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Roberta Knoll

#ReportIt: Five years of impunity – what the murder of Pavel Sheremet means for journalism in Ukraine

By | ReportIt, Ukraine

On 20 July, 2016 Pavel Sheremet, a journalist working for online investigative newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda and Radio Vesti, was assassinated in a car explosion.

Pavel Sheremet, 44, was a Belarusian journalist who was imprisoned by the government of Belarus in 1997 and had been working outside of Belarus for a long time. He previously worked in Russia as a TV host and journalist before moving to Kyiv around five years before he was killed.

Five years on, the perpetrators and masterminds behind Sheremet’s assassination remain unpunished, as the official investigation by the police has been without any result. In contrast, an investigation by Pavel Sheremet’s friends and colleagues at investigative TV programme and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has been much more revealing, though impunity remains.

We spoke with Anna Babinets of, who is leading the investigation project.

ECPMF: Five years since the murder of Pavel Sheremet and five years of impunity now. What moment made you start your own investigation on the crime? What did you expect from that?

Anna Babinets: It directly started within the first two hours after the explosion of Pavel Sheremet’s car. Me and my journalist colleague Dmytro Gnap decided immediately to figure out what happened.

We are journalists, investigators and friends of Pavel. We couldn’t just wait and do nothing.

We started to talk to people, found out where the car was parked the night before, and we collected all the available material from the CCTV camera surveillance from restaurants, shops and hotels nearby, to find out if it was a car bomb, who placed it there, how and when. We did that for two months directly after the attack, but it wasn’t that easy to get the video material, especially from organisations and banks. Other journalists joined our team and helped us collect and analyse the videos. We finally had some findings, but we couldn’t publish anything in the first two months in order to not disturb the police’s investigation. But within only three or four days when we started our investigation, we already found material showing the person who placed the bomb under Sheremet’s car.

We didn’t expect to publish a documentary or anything, we just wanted to check how the police worked on that case and follow our journalistic instincts, to be there and check what happened, to have our own results and to share it with people.

Three suspects arrested – but growing scepticism

ECPMF: What’s the current status of your investigation? And what’s the official status of the police? Which key questions remain unanswered?

Babinets: We still don’t have the answer who killed and who ordered the murder of Pavel Sheremet. Our investigation is still to inspect, to review and to check the police’s investigation, if they do their job right or wrong. We still don’t want to publish small findings and scandalise it.

Our responsibility is to find out where police are making mistakes or are lying or publishing disinformation, and then publish our own results from our investigation.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s the police or us or other journalists who find the perpetrators and masterminds behind the murder and bring them to jail.

The official investigation by the police is already finished, they presented three suspects who allegedly placed the bomb. But from my perspective as a journalist and of many other people, there is not enough proof that these are the right people who committed the crime. We read a lot of documents that were not included in the criminal case, and there is not enough strong proof against these suspects. A lot of facts published by the police aren’t true, we checked that. People in the Ukraine don’t trust in the police arresting the right people for that murder. The case is still at court, and we still don’t have a decision. But the police have to investigate two cases: who did it and who ordered the murder.

In the case of ordering there is absolutely nothing.

In our investigation, we can say that we found the killers.

Increased trust in journalists’ work

ECPMF: What does it mean for the public sphere, when the investigation of journalists has more to reveal than the police?

Babinets: The main finding in our story was that we found the person who was next to Pavel’s house for hours the night before. This person is a former official security service agent of the Ukraine. We don’t say that this person was necessarily involved but it was really suspicious. The police never interrogated him before our documentary. We published our story nine months after the murder. The police admitted that they failed in the investigations, that happens not that often for the police to be honest. Normally, they insist on being right, and especially, that journalists are wrong.

Photo: Anna Babinets

But we found cars and people and talked to them, whereas the police didn’t. Maybe they didn’t want to interrogate them or didn’t want to include these people in the case, as the person was connected to the security service. So, the police offered us to cooperate with them after they admitted that they had failed. We declined because we didn’t want to sign a non-disclosure agreement, because we are journalists. We want to share our findings with the people and don’t want to sign any official documents that would have forbidden that. But we shared some non-sensitive information with the police.

After we published the story, Ukrainian journalists and activists started to question the police and people didn’t know how they could trust the police any longer, because they were doing their job so poorly.

We knew that nine months were a very long period for a criminal case to not be solved by then. It would have been very important to interrogate the person of the security service immediately after the murder, not only nine months later when our investigation revealed it.

Many people concluded that they couldn’t trust the police on this issue and that they trust journalists more in this case and it’s still like this.

In general, people don’t trust the police, but in the case of killing Pavel they absolutely mistrust the police, and that’s because of our story, because we showed that it’s possible to work more carefully to find important details. But the Ukrainian police didn’t provide enough evidence against the suspects, it looked like a political monument, when they had to solve the crime, because at that time a new president was in charge. Within a few months they solved the crime.

At first effective influence, followed by resignation

ECPMF: How does this imbalance affect your journalistic work? How has this experience influenced your views of the press’ watchdog role?

Babinets: During this investigation it looked like journalists were very powerful. But this is not normal. It was maybe the only case in the last 13 years with an impact like that and we had the feeling that our work really has an influence. But that’s not normal in Ukraine. Usually, the police or prosecutors or others say that journalists don’t understand what’s going on. This time it was different.

ECPMF: Five years of impunity now – do you think the police and prosecution services have done everything possible to solve the murder?

Babinets: No, because there is no result. When we interviewed the people, one of our main questions was: Have the police ever interrogated you? In many cases they didn’t. We are journalists, so we don’t have all these rights that the police have. We can find people that may talk to us, may lie to us. We even find people that are not related to the case. But if the police may have reacted more quickly maybe they could have found the right people to advance the investigation. And we see that they could have done much more.

ECPMF: Do you think the case will be solved soon?

Babinets: This is a big question, because we see that there is a very big mystery coming along with that murder, it might be a political murder, it might be the security service from his mother country Belarus, or Russia or Ukraine, most likely they were involved in this. Because Pavel was a very famous and an important person in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. I think there is something in Pavel’s past that may be why the other countries are involved in this. I see that there is a very big political influence and it will be solved when the political situation has changed for the better. Then the crime may be solved.

For example Georgiy Gongadze’s murder was solved after 17 years. The authorities back then were involved, and the murderers are in jail now. It depends as well on the political situation if the crime will be solved.

Is Ukraine safe for journalists?

ECPMF: Do you feel safe while doing your work in recent years?

Babinets: Sometimes no, but mostly yes. When we are talking about Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, countries from our region, Ukraine is in a very good position. There is democracy, journalism and freedom of speech. We are here in a much better situation.

But of course, a lot of things aren’t comfortable, when we publish about politicians, about crimes, of course we know that it could end bad.

We sometimes feel in danger, I care about my journalists as editor-in-chief in my agency. Mostly I care about the young people who do investigation, so my work now is mostly to predict what will happen next after publishing, always thinking about dangers and about the risk of our stories. So yes, there are many dangerous things around journalism in Ukraine, not only for investigators. There are still attacks, but we know that this is a part of our work and not only the case in Ukraine, if you consider Daphne Caruana Galizia from Malta or Ján Kuciak in Slovakia.

We investigators are always a target for people who are not happy with our work. We don’t feel completely safe. But we can work and publish really important stuff.

Aspirations for more impact

ECPMF: Do you have the feeling that your investigation has an impact on what the society is aware of e. g. freedom of press?

