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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The “law” provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and authorities generally respected this right. Individuals were usually able to criticize authorities publicly without reprisal, with some exceptions.

Freedom of Speech: It is a criminal offense to insult the “government,” the Turkish government, or “government” officials. This often led journalists and others to self-censor. According to a journalist association, authorities advised some journalists not to criticize the Turkish government. A journalist association reported that due to perceived pressure and potential reaction from Turkey, some journalists did not express their thoughts and preferred to remain silent.

In April then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar filed a criminal complaint with police after a well-known visual arts and communications lecturer, Senih Cavusoglu, posted on social media a photoshopped image of Tatar portraying him in a straitjacket with the caption, “boss went mad.” Police called Cavusoglu in for interrogation, but no criminal charges had been filed at year’s end.

In June former “president” Mustafa Akinci filed a complaint with the “attorney general’s office” to block access to a video posted online showing a man stuck at Istanbul airport. The person filming the video can be seen making derogatory comments towards Akinci. The “presidency” confirmed that “the government” banned access to the video in June for allegedly threatening liberal and democratic thought as well as to a second video that allegedly proposed to kill Akinci by stating, “There’s an easy way; send two people and make it seem like Akinci had an accident.” In July the “presidency” announced Akinci withdrew his complaint on the airport video after the person posting it allegedly apologized and erased the video on social media.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they obstructed journalists in their reporting.

In October the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association criticized then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar for claiming that a local online news website Ozgur Gazete was allegedly “collaborating with foreign intelligence organizations to affect elections.” The association said Tatar’s statement threatened freedom of the press. Basin-Sen, another journalist union, said Tatar targeted journalists in an attempt to prevent reporting of such stories.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports defendants in some “court” cases allegedly threatened journalists, who also faced pressure for their reporting from companies that advertised in their publications.

A journalist association reported some journalists were verbally and physically attacked at “court” hearings by detainees or their families or friends. Journalists also reported they were at times prevented from doing their jobs, verbally and sexually assaulted, and their equipment damaged while reporting at “courts,” hospitals, and police stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces.

Journalists practiced self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs. A journalist reported some press representatives censored themselves when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on the Turkish leadership.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that Kibris, the largest Turkish Cypriot daily, censored a pre-election poll favoring the incumbent, who was at odds with the president of Turkey, in favor of his challenger who was reportedly closely aligned with the Turkish president. RSF also reported that the owner of the newspaper allegedly met with the Turkish president prior to the poll’s publication.

An activist reported that in May a local Turkish Cypriot television channel DIYALOG TV was removed from Turkey’s TURKSAT satellite network, allegedly due to criticism aired on the channel that targeted Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish Cypriot television channels can only broadcast through TURKSAT. DIYALOG TV continued to broadcast only on social media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The “law” criminalizes libel and blasphemy, although in practice “courts” often declined to convict defendants on those charges, citing free speech precedents.

In July a cybercrime “law” was passed in “parliament” and approved by the “presidency.” According to the “law” any attacks (physical or verbal) made with deliberate intent to harm individuals, institutions, or organizations over the internet is considered a crime. Penalties range from six to 200 times the minimum monthly wage and from one to 10 years imprisonment.

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and denouncement of religious teachings (blasphemy) are criminal offenses and are enforced. NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses, punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case is tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally is required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

Restrictions to the right of freedom of expression were reported, as were several cases of arbitrary detentions or excessive use of force. In April, Amnesty International reported there were at least 10 cases in which police ordered the removal from homes of banners calling for “Justice for Adil” in connection with the death of a young man of Moroccan descent when his motor scooter collided with a police vehicle. The banners aimed to call attention to police brutality and the unfair targeting of persons of Moroccan heritage (see also section 1.a.).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred also applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure, combined with the growing and nontransparent concentration of media ownership and distribution networks, as well as government regulation of resources–including EU funds–and support for media, gravely damaged media pluralism. In July a media pluralism report conducted by the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom for the European Commission, identified a “particularly high risk” for public media independence, corporate influence over editorial content, and concentration of media ownership.

In August the NGO Ethical Journalism Network reported that press freedom in the country was “under attack” by progovernment tabloid journalism, which silenced critical voices “through financial and security threats,” often forcing ethical journalists to practice self-censorship to avoid harassment and intimidation. In October the representative of Reporters without Borders covering the EU and the Balkans stated the government had no will to change and improve the media environment. The representative also accused the government of reneging on its commitment to protect media freedom.

According to the BHC, freedom of expression was in a “state of free fall,” marked by “severe political pressure on journalists and media” and “taming” of public media. According to Transparency International Bulgaria, media ownership “is often unclear” and many media outlets “are financially dependent on state advertising, which may color their reporting and affect any criticism they may otherwise provide of government authorities.” On September 30, the European Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report stated, “Distribution of state advertising expenditure is not based on clear and nondiscriminatory criteria.”

Freedom of Speech: The law provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for use of and incitement to “hate speech.” The law defines hate speech as instigation of hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, social status, or disability. NGOs alleged that politically motivated hate speech, facilitated by the presence of nationalist parties in the government, increased over past years.

