Survival Matrix
Survival Means and Development Options for Independent Media in the Countries with Authoritarian Regimes

Nazira Darimbet

The background of the problem and the topicality of the subject

In many post-Soviet states where the authoritarian regime continues to survive, the pressure on the independent media is not growing weaker if not particularly increasing. Despite the declarations of pursuing the course of democracy, many states, with few exceptions, practice authoritarianism.

According to Wikipedia, authoritarianism is a regime where the power is exercised by a single individual with a minimal involvement of the people. Essentially, it is one of the forms of political dictatorship where an individual political figure or the ruling elite group plays the role of the dictator.

The particularities of the authoritarian political system (such as despotism, the unlimited power, the monopolization of power and policy, the forming of political elites via introducing new members to the elective bodies without byelections, etc.), to a certain degree, are found in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine. In other words, in the countries that have been chosen by this research as the basis for analyzing the status of freedom of speech and of the independent media.

The history, the background and the fate of the independent media in each of the states have both common and unique features depending on the degree of authoritarianism and the status of civil society. In this research, we call "independent" those media that do not depend, de-jure and de-facto, on any kind of state power, can freely criticize the acting authorities (starting from the top officials), do not receive financial aid from the state and do not belong to any financial-industrial groups.

IN KAZAKHSTAN, according to the official data, as of July 1, 2016, 2763 active media outlets (Russian-language and Kazakh-language) were registered. However, no independent media that could provide alternative information on the situation in the country has, de-facto, been left in Kazakhstan today aside from some regional publications.

Radio Azattyk (the Kazakh branch of Radio Liberty) that, up until recently, has been considered one of the independent media outlets has also fallen under the influence of the Kazakh authorities.

This is how former Azattyk's employee Asem Tokayeva assesses the situation.

"At Azattyk financed by the US Congress, they are pressuring the journalists and exercising censorship in favor of Kazakhstan's authoritarian regime which is clearly demonstrated by the absence of criticism of the irreplaceable President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the polishing of his image and the defamation of his opponents. You can confirm this by analyzing the content of Radio Azattyk's two websites in Russian and in Kazakh.

The Kazakh branch of Radio Liberty financed from the US budget, provides extensive coverage, alongside the Kazakh media, of Astana's image-making events, for instance, the EXPO-2017 exhibition which the local authorities used for attracting the world's attention and building a positive image abroad.

At the same time, Azattyk hushes up the topical issues, particularly, those that have to do with the persecution of the civil society. For example, Head of Azattyk, Torokul Doorov had refused to cover the subject (suggested by the journalists) that had to do with the mission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: on March 17, 2017, the Almaty Economic Court was to investigate a complaint filed by the International Legal Initiative Foundation against the Department of State Revenues of the Ministry of Finance. The thing is that they want to shut down this NGO due to the fact that it did not provide the reporting according to the new rules as the new toughen law demands.

It is not just the Kazakh authorities that pressurize the Azattyk journalists and editors, it is the Azattyk top-executives as well. It is usually the journalists that suggest and prepare critical materials on Kazakhstan's topical issues that become the victims of such pressure.

The RFE/RL top-managers often visit Kazakhstan where they meet with the authorities. After one of his regular visits to Astana, Abbas Djavadi told the Radio Azattyk editors in 2012 that, in Kazakhstan, this station was considered oppositional. "Too much politics on the site", said he. And so, Azattyk tumbled to covering such events as a bicycle parade with the participation of a regional governor. In one article, the Azattyk management made the journalists change the sentence in which President Nursultan Nazarbayev was called "self-perpetuating and authoritarian". On the other hand, the radio is not that scrupulous than the material in question has to do with the opponents and critics of the regime.

Azattyk has stood out of the path of its democratic mission turning to the totalitarian debris, starting to propagate the anti-Western and anti-liberal ideas. For instance, after the 2011 shootout of oil workers in Zhanaozen, Azattyk had covered in a positive light the operations of the pro-governmental NGO Wikibilim (created to build the Kazakhstan-related content in Wikipedia); an outlet where they had been polishing the image of the Kazakh authorities after the Zhanaozen massacre.

The signing of the 2017 agreement between the RFE-RL top-management and the "Kazakhstan" state channel on broadcasting Azattyk's "weekly analytical" program called Zher-Zhikhan continued the crucial changes in Azzatyk's editorial policy. So far, only the first program issue was broadcasted at the end of 2017. However, this does not change the fact that RFE/RL agreed to cooperate with President of Kazakhstan's main state TV-channel Erlan Karin - one of the chief ideologists of the Kazakh authoritarian regime who, in 2008-2013, had served as Deputy Chairman of the ruling party Nur Otan led by Nursultan Nazarbayev".

Starting from 2016 (the last year when the official data on the number of the Kazakh media outlets was released), several media that tried to provide alternative information have been closed following the court's decisions - (May 2016; this was the last project of the media-portal Respublika), Tribuna (June 2017), (April 2018).

The independent journalists and media constantly find themselves under all kinds of pressure in Kazakhstan – legal actions of both civil and criminal nature, administrative charges, threats and assaults, the blockings of the websites, the printing houses' refusals to publish the materials, etc.

Throughout the time after the independence was declared, the authorities have been purging the informational space. From time to time, they evoke the sensation of lessening the pressure on the media when, de-facto, they are increasing it.

According to the 2017 freedom-level rating of the Freedom House international non-governmental organization, Kazakhstan belongs to the category of the non-free countries (179th place with 85 points). Therefore, the question of the free media's existence and survival in this country has been and remains topical.

IN AZREBAIJAN, the situation with the persecution of the independent media is charging forward to the critical point: journalists are forbidden to travel abroad, and their persecution is usually of a criminal nature. According to the Human Rights Watch's data (South Caucasus branch), the country no longer has any independent media and the situation with persecuting the unsympathetic journalists is worsening each passing day.

In BELARUS, according to the local and foreign critics of Alexander Lukashenko, the situation with the freedom of press has been getting worse since his ascend to power in 1994. The TV-channels that serve as the main source of information for the population are under the control of the state which, in the opinion of the oppositional politicians and activists as well as many international observers, is pursuing the policy that is opposite of pluralism. In particular, the Belarus opposition has no outlet for speaking on the state TV and radio stations. Some independent journalists, due to the strong pressure (to the point of being threatened with murder), have been forced to leave the country and are now working from abroad. Some of the countries' independent media have been blocked.

Acording to the 2018 report of the Reporters Without Borders advocacy group, RUSSIA'S freedom of speech has sunk to the unprecedented levels for the past three decades. At the present time, a lot more journalists and bloggers have been arrested in comparison with the period after the USSR collapse. All the leading media are "to a large extent, controlled by the oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin". The pressure on the independent media and investigative journalists is growing.

On the eve of the 2018 Presidential elections, the Russian authorities had toughened the control over the internet and the messengers, strengthened the pressure (at the legislature level) on the search systems and the services that provide the interlock bypass possibilities. The climate of impunity contributes to the new attacks against journalists while the threats received by the independent media give rise to ever-greater concerns. Chechnya and Crimea are almost completely sheltered from those who can still make critical statements.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, immediately after his ascend to power, has taken the steps aimed to undermine the Russian democracy and decrease the freedom of expression - the media control has become harsh while crimes against journalists remain unpunished. After Vladimir Putin's return as President in 2012, according to the Reporters Without Borders data, the situation with freedom of speech in the country has grown even worse. According to some data, these are the salient features of the Russian media market – the harsh censorship, the pressure of the authorities, the threats and violence against journalists, the totalitarian control of the state over the TV-channels and your basic disinformation.

In the freedom-level rating, Russia has sunk to the 148th place. The number of journalists that consider themselves independent reporters had decreased three times – from 60% in 1992 to 20% in 2008. According to the more recent surveys (2011), only 14% of the Russian journalists speak about the absence of limits for their professional activities. The experts consider these media among the independent ones – TV-channel Dozhd', Novaya Gazeta, the websites, the Meduza publications, the Ekho Moskvy radio station and several regional media outlets.

IN KYRGYZSTAN, despite its being considered "an island of democracy" in Central Asia, the situation with the main freedoms in the country is changing with varying success (albeit for the better). As noted by the observers, during the period that preceded the 2017 Presidential elections, the situation with freedom of speech and the status of the civil society had worsened significantly. Former President Almazbek Atambayev had regularly attacked those who criticized his policies accusing them of discrediting the President and of destabilizing the situation. Nonetheless, the country has several independent media outlets that can operate freely, criticize the authorities and even conduct journalistic investigations.

UKRAINE, according to Reporters Without Borders' 2018 freedom-level index, has taken the 101st place among the 180 countries analyzed. The country has gained one point in comparison to the 2017 results. In the Freedom House 2017 rating, the country occupies the 53rd place in the "Partially Free" category. The Ukrainian media can openly criticize the authorities without any fear and the state legislature is gradually moving along the way of the media's complete freedom from the state and the business groups.
Research methodology

1. To assess the facts of the pressure on the independent media of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

2. To elicit survival mechanisms and development options for the independent media common for all the post-Soviet countries with authoritarian regimes.

3. To analyze the useful know-hows and development options used by the media in other countries.

Research methodology

1. The in-depth interviews with the experts – journalists, editors, human rights defenders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, the members of the international advocacy groups, the representatives of the foreign media in Czech Republic and Germany.

In total, more than 20 persons have been interviewed.

2. Examining the life of the independent media in the Central Asian and CIS countries under the conditions of the constant pressure from the authorities as well as the analysis of the information gathered by the international advocacy groups in regard to freedom of speech.

3. The analysis of the legal practices regarding the media in the countries studied, of the expert assessments as well as of the data provided by different international organizations monitoring the situation with the human rights and freedom of the press, and of the information provided by the local and the international media.

The subjects and the objects of research

  1. The editors and journalists that have experience in working at the independent media outlets under pressure.
  2. The editorial staff of the independent media-resources.

As part of the research, the experts were asked the following questions.

  1. What kind of pressure against the media and journalists have you/your editorial staff encountered in your country/region (some concrete examples with the names of the publications and/or the journalists) and what kind of pressure/persecution means have been employed against you (legal actions, printing houses' refusals to publish the newspaper, website blockings, threatening the staff, pressurizing their relatives, criminal persecution, other). Please, rank them according to the frequency of use.
  2. What kind of protective measures have the editorial staff and journalists employed in these and other cases? Have these means been helpful? If yes, in what way?
  3. What actions (list and describe in detail), in your opinion, should have been taken by the editorial staff to increase the defense effectiveness?
  4. How do you assess the role of the international organizations and external political bodies in protecting and supporting the media and journalists?
  5. What needs to be done to preserve and develop the independent publications in your country in particular and under the conditions of the authoritarian regime in general? Do you have any recommendations? (List them).
  6. Can an independent media outlet become financially successful (or at least self-sufficient) in such conditions? (List the concrete ways that have helped or are helping your publication to survive).

Research target audience: editors and journalists, media communities, international advocacy groups, politicians, political experts, students.

Research initiator: the research at hand has been conducted as part of the Prague Civil Society Center (PCSC) scholarship program.

Period of exploration: June – August 2018
The patient is more dead than alive
Kazakhstan is one of the post-Soviet republics formed after the collapse of the USSR. Kazakhstan became an independent country in 1991.

Nursultan Nazarbayev has been serving as the country's President since 1990 (from the very moment this position was established in Kazakhstan). He has the status of the "Leader of the Nation", his authorities and rights as the first head of the sovereign and independent state are written in the Constitution and a special law on the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

International experts and Kazakh critics assess the country's political regime as authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism is another model of dictatorship which differs significantly from totalitarianism.

Authoritarianism is characterized by such feature as:

  • taking away the power from the people. One individual or a group becomes the power holder;
  • the absence of a single ideology;
  • reliance on force;
  • monopolization of policy;
  • abdication of absolute, total control over society;
  • the ruling elite is formed not by the democratic means but is appointed from the above.
All these features can be found in Kazakhstan's political system of today.

Kazakhstan holds the 9th place in terms of its territory across the globe; as of January 1, 2018, its population constituted 18 157 078 people. As of July 1, 2016, 2763 acting media outlets were registered. The overwhelming majority of those (86%) are printed media, 11% are digital media, 3% accounts for information agencies.

As of this moment, 1156 newspapers and 1269 magazines are operating in the country. Also, 285 digital media outlets are registered; of them, 169 are TV-and-radio companies (108 TV companies and 61 radio companies), 108 are cable operators and 8 are satellite service providers. 15 publications are registered as online media in the Russian and the Kazakh language.

De-facto, however, no independent outlets has been left among the existing Kazakh media. Throughout their entire existence, the independent media and the journalists they employed had been subject to all kinds of pressure: psychological, financial, physical. In particular, we are talking about legal actions (of the criminal and civil nature), threats, huge fines, blockings of the online-resources, refusals to print the materials, etc.). Some of these means are still being used today even against certain journalists who defy censorship while working for the pro-government media.

Violations of freedom of speech in figures

According to the data of the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech Adil Soz, for the I quarter of 2018, the statistics of freedom of speech violations in Kazakhstan looks like this.

