#FollowFriday: Keeping Tabs on Free Expression in 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

By: Nouran Sedaghat

Free expression in 2014 is off to a rocky start. From the detention of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt to the repression of anti-government protests in Ukraine to the myriad issues facing Russia in the wake of the Sochi Olympics, it seems as though the right to freedom of expression has come under fire around the globe. With that in mind, this latest #FollowFriday highlights some major players you can keep tabs on in order to trace the development of some of the major threats to free expression facing the world today.

Detained Al Jazeera Journalists: Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed
On December 29, 2013, journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed were seized from their hotel rooms and imprisoned in Cairo. According to The Guardian they were accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood (designated a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities) to tarnish Egypt’s international reputation.

Al Jazeera Arabic journalists Abdullah Al Shami and Mohammed Badr were arrested in summer 2013, and Al-Shami remains incarcerated without charge while Badr was finally released on February 5, 2014. The latest update on their plight sees Fahmy, Greste, and Mohammed scheduled to appear in court for the second time since their arrest on March 5, 2014. In the months since their arrest, the Twitter accounts of the three journalists have been transformed into digital headquarters of a campaign for their release, run by their families. They provide regular updates on the status of the three detained journalists, and information about various shows of support taking place around the world.

For even more information on the case, check out the recap of the joint CJFE / Al Jazeera press conference, highlights from our vigil for the Global Day of Action in support of press freedom, and be sure to keep track of the #FreeAJstaff hashtag.

Follow Mohamed Fahmy: @repent11
Follow Peter Greste: @PeterGreste
Follow Baher Mohamed: @bahrooz
Join the conversation using #FreeAJstaff

Protests in Ukraine: Opposition Leader Vitali Klitschko

As CNN reported, the unrest in Ukraine began when the opposition forces voiced concern over President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to renege on a trade pact with the European Union. However, the subsequent protest movement developed into a full-blown demand for constitutional reforms, as Ukrainians sought a system that would allow for more power to be transferred from the presidency to parliament. It culminated in the impeachment of Mr. Yanukovych, as Ukrainian Members of Parliament voted last Saturday to remove him from office, while simultaneously appointing a new Attorney General to investigate his culpability in the deaths of over 100 protestors. When Ukraine’s presidential elections were pushed up to May 25, 2014 in the wake of this unrest, prominent opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was quick to announce his candidacy for the position. A former boxer who also holds a PhD, Mr. Klitschko maintains a joint Twitter account with his brother, Wladimir. Given the range of his professional endeavors, tweets range from sports news to political pleas – but either way, the news is sure to be up-to-date.

Follow Vitali Klitschko: @Klitschko.

Sochi Olympics: Russian LGBT Network
As CJFE’s #WatchSochi timeline illustrated, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games were mired in controversy with this basic human right. From the various legislated challenges to freedom of expression that predated the games, to the most recent arrest of nine activists on February 17, 2014, it is clear that the international spotlight has done little to shame Russia into cooperating with international standards.

One of the groups that has suffered the most in view of Russia’s dedication to censorship is the LGBTQ community, which is being targeted directly through what is arguably the country’s most grievous transgression of the right to freedom of expression, the so-called “anti-gay propaganda” law. Despite the great risks however, LGBTQ activists in Russia have continued to attempt to voice their opinions in public forums and call for change.

A central organizing body in this respect has been the Russian LGBT Network, an NGO that promotes the rights and social adaptation of all members of this community. Members of the organization have been highly vocal during the Sochi Olympics, including Anastasia Smirnova, who was one of four activists detained in St. Petersburg as part of the “first anti-gay arrests” of the Games that took place on February 7, 2014.

Follow the Russian LGBT Network: @rulgbtnet.


Nouran Sedaghat is a former CJFE intern, currently completing her degree in political science and art history.