According to human rights lawyer Mihail Ekimdjiev, prosecutors used the penal code provision punishing the dissemination of false information to suppress free speech and target government critics. He cited as an example the charges in April against the president of the Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Union, Asena Serbezova, over her public warning of possible medicine shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to the prosecution, “evoked unnecessary alarm.” In July a prosecutor in Sofia indicted Serbezova and requested that the court impose a fine. In September the court rejected the case, stating that the indictment contained numerous procedural violations. At the end of October, the prosecution charged Serbezova again, and a trial was pending as of December.

Individuals generally criticized the government without official reprisal. In July, however, an employee of state-owned Sofia airport alleged that management fired him two days after he had demanded the prime minister’s resignation in a comment to the latter’s social media livestream video. The company’s human resources department justified the employee’s release with “choice of team members” by a newly appointed manager.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to print media. According to the 2020 annual report by the partner organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, “Media ownership is opaque and characterized by the capture of the media market by oligarchs who use their media power to exert political influence and attack and denigrate rivals and critics.” The EU Rule of Law Report noted that many media outlets do not comply with the law that requires public disclosure of ownership, and the public did not have easy access to the disclosed information. Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for editorial bias, lack of transparency in their financing and ownership, and susceptibility to political influence and economic incentives.

The consolidation of media ownership by oligarchs made news outlets increasingly vulnerable to political influence over editorial policy. Independent media outlets were subject to open attacks from politicians at all levels and from administrative and judicial pressure. Publicly funded Bulgarian National Television and Bulgarian National Radio were subject to attempts to control their editorial policies through politicized influence on their leadership.

Businessman and National Assembly member Delyan Peevski, who officially owns five newspapers, repeatedly used his control over print media distribution channels and advertising revenues to ensure positive coverage of affiliated political actors and the prosecutor general. Media and telecommunications conglomerate United Group offered to purchase these five newspapers from Peevski, but at year’s end the antimonopoly commission had not yet approved the deal.

Violence and Harassment: A Council of Europe report stated that independent journalists and media outlets were regularly subjected to intimidation in person and online. It reported a worsening working environment for journalists due to “open hostility of elected politicians and sustained attacks on independent media through administrative and judicial harassment, as well as physical threats.”

In one example of an attack on journalists, on March 17, three masked men attacked the prominent investigative journalist and chief editor of the 168 Chassa weekly, Slavi Angelov, in front of his home, beating him and inflicting severe injuries. On April 23, the prosecutor general announced that police arrested the alleged attackers, brothers Georgi and Nikola Asenov and Biser Mitov. The prosecutor general further stated that “persons who seek to destabilize the government, are targets of a criminal investigation, and are hiding…outside the country” and had ordered the attack. As of December pretrial proceedings were ongoing; one defendant was released on bail.

On May 22, Reporters without Borders alleged the trial of Economedia publisher Ivo Prokopiev for privatization fraud was an instance of “increasing political pressure against the main independent media group” by “politically controlled bodies” in “response to journalistic investigations that revealed unpleasant truths of corruption cases.” They noted the judicial irregularities behind the case and that the prosecutor general was practicing selective prosecution, pressing charges against Prokopiev but not Delyan Peevski, for example, a controversial oligarch who controls a large segment of the media environment.

In September the Association of European Journalists condemned “the illegal arrest and police violence against journalist Dimitar Kenarov” while Kenarov covered an antigovernment protest. According to Kenarov’s post on social media and eyewitness statements, police grabbed him, threw him on the ground, and kicked his head before snatching his camera and leaving him handcuffed and on the ground for hours. Responding to a media query in December, the Ministry of Interior reported that despite Kenarov’s visible wounds and multiple witness statements, its internal investigation concluded there was no evidence police had used any force against Kenarov, and closed the investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists reported editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and topics, and the imposition of political points of view by corporate leaders, with the implied support of the government.

In early 2019 oligarch Kiril Domuschiev acquired the country’s largest private media operator, Nova Broadcasting Group. Several respected investigative journalists and employees were fired from its flagship Nova TV station in January and February, and others left due to pressure or disagreements with the new owners. They were replaced by executives and journalists from Kanal 3, a television station believed to be tied to oligarch and National Assembly member Delyan Peevski. Media analysts assessed that Nova Group-affiliated media outlets shifted editorial policy towards a more progovernment stance. Contacts at Nova TV stated the station continued to lose journalists and other professionals after the initial round of firings, discouraged by appointments of a co-CEO and news director from Kanal 3, who were close to Peevski. Nova TV journalists said their copy was being rewritten by the new executives, so they were not allowed any freedom in reporting the news. Other journalists were thought to have been sent on assignments with prepared copy for their reports. Journalists who left Nova TV stated they were looking for jobs in other sectors because they do not feel there is any hope for professional, good journalism in the country.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a fine and public censure. According to the Association of European Journalists’ October survey, 49 percent of journalists viewed slander as a major harassment tool against their work, including lawsuits against their publications.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press, but judicial ineffectiveness at times delayed resolution of cases.

Freedom of Speech: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” A conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for those who organize or lead a group of three or more persons to commit hate speech. Although the laws and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and (the World War II regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had a chilling effect on media freedom and that the government insufficiently addressed this problem.