Detentions, arrests, convictions and freedom limitations – 5

Threats against journalists – 2

Shutting down/cancelling/suspending of a media outlet – 1

Unjustified blocking and limiting of the access to online media – 4

Impeding on journalists carrying out their legal professional activities – 2

Criminal persecution and convictions – 14; of them, through legal action – 9

Found guilty in court – 4:

  • - defamation and humiliation – 2
  • - terrorism propaganda – 1
  • - inciting social, ethnic, tribal, race, class or religious enmity - 1
Civil claims against media and journalists – 21 including claims in re defending honor, dignity and business reputation – 16

Sums of punitive damages claimed – 22 mln 200 thousand tenge

Sums of punitive damages collected – 90 thousand tenge

Claimants: state officials – 6, legal bodies – 3, physical bodies – 7

Verdicts reached – 15; of them in favor of the media – 6

Violations of the information access right – 46 including denying and limiting the access to information of the public importance – 35.

We should also note that the media legislature is getting tougher every year. For example, all the internet-resources including social networks have been equated with media outlets. Apart from that, they have introduced identification of online commentators for whose opinions the editorial staff is hold responsible.

The facts the pressure and the frequency of its use

Kazakhstan employs all the means of exerting the pressure. However, the most widespread are legal actions of both the criminal and the civil nature.

For instance, starting from 2000, the Kazakh branch of newspaper Respublika and, starting from 2008, the Russian branch of internet-portal Respublika have been experiencing all kinds of pressure employed by the authorities of these countries against the independent press and journalists (sans murders and severe beatings).

Irina Petrishova, the former Editor-in-Chief of Media-Portal Respublika, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Expert Portal Kazakhstan 2.0, an expert of the Central Asia Analysis and Research Center, names the following means to pressurize editorial boards.

  1. Legal actions in re defense of honor/business reputation of a private individual/organization. As part of these actions, the media outlet's operations are suspended and, following the actions, the media is obligated to pay enormous fees which results in shutting down the operations entirely or even in the prohibition to continue publishing.
  2. Threats of physical violence against the editor/journalists, their relatives/owner.
  3. Tax/financial/sanitary/ fire inspections that result in either paying enormous fees or the closing of the offices which makes its use impossible.
  4. Opening of administrative and criminal cases due to some kind of "violations" – from allegedly wrongly-written datelines to stirring-up social and other hatred in the articles.
In 2011, Respulbika (that, at the time was being published under the title Golos Respubliki) actively participated in covering the problems of the oil-workers in West Kazakhstan: their strikes and the long-time confrontation with the oil companies where they worked. The authorities supported the companies and the media controlled by the state did not dare to inform the civil society about the workers' point of view. We gave the workers the opportunity to speak and published a series of detailed reports on the strikes that ended in a bloody massacre employed by the authorities when their patience had dried out. Our reporters were among those few journalists that were covering the bloodbath organized by the authorities in December 2012 as well as the following repressions in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan. We published detailed reports on the unjust investigations against the oil-workers and informed the world on how they were tortured in prison. Our articles were published in many countries. Many international human rights observers have cited them in their work. For these publications on the criminal wrongdoings of the authorities against the oil-workers, we were punished.

In November 2012, immediately after the trials against the oil-workers and the oppositional politicians accused of "stirring up the social hatred" in Zhanaozen, the Public Prosecution Office banned those few media that informed the world on the Zhanaozen events. Newspaper Golos Respubliki was among them. Formally, these media were accused of "extremism propaganda". Different international organizations including Human Rights Watch had severely criticized the authorities for this decision
6. Printing houses' refusal to print the newspapers
When Respublika was, yet again, closed in 2009, we started publishing a new newspaper – Golos Respubliki. However, the authorities had put an enormous pressure on the printing houses and all the printing houses in the country refused to print our newspaper due to the fear of the serious repressions: fines, random police searches of the offices, equipment forfeiture, manufacturing tax violations claims and other accusations that the Kazakh secret service usually employs against political opponents.

We were no longer able to print our newspaper commercially and in the quantity that we needed. So, we resorted to publishing it by using a risograph and stapling the pages. One can say that, after 18 years since the collapse of the USSR, we were forced to print our newspaper "samizdat"-style as the Soviet dissidents used to do. In this format, the newspaper had been published for two years.

7. Opening of criminal cases against the editor-in-chief/owner of the publication that results in the suspension of the media's operations.

8. Arrest and damage of the equipment that results in the impossibility of work.

9. Threatening editorial boards via untraditional methods. For example, speaking of Respublika, it was: a) a funeral wreath delivered to the editorial office by persons unknown; b) a headless dead dog hung on the window of the editorial office; fire (throwing gasoline bombs through the office windows resulting in the destroying of the entire equipment).
In 2002, the Respublika editorial board became an object of the aggressive threat campaign on the part of the people who I believe were state agents. The head of one of the printing houses that published newspaper Respublika refused to work with us after he had found a human skull at the door of his house. They also brought a funeral wreath to the editorial office which was to demonstrate that, as the editor-in-chief, I was condemned to death.

On May 19, 2002, we found a headless dog's body hung on one of the window screens. A note was pinned to the body saying (in Russian): "There won't be a next time". On the following morning, a head of a dog was delivered to the door of my apartment with a new note attached to it (in Russian): "There won't be a last time".

On May 22, 2002, the Respublika editorial office was set on fire via gasoline bottles thrown into the office windows. As a result, the office was destroyed. In three days, the gasoline bottles were thrown into the Respublika press-center building and burned it down completely. Together with the other employees, we had relocated the office and continued publishing the newspaper.
10. Hacking into sites, accounts, mailboxes

11. DDoS and hacker attacks on the sites

From the very start of its existence, portal Respublika had been subject to the powerful DDoS-attacks. The attacks occurred not only with big traffic but also through all kinds of effective means – the specialists had found 10 different kinds of attacks. Through August 30 – September 2, 2009, according to President of BlackLotus Jeffrey Lyon, the portal withstood the most powerful DDoS-attack on BlackLotus' record and perhaps in the history of the World Wide Web: the number of the DNS-server requests constituted 50 mln pps, in other words, 50 mln requests per second. The US specialists with the links to the CIA that analyzed the intensity and the types of these attacks had reached a distressing conclusion (quote): "the level of the attacks, their strength and the cost of their administration show that a "total destruction"-style war is being conducted against the Respublika web-resources".

The fact that Kazakhstan employs a whole range of methods to pressurize the media (from legal prosecution to the physical violence against journalists) is confirmed by Oksana Makushina who used to work as the deputy chief editor of the Respublika media-project and a reporter of the online-project.

"Using the example of newspaper Respublika where I had worked for 16 years, I can say that, when it comes to us, they had tested practically all these methods. At the beginning of 2002, a series of pressure means was used against the editorial board: the tax inspection, the refusal of all the business-centers to rent offices to us and the unofficial ban to publish the newspaper in the printing-houses in the entire territory of the country. When one of the regional printing-houses agreed to publish the newspaper anyway, an administrative claim was filed against the newspaper under a far-fetched pretext.

We found a solution in printing a collection of articles using the office equipment, but they, in turn, employed the threats of the terror caliber against us (this is the way it was described by one of the former NSC officers), namely: first, a headless corpse of a dog was tied to the office window and the head of the dog was delivered to the courtyard of the editor-in-chief's house; in two days after the dog story, the editorial office was burned down.
Due to a large public response, the authorities then took a step back. Most frequently, they used legal actions that take away a lot of time and exhaust the office. Then, the internet comes, and new technologies come into play: the sites of the undesirable media are blocked, hacker attacks are administered against them. Today, they use these methods not only against the media but against the social networks as well.

For journalists, the most painful kinds of pressure are, undoubtedly, the physical violence and the threat of criminal persecution with a view to doing time in prison. Our regional correspondent Alexander Baranov used to be threatened time and again: he was beaten in the entrance lobby of his own house; legal claims were filed against him.

In 2013, to threaten the Respublika journalists, some unknown people contacted their relatives. Some were said that their younger brothers, sisters or children might expect some misfortunes, others' husbands were threatened with employment termination. In April 2012, they assaulted Lukpan Akhmedyarov, a journalist of the Uralskaya nedelya newspaper. He sustained eight knife wounds and survived only by a miracle. In June of the same year, Akhmedyarov and his colleagues, once again, caught the attention of the law-enforcement agencies – this time, because of a comment on their website! Currently, a media outlet may be closed and subjected to criminal persecution if a reader leaves an undesirable comment (from the standpoint of the authorities). Many resources have banned commenting on their websites for this reason".

"I remember a situation when we were sued by several officials simultaneously. It was 2014, the year when we conducted an interview with a person who identified some acting state officials as the people who, in 1990s, were members of an organized criminal group and participated in the murder of a sportsman. They were figurants of that criminal investigation. These officials filed a claim, and the claim was sustained despite the fact that they did not deny their being the members of the organized criminal group. Nonetheless, the court took their side, and we ended up paying about 3 mln tenge in total", recalls Lukpan Akhmedyarov, the editor-in-chief of the Uralskaya nedelya newspaper.

The next popular means of putting pressure on journalists and editorial boards is pressurizing the relatives, Akhmedyarov says.

"If the relatives are state employees or public officials, the authorities use them to pressurize the journalists that are working on some very sensitive material. This kind of thing happens very often. The physical pressure is rare. It only happened once, in 2012, when I was assaulted".

Journalist Miras Nurmukhanbetov, website AldarKose agrees with his colleagues.

They used practically everything that has been listed – legal actions, the printing-houses' refusals, the blocking of the websites, persecution etc. Not to mention the constant phone tapping and surveillance".

"In 2011, a few months after the opening of the media-site, the "protagonists" of its publications started filing law-suits. One of them, for example, was Saltanat Akhanova, the wife of K. Kozhamzharov, the Head of the Anti-Corruption Agency who is now serving as the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Kazakhstan. There were other legal actions against our website as well. As a result, it was blocked based on the court's decision (we were accused of the alleged calls for an unauthorized meeting).

In 2013, we started publishing the ADAM Readers weekly journal of the socio-political nature. Three months later, all the printing-houses of Almaty and then of the entire Kazakhstan refused to sign a contract with us admitting being pressured by the people from the NCS. In the summer of 2013, we signed a contract with a printing-house in Omsk (Russia), however, when we were already at the point of sending the files, it turned out that the FSS agents had visited it and forbidden it to "work with the Kazakhs". The other magazines issued by our editors were closed as well – ADAM bol and ADAM. The first was accused of warmongering (because of the article called "Our Guys at Someone' Else's War" on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict), the second, allegedly, lacked publications in the state language (the license, apart from Russian, mentions the Kazakh language as well). The Almay Public Prosecution Office' claim according to which we were forbidden not only to print our materials and have a website but to have a Facebook page as well was the apotheosis among the bans".

Asem Tokayeva, the former web-editor of the Kazakh branch of Radio Liberty (Prague), believes that it is the regional correspondents that become the victims of the persecution, psychological threats, extortion and other measures more often than anybody else.

"For instance, Azattyk's correspondent Sania Toyken who lives and works in Aktau and covers the events in the Mangistau and Atyrau regions often complains of the pressure on the part of the law-enforcement agencies while carrying out her professional responsibilities. On January 21, 2017, Sania Toyken was summoned to the DIA of the Mangistau region. Then she was brought to the police station where, without any explanations, she was released. The summation was received in the office of the Oil Construction Company's union in the Aktau city where Sania Toyken was gathering the information on the oil-workers' hunger strike. Two days later, on January 23, 2017, when Sania visited the court in the Aktau city, she was banned from videotaping, using a smartphone, making any kinds of notes including those by a pen on a piece of paper. On February 17, 2017, she was, once again, brought to the DIA when she was on her way to the Mangistau Governor's meeting with the people. The police stopped the car saying that her seatbelt was unfastened. She then spent more than two hours at the police station.

In February 2017, Elena Kulakova, a radio correspondent in Temirtau, sent a letter to the editorial board in which she spoke of the "unhealthy interest" shown to her and her family. She was talking about the calls to her husband's bosses (the callers asked about his record, his work schedule). After which, one evening, her husband was stopped by policemen and taken to a police station because he, allegedly, looked like a person who had committed a robbery. Once, an unknown man called and, having presented himself as a young journalist, asked her about how the editorial board operates. Several times, some people tried to enter her home saying they were employees of a telecommunication company".
Protective measures

The Respublika editorial board, according to its journalists, had employed a variety of measures that helped the printed newspaper and the web-portal to survive for 16 years amid the constant pressing on the part of the authorities.

As Irina Petroshova says, the most important thing is glasnost.

"Glasnost has served as our protective measure for a number of years. It is vital to immediately inform the Kazakh and international community on the existing despotism, write on social media, contact the advocacy groups, the diplomatic missions. If necessary, one can call the human rights defenders, attorneys, journalists (especially foreign ones). Journalists should know the law and, in the case of winding up in a police station, use it to their advantage. Recall the recent case with Lukpan Akhmedyarov. However, the legal means based on the Kazakh law do not work".

"Criminal prosecution with searches of the offices and private residences may be used against any media. Recall the situation with the website and the Forbes-Kazakhstan magazine in April 2018. It all depends on the political situation of the moment", believes Oksana Makushina.

