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World Press Freedom Day 2024 Marks Exodus Of Journalists From Russia

Foreign and Israeli journalists stand on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot, southern Israel, October 19, 2023. `(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90) via TJP

This year’s World Press Freedom Day has significant meaning as 601 Reporters have fled from Russia, seeking safety in Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has highlighted the ongoing press crackdown.

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated annually on May 3. The UN General Assembly declared it a global observance in December 1993 to remind governments worldwide to uphold press freedom. But during Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the government has demonstrated a commitment to dismantling press freedom.

Since invading Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has continuously violated fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech.

It has also restricted the ability of Journalists and independent media outlets to carry out their work and operate within the country.

Most independent media outlets in Russia have been banned, blocked, discredited, or subjected to military censorship.

These actions have forced many Journalists to flee Russia, while those who remain often conceal their identities.

From the beginning of the war until the end of 2022, 464 journalists immigrated to Israel, and 137 more have fled Russia for Israel since January 2023, according to Israel’s Aliyah and Integration Ministry.

These journalists seek safety and the freedom to work with integrity in Israel.

Journalists who remain in Russia do so at great personal risk.

Reporters Without Borders states that 64 Journalists have been detained and seven have disappeared in Russia since 2022.

In 2023 alone, Russian authorities arrested 34 journalists. Among those detained are two Americans: Wall Street Journal correspondent, Evan Gershkovich, charged with espionage, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, accused of not declaring herself a “foreign agent.”

Sofya Kanevsky, a Journalist for Novaya Gazeta Europe – a publication banned in Russia – spoke with The Media Line about Russia’s press crackdown. Kanevsky moved to Israel in 2018 and lived there for a year before returning to Russia.

“I attended the 2019 protests in Moscow, where I witnessed ruthless crackdowns,” Kanevsky said.

“I saw how my friends reported on the events, which inspired me to work for Novaya Gazeta.”

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper known for its liberal, democratic stance, covers sociopolitical issues, human rights, and investigative journalism. The paper and its staff have won numerous awards, but six of its Journalists have been killed, likely due to their work.

The paper’s Editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts to preserve freedom of thought as an indispensable condition for democracy and peace.” Muratov and the newspaper staff auctioned off the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medal and donated the proceeds – $103.5 million – to UNICEF to aid Ukrainian child refugees.

On September 5, 2022, Moscow’s Basmanny District Court revoked Novaya Gazeta’s media license, effectively banning it in Russia. This move was based on a claim by Roskomnadzor, the government’s surveillance and censorship agency.

Kanevsky recalled that when the war in Ukraine started, blatant media repression began in Russia. The government enacted laws against “fake news” and “discrediting the Russian army,” labeling people as foreign agents and imprisoning more Journalists.

Russia has enacted repressive laws targeting independent media, especially those deemed “foreign agents” or “undesirable organizations.”

Journalists working for “undesirable” organizations can be imprisoned for their reporting. Outlets and journalists labeled “foreign agents” must comply with onerous auditing and labeling rules that drain resources.

“We faced many restrictions, working day and night, exhausted and fearful of making a mistake like calling a war a ‘war’ instead of a ‘special military operation’ as required by authorities,” Kanevsky noted.

When Russia banned Novaya Gazeta, its team split up to create new publications abroad. Kanevsky then joined Novaya Gazeta Europe, led by former deputy editor Kirill Martynov.

In June 2023, Russian authorities labeled Novaya Gazeta Europe an “undesirable organization.”

“I flew back to Israel, where I can now write more honestly about the war in Ukraine,” Kanevsky said.

Kanevsky noted, however, that writing about Russia from abroad is challenging.

“We’re starting to live in a bubble, but we try to keep ties with family and stay grounded,” she shared.

Kanevsky feels the civic independence and freedom in Israel that is absent in modern Russia.

“Here, you can protest without fearing being beaten with batons,” she said, admiring how Israelis openly express themselves.

“I think it’s a national trait here. You can’t do to people what the state did in Russia. They rebel against any signs of dictatorship,” she added.

Vladimir Raevskiy, a renowned Journalist, was also forced to leave Russia. The television and radio presenter and two-time TEFI-Region award winner moved to Israel in February 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Though he has lived in London since August 2024, Raevskiy still feels patriotic toward Israel, which took him in during a difficult time. “Israel is my country. I am its citizen. Even in our darkest moments, from external threats to our mistakes, I remain a proud citizen,” he told The Media Line.

Raevskiy commented to The Media Line on the Israel-Hamas war: “Despite leaving Israel, I want to be there when drones fly and war breaks out.”

He was an active Journalist in Russia, focusing on culture and history. He made television documentaries, hosted weekly radio shows on Silver Rain, and wrote columns for various publications. He also conducted interviews for the publication Medusa, now banned as a “foreign agent” and an “undesirable organization.”

“I worked on culture and history, rarely talking about current events, but historical and cultural topics are closely tied to politics. I tried to emphasize this connection through deeper methods, avoiding simplistic analogies like ‘Hitler as Putin.’ All this collapsed in one morning,” Raevskiy recalled.

Vladimir lost everything when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Already on a trip to Israel at the time, he stayed there with just two suitcases, immediately halting his work in Russia.

“Our whole lives were turned upside down. We had just finished production on our biggest film, Free Theater in an Unfree Country. It was set to premiere in April 2022, and we were to return to Russia in early March, but everything got canceled,” he said.

Raevskiy immediately understood that he couldn’t continue his work in Russia with integrity. He also knew that widespread state repression, especially against journalists, would become more frequent and brutal.

“I couldn’t say on air that today is a wonderful day when they’re bombing Mariupol and hitting the maternity hospital,” Raevskiy said.

Once in Israel, Raevskiy worked on various media projects before focusing on his social networks, which eventually became a small media company. He shares his ideas and discusses culture on Instagram, YouTube, and Telegram. He also leads tours and has started performing historical stand-up in various countries.

“Free journalism’s future in Russia depends entirely on the political regime. Our profession is as discredited as possible,” said Raevskiy.

He acknowledged that despite censorship and danger, Russia has produced many Journalists who do excellent work in repressive conditions.

In Israel, Raevskiy hasn’t worked as a Journalist, struggling to find a suitable publication. – TJP

Source: TJP

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