On January 23, in Ivanbegovina, four men attacked Slobodna Dalmacija journalist Andrea Topic while she was investigating the property of then health minister Milan Kujundzic. Topic said she was photographing the property from the road when the men threatened her and intimidated her for half an hour by shouting, filming her, and sitting on and shaking her car. On July 28, media reported that the Imotski Municipal State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against the four men, charging them with unlawful deprivation of liberty. Kujundzic later resigned, and media attributed his resignation to press coverage of the unexplained large number of houses he owned.

The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) strongly condemned “this disgusting attack on [our] colleague Andrea Topic, who was only doing her job in the public interest. The attack is a consequence of a hostile atmosphere in Croatia that points the finger of blame on journalists for everything.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, lawsuits, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to results of an annual survey conducted by the CJA, 905 lawsuits were filed against journalists and the media, with claimed damages of almost 68 million kuna ($10.5 million). Of the 905 lawsuits, 859 were for civil alleged violations of honor and reputation against publishers, editors, and journalists, while 46 were criminal lawsuits. Of the 23 media outlets that responded to the CJA’s poll, 18 had a standing lawsuit alleging violations of honor and reputation. The CJA was defending itself against three active lawsuits. The country’s public broadcaster, Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), had an active criminal proceeding against CJA President Hrvoje Zovko, including a claim for damages of 250,000 kuna ($39,200), claims against the CJA in the amount of 200,000 kuna ($31,430), and within the same lawsuit, a claim for 50,000 kuna ($7,860) against Sanja Mikleusevic Pavic, president of the CJA’s branch at HRT.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 12, several unidentified men attacked Zivana Susak Zivkovic, a reporter working for the news website Dalmatinskiportal, and Ivana Sivro, a camera operator for N1 TV. According to local news reports, the journalists were attacked while documenting an Easter mass held despite a ban on public gatherings due to COVID-19. The regional news website Balkan Insight reported that the rally by the masked, black-clad protesters was held to support a priest who called on worshippers to attend mass, breaching measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, with two of the protesters displaying World War II Ustasha movement’s insignia and a banner with the slogan “Journalists are worms.” They were objecting to earlier media reports that the day of criticism of priest Josip Delas was held because he led a mass with 20 worshippers despite appeals from the archdiocese and the coronavirus crisis authorities in Split to avoid gatherings. Zivkovic suffered minor bruising from the attack, her employer reported. Another man hit Sivro in the arm and shoved her camera, as seen in a video published by N1 TV. Three men were under prosecution for the assault. In a statement, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Split-Makarska apologized for the attack.

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($12,000), or both.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($60,000), or both.

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of Communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and Communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.

Appellate courts in two separate cases confirmed convictions of two men who posted online comments praising the 2019 fatal terrorist attack at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. One man received a 30-month suspended sentence with a four-year probationary period. The other man received a three-year suspended sentence with a five-year probationary period.

The ombudsperson conducted a survey of 2016-19 case law concerning hate speech. The results indicated an increase in online hate speech and resort to courts, with one-third of the country’s courts encountering hate speech cases. Some 60 percent of cases involved attacks on groups of individuals based on nationality, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or sexual orientation, and the remaining cases involved hate speech against a specific person or a group. Roma and Muslims were the victims in 49 percent and 23 percent of decisions, respectively. Men committed 94 percent of underlying incidents, and 83 percent took place on Facebook. More than 90 percent of perpetrators were convicted in trial court proceedings. The most frequent punishment was a suspended sentence averaging 10 months or a fine.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party and the Communist Party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions. Parliament appointed six new members (out of 15) to the Czech Television Council. Observers raised concerns over the impartiality of some of the new members based on their public remarks skeptical of the need for independent media.

The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis, who owned two prominent newspapers and other media outlets, placed the ownership of his media assets in a trust fund in 2017. Observers, however, maintained that this measure did not insulate media from the influence of the current government. In 2018 Transparency International (TI) lodged an administrative complaint arguing that Babis still controlled media assets. The regional government office reviewing the administrative complaint rejected TI’s argument. The supreme public prosecutor declined TI’s request to review the decision.

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years. On June 2, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance reported that the police case file-processing system registers reported offenses of hate speech as well as their judicial outcomes. It is still not possible, however, to collect data of a more detailed character, such as category of offense, type of hate motivation, or target group, from the system.

Estonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech, including for the press.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported harassment by private entities, including being targeted for defamation.

On January 10, the Helsinki District Court denied journalist Jessikka Aro’s application for a restraining order against Panu Huuhtanen and Tiina Keskimaki, whom she accused of harassment. Aro alleged that since 2018 the individuals harassed her online following her reporting on Russian disinformation activities, causing her fear and anxiety. The court acknowledged that the behavior of the individuals caused Aro fear but reasoned that the actual threat posed to Aro during speaking and other public engagements was not serious enough to warrant abridging the free speech rights of the two individuals. Previously Aro had been the target of a sustained, intense harassment campaign because of her work for which two other persons were convicted.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

On June 18, the Constitutional Council invalidated core provisions of the new law against online hate speech, adopted by parliament on May 13. The so-called Avia Law required online platforms to remove within 24 hours the following: hateful content based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and religion; language trivializing genocide or crimes against humanity; and content deemed sexual harassment. Content related to terrorism and child pornography had to be removed within one hour of being flagged by a user. Social media companies faced fines up to 1.25 million euros ($1.75 million) if they failed to remove the content within the required timeframes. The Constitutional Council ruled that these provisions of the law infringed on freedom of speech and were “not appropriate, necessary, and proportionate.”