Irina Petrushova lists concrete measures:

"We were trying to avoid any stupid risks. For instance, if the journalists were working late, they were driven home after work and the driver entered their house lobby together with the journalist waiting for the latter to report if he/she entered the apartment unscathed. When covering the "problematic" events such as protests or meetings, the journalists would also travel by an editorial car so that the driver, if necessary, could inform the office of the emergency situation with the journalist.

All the journalists had phones with video cameras. When working on an assignment outside of the office, the journalist was always in contact with someone in the office – the duty editor, the administrator, a colleague. At first, it was SMS-messaging and simple phone calls. Then, as the technologies developed, only the protected messengers were used.

To contact the editor-in-chief and each other, in order not to allow for a leak, the journalists only used the messengers and the special protected programs. All the computers were mandatorily equipped with the anti-virus and anti-spy programs and examined by specialists on a regular basis.

The office had night-time video surveillance. The door had a peephole. During the day, the door was always locked. It could be unlocked only by the administrator who was observing all the precautions. The windows were equipped with bars opening inwards.

All the instances of the threats against our employees were recorded. The advocacy groups and diplomatic missions were informed immediately. Several times, we contacted the law-enforcement agencies. Sometimes the public exposure took the form of a press-conference, more often it was a publication in our newspaper/portal. I remember we even wrote a text of the public statement with the signatures of all the employees and the wording that "we do not use drugs, not carry firearms etc.".

There must be an arrangement with a qualified lawyer who would defend the team if an administrative/criminal case is opened against it.

You cannot cut corners on IT-specialists (if you have an online-outlet and from the computer safety standpoint).

You must develop backup plans of both closing the outlet (additional licenses, relocating the domen to a different server, archive duplication etc.) and ensuring the employees' safety (to the extent of leaving the country if necessary).

You must establish confidential contact means among all the employees not to allow for information leaks and to be able to react immediately in the event of emergency.

You must establish contact with the embassies, international and local human rights advocates, media organizations".

In his turn, Lukpan Akhmedyarov names several other protective means.

"As a protective measure, we say we have an editorial assignment. So, you can address all your questions to the editor. As for legal actions, we employ a good lawyer. We rely on Adil Soz that provides legal consulting or pays for the legal services. Also, we have a number of rules: the journalist must always report where he/she is, where he/she is going, with whom they have a meeting and what this meeting is in reference to. The main rule is: not to keep the topic to yourself, share it with at least the editor and the other colleagues since it is dangerous when you alone are knowledgeable about sensitive information".

"The qualified and professional performance of our lawyers that had crushed all the claims did not help due to their clearly manufactured nature. Apart from that, we held press-conferences, organized protest actions and made public addresses to the President", - these are the protective measures listed by Miras Nurmukhamedov.

"The Azattyk journalists would report to their management, and the management would pass the information on to the security department. The journalists that report any pressure-related incidents to their editors do the right thing", recalls Asem Tokayeva.

The role of the international organizations

"The involvement of the international organizations and of political agencies of different countries may save individual journalists and editorial boards from being completely destroyed in today's rightlessness. Kazakhstan, after all, is interested in preserving its international reputation", says Oksana Makushina.

Irina Petrushova also speaks on the importance of the role of the international organizations. "The interference of diplomats and the support of the international organizations had helped us several times in the course of our confrontations with the authorities", says she.

Lukpan Akhmedyarov speaks highly of the capabilities of the international organizations. "In 2010, when we were threatened with a possible office closing due to the court's decision to make us pay about 70 mln tenge, the interference of the international organizations forced the plaintiff to withdraw their claims".

"Unfortunately, today, the international bodies can only do so much as simply register the facts of the violations and address the President and the Government of Kazakhstan only in the form of a recommendation. Apart from that, foreign observers should be more active in their cooperation with the Kazakh NGOs and independent publications of which we only have few left", recommends Miras Nurmukhambetov.

"The involvement of the international press-protecting organizations can sometimes achieve the desired effect. The international reputation is important for the Kazakh authorities since the Government is trying to attract investments from the Western countries", believes Asem Tokayeva.

Survival mechanisms

Despite the harsh pressing on the part of the authorities, the independent media exist in a constant search of the means to survive. In this regard, the Respublika's case is particularly interesting and unique. Irina Petrushova has shared her experience of publishing the newspaper successfully for a number of years.
"In Kazakhstan, a media outlet can be published only if it has a registration certificate. So, we had prepared the backup outlets in advance, in case our media was shut down by a court's decision. For instance, during the period of 2002 – 2009, the Respublika editorial board had published, one after another, the following newspapers in Kazakhstan: Economika. Finansy. Rynki; Assandi Times;; Pyatoye izmereniye; Pravo. Ekonomika. Politika. Kultura; Respublika. Double 2; Golos respubliki and some others. All these newspapers had existed for a short time and were closed by the regime based on the false claims addressed to the Ministry of Information.

When the authorities closed one paper, we continued writing the articles and published them in another paper. Despite all the different titles, our readers and distributors/sellers would continue calling these papers "Respublika".

When we experienced problems with the printing-houses, we used risographs (copying equipment). Is was a labor-consuming process that is no longer relevant due to the development of the internet technologies. Nonetheless, it can still be used effectively when one has no internet access.

In 2008, together with the printed newspaper, we launched an internet-portal on the servers located beyond the CIS borders. A part of the editorial team also worked outside of Kazakhstan. Therefore, when it became impossible to print the newspaper inside the country, the portal continued working. Apart from that, we had used social networks as a content distribution venue.

One way or another, Respublika had existed for 16 years and ceased its activities by the decision of the editorial team, not because it was shut down by the authorities".

"I do not see viable mechanisms for the survival of the independent publications in Kazakhstan. Today, any journalist, even working for a supposedly pro-government media, can catch heat. To give you an example: the Kolesa newspaper (a niche publication specializing in printing ads on the auto sale/purchasing) has retracted the material on the construction works conducted in the Kok-Zhaylyau natural resort area only because the authorities are interested in this construction while civil activists and ecologists are against it", assesses the situation Oksana Makushina.

"To preserve the independent media, we must have a massive support on the part of the civil sector that, in Kazakhstan, is practically absent. Take Czech Republic, for instance. It was the people's desire to protect the independent television that caused the so called "velvet revolution" and put an end to the country's communist past. For the past 10-15 years, fewer and fewer people (regular citizens and readers) have attended the trials and meetings to support editorial teams.

But one can find an access to some relatively liberal officials and financial-industrial groups to "stay afloat".

When printing the magazines under the ADAM brand and the Svoboda Slova newspaper before that, we reached a break-even point (the printing expenses, wages, office maintenance). However, the printed product is the most vulnerable one in Kazakhstan. Therefore, in most cases, one can only count on their sponsors and political patrons. In any case, any media would depend on the sponsors. Of course, nowadays, one can find independent patrons that would be ready to finance a team of journalists without interfering with the editorial policy. But this is becoming increasingly harder to achieve", believes Miras Nurmukhambetov.

"The support of the civil society is important. Today, the best solution for an independent media is to have online-access, to achieve a high viewability and attract advertisers. I think Russian TV-channel Dozhd' may serve as an example. One must understand that the authorities would not allow an independent media to operate in Kazakhstan. At least, under the existing regime. Therefore, yet another solution is to register the media in another country and to work from there. As an example, I can cite a Kazakh opposition website called БӘСЕ that is operating from Ukraine", says Asem Tokayeva.

"Speaking from experience, I can say that the most important thing that an independent media needs is a sources of funding. If one has money, one can solve all the problems I have described before. No money means significantly less possibilities. In other words, one needs to have funding from some outside investors, and not only for a single project but for the entire editorial activities. Note that, under the authoritarian regimes, the independent media cannot rely on the advertisement and support of the business-community due to the risk of the repressions on the part of the authorities against the latter", believes Irina Petrushova.

In her opinion, to survive amid the conditions of the authoritarian regime, an independent media must:

  • be constantly monitored by foreign diplomates and human rights defenders so they can interfere immediately in the event of emergency. This perhaps will not solve the problem completely but will help to reduce the level of the pressure.
  • have the highest journalistic solidarity possible both inside the country and with the international media organizations.
Also, one must "use the social networks capabilities to the fullest. On one hand, they are a free venue for information distributing, on the other hand, it is hard to block them all entirely. One must monitor and adopt new technologies that allow to reduce financial expenses and ensure a greater safety and mobility (using a phone instead of a camera etc.)".

Irina Petrushova also believes that the independent media have a chance to survive only "provided that the country has a real opposition ready to finance free press as well as a developed civil society ready to help and show support".
Chapter I
The media-space is emptied but there is still hope
Azerbaijan is one of the former Soviet republics located at the Caspian Sea coast in the Caucasus mountains at the border between Europe and Asia. According to the 2013 data, the population of the country constitutes more than 9 mln people.

In 2003, right after the death of Geydar Aliyev who had been in charge of the country since 1993, the Presidential chairs was handed over to his son Ilkham Aliyev. He had won the Presidential elections four times (in 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018).

International observers describe Ilkham Aliyev's regime as dictatorial or authoritarian.

According to the 2014 data, Azerbaijan has 9 national TV-channels (open-air TV channel and 3 state-owned channels), more than 12 regional TV-channels, 25 radio-channels, more than 30 daily newspapers. Officially, 3500 media outlets are registered. The overwhelming majority of those are published in Azerbaijanian. The remaining 130 media are published in Russian (70), English [10] (50) and other languages (Turkish, French, German, Arabic, Persian etc.). As of 2014, the level of TV-penetration constitutes 99%.

The printed and broadcasting media in Azerbaijan are mostly owned by the state or are subsidized by it. The independent media are practically absent in the country.

Independent journalists in Azerbaijan exist under the pressure from the authorities. For instance, in December 2014, Khadidzha Ismailova who had been covering the corruption-related events in the highest echelons of power was arrested based on the accusation that many considered manufactured. She was found guilty of tax evasion, embezzlement, illegal business practices, abuse of authority and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison.

On May 25, 2016, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan considered Ismailova's appeal. The appeal was granted, and her sentence was suspended after which the journalist was released from prison. Amnesty International declared her a prisoner of consciousness.

In 2005, Almar Guseynov, the editor-in-chief and the founder of the Monitor magazine, was killed in Baku. An unidentified killer shot him in the entrance lobby of his house. Prior to this, several criminal cases had been open against the journalist by the authorities; his oppositional magazine had been fined following the court's decisions.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)'s report, Azerbaijan is one of the ten countries where journalists' arrests happen most frequently. CPJ also believes that the accusations against many journalists are manufactured and politically motivated.

Here are some of the cases.

  • Ramin Bayramov was arrested in August 2011. Prior to it, his website had been criticized by the Azerbaijanian Government for displaying "hostile activities against the country" but the accusations fell short. Then, he was accused of drugs and firearms possession. Ramin Bayramov claimed that both were planted.
  • Talekh Khasmamedov was arrested in November 2011 soon after publishing an article that accused the local police of cooperating with drug dealers. In a little while, he was found guilty of hooliganism and sentenced to four years of prison.
  • In February 2012, the police arrested Iranian TV-journalist Anar Bayramly accused of heroin possession. Several human rights advocacy groups claimed that the accusation was manufactured and politically motivated.


Azerbaijan holds the 162nd place in the 2011 World Press Freedom Index. In the Reporters Without Borders' free speech rating of April 25, 2018, Azerbaijan occupies the 163rd spot. In the opinion of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan demonstrates a blatant disregard of the freedom of speech principle.

Emin Milli, founder of, Berlin:

"In Azerbaijan, they mostly employ the usual criminal accusations against journalists to condemn them – "hooliganism", smuggling goods, drug possession etc. As a blogger, I personally have been sent to prison twice – first time, for the duration of 17 months. I was accused of calling for the disruption of the social order. In reality, I was punished for publishing the information on the upcoming meeting on my Facebook page. Second time, I was sentenced for 15 days for hooliganism because I, allegedly, had "beaten up" two sportsmen. In reality, it was I and my friend who were beaten. I received these punishments for my socio-political activities. I am still receiving the threats, they are mentioned in one of the resolutions of the European Parliament.

In May 2017, our journalist Afgan Mukhtarly was kidnapped from Georgia He is now serving a prison term following the accusation of illegal border-crossing and smuggling goods. He had conducted a series of investigations on the corrupt practices at the Azerbaijanian Ministry of Defense and on the Aliyev family business in Georgia.

In 2015, they attempted to kill our social-manager in Berlin. He had been followed, two sources had informed us on that. We provided the German police with all the facts including the name of the person – Tural Gurbanov. He was an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Two months later, he was found murdered. Perhaps they were trying to cover up their tracks.

One of our journalists was detained in Baku for 30 days. They tortured him and tried to recruit him as a spy against but he managed to escape from Azerbaijan to Georgia".

Survival mechanisms and financial instruments

Emin Milli, founder of, Berlin:

"We launched on May 15, 2013. We rented a satellite, bought an hour of broadcasting on one of the channels. They started blocking us in a week. We decided to operate as an online TV-channel. First, we collected 40-50 thousand euro via crowdfunding. We had been gathering the money for several months. The Azerbaijanis from all over the world sent us the money. We also went to Europe and asked for the help. This is how we started.

We knew that they would not let us work inside the country, that we would not be able to defend ourselves, that the police would come to the office, take away all the equipment, that the editor-in-chief could end up in jail. So, we made a decision to operate from abroad.