Babinets: Yes, I feel an impact compared to twenty years ago when I started working as a journalist. Back then journalism was absolutely ignored by authorities, it was pro-Russian, the Ukrainian government and the parliament absolutely ignored journalists and their work. Now, I feel that what we do has an impact. But again, we always want more impact, especially young journalists who don’t know the former times when journalism was an absolute underground activity. We want more, sometimes we see that the criminal systems that have been built up for years are very strong compared to our small attempts to destroy it, which is not enough. Now, our work is to bring very important things to civil society and organisations.

What we find and collect is used by activists and this can change something in a constructive way.

Firing people after we revealed a story doesn’t solve the problem. We have to work long and hard and without activists a change would not be possible. So, we have an impact, but it’s not our sole impact but needs to be multiplied by others.

The need for international pressure

ECPMF: Is there anything you would like to add?

Babinets: I think that it’s very important when we are talking about the murder of Pavel Sheremet that the international organisations and structures have to remind the Ukrainain authorities that it’s important to solve that case. Because on the national level there is not enough pressure for solving the case, even if the arrested suspects are the right people.

Still the big question remains: who were the masterminds behind the murder?

It’s very important that international communities remind the authorities that it’s not only Ukrainian journalists who are waiting for answers in this case.

About our interview partner

Anna Babinets works as editor-in-chief of SLIDSTVO.INFOan investigative agency based Kyiv, Ukraine. She also works as regional editor for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Anna Babinets is specialised on discovering high scale corruption, money laundering schemes and crimes. She is part of the Panama Papers team – several stories about the Ukrainian president’s Petro Poroshenko offshore companies were written by her. She is one of authors of the documentary “Killing Pavel”. The documentary was awarded with the DIG Award (Italy) and the IRE Medal (USA) in 2018.

#ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:

Vermummter Neonazi mit Schraubschlüssel beim Angriff auf Journalisten in Fretterode

#ReportIt: “You can’t intimidate committed journalists with such acts of violence”

By | COVID_19, Features, Germany, ReportIt

To read the interview in German, click here.

On April 29, 2018, two neo-Nazis brutally attacked journalist Martin Mayer* and his colleague, while they were conducting a research trip in Fretterode, (a small municipality in the German state Thuringia). It was about the militant right-winger and board member of the right-extremist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), Thorsten Heise.

Both journalists sustained serious injuries and were hospitalised. Their equipment was stolen during the attack. Three years later, a trial date has finally been set for the two attackers. We speak with one of the journalists involved, who wishes to remain anonymous so we have used a pseudonym.

ECPMF: What signal does it send when such a trial has been on hold for three years?

Martin Mayer: It sends a dangerous signal from the prosecution authorities to neo-Nazis. For them, it is a signal that they can do anything and will not be punished for it in the near future. This comes very close to a carte blanche, as can now also be seen in the Ballstädt trial against neo-Nazis. The proceedings have now lasted five or six years. Now the judiciary is offering the accused neo-Nazis deals so that they only get suspended sentences for blatant acts of violence. I, and also my lawyers, fear that in the upcoming Fretterode trial, the sentences will also be significantly reduced here because the proceedings have already lasted so long.

ECPMF: What do you expect from the trial now that it is scheduled for September 2021?

Mayer: That is difficult to say. It will be a very long trial, the judiciary has scheduled twenty trial days. My lawyers think that we definitely need a longer trial because so many witnesses have to be heard.

I expect a fair trial for us. For me personally, it has always been a burden because the trial has already been postponed twice. I keep preparing myself mentally and physically for it, and it keeps getting postponed. It is very difficult for me psychologically to deal with it and I’ve also noticed how it re-traumatises me.

Heart palpitations, mental stress and limited research

ECPMF: What influence did this brutal attack have on your journalistic work?

Mayer: After the attack, I withdrew [from work] for a month and a half. I first had to realise, for myself, what had happened. I then slowly started documenting neo-Nazi gatherings again, always with the background knowledge that I know there are police here. The police are there to enforce press freedom and also to protect me when I’m threatened, which they often did, but often arriving very late or sometimes not at all.

I continued to build up my safety net. If something were to happen to me, there are people who can respond.

To this day, I go to public neo-Nazi meetings with more heart palpitations than before, especially when I know that Thorsten Heise will be performing. Before that, I sleep very badly for three or four nights and am very nervous.

I also only document public meetings and no longer go to conspiratorially organized meetings, because the psychological strain, as I noticed after one or two times, is simply too high for me, so I have refrained from doing so.

ECPMF: So your work has already changed very drastically overall?

Mayer: Definitely. The pressure and the psychological strain have changed extremely.

But it was my decision to continue, in order to show that committed journalists cannot be intimidated by such acts of violence.

The radicalization of corona deniers affects the press

ECPMF: Feindbild Journalist. Journalist as enemy stereotype, a study published by ECPMF, attributes almost half of the attacks recorded in 2020 from the right-wing end of the spectrum. In addition, there is the practice of doxxing, i.e. publishing one’s addresses online, as well as increased enemy and death lists. Are we dealing with a new manner in which critical voices or journalists are attacked?

Mayer: Firstly, I would distinguish between the groups of neo-Nazis and the so-called corona deniers. There is a strong radicalisation, of the latter. They make great use of doxxing and the mechanisms of the neo-Nazi scene. In the neo-Nazi scene, however, the threat situation has not changed. It has become more public and better known, but colleagues who have been working in this field for twenty or thirty years confirm that the threat situation has always been constant. It is different, [however], on the side of the corona deniers.

ECPMF: Our Feindbild-Study also identifies hostility to the press as an ideological bracket for various groups ranging from corona skeptics and conspiracy theorists to the extreme right. Do you share this assessment?

Mayer: I definitely share this assessment. Corona-deniers use the mechanisms of the extreme right, but unlike neo-Nazis, they really attack at demonstrations. It sounds harsh, but I prefer to go photographing at neo-Nazi events than in this spectrum, because I know that neo-Nazis know exactly how to behave at a march. So they tend not to attack the press, they just threaten it.

In contrast to the conspiracy ideology spectrum, who feel strongly threatened by an alleged dictatorship and this is new to them. This group has become more agitated and radical. They follow their feeling of being threatened. In addition, they often have not yet received the same  media coverage when they’ve attacked press representatives. When you attack the press at neo-Nazi marches, there is this publicity. In the neo-Nazi spectrum, this ‘knowledge’ is already passed on in basic political education for new generations.

In the corona-deniers spectrum, however, the lack of experience leads to increased attacks on members of the press.

ECPMF: But currently it is already one of the main points of criticism presented the media, which is mentioned against these demonstrations.

Mayer: Absolutely, but you don’t learn that from just one incident, precisely because the corona-deniers are just becoming radicalized and politicized and more public. In the case of the neo-Nazis, this has been a gradual process over years, but that also only applies to gatherings. If you then observe a conspiratorial meeting, as in my case, it is already a completely different story.

No sufficient protection by the police

ECPMF: The Reporters Without Borders organization rates press freedom in Germany in 2021 as only “satisfactory”, confirming the development described in our Feindbild-Study. On demonstrations, the demonstrators themselves are the reason for attacks on journalists, but misconduct on the part of the police in dealing with the press has also been noted several times. Do the police protect the media enough here?