On June 19, the Constitutional Court found unconstitutional the law against downloading and possessing files that condone or justify terrorism. The judges found it violated freedoms of expression and communication and stated it was duplicative of existing antiterrorist laws. Introduced following the 2015 wave of terrorist attacks, the law was intended to “prevent the indoctrination of individuals susceptible to commit such acts.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate-speech laws that limited freedom of expression.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment: In 2019 the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during Yellow Vest protests between 2018 and May 2019. The RSF, which reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters, filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office in December 2019. As of year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.

On September 17, Interior Minister Darmanin introduced a new national law-enforcement doctrine aimed at reducing injuries by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations. Certain provisions, including the designation of a referent officer responsible for engaging credentialed members of the press aroused concern from human rights and press organizations, who argued the rules could be used to restrict press access. On September 22, the RSF and 40 media companies requested clarification from Interior Minister Darmanin.

UNESCO’s September report, Safety of Journalists Covering ProtestsPreserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Civil Unrest, pointed to the use of flash ball ammunition by French law enforcement agencies as an example of disproportionate use of force. Several journalists were injured by flash balls in 2018, including Boris Kharlamoff, a journalist for the audio press agency A2PRL, who claimed he was hit in the side even though he presented a press badge, and Liberation reporter Nicolas Descottes, who was struck in the face.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not.

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns about police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds.

Nongovernmental impact: On September 2, to mark the start of the trial of the January 2015 attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the magazine reprinted on its front page the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that led terrorists to target its headquarters. The reprinted cover provoked condemnation from several Muslim countries and threats from al Qaeda. After receiving death threats, Charlie Hebdo senior staffer Marika Bret required police assistance to be exfiltrated from her home on September 14. On September 23, more than 100 news outlets signed an open letter calling for public support of Charlie Hebdo.

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: In July the city of Wiesbaden outlawed the wearing of symbols resembling the Jewish yellow badge with the inscription “unvaccinated.” Some protesters and antivaccination activists had been wearing such symbols during demonstrations against coronavirus regulations. Wiesbaden mayor Oliver Franz called the symbols an “unacceptable comparison” that would trivialize the Holocaust.

In February state governments in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hamburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein announced they would ban school students from wearing full-face veils. Baden-Wuerttemberg implemented the ban in July.

In August the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. The federal court found the Berlin ban violated teachers’ freedom of religion.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: On May 1, an estimated 20 to 25 men attacked a seven-member camera team in Berlin filming a demonstration against the COVID restrictions, hospitalizing six of the camera team. Berlin’s police chief Barbara Slowik announced the state security service was investigating the matter, but on May 2, six suspects were released from custody, and no arrest warrants were issued.

In August the German Union of Journalists and the German Federation of Journalists criticized Berlin police for failing to protect journalists covering COVID protests. The two unions reported police failed to intervene when protesters repeatedly insulted, threatened, and attacked photographers and film crews, forcing some of the journalists to stop covering the August 1 protests.

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Minority media owners in Thrace, northern Greece, where members of the country’s recognized Muslim minority reside, complained that unlike numerous other media owners throughout the country, they did not receive government funding to promote the widespread Menoume spiti (We stay at home) campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 the government passed legislation requiring vendors who sell print media to stock and display all Greek newspapers and magazines.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least 12 instances. On January 19, unidentified perpetrators, allegedly far-right supporters, attacked and injured a Deutsche Welle journalist, Tomas Jacobs, who was covering a rally against migrants and refugees. According to the journalist, who is also one of the scriptwriters of a documentary about the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi movement in the country, the perpetrators confirmed his identity before the attack. The victim also claimed that police in the area did not come to his rescue. The government, mainstream political opposition, and the Foreign Press Association denounced the attack.

On March 1, angry residents in Lesvos verbally and physically attacked three foreign journalists covering their attempts to stop a dinghy carrying migrants and asylum seekers from landing at a small port. On July 27, unknown perpetrators shot Stefanos Chios, journalist and publisher of the ultra-sensationalist news site Makeleio, injuring him severely. Anarchists spray-painted the walls of media outlets on January 16, wrote insults targeting a journalist outside his residence on February 6 and on March 24 claimed responsibility for setting fire to the entryways to two journalists’ residences. On February 3, unknown perpetrators exploded the publisher’s parked car.

On November 11, NGOs Media Freedom Rapid Response and Reporters Without Borders sent a letter to the chief of police and to the minister of interior protesting the eight-hour-long October 19 “arbitrary detention” of a four-member German media crew on Samos for the production of a film on climate-induced migration. During their detention, they claimed they were subjected to questioning and harassment, and were denied food by officers who were not wearing protective masks. The police reportedly suspected them of espionage because they had used a drone to take camera shots from a beach next to a military site but the crew members firmly denied they were filming the site in question.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and their tax office. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites must display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. In 2019 the government launched a similar electronic registry for regional and local press.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation and libel. A law passed in 2019 clarified that individuals convicted of crimes cannot claim slander for discussion of those crimes. The same law also removes the provision requiring journalists to appear immediately before a court, or wait in jail until the court opened, in the case they were accused of libel, a provision that had been abused by politicians to intimidate journalists. On September 14, media reported that a court awarded 160,000 euros ($192,000) to a Greek correspondent in the United States, Thanos Dimadis, for being slandered by a former minister. The court cited “personal and professional damage” against Dimadis, ruling he had been wrongly accused by the minister and his associates of spying on them during their visit to New York in September 2016. Members of the ministerial delegation had stated in public that the correspondent had been arrested by police in New York for his behavior, an allegation the journalist denied and proved to the court to be slanderous.