Recently, we have celebrated our 5th anniversary. Today, the number of our users reaches up to 1 mln people a week. Some of our videos have up to 1-2 mln viewings. We have a staff of 20 people.

A criminal case has been open against us, our website is blocked in Azerbaijan. In spite of these circumstances, we double our audience every year. I am certain we will be able to hit the 5 mln mark. But we need the resources. We do receive grants as a media NGO. However, to exist stably, we need a stable income.

Recently, we have launched a subscription campaign. We are trying to find 10 thousand people who, for the duration of the next five years, would pay us $10 a month. So, it would be $120 per person a year which means $1.2 mln a year. We want to find at least 1000 subscribers until the end of the year. We have just started this project and have already collected several hundred dollars. This would enable us to выйти в сателлит, делать подкасты, print the newspaper samizdat-style. We have already had this experience, we used to print the newspaper on two A4 pages and share it on social networks. The number of viewings reached up to 100 thousand a day.

For Azerbaijan, given the condition of its current authoritarian regime, it would be an innovation. Anyone in the country could print out and distribute the newspaper. After all, we have no independent media, the Azerbaijanian Radio Liberty office has been closed. Only the pro-Government media still exist".


Emin Milli, founder of, Berlin:

"One must always have glasnost. We need the brave people with the desire to have independent media in the country and the readiness to risk it all. One can also broadcast from one's own social network page. One of our users has created an Azat Soz page on Facebook and broadcasts every day. Even a single person who speaks the truth may be effective".
Chapter I
A vague future for independent media
The political situation in Belarus is reminiscent of that in Kazakhstan: the single President who has been in power for 24 years; the recurrent crackdowns, the constant purging of the information space, the strong influence on the part of the neighboring Russia.

In the opinion of the Belarusian and foreign critics of Alexander Lukashenko, his ascend to power in 1994 was accompanied with the decline of freedom of speech and the press. The main sources of information – TV-channels BT, ONT and STV – exist under the control of the state that, the oppositional activists and international observers believe, promotes the policies antithetical to pluralism. For example, the state TV and radio-stations do not accord the right to speak to the representatives of the Belarusian opposition.

To illustrate the point, we will cite the following "mournful" list.

On November 12, 2001, the economic court of the Grodno Region liquidated the Pagonya newspaper.

In 2002, the Nasha svaboda newspaper was shut down. On June 24, 2002, the Leninsky District Court of Grodno sentenced Editor-in-Chief of Pagonya Nikolay Markevich to two and a half years in prison. Pagonya journalist Pavel Mozheyko was sentenced to two years based on Article 367 (2) of the Belarusian Criminal Code (slander of the President of the Republic of Belarus).

In May 2003, the Ministry of Information suspended the publishing of Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta and BDG. Dlya sluzgebnogo polzovaniya for the duration of three months.

On June 19, 2003, First Deputy Minister of Information S. Nichiporovich signed an order on suspending the publishing of Predprinimatelskaya gazeta for three months.

In August 2003, the Den' newspaper licenses were revoked.

On September 24, 2004, the Regiyanalnaya gazeta weekly published by Molodechno was forced to put a stop to the publication following the order of Minister of Information Vladimir Rusakevich. Later, the newspaper had been subjected to the pressure on the part of the authorities on many occasions.

On February 25, 2009, the Moskovsky District Court of Brest declared that Issues 7-8 of the ARCHE Pachatak magazine were of the extremist nature. As a result, the Reporters Without Borders international organization, having noted that the administrative and legal persecution of the magazine had started from its very launch in 1997, stated that "this event was a bad premonition for the progress in the sphere of freedom of the press".

Belarus regularly censors the programs broadcasted by the Russian TV-channels. For instance, the jokes about Lukashenko are cut from the comedy shows. For example, on July 4, 2010, the Belarusian viewers were not able to watch a hard-hitting film about Alexander Lukashenko "Krestnyi batka" (The Godfather) on NTV-channel since it was not allowed to be broadcasted in Belarus. At that same time, the issue of the Nasha niva daily which, on its front page, ran an article called "The Godfather Surrenders" on the situation with the Belarus/Russia customs union did not hit the shelves.

As of July 2010, Belarus officially publishes and distributes the Vitebsky kuryer independent newspaper, the Nasha niva and Narodnaya volya oppositional newspapers.

On January 12, 2011, Avtoradio was shut down due to the "non-compliance with the creative concept and distributing the information containing public calls for extremist activities". These accusations were based on Presidential candidates Neklyayev and Sannikov's official election ads broadcasted on the radio station.

On March 2, 2011, a list of the Belarusian and foreign celebrities and artists who were banned from being mentioned and published in the Belarusian media appeared on the internet.

Starting from January 1, 2012, the state's largest cable operator MTIS stopped broadcasting Euronews – the last uncensored channel. No explanation was given as to why this had happened.

On December 20, 2014, the domain names of the BelaPAN independent information agency and the website were blocked. On the same day, the website (the fifth one in Belarus in terms of popularity) was blocked as well.

UN special reporter Miklos Haraszti who overviews the situation with human rights in Belarus believes that, in the past 20 years, a stable and effective system of suppressing freedom of speech has been formed in the country.

In December 2017, the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Belarus blocked the Belorussky partisan portal due to publishing "prohibited information". As a result, the portal has resumed the operations having replaced domain org with domain by.

On January 24, 2018, following the decision of the Ministry of Information, oppositional website Khartiya'97 was blocked.

Repressions against journalists

On September 16, 2002, the Minsk Court sentenced Editor-in-Chief of the Rabochiy newspaper Viktor Ivashkevich to two years in prison following the accusations of slander of the President.

On January 18, 2008, Alexander Sdvizhkov, a journalist, ex-editor of the Zgoda newspaper, who, in February 2006, reprinted the Muhammad caricatures from Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was sentenced to tree years in prison for the incitement of racial, national or religious hatred committed by a civil servant with the use of their official authority. That being said, on February 22, 2008, the court changed the sentencing from three years in prison to three months of arrest. As a result, the journalist from freed.
In August 2009, correspondent of Polish Radio Racja received the KGB official warning on the "non-allowability of illegal activities and criminal sanctions in accordance with Article 369-1 of the Belarusian Criminal Code (discrediting the Republic of Belarus). Essentially, he was accused of writing about the delay of wages payment at the Neman plant in Grodno. The officials did not deny the fact itself but demanded that he wrote about it as follows: "Despite the crisis, the wages are being paid".

During an unauthorized meeting held on December 19, 2010 (day of the Presidential elections) in Minsk, many journalists were beaten up and arrested. Criminal cases were open against some of them. Alexander Otroschenov, a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), was sentenced to 4 years of a high security prison. Six members of the BAJ were declared prisoners of consciousness: Natalya Radina, Irina Khalip, Dmitry Bondarenko, Pavel Severinets, Sergey Voznyak, Alexander Feduta.

On December 19, 2011, journalist of non-governmental newspaper Novy chas Nikita Brovka was arrested at an unauthorized protest action. Despite the fact that, at the trial, Editor-in-Chief Alexey Korol confirmed in writing that Nikita Brovka was carrying out the editorial assignment, the next day, the journalist was sentenced to 10 days of arrest. When he was released from jail, Nikita Brovka was expelled from the Department of the Belarusian and Russian Philology at the Maksim Tanka State Pedagogical University where he was studying.

Preserving the monopoly of the digital media and the distribution and printing systems, the state is limiting not just the Belarusian independent publications but the activities of the reporters working for the foreign media as well. The foreign media registration applications are being denied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at random. Thus, many foreign journalists are forced to operate illegally.

On January 24, 2018, the Belarusian authorities blocked the biggest independent website called Khartia-97. At the time of the blocking, the site's readership constituted 2.5 mln of the unique monthly visitors. For the past six months, the Khartia website has counted 4 mln unique visitors which constitutes a half of the country's adult population.

Quite recently, this summer, the journalists have been arrested. A criminal case based on the accusations of hacking the BelTA information adency's website was open.

Evidence of the pressure

The harsh pressing of the independent media is particularly evident from the case of Khartia97 whose office is now located in Warsaw. Nata Radina, the Editor-in-Chief of the Khartia97 website, speaks about this.

"First, there were anonymous threats, SMS-messages, e-mails, commentaries on the articles, death threats. The repressions were constant, but they peaked in 2010 during the Presidential elections. I was put in the KGB jail and officially accused of "organizing massive riotous disturbances". The journalists were taken to different police stations, then sentenced to 10-15 days of arrest. They were trying to recruit them. The KGB demanded that the journalists spied upon everyone including me, reported on what they were doing, where the money came from etc.

In fact, we were squeezed out of the country through repressions: Oleg Bebenin, the founder of the site, was killed, I was arrested as the site's editor-in-chief. Practically all the journalists were arrested. There had been police searches, seizures of the property, pogroms in the editorial office, massive openings of criminal cases. So, we were forced to flee the country. During a single year, 3-4 criminal cases were open against me, then there were police searches in the office: they would enter the office by force, then showed us the search warrant and confiscate all the equipment.

In 2011, I did time at the KGB pretrial detention center and was released until trial on my own recognizance. I was forced to flee the country to be able to work from abroad. Because I knew they would not allow me to work inside it. On us, they had tested all their methods, from murder to legal persecution. Today, our website is blocked because it, allegedly, threatens the Belarusian national security".

Protective measures

Nata Radina, editor-in-chief, Khartia97 website:

"Glasnost was the only measure we took. We are trying to protect the journalists, so they work anonymously. Because, if you sign your article, you may become a figurant of a criminal case. We need solidarity, but it is not strong now due to the fears in the society. The society is divided, and everyone is trying to survive thinking only of themselves".

The role of the international organizations

Nata Radina, editor-in-chief, Khartia97 website:

"The activities of the international organizations are usually very weak. At best, they issue a statement and then forget about it. When the Khartia97 website was blocked six months ago, Reporters Without Borders made a statement. All the embassies of the Western countries in Belarus keep silent. Previously, any violation of the human rights, any fact of the pressure against the media, the arrests of the oppositional activists had been accompanied by the statements from the European Union. This time, there was nothing: they just blocked the site and even the US Embassy did not say a word. The authorities blocked a major site with millions of readers, but they did not react. However, the support can really help. When I was doing time at the KGB jail, Amnesty International declared me a prisoner of conscience and this had seriously influenced my incarceration conditions".

Survival mechanisms

Nata Radina, editor-in-chief, Khartia97 website:

"Some of our journalists left in 2011. We first renewed our operations in Vilnius, then we were invited by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2012, we continued working from Warsaw where we had built the editorial office and team anew. We had received accommodations to be used as offices. Some members of the team came from Belarus, some were new. The editors are working from Warsaw, the journalists are operating inside the country anonymously.

The Polish Government had helped us, provided us with accommodations at a reduced price. We have support of the Polish Foundation for International Development Cooperation. The website has been blocked since January 24, 2018; we are constantly informing our readers how to get around the blockage. There are several ways – VPN, Opera mini etc. We have regained 50% of our readership; our viewership is 20 times bigger than that of Radio Liberty in Belarus. Now we have 1 mln viewings a day; prior to the blockage, we had about 2 mln".


Nata Radina, editor-in-chief, Khartia97 website:

"We must cooperate with one another; our situations are very similar across the post-Soviet space. We must create an online-brotherhood, an international community of journalists. We must promote each other, must force the international bodies to react. All the independent media exist in dire financial circumstances. In Belarus, the media are very underdeveloped due to the lack of funding, journalists have nowhere to work and leave for the other fields. But first, we must explain to everyone – the Western governments, the European Parliament, the European Commission that finance only the state programs in our countries that they must help the independent media, provide the grants not for three months but for 3-5 years. And that successful media projects do exist, some have been in business for 10-20 years, they have regular audience, they have gained the reader's trust and need a constant and serious support. Because, unfortunately, so far no one has survived by means of advertising and a paid subscription is not a cure-all".
Chapter I
The noose is tightening
Immediately after his ascend to power, Russian President Vladimir Putin had taken the steps towards eroding the Russian democracy and smothering the freedom of expression – the control of the media became more severe while crimes against journalists remained unpunished.

After Vladimir Putin's return as the President of the Russian Federation (2012), the situation with freedom of speech in Russia, according to the Reporters Without Borders' reports, has grown even worse. According to some sources, these are the typical features of the Russian media market – harsh censorship, pressure of the authorities, threats and violence against journalists, totalitarian control of the state over the TV-channels and just plain disinformation.

The number of the journalists who consider themselves independent reporters had decreased three times – from 60% in 1992 to 20% in 2008. According to more recent surveys (2011), only 14% of the Russian journalists say they can operate professionally without limitations. Among the independent media, the experts name TV-channel Dozhd', Novaya gazeta, Radio Ekho Moskvy, websites, Meduza and several regional publications.

In the 2018 freedom of the press rating compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Russia occupies 148th place. The freedom of the press in Russia is now at the level from 30 years ago, says the report written by this organization.