Mayer: In my opinion, the police do not protect press representatives enough at gatherings. In my experience, there are many different reasons for this. On the one hand, this happens because of logistical reasons. If two press representatives are documenting a march, it is much easier to remove these two people from the situation than vice versa, which is against the freedom of the press. Actually, the police should protect these two people from the larger crowd. On the other hand, many police officers do not know much about press freedom or the press code, how the press works and what press representatives are allowed to do. There would have to be a clear retraining or clear emphasis in the training of the police how to act with press representatives on marches.

What can also be seen is that press representatives are seen as the enemy by the police.

If I document police violence, then these videos are published and it paints the police in a bad light, which they bear grudges over.

The press as an enemy

ECPMF: As ECPMF, we have developed a Press Freedom Police Codex  in order to promote healthy interaction between the press and the police. Nevertheless, the police recently again dealt violently with members of the press, e.g. during a blockade action in Berlin. Do you have the feeling that the relationship between the police and the press is becoming more brutal, or is a rapprochement still possible?

Mayer: It is definitely becoming more brutal.

Especially when it comes to documenting civil disobedience, the press is definitely seen as an enemy figure by the police and is also inundated with complaints.

When I, as a representative of the press, document an action of civil disobedience, such as a blockade, I have sometimes received a charge of trespassing because I accompanied activists who blocked a coal excavator. This was dropped by the intervention of my lawyer, because it was clear that I had accompanied these activists press-wise, but nevertheless I got a complaint, nevertheless it was very close to the border that my entire camera equipment was confiscated by the police. I don’t really know how an approach can still take place there.

ECPMF: Which social actor do you see as having a duty here to take measures to protect the press, and what do you hope to achieve?

Mayer: Politics has an influence on the police. I would like to see politicians not only paying lip service to the need to uphold freedom of the press, but also exerting a concrete influence on it, be it through training, or through talks between the police and representatives of the press at a round table.

This pressure also exists in civil society. If I am prevented from doing my job by police officers and I am attacked in the process, and if my colleagues see and record this, then this is discussed in the press, but also in civil society.

But there is still too little pressure on police officers.

It is a bit more difficult with neo-Nazis. There it goes into the ideological corner of the neo-Nazis. Violence and threats are clearly anchored in the ideology of neo-Nazis and extreme right-wing actors, and there must be a political, as well as a civil society response to this ideology; it cannot be reduced to hostility towards the press alone.

*The editors have changed the name at the request of the interviewee.

About our interview partner

Martin Mayer has been researching the extreme right for several years, among other things for specialist magazines.

ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:

Vermummter Neonazi mit Schraubschlüssel beim Angriff auf Journalisten in Fretterode

#ReportIt: “Mit solchen Gewalttaten kann man engagierte Journalist:innen nicht einschüchtern”

By | COVID_19, Features, Germany, ReportIt

Um das Interview auf Englisch zu lesen, klicken Sie hier.

Am 29. April 2018 haben zwei Neonazis den Journalisten Martin Mayer* und seinen Kollegen brutal attackiert, als die beiden Journalisten zu Recherchezwecken über den NPD-Funktionär Thorsten Heise in Fretterode, Thüringen waren. Beide Journalisten trugen schwere Verletzungen davon und mussten im Krankenhaus behandelt werden; ihre Ausrüstung wurde bei dem Überfall entwendet. Erst dieses Jahr, also drei Jahre später, gibt es einen Termin für den Prozess gegen die zwei Angreifer.

Wir sprechen mit einem der betroffenen Journalisten, der anonym bleiben möchte.

ECPMF: Welches Signal hat es, wenn so ein Prozess jetzt drei Jahre auf Eis lag?

Martin Mayer: Es ist ein fatales Zeichen der Strafverfolgungsbehörden an Neonazis. Für sie ist es ein Signal, dass sie alles machen können und in nächster Zeit erstmal nicht dafür bestraft werden. Das kommt einem Freibrief sehr nahe, wie jetzt auch bei dem Prozess gegen Neonazis im Ballstädt Prozess zu sehen ist. Die Verfahren haben jetzt fünf oder sechs Jahre gedauert. Nun bietet die Justiz den angeklagten Neonazis Deals an, sodass sie für krasse Gewalttaten nur Bewährungsstrafen bekommen. Ich und auch meine Anwälte befürchten, dass beim kommenden Fretterode-Prozess auch hier die Strafen empfindlich gesenkt werden, weil das Verfahren schon so lange dauert.

ECPMF: Was erwarten Sie sich von dem Prozess, der jetzt im September 2021 gegen die Täter ansteht?

Mayer: Das ist schwierig zu sagen. Es wird ein sehr langer Prozess, die Justiz hat zwanzig Prozesstage angesetzt. Meine Anwälte meinen, dass wir auf jeden Fall einen längeren Prozess brauchen, weil so viele Zeug:innen gehört werden müssen.

Ich erwarte mir einen fairen Prozess für uns. Für mich persönlich ist es immer wieder eine Belastung, weil der Prozess schon zwei Mal verschoben worden ist. Ich bereite mich seelisch und innerlich immer wieder darauf vor und immer wieder wird er verschoben. Es ist psychisch sehr schwer für mich, damit umzugehen und ich merke auch, wie mich das immer weiter angreift.

Herzklopfen, psychische Belastung und eingeschränkte Recherche

ECPMF: Welchen Einfluss hat diese brutale Attacke auf Ihre journalistische Arbeit?

Mayer: Nach dem Angriff habe ich mich anderthalb Monate zurückgezogen, musste das erstmal selbst realisieren, was da passiert ist. Ich habe dann langsam wieder angefangen, neonazistischen Versammlungen zu dokumentieren, immer mit dem Hintergrund, ich weiß, hier ist Polizei. Die Polizei ist dafür da, die Pressefreiheit durchzusetzen und mich auch zu beschützen, wenn ich angegangen werde, was sie oftmals auch gemacht hat, oftmals auch sehr spät gekommen ist oder das auch mal nicht gemacht hat.

Ich habe mein Sicherheitsnetz weiter ausgebaut. Wenn mir was passieren würde, gibt es Leute, die darauf reagieren können.

Bis heute gehe ich mit mehr Herzklopfen zu öffentlichen, neonazistischen Versammlungen als vorher, gerade wenn ich weiß, dass Thorsten Heise auftreten wird. Davor schlafe ich drei, vier Nächte sehr schlecht und bin sehr aufgeregt.

Ich dokumentiere außerdem nur noch öffentliche Versammlungen und fahre nicht mehr zu konspirativ organisierten Treffen, weil die psychische Belastung, wie ich nach ein, zwei Malen gemerkt habe, einfach zu hoch für mich ist, sodass ich davon Abstand genommen habe.

ECPMF: Ihre Arbeit hat sich insgesamt also schon sehr drastisch verändert?

Mayer: Auf jeden Fall. Der Druck und die psychische Belastung haben sich extrem geändert.

Aber das ist eine Entscheidung von mir gewesen, dass ich weitermache, um zu zeigen, mit solchen Gewalttaten kann man engagierte Journalist:innen nicht einschüchtern.

Die Radikalisierung der Coronaleugner:innen trifft die Presse

ECPMF: Die vom ECPMF veröffentlichte Feindbild-Studie rechnet fast die Hälfte der 2020 verzeichneten Angriffe dem rechten Spektrum zu. Hinzu kommt die Praxis des Doxing, also Adressen online zu veröffentlichen sowie vermehrte Feindes- und Todeslisten. Haben wir es mit einer neuen Qualität in der Verfolgung von kritischen Stimmen und Journalist:innen zu tun?

