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Defending Freedom of Expression and Information in Europe and Central Asia

Erosion of media freedom in Europe casts a shadow on information integrity and journalists’ safety

From covering war zones to resisting political pressure, journalists have persevered through legal and physical threats, as well as crippling disinformation, making it through another arduous year. What were the major challenges obstructing press freedom in 2023? And what silver lining offers hope for the future?

Our Press Freedom in Europe: Time to Turn the Tide report of the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists examines the main threats to media freedom in  Europe including threats and intimidation, detention, restrictive legislation, abusive lawsuits, media capture, and attacks on public service media. We put forward recommendations to the Council of Europe, the European Union and their member states on actions needed to tackle these challenges. In addition, we discuss the States’ responses to the alerts documented in our monitoring.

Read the report now

Over the years, the tactics to limit freedom of expression and hinder public-interest work have been refined. Those who aim to avoid public scrutiny have started to take advantage of legal actions. Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (known as SLAPPs) are abusive litigation used by well-resourced and powerful individuals to stifle public debate on vital issues such as corruption, mismanagement of public resources, and human rights violations by dragging journalists and activists into time-consuming and costly legal proceedings. In February 2024, the European Parliament adopted the long-awaited EU anti-SLAPP Directive which sets minimum standards for protecting public watchdogs. Effective national legislation on SLAPPs should include a broad scope to cover domestic SLAPP cases, a robust early dismissal mechanism and safeguards on damage compensation.

We are also encouraged to see the approval of the Council of Europe’s Recommendation on SLAPPs which establishes robust and authoritative standards. It will prove crucial as European Union member states transpose the new anti-SLAPP directive into national law, and provide a roadmap for non-EU members of the Council of Europe (CoE) to introduce effective anti-SLAPP protections of their own. 

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In focus


Since the rigged presidential election that sparked mass protests across Belarus in August 2020, the regime has stepped up its efforts to increase repression and continued to quash dissent, jail journalists and activists, as well as banning and blocking hundreds of news websites and media outlets.

Though overshadowed by Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, the situation for human rights in Belarus remains suffocating and dire. Lukashenko continues to weaponise shameful repressive practices against human rights defenders, journalists and any independent critical voices. This sweeping crackdown has been exacerbated by the recent draconian verdict in a trial against Viasna leaders, which has been described by human rights advocates as a ‘travesty of justice’.

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Central Asia

In recent years, freedom of expression in Central Asia has become increasingly restricted. The global pandemic further underscored the important role the internet and digital platforms play in supporting human rights movements and access to information. In this context, it is clear that autocratic regimes are repeatedly cracking down on the internet in order to quell activism in the region. Governments in Central Asia have adopted a series of controversial laws allowing them to exert further control over online content and abuse existing legislation to force their critics into self-censorship. 

We promote freedom of expression in Central Asia by monitoring legislation, media regulation and the safety of journalists. We conduct research on curtailing freedom of speech online and provide legal recommendations for countries to meet international standards and raise violations to UN bodies and the Human Rights Council.

Read more on Central Asia

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Kyrgyzstan: ‘Foreign representatives’ law is a devastating blow to civil society


Freedom of expression in Turkiye has been under attack for years, with a drastic decline since the Gezi Park protests in 2013. The government and the police’s extremely violent reaction to the peaceful protest was a turning point in relations between civil society and the authorities.

The government further used certain Turkish criminal legal provisions disproportionately to silence critical voices and opposition in Turkey. Hundreds of journalists, academics and writers are in jail. In addition, the Turkish authorities have severely curtailed freedom of assembly and regularly forbid or quash gatherings by government critics. 

We provide a legal analysis of the Turkish legal framework in the context of international freedom of expression standards and review the provisions most commonly misused to target civil society e.g. ‘disinformation bill’. enacted in October 2022 We develop case profiles as well as submit expert opinions and third-party interventions in individual cases to national, regional and international courts. 

Read more on Turkiye

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Western Balkans

ARTICLE 19 Europe’s work in the Western Balkans focuses on key priorities related to cross-cutting across the region. As part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Safety of Journalists, we monitor and document the ongoing erosion of press freedom and organise fact-finding and advocacy missions to examine the threats to journalists in the member and candidate states (including Albania and Kosovo). The safety of journalists remains a key concern in many countries in the Western Balkans, with journalists being targeted while covering protests or investigating controversial public interest news. Women journalists face specific forms of harassment, especially online. SLAPPs constitute a growing threat to independent journalists in the region; in Serbia for example, we documented 26 cases of SLAPPs against journalists in the last decade. The frail state of media freedom can be described by politicisation and media concentration, favouring political and business elites across the region.

Read more on Albania

Read more on Kosovo

Read more on Bosnia and Herzegovina

Read more on Serbia


Serbia: Urgent action needed in light of death threats against journalists

Stand with Ukraine

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has taken a disastrous toll on both people and infrastructure. Thousands of people have been killed, and many more injured, with their homes and significant landmarks reduced to rubble. There are numerous reports demonstrating how Russian forces have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, such as through indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, and targeting hospitals, schools or theaters. These are accompanied by attacks on the right to freedom of expression and information which is increasingly recognised as a survival right in the context of armed conflicts. Russia’s brutal onslaught on Ukraine must end.

Read more on Ukraine 

Expression remains casualty two years into Russia’s invasion

About ARTICLE 19 Europe

ARTICLE 19 Europe works across many countries, but focuses on three priority subregions in particular: 

  • EU and Western Balkans
  • Eastern Europe: Belarus, Ukraine, Russia;
  • Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
  • Turkey

Our Objective

Working with national partners in our priority countries and international coalitions of human rights defenders and experts we monitor the state of freedom of expression across the region and conduct sustained campaigning and advocacy to European institutions and global human rights mechanisms. Our ultimate goal is to empower individuals and marginalised groups to speak out and be heard and to protect press freedom.

The Expression Agenda

The Expression Agenda is our global human rights strategy. Through it, we target the best means of protecting rights and freedoms on the ground, while enhancing international instruments that protect freedom of expression and the right to information around the world. Each year we contribute to a unique report on the state of freedom of expression globally. The “GxR Report” looks at trends across major issues of freedom of expression and information, and how they are experienced in various countries.

The Global Expression Report 2023