The international human rights advocacy groups especially emphasize massive detentions of journalists and bloggers. The leading Russian media are "to a great extent, controlled by the oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin". The pressure on the independent media and investigative journalists is growing. There is the tightening of the internet control, the pressure on messenger Telegram, an attempt to prohibit the ways of getting around the blockings. There are two regions – Chechnya and Crimea – that are "almost completely purged of everyone who allow themselves to speak critically". The climate of lawlessness encourages new violence against journalists and the threats against the independent media raise more and more concerns.
The legislature is toughening and allows for more control over the press. During the past four years, they have adopted such laws as, for instance, the one prohibiting foreign ownership or demanding to present reports on foreign financing (ссылка) or the law against the undesirable organizations. One of its latest uses: on July 5, 2018, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow found Radio Liberty guilty of failing to provide the data (which it is required to do as an organization operating as a foreign agent) and fined it at a rate of 100 thousand rubles.

Means of the pressure

The blockings of the undesirable media have become popular in Russia. They are growing and becoming omnipresent. Editor-in-Chief of Yuliya Berezovskaya has told us how this means is used by the authorities citing her own media as an example.

Massive blockings

"The persecution against our resource has primarily manifested itself in the form of a blocking. Our website has been completely blocked on Russia's territory starting from March 2014. One can say it was the first instance of a total blocking of a website based on the Lugovoy law that was adopted at the end of 2013 at the times of Maidan when the Russian authorities got scared of the similar protests happening in Russia.

Essentially, the law permits to block a media without charge or trial, simply following the order of the prosecutors and their deputies. This law came into force in February 2014 and, already in March of that year, several websites were blocked including our site,,

The international convention that Russia has joined stipulates that there must be a concrete reason for the blocking. The Public Prosecution Office and Roskomnadzor (Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications) must show the concrete materials that caused of the blocking to the site owner. In our case, they did not do anything of the sort. We had appealed. But, quite predictably, this resulted in nothing. However, the legal fight continues.

Also, as with all the sites created at the dawn of the Russian internet at the beginning of 2000s, there was the story with the domain. Back then, it didn't even occur to us that it was dangerous to creates the domains in the ru zone as it was customary at the time. Turns out that the Ru Domain Registration rulebook stipulates (in a very small print) that the agencies with the right to conduct search activities (Ministry of Interior, Federal Security Service etc.) can take away the domain without charge or trial. And such cases have indeed taken place.

However, at some point in 2015, these rules were updated and Roskomnadzor has received additional rights to take away the domains.

The issue of moving the domain out of the ru zone came up a long time ago. We discussed it back in 2010 but, every time, we delayed the making of the decision because this decision was a very sensitive one. Although, to this day, the ru domain has not been taken away from us, in 2015, we decided to hedge our bets and changed the domain to org".

The problems with social media

"There is a problem with the big social media platforms and such projects as ours are kept their hostage. The Facebook, Twitter, YouTube outreach is much greater than the site's readership. In practice, we are distributing our content on social media but there is no absolute conversion among them.

In the beginning of May 2018, our YouTube channel was shut down for reasons unknown. We have managed to restore it thanks to the international support: Google, Reporters Without Borders, a large US organization spoke in our favor", says Yuliya Berezovskaya.

"Trials are the most widespread and effective means of the pressure. Then follow the treats of criminal persecution, reasons to be summoned for questioning. We have had no site-blockings but there have been DDoS-attacks. After the biggest attack in the history of the Runet (2013) when the site was shut down for a week, we have learned to defend ourselves. So far, there have been no refusals on the part of the printing-houses to publish the materials. One of the main means of harassing the media in the modern Russia is the economic one – the fines, the bans on carrying out the operations, the Roskomnadzor warnings. There is also the impossibility to make money via advertising", says Nadezhda Prusenkova, an employee of Novaya Gazeta.

Result of the blockings – tougher stance on self-censorship

At first, Novaya gazeta had published the instructions on now to get around the blockings, then had quietly removed them. On their own initiative, they had created a script that deleted the links from their entire database. Then, Roskomnadzor started to persecute even the relevant non-profit organization for publishing such instructions. The organization was forced to delete the entire section on how to get around the blockings. Even the most independent media will now think twice before publishing something in regard to the Roskomnadzor demands. All these absurd demands had to do with prohibiting the publishing of the caricatures of the religious nature. For instance, regarding Charlie Hebdo's murder, calls for separatism, the issue of Crimea affiliation.

Despite the blocking, we have kept the media license, we can get accredited and attend events. The absurdity also lies in the fact that, despite the blocking, we continue to receive the demands to delete the content. For instance, at the start of 2014, we published an article on the one-person protest at Manezhnaya Square in defense of political prisoners jailed in relation the Bolotnaya square events. It was an absolutely neutral article on how people took action in public, were dispersed, delivered to the DIA as per usual. However, from the Roskomnadzor standpoint, the article contained the calls for participating in unauthorized meetings.

We also remember the story with that happened simultaneously with our blocking. One of the reasons was Roskomnadzor's warning about publishing a link to an interview with a Pravyi sector fighter that was released on another site. Recently, there has been a case with Ekho Moskvy", recalls Yuliya Berezovskaya.
Survival mechanisms and countermeasures

Yuliya Berezovskaya speaks on survival mechanisms.

"I went to France and founded a non-profit organization that ensures the continuous work of our publication. But these schemes are fragile because the legislature may change anytime. And a French non-profit organization can also become an undesirable one. They have passed the law on reporting on foreign financing. We had published the information for our readers in Russia on how to get around the blockings. There are many ways to do it and the people are being educated. A big input, in this regard, has been made by the blocking of Telegram. The general public has learned about VPN, Tor. We were among those who educated the people on anonymizing, keeping their privacy on the internet, the safety and the ways to access the prohibited sources such as ours. We have been actively sharing this information".

"We had been creating mirror sites, more than 700 for the first year-year and a half. Our readers knew that, if the domains could not be accessed, one needed to change the numbers and access the site. Roskomnadzor would block these sites one after another, it was a real war. They allocated personnel, money, etc. to carry out this war. Note that they had no legal grounds to do so because the blocking of each site should have been sanctioned by court.

Reporters Without Borders started a one-time campaign in 2015. They had created the so-called non-blocking resources around the globe. They chose 10 sites in different countries,, were among them. They would create non-blocking mirrors located on Amazon or Google cloud services. Therefore, to block them, the authorities would have to block these giant servers which would have been too painful, economically speaking, so they did not dare to do so. But this didn't really work because the technicians from Reporters Without Borders were in charge of the project. At some point, we realized that we could do all this by ourselves. By the end of 2015 – the beginning of 2016, we had launched our own non-blocking mirror that is functioning even today.

Roskomnadzor had learned about it only by the end of 2017. They sent a letter to Google demanding to shut down the "mirror" because it was located on that server. Fortunately, Google did not react. Now, with all the massive blockings of Telegram, it has become clear that even this mechanism is no longer viable. They can block Google and anything they want. They block IPs by a million, the whole networks, etc. No one would think it possible even six months ago, we did not think it would come to that, but now it is clear that the thing with the "mirror" is no longer reliable.

Nonetheless, there is a way to create a site albeit without a pretty design. It will be accessible to all the Russian users. In spite of everything, such a possibility has appeared recently and still exist today. This is the decision we offer to the colleagues facing the same problems as we are. There are also the mechanisms used on Navalny's site; these were the newest means to fight the blockings. They tried to deceive the system installed by the providers and studied the content of a request trying to make a substitution so that it would appear that the user's request was not to Navalny's site but to something else.

Khodorkovsky's site chose a different path: they have been sheltered by Kseniya Sobchak on her own site. MBKh can now be accessed in Russia on Sobchak's website.

VPN has been prohibited in Russia since November 2017. VPN-services must deny access to the prohibited sites, otherwise, they may face enormous fees. The search engines are now obligated to exclude us from the results. The other question is whether they comply with this or not. A lot of problems arise from the fact that the project has been blocked. It is as if it has been stigmatized, artificially marginalized. Everyone is avoiding us like the plague – the partnership networks, aggregators. The two main aggregators have excluded us from the media list.

Protective measures

"It would be a good example of solidarity if we published the prohibited materials. We have launched a special project that has also been blocked in Russia. As part of this project, we publish all things banned – the videos, the texts, the posts etc. for which the people have been sent to prison, fined, brought to administrative responsibility. Massive reposts could also become an effective means to fight the censorship. But there is no solidarity among the journalists, the story of our blocking demonstrates it clearly", says Yuliya Berezovskaya.

"In the event of a threat, we try to ensure the journalist's safety to the fullest extent. We send him to a different place and try to figure out the situation. In regard to courts and law-enforcement agencies, we provide a complete legal aid and support. There are personal safety techniques (not to walk around dark courtyards alone etc.), the means of informational and personal precautions (not to write about your every move on social media), contacting the authorities (obviously)", says Nadezhda Prusenkova.

The role of the international organizations

"The international organizations support us on every level: we receive the official and unofficial aid. With Reporters Without Borders, we have worked from the very beginning, they had created the non-blocking mirror for us. NDI has been our sponsor for a number of years. They give us money which helps to drag out our miserable existence. They had also helped from the technological standpoint when we were experiencing the DDoS-attacks. Our technician participates in the international events devoted to the topic of the internet-freedom. We are thankful for the prompt restoration of the YouTube channel which happened this May. Agora has handled all our cases for free, Article19 and others have joined the defense", says Yuliya Berezovskaya.

"The help of the international organizations and agencies is, most frequently, only verbal. Words are great, but they alone will not free hunger striker Oleg Sentsov, for example. When it came to the concrete actions (like in the case of the Chechen gays or Ali Feruz), many organizations offered words only. We need more to morally pressurize the state", says Nadezhda Prusenkova.

Successful business-models

Yuliya Berezovskaya believes Meduza to be a financially successful project. She stipulates, however, that it had attracted substantial investments.

"They have a working business-model that initially seemed doubtful because it was based on native advertising. This content takes more and more space on the website. But it is hard to believe that it will help to pay off the investments in the nearest future. They had great starting conditions. Apart from the usual things, they were negotiating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The negotiations resulted in nothing, but he paid a good compensation for simply holding them. They had no limitations in terms of advertising, in terms of the morals and this is doubtful enough".

She also cites several other examples.

"There is It is a top-of-the-line project in the field of cultural journalism but, once again, they do not use crowdfunding, they call themselves a socially-financed media. But there is a lot of the sponsor funds there.

Foundation Takiye dela is more of a charity project and not a media.

The OVD business model is rather interesting, however, it is not exactly a media. This is a classic example of crowdfunding and it is a clear example of a publicly useful media project. It was founded in 2012 when they started the massive arrests of those protesting against Putin's new term. The people were detained on a large-scale, and this resource became a fast response service: it informed the public on who was sent where. This is how this human rights defense media-project has started. Their operations are 100% based on crowdfunding. Even though their viewability rate is low, they have a high citation rate in the media.

Mediazona that had been existing through grants launched its own crowdfunding project at the end of 2017. It is successful enough, they have collected impressive sums, but it is not enough for carrying out the normal editorial work".

Survival mechanisms

"We had tried to use crowdfunding, we have a loyal audience that was ready to pay us small sums. It had worked for a while and brought us some money. But we cannot be eligible for crowdfunding; it has to be a unique project that guarantees it is best in its field. When one uses crowdfunding with payments, one needs the acquiring services. The companies that provide online-payment services refuse to work with us after the blockings. The partnership networks, crowdfunding platforms – all of them have refused. Not to mention advertising! What kind of direct sales can there be? The traffic plummeted immediately, as soon as we were put on the black list.

We have been trying to reach out to them during the recent years, to establish some kind of dialogue with big platforms so that Facebook and Google start to work with us and give us a discount. A special procedure has to be established for independent projects. When they are constantly being attacked by the Kremlin trolls on their websites, it is one thing. But when this happens on Facebook, these issues must be investigated individually consideting the political situation. So that it will not be regarded as business first and foremost", says Yuliya Berezovskaya.

"We must learn how to make turnarounds. How not to put our necks on the line, how search for funding mechanisms, how to anticipate possible repressions. There is no other way", says Nadezhda Prusenkova.
Chapter I
"The island of democracy" is shrinking
On the eve of the Kyrgyz Presidential elections in the fall 2017, the situation with freedom of speech and the civil activities worsened significantly. Former President Almazbek Atambayev had repeatedly pressurized those who criticized his policy accusing them of discrediting the President and destabilizing the situation in the country.

Independent news website Zanoza.Kg, its co-founders and journalists Narynbek Idinov and Dina Maslova, human rights advocate Cholpon Dhakupova and the attorneys of oppositional party Ata-Meken were found guilty of slander and sentenced to paying punitive damages in the amount of several thousand euro for publishing the articles that had caused ex-President's displeasure. These financially wrecking legal cases were initiated by the Prosecutor General acting under the authority of the President.

At the end of August 2017, the court prohibited Sentyabr TV-channel from broadcasting for the alleged distribution of the extremist materials during the broadcasting of the interview with the chief of the regional department of internal affairs. The TV-channel is associated with current opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev and shows criticism towards the Government.

A public defamation campaign was launched against journalist Ulugbek Babakulov after the publishing in May 2017 an article calling attention to the facts of aggressive nationalism against the ethnic Uzbeks on social media. Independent news site Fergana on which the article appeared was blocked in the country by court order. Fearing for his safety, Babakulov fled Kyrgyzstan. It is currently reported that his family that still lives in the country is under constant surveillance and is subject to threats.