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and media were active and expressed a wide range of views. There were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech.”

On March 30, as part of the government’s legislative package declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19, parliament permanently amended the criminal code to increase the penalty for spreading a “falsehood” or “distorted truth” (“scaremongering”) that could obstruct or prevent successful protection under a special legal order to imprisonment of up to five years (see section 3 for more on the state of emergency). Government officials asserted that the legislation sought to discourage the spread of harmful “fake news” that could hinder attempts to keep the pandemic under control. Domestic and international observers spoke out against the legislation and raised concerns about its potential effects on media freedom. On March 27, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concerns that the amendments could negatively affect the work of journalists and have a potentially chilling effect on freedom of expression. On March 26, Reporters without Borders (RSF) stated that the law granted the government a tool to threaten journalists and intimidate them into self-censorship. On April 21, RSF also noted that before the legislation was submitted, “progovernment media organizations” had called for the arrest of journalists critical of the government.

On June 25, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2018 government decree classifying the nonprofit Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA)–which experts estimated controls between 80 and 90 percent of all commercial Hungarian media outlets and is managed by Fidesz party allies–as being of “national strategic importance” was constitutional. The Competition Authority and the Media Council cannot scrutinize transactions categorized as of national strategic significance. Government-linked media mounted mostly ad hominem attacks against the owner of the country’s largest independent media group. A law granting members of parliament the right to enter the offices of public buildings was repealed in 2019, and they now require prior notification or permission; experts viewed this as a response to opposition members of parliament having attempted to enter government and state-run media facilities as a form of protest. The European Commission reported that KESMA represented an “increased risk to media pluralism.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government set up an Operative Board to manage and communicate government action. Operative Board members answered press questions submitted in writing and in advance at daily press briefings. Independent and government-critical media repeatedly complained that their questions were rarely answered.

Freedom of Speech: Criminal law provides that any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The law prohibits the public denial of, expression of doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes; such crimes are punishable by up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits as a misdemeanor the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. Judicial remedies exist for damage to individuals and communities that results from hate speech; however, NGOs representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported that police officers continued to resist classifying incidents as hate speech and were unfamiliar with police hate crime protocols (see section 6). The media law also prohibits media content intended to incite hatred or violence against specific minority or majority communities and their members. The law includes the provision that media content must not have the potential to instigate an act of terrorism.

On May 12, police went to the home of a man from Borsod County with a search warrant based on suspicion of COVID-19 “scaremongering” because of his April 28 social media post. The man had questioned the government’s decision to lift curfew restrictions the day after a peak of the pandemic and appealed to “our dear dictator, our dear leader.” Police published photos and videos of the arrest, which was widely reported. Police released him that afternoon after questioning and told him he would not be charged since no crime had been committed.

On May 13, police also carried out a home raid and detained Janos Csoka-Szucs, a member of the opposition Momentum party in the town of Gyula, for a comment he made in a closed Facebook group on April 20. Csoka-Szucs had shared a post from an independent member of parliament about a protest against the government’s decision to discharge patients from hospitals to make room for potential COVID-19 cases. Police claimed his post “jeopardized the effectiveness of the defense in an emergency.” He was released after four hours of questioning, but police seized his computer and mobile phone. NGOs and opposition parties claimed the arrest was an attempt to suppress free speech and intimidate opponents of the government.

A law approved in 2018 imposed a 25 percent tax on civil entities that aid or promote illegal immigration, including groups that support media campaigns deemed to aid or promote immigration. Several NGOs sharply criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions different from that of the government (see also section 5). According to press reports, no entity had paid any tax in 2019 under the law, and no known tax office investigation or audit had been conducted to that effect.

On September 21, the independent news outlet Telex reported that, in a June 2 letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade deputy state secretary for development of European affairs, Jozsef Magyar, asked the country’s EU-based embassies to report the professional visits of Hungarian journalists to those countries. According to the report, the letter asked the embassies to report when the visit(s) took place, which Hungarian outlets took part, and the organizations or local press outlets with which they met. In response to Telexs query as to the purpose of gathering such information, the ministry stated: “To fulfill its mandate, [the ministry] is doing everything against foreign interference in Hungarian domestic affairs. Experience has shown that Soros organizations tend to be behind such attacks.”

On September 29, the Prosecutor General’s Office indicted the president of the Momentum party, Andras Fekete-Gyor, and another member of the party on the charge of assaulting law enforcement personnel during the 2018 protests against the government’s changes to the labor code, which critics dubbed the “slave law” (see section 7). Fekete-Gyor declared he was innocent of the charges, which he described as politically motivated, and opposition Democratic Coalition party released a statement of support, arguing that the government was attempting to use the justice system to stifle freedom of expression.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Media consolidation resulted in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in other media voices. Some new independent media outlets were founded, one of them by reporters from a formerly independent outlet. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) relaunched its Hungarian service on September 8.

