Protest against Russia war in Ukraine_Poland_Photo Damian Lugowski_Shutterstock

Defending Freedom of Expression and Information in Europe and Central Asia

In focus

European Union

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about the European Commission’s proposed Directive on interest representation services on behalf of third countries and its potential impact on a range of human rights in the EU and beyond. As it stands, the Directive could have a serious impact on the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and shrink civic space in the EU. Moreover, it could cause geopolitical damage within the EU and mar the legitimacy of the EU’s external actions promoting democracy and human rights.   

While the legislator holds that the proposal does not follow the Russian ‘foreign agents’ model, the adoption of a conceptually similar law – even if less restrictive – would undermine the EU’s ability to criticise countries like Hungary or Georgia when they try to adopt similar legislation. We firmly believe that the proposed Directive is the wrong instrument to address concerns about the possible impact of ‘foreign interference’ on democracy and the information space in the EU and beyond.

ARTICLE 19 urges the European Commission to scrap the proposed Directive and to ensure that any measures to counter foreign efforts to undermine democracy in the EU do not come at the expense of human rights.


EU: Scrap problematic draft of ‘foreign influence’ directive


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. 

ARTICLE 19 will closely monitor the transposition phase to ensure that member states will not confine their efforts to the framework set out by the directive.

EU Anti-SLAPP Initiative

Anti-SLAPP Directive creates a promising minimum standard


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.

Despite the world’s attention being diverted by several grave humanitarian crises, Belarusians continue to endure an unprecedented level of repression, often out of the spotlight and away from media headlines. ARTICLE 19 reaffirms its unwavering support for the Belarusian resistance and their strength in standing up to repression. We call for the release of all political prisoners who are persecuted for their vital work for civil society.

Prisoners are subjected to torture, denied hygienic products and critical medications, deprived of doctor’s appointments, and held in penal colonies under inhumane conditions, despite having severe health issues that are blatantly ignored. Prisoners are left alone facing this ordeal as their contact with the outside world, including family, is severely constrained, further contributing to the deterioration of their mental and physical health. Many political prisoners are held incommunicado without any contact with the outside world. In the case of Maria Kalesnikava, this has been the situation for more than a year. ARTICLE 19 again urges Belarus to finally cease targeting its citizens for exercising their basic rights and provide access to necessary healthcare while they are in detention.

Read more on Belarus

Belarus_political prisoners

Belarus: The right to health, the right to freedom

Central Asia

In recent years, freedom of expression in Central Asia has become increasingly restricted. Governments in the region have intensified their crackdowns on media freedom and freedom of assembly, using intimidation tactics to silence critics, journalists, and activists. A series of controversial laws have been adopted, allowing these governments to exert greater control over online content and misuse existing legislation to force critics into self-censorship. Additionally, political leaders in countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are increasingly looking to establish Russian-style laws targeting vaguely defined ‘foreign influences.’

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

Kazakhstan: Full justice for late activist and blogger Aidos Sadykov


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. Over the past two decades, Türkiye’s government has captured over 90% of the media landscape, including direct control over the country’s public media and indirect control over much of the mainstream media through party-aligned oligarchs. It has abused the power of state advertising to create compliant journalism and weaponised the broadcast regulator, RTÜK, to routinely target broadcasters with financial penalties for critical news reporting. Hundreds of journalists, academics, rights defenders 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.

The capture of mainstream media has been backed by a mass crackdown on independent media, including the arrest of hundreds and prosecutions of thousands of journalists in the years since the failed coup of 2016.

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 Türkiye


EU must do more to protect media freedom and human rights in Türkiye

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. According to a recent survey conducted by the Croatian Journalists’ Association at least 752 lawsuits against the media and journalists are currently active, some of which may be categorised as SLAPPs. 

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 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Read more on Croatia

Read more on Kosovo

Read more on Serbia


Serbia: Solidarity with KRIK as judge files lawsuits

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