Online-resource is considered one of the Kyrgyz successful independent media-projects. Ulukbek Akishev,'s CFO, tells its story.

"The site has been operating for 11 years. There have been several instances of the pressure, the most notable one has to do with the Kazakh authorities. At the end of 2014, when the global talks about the Central Asian terrorist organizations were growing, we published an article on the topic. We reprinted the Daily Mail article on how many Central Asian citizens including those from Kazakhstan had joined the ISIS. The material was not well received, first of all, by the Kazakh National Security Committee. They wrote an official letter demanding to retract the material because it promoted extremism. They contacted the Kyrgyz Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Public Prosecution Office and tried to act though them. We refused to retract the material. The fight continued for about a month. As a result, we were able to defend the article. The site, however, has been blocked in Kazakhstan.

There was also a case when the former Speaker of the Parliament filed a lawsuit against an article about his company that was not mentioned in the official declaration form. It was a reprint of our material by a different media, and the information was distorted. Our attorneys explained that we could not be hold responsible for someone reprinting the material and the case was dismissed.

Protective measures

Ulukbek Akishev,'s CFO:

"What helps in our case is making almost every step, almost every claim public". In almost every instance of the pressure exertion against us, our friends and colleagues try to write about it, the readers support us".

The role of the international organizations

Ulukbek Akishev,'s CFO:

"The international media human rights advocacy groups are mainly conducting the monitoring. I cannot say they are too influential. However, there have been attempts to influence the authorities through their statements".

Financial instruments

Ulukbek Akishev,'s CFO:

"90% of our operations are financed by international grants. There are also individual persons that support freedom of speech and give the money for the development of journalism. Apart from that, in June 2017, we have launched the commercial department that, at the moment, is covering 10% of our expenses.

We have four commercial areas of focus: the website and social media advertising, the media-schools, the information services (selling of the information digests, the background information), creating and selling video-production. Thus, in a way, we have differentiated our financial instruments. On average, the site attracts up to 200 thousand users per month. По количеству сессии около 400-500 тысяч. In terms of the viewings, about two millions of the active активных подключений в месяц. The site is among the top five information publications.

We have created a full-scale legal bogy in Prague in case they file some complaints against us. We are not officially registered as a media outlet. The publication itself does not rely strongly on legal bodies. The most effective means that can influence a media's stability is its concept. We are trying to be innovators as much as possible. We are using the new formats which helps to hold on to the audience, to widen it and develop it".
Chapter I
Partially free
Despite the fact that Ukraine is the avant-garde of the countries studied in this research in terms of the freedom of speech rating, the Ukrainian independent media and journalists find themselves under the pressure on the part of the state apparatus and the radical groups controlled by the SSU (Security Service of Ukraine). Being aware of the danger, many try to avoid the sensitive subjects. The local journalists believe this is where the crucial difference lies between the current situation and that of 2013 when 90% of the Ukrainian media were in opposition to the authorities.

According to the data of the Svododa Slova non-profit organization, the witch hunt has been going on for four years: "we are talking about gruesome murders of journalists, arsons, pogroms in the editorial offices, police searches, equipment expropriation, summons for questioning".

The means of pressurizing the disobedient media can be different. For instance, journalist of the Strana publication Valeria Ivashkina says that, apart from the tax complaints against them, there is also a case of the "alleged divulging of official secrets". Previously, during the police searches in the editorial office and the journalists' homes, the authorities had allegedly found a flash drive with secret materials on it. According to the law, a state secret may only be divulge by the person with an official access to such materials, the one who signed non-disclosure agreement. But journalists do not sign such documents.

According to the data of the Institute of Mass Information, 281 cases of freedom of speech violation were registered in 2017 in Ukraine. Private individuals were the main violators of the journalists' rights: 156 assault in 2017. "These were protestors, people involved in traffic collisions, there had been cases when teachers and doctors were the attackers. This is a worrying symptom which shows the distrust of journalists in society". Then follow the local officials, then – law-enforcers.

The top five regions where the freedom of speech violations happen most frequently are: Kiev (80 cases), Lutsk (24 cases), Nikolayev (20), Poltava (18). Odessa (15).

In the temporary occupied Crimea, 16 cases of freedom of speech violations have been registered.

Means of the pressure

During the years of the independence, the Ukrainian media have experienced a range of different pressure means, say the local experts.

Roman Kabachiy, a journalist and a publicist, from 2012 to 2018, an employee The Institute of Mass Information:

"In the 1990s, the undesirable newspapers had been suppressed, repurchased or destroyed economically. Newspaper Den' is published in Ukrainian, Russian and English – they tried to pressurize it via prohibiting its sale in certain networks. A couple of years ago, Domashniyaya gazeta in Krivoy Rog experienced the same kind of pressure from the authorities.

At the beginning of the 2000s, most TV-channels had had the telephone justice called "temniki" (from the word "tema" – "subject"). These people determined which topics should be covered (and in what light), which topics should be avoided. TV journalists were opposed to the "temniki", and, after the Orange Revolution of 2004, they had disappeared.

The leading internet publications such as,, Ukrainskaya Pravda, sometimes are subject to DDoS-attacks.

In the provinces, during Yanukovich time, the opposition TV-channels were excluded from the cable providers' broadcasting packages due to "technical reasons".

Legal actions against journalists do exist but they are not as serious for the latter as in Belarus or Kazakhstan where a media can be destroyed financially via legal fines. The courts mostly take the side of the press. Apart from that, such cases are soon made public even in the provinces and the human rights advocacy groups provide legal support and publicity.

The direct and indirect threats, beatings of journalists happen quite often. This has to do with both the political motives as the economic investigations".
Protective measures

"In Ukraine, journalists know their rights. In most cases, when a journalist files a complaint against obstruction of journalism, such an obstruction, most likely, did take place. However, often, journalists do not want to file a complaint because they do not believe in its success. The main problem in such cases lies in the delaying of the process, especially if the authorities and law-enforcement officers are involved. To push the matter through, one must have a lot of moral courage. However, such precedents do exist, and they inspire hope. For example, Andrey Lokhmatov from Nikolayev won the trial against the local police, TV journalist from Kiev Olga Snitsarchuk won the Vadim Titushko case – the name that had become a household one: he was a sportsman hired by the authorities to intimidate the target by force.

First of all, one needs to have glasnost and a statement for the police. Without it, nothing will get off the ground. Practically all the instances of the pressure, assaults, arson attacks on editorial boards'/journalists' cars are made public. The support and solidarity on the part of the journalists and human rights defenders is important. The local power brokers that fight against the local media often dent their enthusiasm when they become the anti-heroes of investigations and reports on the national level", says Roman Kabachiy.

The role of the international organizations

"We value the assistance of the international organizations, their role in the freeing of the journalists taken prisoners in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic, in the Russian-occupied Crimea. However, at times, the international organizations, not grasping the situation fully, take the side of the propagandistic media financed by the circle of fugitive president Yanukovich or the Russian government entities", says Roman Kabachiy.

Survival mechanisms

"The reforms are underway. In the future, they are to protect freedom of speech more. There is the denationalization of the media and the creation of the public TV and radio stations in Kiev and the regions. There is the transparency of the media financing sources (so far, the digital media law has come into force). There must be the implementation of the law on public information access – in theory, it is one of the best ones in Europe. We must fight against the lawlessness, and here, in each instance, the editorial boards, the human rights advocacy groups and the authorities must cooperate", says Roman Kabachiy.
Chapter II
Through the eyes of legal advocates
They are described in detail by former Head of the Russian Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations and now Professor at the Ilia State University, expert at the Atlantic Council (Tbilisi) Oleg Panfilov.

"We have been monitoring the post-Soviet space for a long time and have divided the violations of the rights of journalists into several categories:

1 – murder,
2 – assault,
3 – the pressure on the media etc.

With Vladimir Putin's ascend to power, the situation had worsened. In September 2000, the Information Security Doctrine was adopted. It stipulated that a greater attention should be paid to the state-owned media than to the independent media. That was the staring point of the independent media destruction. First and foremost, of the television since television plays the biggest role in every post-Soviet country. At that time, the number of criminal cases against journalists had grown substantially: starting from 2001, we had counted more than 50 cases in Russia alone. In 2010, it was already about 150 cases.

The persecution against web-sites had increased: Vladimir Putin's officials had figured out that the internet was becoming the next most popular media outlet after TV. The situation in Russia has been and perhaps still is close to the ones in Uzbekistan and even Turkmenistan. Although there is no officially-declared censorship, there is a great fear of the persecution on the part of the journalists.

All the post-Soviet countries can be divided into several groups. The relatively free ones are Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova.

Georgia is in a different category altogether. First, the Georgian Constitution prohibits the existence of state-owned media. Second, Georgia has no state regulative body, there is no ministry of print or any other such agency. The media are registered as any business is registered. We have no agency for media accreditation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no department for monitoring the activities of foreign journalists; they can simply come and work how they want and where they want. In Georgia, the last legal trial against the media occurred 12 years ago.

The worst situation is in Turkmenistan (it has no independent media), Uzbekistan and Belarus. Tadzhikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are in a "strange" category (neither here nor there).

The level of freedom of speech depends on the level of the authoritarianism and the legislature because not all the post-Soviet counties have decriminalized the journalistic activities. Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova have no anti-media articles in their criminal codes. Russia, on the contrary, has five including the one against extremism".
Nadezhda Azhgikhina, the Vice-President of the European Federation of Journalists (Moscow).

"First of all, there is the economic pressure. The journalists do not write about it much. Much more is written on the subject of censorship, on the refusals to print the materials, on not letting a media broadcast, on the blockings, assaults, threats. Women receive threats three times more often than men. Journalists do not get paid enough, they become too dependent. They are subject to the psychological pressure, first of all, from their employers. The undesirable journalists get fired. You can get fired for posting on social media. The pressure has become more sophisticated. Perhaps there does not exist a type of pressure that has not been used against journalists in Russia and the neighboring countries.

We have the database built by the Committee to Protect Glasnost. It is called "The Conflicts in the Media". There are several sections: "Murder", "Physical assault", "Property damage", "Illegal employment termination", "Legal prosecution" and "Threat". In addition, we have persecution on the internet, threatening the lives of nearest and dearest, all kinds of verbal abuse. And, I would say, there is a special kind of pressure - suppressing the journalistic solidarity. Its is also quite widespread".

"Kazakhstan is a more closed country than Kyrgyzstan which is way different in that regard from the rest of the Central Asian states. Regardless of what the political situation is, the country has pluralism. Different media-models are developed. In contrast, the Kazakh media-space is practically purged. The independent media were all shut down after the Zhanaozen events in 2012-2013, we are all aware of the project Respublika story. Perhaps one or two independent media still remain. But there is a trend of persecuting even the pro-government media which we have seen through the example of Forbes-Kazakhstan, website. The last of the independent media are being zealously persecuted, they are conducting the ultimate purging. This is why, in our freedom of speech rating, Kazakhstan occupies 158th place. They have begun to persecute bloggers and the internet users in general based on criminal cases related to inciting all kinds of hatred, extremism etc. This is a regional trend, so all the persecution methods are put into action – the legal ones, the psychological ones, trolling, blockings, economic pressure.

One must note that, in Kyrgyzstan, whose freedom of speech rating in much higher than that of Kazakhstan, the end of the rule of former President Almazbek Atambayev was marked by several legal claims against the independent media. These were the claims against Azattyk, website Zanoza; they were trialed for allegedly defaming the President and sentenced to paying enormous fines. So, Kyrgyzstan had lost several points in the rating. But when the new President ascended to power, the situation started changing rapidly, the claims were withdrawn and the fines were vacated. The criminal persecution of journalists remains a problem though. But they are working on that, there is progress", says Johann Bihr, expert on Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Reporters Without Borders (Paris).

In Kazakhstan, legal claims against the undesirable media top everything in terms of the frequency of use. Then follow website blockings, repressions against editors, journalists, social media bloggers", says Galym Ageleuov, human rights advocate, President of the Liberty Public Foundation (Almaty).

Protective measures

"The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations had several projects devoted to defending journalists. There was a project called "Active Non-Violence" when we taught the journalists how to carry out the acts of protest. We had been convincing the journalists that it was necessary to fight for their rights. We had published a textbook also called "Active Non-Violence: How to Protest Correctly". There was a legal aid program, we had the funds to hire lawyers in the special cases of criminal persecution against journalists. I cannot say we had always won but if we did loose, it was when the claim was filed by a state official.

In Kyrgyzstan, they had had about 200 civil claims against newspaper Respublika. In Russia, and now in the entire post-Soviet space, the authorities prefer using not the criminal but the civil legislature against journalists since it is not a good thing to put a journalist in prison while making them pay enormous fines – this can be done. And if a newspaper is being fined in the amount that is greater than the newspaper's value, obviously, it is going to be closed.

We have always said that every editorial board must have a legal professional on staff, apart from that, editors and journalists must know the law very well. We have analyzed the experience of most Western newspapers. For example, Washington Post has staff attorneys whose task is to read all the articles that may cause a big public response. And, it they find anything that may result in a civil claim, they ask the journalist to change the text. This helps to prevent legal actions. A great number of legal claims in the post-Soviet countries are the result of the legal incompetence.