Mayer: Da würde ich zwischen Neonazis und dem sogenannten Coronaleugner:innenspektrum unterscheiden. Es gibt eine starke Radikalisierung in diesem Spektrum. Sie bedienen sich sehr des Doxings und den Mechanismen der neonazistischen Szene. In der Neonazi-Szene hat sich die Bedrohungslage aber nicht geändert. Sie ist zwar öffentlicher und bekannter geworden, aber Kolleg:innen, die seit zwanzig, dreißig Jahren in dem Bereich arbeiten, bestätigen die immer konstante Bedrohungslage. Das ist anders auf Seiten der Coronaleugner:innen.

ECPMF: Die Feindbildstudie macht außerdem die Pressefeindlichkeit als eine ideologische Klammer für verschiedene Gruppen von Coronaskeptiker:innen und Verschwörungsideolog:innen bis hin zur extremen Rechten aus. Teilen sie diese Einschätzung?

Mayer: Ich teile diese Einschätzung auf jeden Fall. Die Coronoleugner:innen bedienen sich den Mechanismen der extremen Rechten, greifen aber im Gegensatz zu Neonazis bei Demonstrationen wirklich an. Es klingt hart, aber ich gehe lieber auf neonazistischen Events fotografieren, als in diesem Spektrum, weil ich weiß, dass Neonazis auf einem Aufmarsch genau wissen, wie sie sich zu benehmen haben. Sie greifen also eher nicht die Presse an, sondern bedrohen nur.

Im Gegensatz zum verschwörungsideologischen Spektrum, die sich stark von einer angeblichen Diktatur bedroht fühlen und das neu für sie ist. Diese Gruppe ist aufgeregter und radikaler geworden. Sie folgen ihrem Gefühl sich von mir bedroht zu fühlen. Dazu haben sie oft noch nicht den medialen Widerhall bekommen, wenn sie Pressevertreter:innen angegriffen haben. Wenn man auf neonazistischen Aufmärschen Presse angreift, gibt es diesen medialen Widerhall.

Im neonazistischen Spektrum wird das schon in der politischen Grundbildung weitergegeben.

Im coronaverharmlosenden Spektrum führt die nicht vorhandenen Erfahrung aber dazu, vermehrt Pressevertreter:innen anzugreifen.

ECPMF: Aber aktuell ist es ja schon einer der Hauptkritikpunkte in der medialen Öffentlichkeit, die gegen diese Demonstrationen genannt wird.

Mayer: Auf jeden Fall, aber das lernt man nicht von nur einem Vorfall, gerade weil das coronaverharmlosende Spektrum sich gerade erst radikalisiert und politisiert und öffentlicher wird. Bei den Neonazis ist das ein Lerneffekt über Jahre hinweg gewesen, was sich aber auch nur auf Versammlungen bezieht. Wenn man dann ein konspiratives Treffen beobachtet, wie in meinem Fall, ist es schon wieder eine ganz andere Geschichte.

Kein ausreichender Schutz durch die Polizei

ECPMF: Die Organisation Reporter ohne Grenzen bewertet die Pressefreiheit in Deutschland 2021 nur noch als “zufriedenstellend” und bestätigt damit die in der Feindbildstudie dargestellte Entwicklung. Auf Demonstrationen sind zum einen die Demonstrierenden selbst der Grund für Angriffe auf Journalist:innen, aber auch aus Richtung der Polizei musste mehrmals Fehlverhalten im Umgang mit der Presse festgestellt werden. Schützt die Polizei die Medien hier genug?

Mayer: Meiner Meinung nach schützt die Polizei Pressevertreter:innen nicht genug auf Versammlungen. Das hat aus meiner Erfahrung viele verschiedene Gründe. Einerseits geschieht das aus polizeitaktischen Gründen. Wenn zwei Pressevertreter:innen einen Aufmarsch dokumentieren, ist es viel einfacher, diese zwei Personen aus der Situation zu entfernen als umgekehrt, was aber gegen die Pressefreiheit spricht.

Eigentlich müsste die Polizei diese zwei Personen vor der großen Masse beschützen. Andererseits wissen viele Polizeibeamt:innen nicht viel über die Pressefreiheit und den Pressekodex, wie Presse funktioniert und was Pressevertreter:innen dürfen. Da müsste es eine klare Nachschulung oder klare Schwerpunktsetzung in der Ausbildung der Polizei geben wie mit Pressevertreter:innen auf Aufmärschen zu agieren ist.

Was auch zu sehen ist, Pressevertreter:innen werden bei der Polizei als Feind gesehen.

Wenn ich Polizeigewalt dokumentiere, dann können diese Videos veröffentlicht werden und die agierenden Polizist:innen, aber auch die Polizei an sich, in einem schlechten Licht dastehen, was natürlich nicht gewollt ist.

Die Presse als Feindbild

ECPMF: Wir haben als ECPMF den Pressefreiheitskodex für die Polizei entwickelt, um den Umgang zwischen Presse und Polizei zu fördern. Nichtsdestotrotz ist die Polizei kürzlich bei einer Blockadeaktion in Berlin wieder heftig mit Pressevertreter:innen umgegangen. Haben Sie das Gefühl, dass das Verhältnis zwischen Polizei und Presse rabiater wird oder ist hier noch eine Annäherung möglich?

Mayer: Es wird auf jeden Fall rabiater.

Gerade bei Dokumentationen des zivilen Ungehorsams wird die Presse von der Polizei auf jeden Fall als Feindbild gesehen und auch mit Anzeigen überhäuft.

Wenn ich als Pressevertreter eine Aktion des zivilen Ungehorsams, wie eine Blockade dokumentiere, habe ich teils eine Anzeige wegen Hausfriedensbruch bekommen, weil ich Aktivist:innen begleitet habe, die einen Kohlebagger blockiert haben. Die wurde zwatr durch Einschreiten meines Anwalts wieder fallengelassen, weil klar war, dass ich diese Aktivist:innen pressetechnisch begleitet habe, aber trotzdem habe ich eine Anzeige bekommen, trotzdem war es haarscharf an der Grenze, dass mein gesamtes Kameraequipment durch die Polizei beschlagnahmt wird. Ich weiß nicht so richtig, wie dort noch eine Annäherung stattfinden kann.

ECPMF: Welchen gesellschaftlichen Akteur sehen Sie hier in der Pflicht, presseschützende Maßnahmen zu ergreifen und was erhoffen Sie sich davon?

Mayer: Die Politik hat Einfluss auf die Polizei. Ich wünsche mir durch die Politik nicht nur Lippenbekenntnisse, dass die Pressefreiheit hochgehalten werden muss, sondern eben auch konkret Einfluss darauf zu nehmen, sei es durch Schulungen, sei es durch Gespräche von der Polizei mit Pressevertreter:innen an einem runden Tisch.

In der Zivilgesellschaft gibt es diesen Druck auch. Wenn ich von Polizist:innen davon abgehalten werde, meine Arbeit zu machen und dabei angegangen werde und Kolleg:innen das sehen und aufnehmen, dann wird das in der Presse, aber auch in der Zivilgesellschaft thematisiert.

Aber da kommt noch zu wenig Druck bei Polizist:innen an.

Bei Neonazis ist es ein bisschen schwieriger. Da geht es dann in die ideologische Ecke der Neonazis. Gewalt und Bedrohungen sind ganz klar in der Ideologie von Neonazis und extrem rechten Akteur:innen verankert und hier muss es eine politische, aber auch zivilgesellschaftliche Antwort auf diese Ideologie geben, das kann nicht nur auf die Pressefeindlichkeit reduziert werden.