In February the beverage company Hell Energy Drink brought a lawsuit against the monthly magazine Forbes Hungary after it published a list of the richest Hungarians. Forbes was forced to recall the issue from newsstands because the privately owned family beverage company argued that the magazine had breached their privacy under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In October the company also obtained a court order barring the publication of parts of an article in the weekly Magyar Narancs, which noted that companies connected to the family had received large amounts in state and EU grants and subsidized loans in previous years, citing again GDPR regulations.

On March 31, government-aligned media mogul Miklos Vaszily purchased 50 percent of Indamedia, the advertising sales company that generated virtually all revenues for the independent news site Index, at the time the country’s most visited online news outlet. With ad revenues decreasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a newly appointed adviser proposed a reorganization plan that would have stripped part of the editorial board’s control. In June, Indexs editor in chief, Szabolcs Dull, publicly opposed the proposal, warning that the outlet was under increasing political pressure. In response, Laszlo Bodolai, chairman of the board of Indexs parent foundation, fired Dull on July 22. Bodolai asserted that Dull’s actions had endangered Indexs economic viability while denying that the outlet’s independence was at risk. Index journalists publicly called Dull’s dismissal “unacceptable” and an open attempt at pressure, which would lead to “the end of independent reporting.” On July 24, more than 70 journalists–the majority of Indexs staff–resigned in protest. On November 23, Indamedia announced it had purchased all of Index’s shares. As of November the website was still operating under the same name but with different staff and with far fewer investigative stories.

Some progovernment outlets relied almost completely on government advertising for their revenues. According to Freedom House, “while private, opposition-aligned media outlets exist, national, regional, and local media are increasingly dominated by progovernment outlets, which are frequently used to smear political opponents and highlight false accusations. Government advertising and sponsorships favored progovernment outlets, leaving independent and critical outlets in a financially precarious position.” The European Commission stated that advertising directed at progovernment outlets permitted the government to exert indirect control over media.

The government and government-linked entities often excluded independent and opposition media from their events and press conferences.

The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. The NMHH consists exclusively of persons named by the governing parties. Some experts criticized the NMHH’s frequency awarding practices for allegedly penalizing radio stations that are critical of the government. In December 2019 the NMHH declined to extend the frequency license of a prominent Budapest community radio station, citing previous minor violations of the media law for which the station had already been fined. The station continued to operate online throughout the year. The Capital City Court of Law ruled in July that a September 2019 Media Council resolution that exonerated a public television station from accusations of unlawful bias violated the media law. The court ordered the Media Council to conduct new proceedings into the case. In September the NMHH announced it would not renew the frequency license for Klubradio, set to expire in February 2021, due to minor national content violations. Klubradio had previously broadcast news critical of the government.

The state news agency, MTI, which offers its services free of charge, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government. Because MTI’s news services are free, its news products are broadcast widely by national and local outlets. Opposition politicians complained that they were rarely able to appear on state-run broadcasts or were given significantly less time to articulate their positions.

A November independent press report described a concerted effort by state-run media to promote the political agenda of Fidesz ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections. The report included audio recordings from officials at state media conglomerate MTVA from March and April 2019, in which MTVA chief editor Balazs Bende and news director Zsolt Nemeth were heard directing MTVA employees to promote the government agenda in advance of the elections. Bende made repeated threats that employees were to get on board with the directive or “get out.” According to the independent press report, the Media Council stated it had “received a complaint which was being investigated.”

The speaker of parliament, Laszlo Kover, continued to ban parliamentary access for various individuals–primarily journalists–for alleged violations of parliamentary rules. On May 26, the ECHR ruled that the bans Kover imposed on journalists working for independent and government-critical media in the spring of 2016 unlawfully restricted the work of media and violated the rights of the reporters. Kover issued a statement declaring that the ruling did not mandate his office to change the existing rules governing press work.

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical or legal harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media continued to refer to some independent journalists as “Soros agents” or “Soros mercenaries” and independent media as the “Soros media,” or in one instance as the “Soros blog.” In 2018 an investigative reporter for an independent news website was admonished in a summary procedure before a district court in Budapest for alleged abuse of personally identifiable information by using publicly available information in an article on a Hungarian person who criticized Sweden’s migration policy. The reporter demanded a full trial. In September 2019 another court notified the reporter of its nonbinding resolution exonerating him, since the person in question was a public figure who must tolerate in-depth scrutiny in the public interest. The prosecutors appealed the court ruling, and the Capital City Appeal Court remanded the case to the original court for a new trial in February. The case remained pending as of November.

In November 2019 an extreme right-wing website published an anti-Semitic drawing of a journalist from an independent outlet, which was then shared by a mainstream progovernment outlet. A few days later, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli posters appeared in downtown Budapest with the photographs of two reporters who at that time worked for the country’s most widely read news site. The posters suggested the two journalists were foreign agents. The Action and Protection Foundation and the mayor of the district where the posters appeared filed police reports, citing hate speech, against unknown perpetrators. In March the chief of the Budapest police told a press outlet that no proceedings had been launched as there was no indication of a public crime, and no private prosecution had been initiated.