The second thing that journalists must do is to create unions. This is an effective means to fight the battle; in the West, the inions are respected organizations. One thing is to persecute an editorial board, another – to persecute a union. In the West, they react to it, and very fast.

And, thirdly, since assaults and physical threats against journalists do exits, the latter must ensure their own safety. Never to appear at events carrying political slogans, always attend events in a special vest or some other identification marks on the clothing", says Oleg Panfilov.

"I cannot but cite the example of Mikhail Afanasyev. He is a blogger and online-journalist from Abakan who was first to report that people confined in Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro-Power Plant during the accident were still alive. He was brutally beaten, and a criminal case was open against him following a manufactured accusation of the Deputy Minister of the Interior of the Khakasiya Republic. He had always been criticizing the police and the law-enforcement agencies of the republic. Thanks to the journalistic solidarity, the case had leaked beyond the Russian borders. The international organizations including the Committee for Protection of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists and others defended him. Mikhail Afanasyev had found qualified criminal attorneys who took his case. And the glasnost was very important. In the end, he became the record-holder in terms of the number of the non-guilty verdicts.

The qualified legal assistance is a very important factor. The Center for Protection of the Media Rights located in Voronezh is operating all over Russia, in the 20 years of its existence, it has defended 10 000 journalists and media, the state-owned and the private ones. Several of their cases have reached the European Court.

And the last case that is also well-known in Russia is the story of Elena Nadtoka, the Editor-in-Chief of a small provincial newspaper in the Rostov Region, who was found guilty of defaming the then city governor. The claim against her was based on an expression she used – "a thievish boss". She was fined. She then called for help, her case was handled by the Center for Protection of the Media Rights. The trial continued for six years and, eventually the European Court found her not guilty.

It was not the fist instance when the European Court exonerated a journalist. But this was the only case when the Russian Supreme Court actually forced the local court that, under the pressure of the local authorities, had reached an absolutely unjust verdict, to reverse it. The local court complied, and Elena Nadtoka was cleared of all charges. The qualified legal aid and the journalistic solidarity are the main instruments of the defense.

There had been instances when the editors did not support their journalist. Journalistic solidarity is Russia's weak spot. A vivid example is the sexual harassment on the part of Deputy Leonid Slutsky. Three different girls from different channels had reported him. The deputies showed a shameful comradery in the attempt to defend the honor of the regiment. But most of the media, not only the state-owned ones but the private ones as well, did not respond. Even though this had to do not only with the sexual harassment but with the defamation of the profession as such.

Vadim Rogozhin was beaten in Saratov, he survived by a miracle. The head of the local journalist union Lidiya Zlatogorskaya sounded the alarm all over the city. She managed to convince the media-personas that had been fighting against one another to unite. Glasnost is very important as well as the general atmosphere is the society, when the audience considers such cases as unacceptable", says Nadezhda Azhgikhina.

"Each case is unique and, of course, glasnost is a good thing. However, there can be instances when it can do more harm than good. We are operating in different fields of supporting journalists, quite often we participate in a journalist's evacuation, assist them in receiving asylum, provide financial support. We can also help them to contact the other advocacy groups. For several years, we have been publishing the pamphlets with the recommendations on how to cover different situations – conflicts, elections, crises. We used to provide the journalists working in the flashpoint areas with bulletproof vests. In these circumstances, it is very important that we and the local journalists, human rights advocates, activists cooperate with one another. To achieve an effect, we need the solidarity and the pro-active stanсe of the entire population", says Johann Bihr.

"One of the main defensive measures is informing the civil society, reaching out to it and to the journalistic community. Although we have no kind of solidarity, neither the civil nor the professional one. Nonetheless, one must adhere to the principles of the journalist ethics", says Galym Ageleuov, President of the Liberty Foundation (Kazakhstan).

The role of the international organizations

"I am not a fan of international organizations because I myself used to work at CPJ. The only thing I respect them for is the monitoring which was my responsibility for a number of years. However, their statements have practically no effect. Therefore, the only possibility is to reach out to such international organizations as the Europeans Council, OSCE and others. I had worked at the OSCE for 13 years. I think the only way to reach out to them is to discuss the problems in say Belarus or Kazakhstan in the presence of 56 ambassadors. I remember we once had a discussion and the Ambassador of Kazakhstan was forced to make excuses for the authorities' actions. It did have some effect, the Ambassador had to report the incident to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and say that there has been a discussion of the persecution of editorial boards", says Oleg Panfilov.

"Their role is very important. Even if the authorities pay no attention. I had participated in the journalistic discussions, I used to be the Russian coordinator of the Russian-Ukrainian dialogue among the professional organizations. This was immediately after the Maidan. Eight journalists were freed from captivity. Most of them were freelancers. We had worked under the OSCE authority, we reached out to the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders. The international organizations successfully managed to free Eynulla Fatullayeva, Khadidzh Ismailov (who was freed after winning the UNESCO award)", says Nadezhda Azhgikhina.

"Today, the role of the international organizations is important like never before, but it is getting more and more difficult for them to influence such counties as Kazakhstan due to the on-going trend of violating the accepted democratic norms. More and more authoritarian governments believe that they can violate these norms and persecute their opponents without any consequences. And this lawlessness creates huge difficulties when carrying out our mission", says Johann Bihr, Reporters Without Borders, expert in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Paris).

"Thе international human rights advocacy groups can influence things in the form of a statement. But in terms of having a real effect on the Kazakh authorities, their influence is practically non-existent", says Galym Ageleuov.

Survival mechanisms

"We all must have a good legal education. Perhaps this is the most important condition. Second, there must be economic and financial independence. This is the only way for the independent media to stay afloat. There had been enough publications in Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan that existed thanks to the grants. But grants end, and a media dies. A media must be 100% commercial, this is the only way to become independent. But here lies one big "but". All the Georgian newspapers, apart from the two commercial ones, are tabloids.

How do the Georgian media solve their financial problems? Since there are no governmental or state-owned publications, the Government issues a tender and determines which media will publish the information on the governmental orders and get paid for it. This is the only outside infusion into the media budget. Generally, everyone survives exclusively on self-sufficiency. Of course, there is also advertising and sales. Commerce is the only way, there can be no other", says Oleg Panfilov.

"Let me give you some examples. The TV-2 channel is considered the best Russian regional TV-channel. It was closed by the local authorities; the broadcasting license had been revoked. However, it continues to exist on the internet. Dozhd' is operating on the internet on a subscription basis. Altay Press is a commercially successful project. It is a private company, they have a big publishing complex. They print different publications, they have several commercial journals. All this helps them to publish liberal newspaper Svibidnyi kurs. They have their own website Altay Press. Yuri Purgin is the founder and the CEO of the project. We all know Nivaya gazeta. There is also independent social project Takiye dela that has won the national award. It exists thanks to subscribers and users. There are very interesting projects such as Stol, Mediazona. There are many projects that are fresh and absolutely independent and can survive on very little money", says Nadezhda Azhgikhina.

The situation is different depending on the region. In Belarus, for example, several independent media exist in spite of everything. Some are operating from abroad: Belsat, Khartia97. Some are working inside the country – Nasha niva, Narodnaya volya. Some are even operating in the provinces. In Azerbaijan, the situation is much more difficult; I can only name one independent agency – Turan. We must have perseverance, solidarity, we must harness each other's experience. Speaking of financial sources, crowdfunding helps to obtain limited resources. There are international donors. But journalists must develop the skills how to write grant proposals, how to make reports – all this is very important today when the means of survival are scarce", says Johann Bihr.

"We must retreat to social media, launch our own websites (not necessarily under the kz. domain). Another way to survive and grow is to organize a subscription for a small fee which will be affordable for most people", says Galym Ageleuov.
Chapter III
Best foreign practices
Maria Makeyeva, former deputy editor-in-chief of Dozhd', editor-in-chief of TV-channel OstWest (Germany).

"When I worked at Dozhd', all the memorable geopolitical events were happening – the Maidan of 2013, the Sochi Olympics etc. It was a difficult time: Dozhd' was banned from all the cable networks, we were forced to cut back trying to survive. We had managed but the feeling was as if had had lived through the war, as if we were wounded and our home was destroyed.

I think now is a good time for the projects such as Ya – SMI. OstWest is the channel for the Russian-speaking Europeans, the people who consider themselves such regardless where they live. Our staff consists of 35 people. We broadcast not more than 4 hours a day, the rest is a rebroadcasting. Ours is the only Russian-language TV-channel in Germany. Now we also broadcast in Austria and Switzerland; starting from the beginning of the year, we are broadcasting in Ukraine, Latvia and the Dominican Republic. We have 300 thousand subscribers in Germany.

The pressing presents additional possibilities as any crisis does. And when you search for funding under the conditions of the authoritarian regime, you must choose a model that would connect you with your viewers, listeners, readers directly in order to avoid some additional sidesteps. What I mean is this. If you pressure a single guy, it is easier than pressuring many people.

Under the authoritarian conditions, the media must, to some extent, become a social institution (I will cite Ekho Moskvy as an example). You must become an entity that no one would dare close, you must be recognizable, you must have a wide audience so the authorities would know they won't be able to shut you down.

There is also another problem that concerns any media – the lack of trust in society. You must prove that you do not act on anyone's orders, you must distribute information on social media and package it differently so that it reaches all the audiences. The authorities are not united, they are fighting with each other, and one should use this opportunity as well".

Danil Kislov, editor-in-chief of website Fergana

"If we are to assess the status of freedom of speech in general, I would say, today, Kyrgyzstan holds the top position. Kazakhstan occupies the second place, Uzbekistan the third, Tadzhikistan the fourth and Turkmenistan the fifth one. All the five Central Asian countries battle their own problems.

First and foremost, there is blocking. Uzbekistan has been blocking us for 14 years, the other states have been blocking us (with varying success) from 2 to 10 years. Then goes the bullying of our correspondents, assassination attempts, opening of criminal cases. For the 15 years that we have been working in Uzbekistan, 10 of our correspondents have been harassed one way or another. Seven have been forced to leave Uzbekistan. There have been an assassination attempt and a beating. For instance, after the Andizhan events, there had been two assassination attempts against one of our journalists – once, he was beaten, then something was thrown into his window in order to kill him. Another journalist had to emigrate to the US, they were persecuting her on criminal charges. She was accused of distributing false information. Several other journalists emigrated because of the long-time "soft pressure" that the authorities had been exerting on them. It manifested itself, for instance, in summoning them to police stations where they showed them their dossiers with all the information on how they got paid by the employer, with their correspondence, with all the publications. They used to say to the journalists, "hey guys, why don't you just leave quietly, we have enough compromising material and can indict any of you any time".

There is only one defense mechanism – we register and write of each fact of the pressure. As for legal defense, our journalists do have it because no lawyer would agree to take their case.

The international organizations can be useful in the two instances – creating the international resonance and providing journalists with financial aid.

The main problem of the media lies in finding donors or investors. For a long time, we had existed on the grants provided by the international organizations. However, in 2014, for those working inside Russia, it became impossible to receive money from these organizations. They were outlawed. We have found a private investor who is funding us now, but I cannot give you his name.

We must study how the international media lives. Look into the success stories such as the New York Times, for instance. Let's analyze it as a very good example of successful monetization. It is one of the best publications in the world, so, by definition, it cannot be free for the taking. It is sold on a subscription basis. The subscription does not cost a lot - $1.5 a month, but they have 8 mln subscribers which means the subscription gives them $8.5 mln a month. Apart from that, there is advertising.

But could subscription exist in Central Asia? The answer is no since the people are poor. If the people have not enough money to buy bread, why would they spend it on subscribing to some website? Second, the level of the civil activity is very low, even in the politicized Kyrgyzstan. The society shows an absolute apathy when it comes to political problems, it is not ready to pay money for the topical information.

Is it possible to survive on advertising? We know from the experience that it is hard. Look at Novaya gazeta, for instance. They are basically unable to sell their advertising space because the business is afraid to advertise there. We have always had the same problem. We hardly ever got lucky. For example, money transferring companies find our website attractive as advertisers because our readership contains many labor migrants from Central Asia. But they would think twice before advertising on our website that is now considered oppositional and, quite often, the answer was "no".

There is no point in relying on the international organizations, either. One way or another, if they give you money, you will be accused of serving their interests. Which is also very risky.

In reality, I see no way out except continue doing what we do (even if there is no money) and widen our audience on social media".

Libor Kukal, editor-in-chief of radio Prague, deputy editor-in-chief of Czech Public Radio:

"How can one create a public media outlet in your countries and how did we do it? First of all, there has to be the will of the political leadership of the country and, of course, the support of the civil society. Our county passed the law in 1991 and the society supported it.

I cannot give you any recommendations on how to preserve the independent media in the countries with the authoritarian regimes because we live in absolutely different conditions. But, from the systemic standpoint, a good start would be eliminating the possibility of criminal persecution against journalists. We have nothing like that here. There are dozens claims against the media, but they are all civil claims. And, if a publication looses in court, the editorial board pays the fine. On the other hand, here, it is impossible to file a claim against an individual journalist, claims are filed against editorial boards".