*Die Redaktion hat den Namen auf Wunsch geändert.

Über unseren Interviewpartner

Martin Mayer recherchiert seit einigen Jahren unter anderem für Fachmagazine in der extremen Rechten.

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Radio Student Studio

#ReportIt: “We will continue, no one can change this”

By | EU Member State, Features, ReportIt, Slovenia

Slovenia: After loss of funding – what happens now to Radio Študent, Europe’s oldest independent radio station?

From 100,000 € to zero – that’s the sad result for the Slovenian Radio Študent looking at the cut funding from the Slovenian Culture Ministry for 2021. Founded in 1969, Radio Študent is one of the oldest non-commercial radio stations in Europe and looks back on a rich history. Now, the future of the radio station with its broad educational platform for students and prospective journalists is at stake.

How did it get this far and what effects does this cut in funding have on the radio station’s future? We are talking with Matjaž Zorec, who is the editor-in-chief.

ECPMF: Matjaž Zorec, first – why is Radio Student so unique in Slovenia and in Europe?

Matjaž Zorec: Radio Študent is the oldest independent radio station in Europe. We were founded in 1969, after the student protest in 1968. The existence of Radio Študent is a direct result of the demonstrations. One of the demands of the students back then was to have their own media, to have a voice and for discovering and hearing new and different music. The uniqueness of Radio Študent composes on one side of being a student radio and on the other of being a community radio which includes minorities and other vulnerable groups. What distinguishes us from other community and student radios is the very high quality and quantity of our program. We air 24/7, we have 17 hours of live programming each day and we have a very diverse programme comprising five editorial boards: music, current affairs, culture, university, and science.

We have a very diverse programme with daily news, cultural news; we are one of the rare media in Slovenia that has a daily art critique. Plus, we have a daily music critique of records and of concerts. The current affairs programme covers domestic politics but also foreign politics, which are usually not represented in the mainstream media.

This unique mixture of student and community media makes Radio Študent very special.

Besides our radio programming we are also a music and cultural producer: we organize festivals, we have our own music label. Additionally, we are organised as an NGO. Besides that, we have another line of programming that focuses on minorities, LGBTQI communities and migrants. Many parts of our programming have been award-winning for example, our show “Lesbomania”, about the lesbian scene in Slovenia.

ECPMF: Regarding the threat of a cut in funding first by the Student Organisation of the University of Ljubljana, SOU, being an issue in January this year, did you expect the loss of funding by the Culture Ministry?

Zorec: No, of course not. We had our problems with our founder SOU. Last year, when a lot of cultural producers and media already had many problems with the current ministry, we were one of the rare institutions that had a meeting with the Minister himself. The signals were positive, they showed understanding for our problems.

Even more, the Minister himself had an interpellation in Spring at our National Assembly. He denounced as a lie that they are cutting Radio Študent. However, the results of this media funding call came the following month, and we were of course very surprised. We were quite shocked because we didn’t expect that at all.

We thought that Radio Študent, with all its history, with all the good work and not being politically affiliated with anyone, could be the one thing that our daily politics could unite about. Of course, this turned out wrong. Before, we thought perhaps we are not close enough to the political view of the Ministry, we may get less funding, maybe 80 % or 70 % which would have been reasonable to some extent. But to completely cut us off from this funding is a total catastrophe, not only for Radio Študent.

The government’s misconception of the media

ECPMF: Do you think the decision was politically motivated?

Zorec: Of course, our interpretation and why we made this public is that this decision is not a decision of a committee of media experts, but politically motivated. This media funding call is being made every year. And every year, either under a right or left government, Radio Študent ranked very high on the scoreboard for the funding. Last year, we got the highest amount of money in our category. Our category is called “programmes of special meaning”. And this call for special media projects is supposed to help this kind of programme. We are the only ones with student status, others have local status. Usually, all these programs were co-financed. This decision, that some of us didn’t get the financing, while other special programmes got the financing, is political in our view.

What is the motivation behind this decision?

Our current Minister, our current government, and our current leading party see the media as a further means of doing politics. They consider the media to be a factor affiliated with political agenda.

There is no deeper meaning behind it, they are shamelessly pragmatic about it. Their philosophy is “you got your money last year, this year we will give the money to ‘our’ media.”

The lack of understanding of the purpose of the media as such is quite shocking although not surprising.

ECPMF: Do you recall the emotions, feelings, and atmosphere at Radio Student when this news reached you?

Zorec: As you can imagine the atmosphere was not very joyful. This cut in funding came really unexpectedly. We were thunderstruck, that took us by surprise. However, on the radio, as a team, we have a wider community, not only the employees but also around 200 students and others who co-produce our programme, plus the wider community of Radio Študent which is older than 50 years. And we even have the support of generations that are not yet part of Radio Študent but are currently auditioning.

Our social strength as a team, as a community, gives us power to overcome anything. We will overcome this hurdle. This ministry couldn’t cancel us even if they wanted to. We will outlive the current Minister and his team.

Incomparable shock for Radio Student

ECPMF: Considering the long history of the radio station – has anything comparable happened before?

Zorec: Radio Študent always had some battles in the past with authorities regarding finances. There were some troubles in our former country, we traditionally have problems with our founder SOU.

However, I don’t remember such a shock therapy like the one we are being treated with right now.

The lack of support the Ministry is giving us now, has never happened before. Even the old so-called totalitarian regime showed more understanding for the media, for Radio Študent, for what we are doing, for what we stand for, than this current government.

ECPMF: How dependent are you on that money? How will it affect your diverse programming?

Zorec: This co-financing was mostly to cover the cost of our programmes, the news, the music, the cultural programme, the technicians, our speakers, basically everything. Our programme is produced by around 200 co-workers, who do their work for a symbolic fee, but a fee nevertheless, as Radio Študent always pays. The loss of co-funding means that we must radically reduce our main programming in autumn.

However, we will continue to work, we will continue to offer space for the minorities. This is one of our main purposes and we will do anything in our power to maintain that and we don’t reduce the voices of vulnerable communities.

Result: cutbacks in journalistic training and education

ECPMF: What other practical consequences will that have on your work and the educational aspect of Radio Študent?

Zorec: Since we are also an educational institution, we have annual auditions for our journalists in our fields for music, culture, politics, university, and science. In this audition, we get around 30-40 new journalists and around 10-20 new technicians and speakers every year. But the problem is that we train through learning-by-doing. So, this programming for which we lost the co-founding is our main means of education. Journalistic, technical and speaker education is being done mainly through our programming. Thus, our educational factors will suffer.

ECPMF: You filed a lawsuit against the ministry’s decision, although success would not automatically ease the situation, in light the proceedings’ length. What do you expect from this action?

Zorec: We filed a lawsuit last Friday [11 June 2021]. This was the only legal means to dispute this decision. We are quite confident that we are right on this point and that we will win this lawsuit. If so, there is firstly the question of how long the process will take. Secondly, if the result is the annulment of the media call, it would be put back into decision-making. However, the same committee and the same Ministry would decide. I don’t know if we can expect a different result. But no matter, we felt obligated to sue the Ministry, we are confident in our programming, we are confident in the quality that we applied with, and I am quite confident that we will win.

Radio Študent won’t fold

ECPMF: How do you imagine Radio Student’s future now?