On multiple occasions, government-aligned outlets criticized nongovernment-aligned, independent, and international journalists by name for their reporting. The outlets, many of which belong to the Fidesz-affiliated media conglomerate KESMA (see above), accused these journalists, among other accusations, of being “Soros agents” and, on at least one occasion, reported comments calling for a journalist to be prosecuted under the “scaremongering” provision of the COVID-19 state of emergency law. Some publications included details about the journalists’ backgrounds, where they reside, and photographs of them. Some journalists and commentators were specifically named on multiple occasions, including by a government representative in a press briefing.

For example, an April 16 article in a KESMA-held media outlet published the names of two international journalists, claiming that the “sole purpose of their article was to denigrate the Hungarian government” and included pictures of the journalists. On April 9, the host of a KESMA-held news channel identified by name one of the journalists who resides in Budapest as a native of another country. In an April 16 press conference, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyas, singled out one of the international reporters for criticism over his reporting. An April 6 article in the KESMA-held Magyar Nemzet quoted a constitutional lawyer who said an article the journalist published on COVID-19 in Hungary qualified as the “spread of horror” and therefore a crime under the scaremongering provision of the emergency law. The lawyer also suggested that a Hungarian news portal that reported on the article should be liable under the law, and both comments were later reported on a KESMA-held news channel. Journalists targeted in this manner by media and government officials reported receiving threats to their safety from individuals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The law mandates that every media service provider that delivers news to the public must report in a balanced manner, and that public service media providers should pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were widely disregarded, including by public media. Public television station M1 and its news website, hirado.hu, launched a segment monitoring “fake news” related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The independent media watchdog Mertek Media Monitor noted in a June 16 analysis that the featured reports were “a mix of items published on actual fake news sites and of articles published by independent and government-critical media that obviously do not seem like fake news at all; in fact, the series even included as alleged fake news statements by opposition politicians.”

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The Council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($666,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent the implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.

As of August 24, the Media Council had issued 86 resolutions concerning various alleged violations of the media law, of which 57 imposed fines totaling some 23.14 million forints ($77,800) on 46 media service providers.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts.

Public officials and other public figures continued to use libel and defamation laws in response to criticism from citizens and journalists. Opposition politicians and government-critical private individuals sued government-allied media outlets in several high-profile cases. Courts tended to pass verdicts that protected private individuals from libel or slander by government-affiliated media and their reporters.

Ireland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons because of their race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, national origins, or sexual orientation. As a result of a referendum to remove blasphemy from the constitution in 2018, the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offenses and Related Matters) Act 2020 was signed into law on January 16.

Freedom of Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The same prohibitions against language likely to generate hatred and blasphemy that affected freedom of speech also applied to the press. The government can prohibit the state-owned radio and television network from broadcasting any material “likely to promote or incite to crime or which would tend to undermine the authority of the state.” Authorities did not invoke these prohibitions during the year.

Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines. There were no reports of enforcement of this law or of convictions under it during the year.

Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Detention is legitimate only in the case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and defamation are criminal offenses punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, which may be increased if directed against a politician or government official. Public officials brought cases against journalists under libel laws. Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out.

Nongovernmental Impact: Reporters without Borders reported growing hostility toward reporters mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the same organization, approximately 20 journalists, especially in and near the South, received around-the-clock police protection because of serious threats or murder attempts. In Rome reporters were at times harassed by neo-Fascist activists and became targets of criticism and harassment on social media platforms by private and political activists, including supporters of the Five Star Movement.

Reporters without Borders reported journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly self-censored. On July 14, the national daily La Repubblica published transcripts of conversations of organized crime bosses describing television anchorman Massimo Giletti as an annoyance. Giletti had criticized the release of more than 300 organized crime bosses and associates due to the government’s emergency measures aimed at reducing COVID-19 in prisons.

The 2020 report of the Partner Organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists cited concerns over physical and verbal attacks on journalists by neo-Fascist groups.

On April 8, Silvio Palazzolo, a reporter for La Repubblica, was threatened in a Facebook post by the brother of an organized crime boss detained in Sicily. Palazzolo had published an article asserting that the generosity of organized crime affiliates during the COVID-19 lockdown was aimed at increasing their infiltration in communities in Palermo. In July 2019 the National Federation of the Italian Press reported that two organized crime members were intercepted discussing a possible assault against Palazzolo. On April 18, the federation expressed solidarity with the editor of La Repubblica, Carlo Verdelli. According to investigators, Verdelli was the target of multiple Twitter attacks by far-right groups between January and April. On February 2, the founder and former editor of La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, received six letters containing insults.

The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 83 cases of threats against journalists between January and June, of which approximately half were published online.

Latvia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The government legally restricts racial and ethnic incitement, denial, or glorification of crimes against humanity, and certain war crimes.

Freedom of Speech: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, it criminalizes incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a five-year prison sentence, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”

As of October the State Security Service initiated two criminal cases against individuals for inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast time in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available in all national and local media. Restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Electronic media are legally required to present news and current affairs programs with due accuracy and impartiality. All companies, including media and other publishers, are required to disclose their ownership, and this data is publicly available. Electronic mass media are required to disclose their ultimate beneficiaries and report any changes to the media regulator. NGOs stated that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.