Ondrej Soukup, observer, editor-at-large of «Hospidarske Noviny", Czech Republic

"There can be calls to the office or legal claims, of course. If they can prove that the information is indeed false, we retract. Yes, there had been legal claims against us, but we almost always won. There was a situation with newspaper Respect. Back in 1990s, our current President urged to publicly condemn it and shut it down for publishing some articles but nothing doing. The President's apparatus "calls us names", from time to time, (especially the Press Secretary on Twitter). When the President was assuming the office the second time, he devoted a good part of his speech to us saying "how can they work like this", "they lie about everything", "they work for their owner who has no scruples". However, after this, the number of our subscribers had risen. Czech Republic has the law that allows to block websites, it was passed three years ago. But it had to do with the website of the betting firms".

"There can be different models. For instance, tabloids. They must be sold by at least 100 thousand copies. A business newspaper earns money via advertising, for instance, the advertising of expensive Swiss watches (our readers are managers). We earn much more through advertising than through sales. Our websites offer only five articles per month free of charge, the rest is available through paid subscription. It costs almost 400 korunas a month, 2000 korunas a year (for the digital version), 3500 korunas a year for the digital and the printed versions. The newspaper costs 25 korunas in retail, but it is the most expensive one, other newspapers cost 18-20 korunas. 80% of the circulation is the corporate subscription.

All the strategies work to a point. You can print a tabloid, it is easy enough. But we are pursuing an opposite direction that aims to attract wealthy readers because one can earn money on this. There is one media outlet, they mail out their publications on a fee paid basis. This media should have died a long time ago but their mailouts are targeting the top and middle-rank entrepreneurs, and that is how they make their living. If journalists have the support of the society, of their readers, they feel more secure. The problem is how to gain this support".

Hanno Gundert, N-ost, CEO (Germany)

"The best defense is solidarity and education of the journalists. Then goes the solidarity and education of society. Then, there is spreading the knowledge to other countries including Europe on what is happening in Central Asia. So, the main thing is education and solidarity, it is important to be recognized within the country's borders. Often, it is possible to free a person from prison if there is pressure from the West".

Anna Litvinenko, researcher of journalism, Free University of Berlin:

"In Russia, there is a selective application of legislature. This is one of the types of pressure. Speaking of the economic pressure, it is intricately used across the post-Soviet space. There are subsidies for the state-owned press, for instance, Rossiyskaya gazeta is given away to pensioners for free which disrupts the market immediately. It is hard for the commercial press to compete with something like this. This is a type of the indirect financial pressure. In the Caucasus, they often employ accusations of slander. In Azerbaijan, they often employ the criminal law, planting of drugs and other things. In Russia, the mechanisms are softer, but effective, nonetheless.

About the independent media models. Here is a good example. In St. Petersburg, there is a local newspaper Bumaga. It is an absolutely independent media outlet and quite a successful one at that. They have many projects with different companies when they publish the materials with the companies' support. We are talking about collaborative materials or sponsored projects.

There is also another way to survive, it is event-management. I am talking about managing the events related to the brand of the media. They attract the audience and earn money on these events. For example, newspaper Bumaga organizes scientific slams all over Russia. Basically, they were the first ones to hold such events in Russia. Young scientists, in 10 minutes or less, present their research in an entertaining form. The research subject can be anything. This is very popular in Russia now. They have their own project called Otkrytyi universitet (Open University). It is a new format when a media acts as an event-manager. They have a special department responsible for event management.

Basically, the Western newspapers do all those things too. This is how they survive, they are completely self-sufficient. A media can be independent without being involved in politics but by spreading the general knowledge, by enhancing people's understanding of the world, by developing critical thinking and society".
Chapter IV
Conclusions and recommendations
The countries studied (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Ukraine) show the existence of different kinds of state pressure on the independent media. In terms of frequency of use, legal actions (both civil and criminal ones) are the most widely-used mechanism.

The pressure means can be ranked as follows:
1. Legal actions (criminal and civil cases).
2. Threats (physical, psychological, economic).
3. Blockings (blockings of websites, refusals to print the materials).
4. Assaults.
5. Murders.

Legal actions often involve defending the honor/reputation of a private party/organization. Administrative claims based on accusations of hooliganism, tax evasion, violation of safety rules etc. are filed quite frequently too.

Opening of criminal cases against editors-in-chief/owners of the media is also one of the frequently-used means to exert the legal pressure. Criminal accusations may involve slander, extremism, money laundering, drug trafficking etc.

The vivid examples of the pressure are the criminal cases against Irina Petrushova, former editor-in-chief of media-project Respublika, who was forced to leave Kazakhstan and the story of Nata Radina, editor-in-chief of Khartia97, who had to leave Belarus and now works in Poland.

Threats of physical violence against editors-in-chief/journalists, their relatives/owner can be considered the psychological type of pressure and are also used frequently. There are threats of employment termination, there is recruiting of journalists by the secret service, threats to release compromising materials against them, etc.

Blockings of the internet-resources unauthorized by court or other relevant body as well as refusals on the part of the printing houses to publish the materials are also used frequently. Here are some examples: website in Russia, Khartia97 in Belarus, in Uzbekistan, Respublika in Kazakhstan.

As for assaults, one can cite the case of journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov (regional newspaper Uralskaya nedelya, 2012, Kazakhstan) who sustained severe knife injuries inflicted by unidentified persons. As for murders, one can recall the death of Khartia97 founder Oleg Bebenin in Belarus.

Among the defensive measures taken by the editorial boards in the countries studied, we can list the following:

  1. Legal competence and qualified legal assistance.
  2. Observance of the safety rules.
  3. Glasnost.
  4. Communication with the international organizations.
Despite the persecution against the independent media in the countries analyzed, they manage to find possibilities for survival and growth. Based on the research conducted, we can elicit several survival mechanisms:

  1. Combatting the blockings through the use of the technical capabilities.
  2. Operating from abroad, beyond the reach of the local authorities.
  3. Using such financial instruments as grants and crowdfunding.
  4. Professional and social solidarity.
The support of the international organizations plays an important part in defending the rights of journalists although it does not always have the desired effect on the authoritarian states.

Based on the current research, the role of the international organizations and their activities can be assessed as follows:

  1. Their support is important (human rights advocacy groups can create the international resonance, they try to influence the authoritarian powers through their statements).
  2. hey have no influence on the authorities (often, the authorities do not pay any attention to them and do not respond to their statements).
  3. There are some concrete results (sometimes, the statements made by the international organizations really help to free journalists from jail, the sentences can get reduced to the point of being suspended, journalists can be released on parole, the penitentiary treatment can be improved).
The research at hand allows to conclude that the independent media use practically all the existing means to find the sources for the independent existence, including:

1. Funds of sponsors and founders.
2. International grants.
3. Paid subscription.
4. Crowdfunding.
5. Fundraising.
6. Commercial operations.

The International donorship albeit non-reliable as a funding source can help many independent media to survive as the research at hand has shown. Moreover, sometimes, international grants can be the only source of the funding. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that, in the countries with authoritarian regimes, for instance, in Kazakhstan, people are afraid to or do not have a possibility to offer financial aid to the media. Therefore, the international organizations should pay a closer attention to the status of the independent media in the countries analyzed and increase the financing of the media-projects.

At the same time, the journalists and editorial boards in need of donor support often do not know how to write grant proposals and are not aware of the media-related tenders held by the international organizations.

Experienced human rights defender Oleg Panfilov believes that commercial operations is the only way to make a media independent and sustainable. He says, in Georgia, this is what they do and are quite successful. However, the political situation in Georgia is very different from that in Kazakhstan or Belarus, for example.

As my personal experience shows, in Kazakhstan, an independent media outlet cannot earn money through advertising because the businesses are basically afraid to place the ads. In their turn, the retailers are afraid to sell such publications due to the unofficial ban from the authorities. Paid subscriptions usually do not work either because of the poverty of the population.

If, in Georgia, a media outlet can receive the state order to print the official information related to the activities of the Government and the Parliament on a paid basis thus preserving the independent editorial policy, then in Kazakhstan (Belarus, Russia), the media that receive the state order automatically become dependent on the authorities and can no longer publish critical materials. There have been many instances when my colleagues were called by the ministries and demanded to retract at times even a harmless material about some minister or governor.

Nonetheless, the cases analyzed allow us to conclude that, despite the pressure and the financial deficit, the independent media can still find the means to survive.

The examples of websites and Khartis97 show that, even in spite of the blockings, one can hold on to their audience and expand it via using the technical means to go round the blockings and via other methods. The example of Meydan.TV allows us to conclude that, sometimes, the methods of crowdfunding and fundraising can work. There is also the case of successful commercial operations, that is of website

However, in my opinion, in the case of MeydanTV, the methods of crowdfunding and fundraising have been and remain successful thanks to such specific phenomenon as the solidarity of the Azerbaijanian diaspora around the globe that had helped to collect about 50 thousand euros to launch the project. The method of crowdfunding still continues to help the resource. In Kazakhstan, unfortunately, something like this would be impossible: the Kazakh society is very segmental and disjointed.

In the case of Kyrgyz resource, we should take into consideration the difference between the Kazakh and Kyrgyz political situations. Besides, the commercial profits only cover 10% of's expenses; 90% of the funding is accounted for by grants.

Among the more-or-less successful media-projects that exist despite the pressure and the financial problems, one can list: Meduza, Kolta, Takiye dela, TV2, Mediazona, (Russia),, (Kyrgyzstan), Khartia97 (Belarus), Meydan.TV (Azerbaijan). With that, it is important to note that website traffic, the ability to resist the pressure and a relative financial stability are what constitutes the "success" criteria.

The existence and growth of the independent media strongly depend on the political situation and the level of the authoritarianism in every individual country. The level of resistance against the pressure, in its turn, depends on the editorial boards' qualification level and their defense skills as well as on the readiness of the civil society and the international organizations to support the media.

Financial stability is one of the most important elements of a media outlet's resiliency under the conditions of an authoritarian regime. Currently, international donorship serves as the main source of the funding of such media. However, as a rule, this source is not quite enough, and it does not permit the editorial boards to grow to the fullest.

Today, when the authoritarian regimes, especially those in Kazakhstan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, are toughening every day, the journalists working for the independent media must learn to exist in the new formats, with the use of the modern technologies. However, underfunding has been and remains the main problem the independent media have to battle.
Expert and reference list
Editor-in-chief of newspaper Uralskaya nedelya, Kazakhstan. Winner of the Peter Broker Prize awarded by the international organization Reporters Without Borders.
Lukpan Akgmedyarov
Journalist and editorp
Founder and editor-in-chief of media-project Respublika (2000 – 2016). She is a winner of the "For Freedom of Expression" award (CPJ, New York, 2002), a winner of the "Best Media-Project award (Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan, 2007). Now she is the editor-in-chief of expert portal Kazakhstan 2.0 ( She is currently living in London.
Irina Petrushova
Journalist and editor
Works as a web editor at the Prague office of Radio Azattyk (2004-2017). Originally from Kazakhstan. She is currently living in Europe.
Asem Tokayeva
Deputy editor of the media resource (Kazakhstan). He worked in the "Svoda" newspaper, in the "Adam Bol" magazine (Kazakhstan).
Miras Nurmukhanbetov
Deputy editor-in-chief, executive secretary of the Respublika newspapers (until 2016) and Assandi Times, website (Kazakhstan).
Oksana Makushina
Lawyer, blogger, founder of (online-TV, Berlin, in operation since May 2013, broadcasted in Azerbaijanian, Russian and English).
Emin Milli
Journalist and editor
Editor-in-chief of Charter'97 (since 2001). In 2011, after being arrested and put in the KGB prison for a month and a half, she was forced to leave the country. Now she lives in Warsaw.
Nata Radina
Journalist and editor
Chief editor of site (Russia). Persecuted by the authorities, she was forced to leave the country.Now she lives in Paris.
Yuliya Berezovskaya
Journalist and editor
Nadezhda Prusenkova
Ulukbek Akishev
In 2012 – 2018 worked at the Institute of Mass Information, Ukraine.
Roman Kabachiy
President of the Liberty Public Foundation, Kazakhstan.
Galym Ageleuov
Human rights advocate
From 2003 to 2017, worked as the secretary of the Union of Journalists of Russia. She is a coordinator of the programs of the international cooperation and the journalists' rights defense (UJR). A member of the Gender Council of the International Federation of Journalists.
Nadezhda Azhgikhina
Journalist, writer, civil activist.
Head of Department of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Paris
Human rights advocate
Professor at the Ilia State University (Georgia), author and TV-host at Russian-language TV-channel PIK. In 1993 – 1994, head of the Moscow branch of Committee to Protect Journalists, New York. From 2000 to 2010, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Russia.
Oleg Panfilov
Human rights advocate
Former assistant editor of TV-channel Dozhd', editor-in-chief of TV-channel OstWest, Germany .
Maria Makeyeva
Journalist and editor
Editor-in-chief of website Moscow.
Danil Kislov
Journalist and editor
Deputy editor-in-chief of Czech Public Radio, editor-in-chief of radio Prague, Czech Republic.
Libor Kukal
Journalist and editor
Works at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies, Free University of Berlin.
Anna Litvinenko
Researcher of journalism
Editor at large of newspaper Hospidarske Noviny, Czech Republic .
Ondrej Soukup
Journalist and editor
References used :
The author - Nazira Darimbet.

Layout - Alexander Petrushov.

Photos and cartoons - from the archives of the "Republic".