Zorec: I imagine the future the same as it has always been. We will continue our work. Our strength is – pathetic as it sounds – our people working here, our strong community, and even when I, or our current director are gone, others will come to whom we will pass the torch.

Radio Študent will remain an important domestic, regional, and international progressive media and NGO, who fights for the rights of students and of marginalised groups. This will not change. No one can change this.

Matjaz Zorec, editor-in-chief of Radio Student

Matjaž Zorec, photo: uroš košir/delo

Our interview partner

Matjaž Zorec, generation of the Chernobyl disaster, is a long time associate of Radio Študent and its’ current editor-in-chief. A writer, critic, author of a book of poetry and a radio show literary incest.

ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:

#ReportIt: Abbau der Pressefreiheit als Preis für die EU Grenzsicherung?

By | COVID_19, European Union, Features, Greece, ReportIt

ECPMF: Franziska Grillmeier, Sie arbeiten schon lange zum Thema Geflüchtete und Migration und wohnen auf der Insel Lesvos in Griechenland. Diese Insel ist seit einigen Jahren den meisten vor allem in Bezug auf das Geflüchtetencamp Moria ein Begriff, das letztes Jahr im Herbst jedoch abbrannte.

Kommendes Wochenende, am 20. Juni findet der Weltflüchtlingstag statt. Sie beschäftigen sich unter anderem vor allem mit Migration und Geflüchteten an der europäischen Außengrenze.

Welche journalistischen Herausforderungen bringt dieses besondere Gebiet mit sich, auch im Vergleich zu anderen Themen?

Grillmeier: Wir erleben einen Abbau der Rechtsstaatlichkeit in Bezug auf Flüchtlingsrechte wie brutale Polizeigewalt oder Asylverfahren, die nur mehr simuliert werden. Wir als Presse haben aber eigentlich kaum mehr Zugang, um das zu dokumentieren. Ich bin jetzt seit Sommer 2018 auf der Insel [Lesbos]. Anfangs konnte ich einfach dabei sein, wenn ein Schlauchboot ankam, es gab Zutritt zu Gerichtsälen und Moria. Ich konnte Menschen treffen, mit ihnen im Zelt Stunden übers Leben reden, über die aktuellen Umstände. All das ist jetzt, drei Jahre später, nicht mehr möglich. Seit dem 9. September 2020, als Moria abgebrannt ist, kann ich nur mit Polizeibegleitung ins Lager. In das neue temporäre Lager wurde die internationale Presse erst zwei Mal zugelassen. Dadurch ist eine würdevolle, unabhängige Berichterstattung nicht mehr möglich.

Das gleiche sehen wir bei den Gerichtsverfahren. Die sogenannten Brandstifter von Moria wurden zu zehn Jahren Haft verurteilt, während internationale und nationale Pressevertreter:innen und Menschenrechtsbeobachter:innen nicht zugelassen waren. Erlaubt waren nur 15 Menschen im Saal. Das sind immer wieder Fälle, wo es enorm schwierig wird, zu den Leuten vorzudringen und die eigene Arbeit zu machen.  Wie nach dem Feuer, als über 10.000 Leute in einem Kessel gefangen waren und uns die Polizei aus Sicherheitsgründen nicht durchgelassen hat. Wir mussten alternative Wege und Routen durch die Olivenbaumfelder suchen, um mit den Leuten zu reden.

Da können wir von einer gezielten Einschränkung der Pressefreiheit sprechen.

ECPMF: Begründet wurde der Ausschluss der Presse vom Prozess um den Brand in Moria von mit Corona-Hygienevorschriften. Wie kann noch gewährleistet werden, dass die Berichterstattung valide ist, wenn man nicht selbst vor Ort recherchieren kann?

Grillmeier: Das ist eine wichtige Frage. Im Falle des Gerichtsurteils spreche ich natürlich mit den Anwält:innen, da ich nicht mit den Angeklagten sprechen kann und mir kein Bild vor Ort vom Ablauf und der Stimmung machen kann. Oft gibt es Berichte von von Einschüchterungen der Zeug:innen durch eine zu hohe Polizeipräsenz, von einem rüden Umgangston und rassistischen Äußerungen der Justiz im Gerichtssaal. Bei diesem Prozess, wurden die vier junge Afghanen, darunter drei Minderjährige von einem Kronzeugen identifiziert, der im Gericht gar nicht anwesend war. Zudem konnte keiner der eingeladenen 15 Belastungszeugen im Gerichtssaal bestätigen, die Angeklagten in der angeblichen Tatnacht gesehen zu haben.

Das sind alles Dinge, die gegen das Grundrecht verstoßen. Wir als Journalist:innen tun uns im Nachhinein aber schwer, alles genau nachzuvollziehen, da wir eben nicht im Gerichtssaal zugelassen waren.

ECPMF: Auch an anderen Orten ist es schwer, frei zu berichten. Erst im April dieses Jahrs war es Medienschaffenden möglich, das neue Camp zu besuchen. Wie beurteilen Sie die Lage der Pressefreiheit hier?

Grillmeier: Ich war früher fast jeden zweiten Tag in Moria, saß über Stunden da und habe mit Leuten gegessen und auch Stille zugelassen. Ich bin gelernte Reporterin, ich brauche diese Zwischentöne. Die sind jetzt nicht mehr möglich, wenn wir uns am Supermarktparkplatz treffen, also dort, wo sich die Campbewohner:innen noch aufhalten dürfen. Neben Einkaufswägen kauernd ein Interview mit einem Folterüberlebenden zu führen, funktioniert nicht und führt ganz oft zu enormer Retraumatisierung. Es fehlt der sichere Raum.

Stimmen werden vehement eingeschränkt, Medienschaffende rigoros eingeschüchtert

ECPMF: Wie ist die letzte Pressekonferenz im Camp abgelaufen?

Grillmeier: Das letzte Mal im Camp war für 30 Minuten in einer Gruppe von 30, 35 anderen Medienschaffenden, die alle ganz schnell versuchten, Fotos zu machen. Die Campbewohner:innen wurden nicht informiert, wussten nicht, wer sie da interviewt, wir durften uns nicht vorstellen, durften zum Teil nicht mit den Leuten sprechen. Ich wurde immer wieder von den Pressevertretern des Migrationsministeriums am Ärmel weggezerrt. So kann man sich kein Bild der Lage machen.

Die Menschen sollen immer mehr zu Geistern werden. Sie werden aus dem Bild der Öffentlichkeit gedrängt, während das Gefühl suggeriert wird, man hätte alles unter Kontrolle.

Stimmen werden vehement eingeschränkt, wie auch von Medienschaffenden unter den Campbewohnern, werden rigoros eingeschüchtert. Das ist wie eine rechtliche Parallelwelt, in der sich die Geflüchteten befinden.

Intransparenz, unbeantwortete Anfragen, Festnahmen

ECPMF: Welche Rolle spielen die politischen Institutionen wie die griechische Regierung und die EU in der sich verändernden Lage der Pressefreiheit?

Grillmeier: Man hat die Grundstimmung von der griechischen Regierung in die Ecke der Fake News gedrängt zu werden. Bei einer Pressekonferenz im März haben sich Migrationsminister Notis Mitarakis und EU-Kommissarin Eva Johannson der nationalen und internationalen Presse gestellt, nachdem die EU Geld für fünf neue Hochsicherheitslagern auf den ägäischen Inseln gegeben hat. Die Regierung wurde nach illegalen Push-Backs gefragt, die erwiesenermaßen immer wieder in der Ägäis stattfinden. Das wurde als Fake News bezeichnet und wir sollten unseren Job richtig machen.

