inside from leaving.[4] He managed to escape the burning building with his wife. The perpetrator, a mayor from the ruling party, was briefly arrested, and Jovanović was put under police protection.[5] Jocanović believes that articles he published about local organised criminals may have provoked the attack.[6]

Serbia sits in the 3rd quartile globally, having seen a huge decline in both Protection and Media themes in the last decade, during which it also experience the world’s fourth-biggest decline in its overall score. Both scores are well below the regional average: 0.32 and 0.29 respectively.

Serbia’s President Aleksander Vucić spent 2018 concentrating democratic powers around himself and his party.[7]

Tajikistan (bottom of the 4th quartile) jailed Khayrullo Mirsaidov for false reporting, embezzlement, and misuse of state funds after he made allegations of corruption against local government. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and, though he was released following international pressure, his conviction remains.[8]

In September, anti-corruption activist Oleh Mikhaylyk was shot and injured in Odessa, Ukraine (3rd quartile), which has seen one of the top global declines in the last decade – dropping 0.31 during the period.[9]

Polish journalist Tomasz Piątek found himself before a military court for revealing the Defence Minister’s links with Russian organised crime.[10] The case was later dropped.

In one of the more bizarre events of the year, Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko staged his own death in Ukraine, supposedly to evade an assassination plan, for which a man was later jailed.[11]

Azerbaijan’s (4th quartile) corruption extends beyond its borders, and even into the corridors of European power; 13 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe were expelled for accepting bribes from the country (beneficiaries of the ‘Laundromat’ money-laundering scheme).[12]

Journalists were also targeted in Bulgaria (2nd quartile) for investigating misuse of European Union funds.[13]


[1] Reporters without Borders, 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index: Glimmers of Hope Amid Overall Decline in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, available at

[2] South East European Network for Professionalization of Media, Montenegro: ‘There is No Point in Police Protection for Journalists’, 6 April 2018, available at

[3] The Guardian, ‘Investigative journalist shot and injured in Montenegro’, 9 May 2018, available at

[4] South East European Network for Professionalization of Media, Serbia: Journalist’s House Burned Down – Swift Investigation Demanded, 13 December 2018, available at

[5] Reporters without Borders, Serb Authorities Cannot Keep Ignoring Threats Against Journalists, 14 December 2018, available at

[6] Council of Europe – Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, Investigative Journalist Milan Jovanović Attacked with Molotov Cocktail, 20 February 2019, available at :

[7] Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019, available at

[8] Catherine Putz, ‘#FreeKhayrullo and the art of changing Tajikistan’s mind’, The Diplomat, 24 August 2018, available at

[9] Freedom House, Ukraine: Address Attacks against Activists and Human Rights Defenders, 3 October 2018, available at

[10] Reporters without Borders, Media Freedom NGOs and Professional Organisations ask Polish Defence Minister to Drop Complaint Against Journalist, 18 July 2018, available at

[11] Agence France-Presse, ‘Man jailed for plotting to kill Russian reporter Arkady Babchenko’, The Guardian, 1 September 2018, available at

[12] Council of Europe, Independent Investigation Body on the Allegations of Corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly, 15 April 2018, available at

[13] Reporters without Borders, RSF Condemns the Arrest of Two Investigative Journalists in Bulgaria, 21 September 2018, available at