Oft gibt es regelrechte Diffamierungskampagnen, in dessen Zuge man der „Lügenpresse“ bezichtigt wird.

Das ist ein Klima, in dem ganz offene Kritik nicht mehr zugelassen wird. Es herrscht eine große Intransparenz und Verzögerung von Antworten auf Presseanfragen. Das zieht sich hin bis zu willkürlichen Verhaftungen an der Küste von verschiedenen Kolleg:innen, die wir in Samos und Lesbos im letzten Jahr beobachten konnten. Wenn ich vor Ort war, wenn ein Schlauchboot mit Geflüchteten ankam, wusste ich, dass ich auf die Polizeistation mitgenommen werde und dass ich des Schmuggelns bezichtigt werden kann, weil keine Dokumentation von Rechtsbrüchen gewollt ist. Da stelle ich mir die Frage: Zu welchem Preis fahre ich hin?

Natürlich versuche ich mich an die Regeln zu halten, doch manchmal hat man das Gefühl, dass sie sich innerhalb von wenigen Stunden wieder verändern können und auch bei der Polizei oft gar nicht bekannt ist, welchen Zugang Journalist:innen haben und welchen nicht.

Wie die Lage in Zukunft in den neuen Lagern aussieht, wissen wir noch nicht genau. Diese neuen Lager werden im Hinterland gebaut, unter Ausschluss der Öffentlichkeit. Das bereitet uns große Sorgen, wie wir unseren Job machen sollen und überprüfen können, wie die EU-Standards dort eingehalten werden, ohne dass wir da reinkönnen.

Das Auge der Öffentlichkeit darf nicht erblinden

ECPMF: Können die die Medienschaffenden und Journalist:innen vor Ort hier ihre Funktion noch erfüllen?

Grillmeier: Solange man nicht darüber berichtet, existiert es einfach nicht. Es ist das Auge der Öffentlichkeit, was dort nicht erblinden darf. Es braucht unabhängige Beobachter:innen vor Ort. Das ist ein Grundrecht, was nicht eingeschränkt werden darf.

Ich hätte diesen rasanten Abbau der Rechtsstaatlichkeit, den wir allein im letzten Jahr erleben konnten, in den Gerichtssälen, aber auch im Zuge der Pressefreiheit, nicht für möglich gehalten.

Das wird aber nicht nur von der griechischen Regierung so gehandhabt, sondern auch im vollen Bewusstsein von den EU-Mitgliedsstaaten getragen, die das als Preis der Grenzsicherung sehen. Nicht nur in Griechenland, sondern auch an der bosnisch-kroatischen Grenze, an der italienisch-französischen Grenze schüchtern staatlichen Akteure die Presse ein oder die Polizei hindert sie an der Arbeit.  Das Arbeitsfeld spiegelt also die rechtliche Parallelwelt der Geflüchteten wider, in der Gesetzlosigkeit vorherrscht.

Warten auf die nächste Eskalation

ECPMF: Welche Risiken bringt diese Veränderung mit sich?

Grillmeier: Es ist ein unglaublicher Druck, der auf den Menschen in den Lagern lastet. Die Folgen der Isolation sind enorm. Die psychischen Folgen der Lagerzustände sind laut Ärzte ohne Grenzen so stark wie noch nie. Für viele Geflüchtete wird der Überlebenswillen durch die Isolation immer weniger

Ich persönlich fühle mich aktuell nicht bedroht. Anders aber vergangenen März, wo wir immer wieder, wie viele humanitäre Helfer:innen und Geflüchtete von rechtsradikalen Gruppierungen angegriffen und dadurch an der Arbeit gehindert wurden.

Ich wurde im Auto angegriffen oder mit Steinen und Stöcken davon abgehalten, ins Lager zu fahren. Wir sind gut aus dieser Situation herausgekommen, aber die generelle Stimmung war angespannt. Das war eine Hetzjagd. Der Frust der Inselbewohner ist implodiert, viele rechtsradikale Gruppen mobilisierten sich aus ganz Griechenland und teilweise auch anderen Europäischen Ländern. Das hatte wochenlang große Unsicherheit zur Folge. Viele verließen aus Sicherheitsgründen die Insel.

Das ist jetzt anders und ich kann dort arbeiten und leben, auch weil es noch immer einen großen Mut unter den unermüdliche Inselbewohner:innen, die sich seit Jahren solidarisch einsetzen. Trotzdem nutzt sich jeder Aufschwung einmal ab, und man weiß nie, wann die Stimmung wieder kippt.

Noch immer würde ich mir jetzt keine Presseweste anziehen und denken, dass ich dadurch geschützt bin, eher im Gegenteil.”

ECPMF: Welchen Akteur sehen Sie hier in der Pflicht, Maßnahmen zum Schutz der Pressefreiheit zu ergreifen und welche Maßnahmen könnten das sein?

Grillmeier: Im Endeffekt ist es die griechische Regierung, aber allen voran auch die Europäischen Mitgliedsstaaten, die sich wieder an geltendes EU-Recht halten müssen und eine starke Zivilgesellschaft die dies auch wieder einfordert.

Daneben hilft es bestimmt, wenn die Redaktionen in Europa und auch in Deutschland, ein Auge darauf haben, welche Hürden Kolleg:innen an den EU-Grenzen bei ihrer Arbeit nehmen müssen und dies zum Thema in der Berichterstattung machen.
Das gilt für Griechenland, aber auch für Bosnien und Herzegowina, für Kroatien, Frankreich, aber auch Berichterstatter:innen auf Rettungsschiffen im Mittelmeer oder Ländern, mit denen die EU Fluchtabkommen geschlossen hat, wie zum Beispiel Libyen oder der Türkei. Dort sind nur eine Handvoll präsenter Journalist:innen, die kontinuierlich berichten. Wenn da aufgestockt würde, würde uns das sehr guttun.

Wir sollten auch mehr zusammenarbeiten, damit wir gewissen Sicherheitsnetze haben und uns nicht allein fühlen, wenn wir beispielsweise verhaftet werden, aber die Solidarität untereinander ist schon jetzt großartig.

Franziska Grillmeier (Copyright: Julian Busch)

Über unsere Interviewpartnerin

Franziska Grillmeiner ist freie Journalistin und Reporterin. Ihr Schwerpunkt sind politische und gesellschaftliche Themen wie Gesundheitsversorgung in Kriegs- und Krisensituationen, Internationales Recht, Naher Osten, Migration und Trauma.
Sie lebt auf der Insel Lesbos, in Griechenland.


ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:

#ReportIt: Reduction of press freedom as the price for EU border security?

By | COVID_19, European Union, Features, Greece, Greece, ReportIt

Interview with Franziska Grillmeier (translated) for World Refugee Day

ECPMF: Franziska Grillmeier, you have been working on the topic of refugees and migration for a long time and live on the island of Lesvos in Greece. For some years now, most people have been familiar with this island, especially with regard to the Moria refugee camp, which burned down last year in the fall.

June 20th is the annual World Refugee Day. Among other things, you report primarily with migration and refugees at Europe’s external border. What journalistic challenges does this particular area bring?

Franziska Grillmeier: We are seeing a dismantling of the rule of law, with regard to refugee rights, such as brutal pushing back at the borders or asylum procedures that are no more than façades. But we, as the press, actually have hardly any access to document this anymore. I’ve been on the island [Lesvos] now since the summer of 2018. In the beginning, I could just be there when a rubber dinghy arrived, there was access to courtrooms and the Moria camp. I could meet people, talk with them in their tents for hours about their life, about their current circumstance. Three years later, this is no longer possible. Since 9th September 2020, when Moria burned down, I can only enter the camp with a police escort. The international press was admitted to the new temporary camp only in rare, guided press tours. As a result, dignified, independent reporting is no longer possible.

We see the same thing with the court cases. The so-called arsonists of Moria were sentenced to ten years imprisonment, during which national and international press representatives or human rights observers were not allowed in. Only 15 people were allowed in the courtroom.

These are always cases where it becomes enormously difficult to get through to people and do your own work.  Like after the fire, when over 10,000 people were trapped and the police wouldn’t let us through for alleged security reasons. We had to find alternative paths and routes through the olive tree fields to talk to the people. Here we can see a deliberate restriction of freedom of the press.

ECPMF: The exclusion of the press from the trial about the fire in Moria was explained by the authorities by Corona hygiene restrictions. How can it still be guaranteed that the reporting is accurate if you can’t do your own research on-site?

Grillmeier: That is an important question. In the case of the court verdict, I naturally speak with the lawyers, since I cannot speak with the defendants and get a picture of the proceedings and atmosphere.

There are often reports of witnesses being intimidated by an overly large police presence, of a rude tone and racist remarks by the judiciary in the courtroom. At this trial, the four young Afghans, including three minors, were identified by a key witness who was not even present in court. Moreover, none of the invited 15 prosecution witnesses in the courtroom could confirm having seen the defendants on the alleged night of the crime. These are all things that violate fundamental rights.

As journalists, however, it is difficult for us in retrospect to reconstruct everything exactly, since we were not admitted to the courtroom.

ECPMF: It is also difficult to report freely in other places. It was only in April of this year that media professionals were able to visit the new camp. How do you assess the situation of press freedom here?

Grillmeier: I used to be in Moria almost every other day, sitting there for hours and eating with people and also allowing silence. I am a trained reporter, I need these nuances. These are no longer possible when we meet at the supermarket parking lot, where the camp residents are still allowed to stay.

Crouching next to shopping carts to conduct an interview with a torture survivor does not work and often leads to enormous retraumatization. There is no safe space.

Voices are vehemently restricted, media professionals are rigorously intimidated.

ECPMF: How did the last press conference in the camp go?

Grillmeier: The last time in the camp was for 30 minutes in a group of 30, 35 other media people who all tried to take photos very quickly. The camp residents were not informed, they didn’t know who was interviewing them, we weren’t allowed to introduce ourselves, we weren’t allowed to talk to some of the people. The press representatives of the Ministry of Migration repeatedly dragged me away by the sleeve. This is no way to get a picture of the situation.

People are supposed to become more and more like ghosts. They are removed from the public eye, while the narrative is pushed that everything is under control. Voices of camp residents are vehemently restricted, as are those of media professionals, who are rigorously intimidated. This is like a legal limbo in which the refugees find themselves.

Lack of transparency, unanswered inquiries, arrests

ECPMF: What role do political institutions like the Greek government and the EU play in the changing situation of press freedom?

Grillmeier: There is a basic feeling of being pushed into the corner of fake news by the Greek government. At a press conference in March, Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis and EU Commissioner Eva Johannson faced the national and international press after the EU gave money for five new high-security camps on the Aegean islands. The government was asked about illegal push-backs that have been proven to take place in the Aegean time and again. This was called ‘Fake News’ and that we should do our job properly. Often there are outright defamation campaigns, in the course of which one is accused of [being] “lügen presse” [English: the lying press].

This is a climate in which quite open criticism is no longer allowed. There is a great lack of transparency and delays in responses to press inquiries.

This extends to arbitrary arrests, on the coast, of various colleagues, which we were able to observe in Samos and Lesvos last year. If I was at the spot when a rubber dinghy with refugees arrived, I knew that I would be taken to the police station and that I could be accused of human trafficking, because no documentation of violations of the law is wanted.

So I ask myself the question: at what price do I go there?

Of course, I try to stick to the rules, but sometimes you get the feeling that they can change within a few hours and that even the police often don’t know which access journalists do or don’t have.

We don’t yet know exactly what the situation will be of the new camps in the future. These new camps are being built in the hinterland, out of public view. That causes us great concern about how we are supposed to do our job and check how EU standards are being met there, without us being able to get in there.

The public’s eye must not go blind

ECPMF: Can the local media and journalists still fulfil their function here?

Grillmeier: As long as they don’t report on it, it simply doesn’t exist. It is the public’s eye that must not go blind there. Independent observers are needed on the ground. That is a fundamental right that must not be restricted.

I would not have thought possible this rapid dismantling of the rule of law that we have seen in the last year alone, in the courtrooms, but also in the freedom of the press.

But this is not only being done by the Greek government, it is also being done in full awareness by EU member states, who see this as the price of securing borders. Not only in Greece, but also on the Bosnian-Croatian border, on the Italian-French border, state actors intimidate the press, or the police prevent them from working.  So the field of work reflects the limbo in which the refugees find themselves, where lawlessness prevails.

Waiting for the next escalation

ECPMF: What risks does this change bring with it?

Grillmeier: There is incredible pressure on the people in the camps. The consequences of isolation are enormous. According to Doctors Without Borders, the psychological consequences of the camp conditions are more severe than ever before. For many refugees, the will to survive is becoming less and less due to the isolation.

Personally, I don’t feel threatened at the moment. But it was different last March, when we were attacked again and again, like many humanitarian workers and refugees, by right-wing extremist groups, which prevented us from working. I was attacked in the car or prevented from driving to the camp with stones and sticks. We got out of that situation okay, but the general atmosphere was tense. It was a flurry of activity. The frustration of the islanders exploded, many radical right-wing groups mobilised from all over Greece and to some extent other European countries. This resulted in great insecurity for weeks. Many left the island for security reasons. It’s different now and I can work and live there, also because there are still acts of great courage among the tireless islanders, who have been working in solidarity for years. Nevertheless, every upswing wears off once in a while, and you never know when the mood will change again.

I still wouldn’t put on a press vest now and think that I’m protected by that, rather the opposite.

ECPMF: Which actor do you see as having a duty here to take measures to protect press freedom, and what measures could these be?

Grillmeier: In the final analysis, it is the Greek government, but above all the European member states, that must once again comply with EU law and a strong civil society that demands this.

In addition, it certainly helps if the editorial offices in Europe and also in Germany keep an eye on the hurdles that colleagues at the EU borders have to overcome in their work and make this a topic in their reporting.

This is true for Greece, but also to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, but also to reporters on rescue ships in the Mediterranean or countries with which the EU has concluded refugee agreements, such as Libya or Turkey. There are only a handful of journalists there who report continuously. If there were more, it would do us all a lot of good.

We should also work together more so that we have certain safety nets and don’t feel alone when we are arrested, for example, but the solidarity among us is already great.

Franziska Grillmeier (Copyright: Julian Busch)

Our interview partner

Franziska Grillmeier is a freelance journalist and reporter. Her focus is on political and social issues such as health care in war and crisis situations, international law, Middle East, migration and trauma.
She lives on the island of Lesvos, in Greece.

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