The Latvian Journalists Association expressed concern about local newspapers’ independence and viability. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control, or even published their own newspapers to drive independent competitors out of business.

Lithuania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The constitutional definition of freedom of expression does not permit slander; disinformation; or incitement to violence, discrimination, or national, racial, religious, or social hatred. Inciting hatred against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. Inciting violence against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years.

It is a crime to deny or “grossly to trivialize” Soviet or Nazi German crimes against the country or its citizens, or to deny genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. They are subject to the same laws that prohibit hate speech and criminalize speech that grossly trivializes international and war crimes.

It is illegal to publish material that is “detrimental to minors’ bodies or thought processes” or that promotes the sexual abuse and harassment of minors, sexual relations among minors, or “sexual relations.” Human rights observers continued to criticize this law. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups claimed it served as a rationale for limiting LGBTI awareness-raising efforts and that agencies overseeing publishing and broadcast media took prejudicial action against the coverage of stories with LGBTI themes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania (LRTK) may impose a 72-hour suspension on television programs that posed a threat to public and national security. The LRTK may impose this suspension without a court order on television programs from countries both inside and outside the EU, the European Economic Area, and from European states that ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Transfrontier Television.

On July 8, the government banned five Russian RT television channels in the country. It argued it was implementing the EU’s sanctions against Dmitriy Kiselyov, RT’s general director.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law makes insulting or defaming the president of the country in mass media a crime punishable by a fine. Authorities did not invoke it during the year.

Luxembourg

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits hate speech in any medium, including online forums, and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines for violations. Victims of hate speech on the internet as well as third-party observers can access a website to report hateful remarks and seek help and advice. The public prosecutor’s office and the courts responded firmly to hate speech.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Between March 18 and May 4, the government held virtual press conferences without the physical presence of the press corps in a national effort to limit the spread of coronavirus. Journalists complained they had limited access to information at a critical time when the country needed timely updates and that they could not ask follow-up questions. On May 4, the government reopened the press conferences to physical presence of journalists, with the appropriate health and safety measures added, including government-mandated social distancing.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits “libel, slander and defamation” and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines for violations. The government or individual public figures did not use these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Malta

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system generally combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: It remains a criminal offense to “commit an offence against decency or morals, by any act committed in a public place or in a place exposed to the public.” The law criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief, or political or other opinion. Incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months. On January 30, the courts found in favor of civil society activist Manuel Delia in a constitutional case against the government. The courts found that the government had breached Delia’s right to freedom of expression when it ordered the removal of articles protesters, including Delia, had placed on the makeshift memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist killed by a car bomb in 2017.

Violence and Harassment: In 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. They were awaiting trial. Caruana Galizia had reported on major government corruption, allegedly involving the prime minister and other senior government officials.

In September 2019, Prime Minister Muscat created a commission for an independent public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s killing. In November 2019, police arrested business magnate Yorgen Fenech as a “person of interest” in the killing, charging him with criminal conspiracy, being an accomplice in Caruana Galizia’s murder, and conspiring to commit murder, among other things. Fenech denied the charges. Both the public inquiry and the murder investigation continued (for case details, see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).

Netherlands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the governments throughout the kingdom generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: It is a crime to “verbally or in writing or image deliberately offend a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” The statute in the Netherlands does not consider statements that target a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, as criminal hate speech. The penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a substantial monetary fine, or both. In the Dutch Caribbean, the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a monetary fine. In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of the swastika symbol with the intent of referring to Nazism.

On September 4, an appellate court upheld Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders’ 2016 conviction for “group insult” against Moroccans at a 2014 political rally. The appeals court threw out the charges of inciting hatred and discrimination, finding that Wilders made the remarks for political purposes, rather than to inspire discrimination. The court upheld his conviction, however, for “group insult,” a crime of deliberately insulting a group of persons because of their race, religion, or conviction. As was the case in the original 2016 conviction, Wilders did not receive a punishment. Wilders asserted the conviction violated his right to freedom of expression and stated he would appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on “hate speech” applied to media outlets but were only occasionally enforced. Disputes occasionally arose over journalists’ right to protect their sources.

Nongovernmental Impact: Several crime reporters and media outlets in the Netherlands faced threats, violence, and intimidation from criminal gangs. If required by circumstances, reporters receive temporary police protection. On February 2, two assailants punched and threatened to kill Pakistani blogger Ahmad Waqass Goraya outside his Rotterdam home.

Poland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits hate speech, including the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature, the public promotion of fascist, communist, or other totalitarian systems, and the intentional offense of religious feelings.

Violence and Harassment: On February 3, the Warsaw regional court sentenced Michal Majewski, a Wprost weekly reporter, to a fine for protection of sources of information. The conviction refers to a 2014 incident, when Internal Security Agency officers tried to seize forcefully a laptop of one of the journalists who revealed a wiretapping scandal involving leading politicians. The Center for Monitoring Freedom of Speech at the Association of Polish Journalists criticized the conviction as a clear violation of freedom of speech. The ruling was subject to appeal.

On November 11, some police officers used violent crowd control measures against several journalists who were covering violent clashes between police and groups of hooligans during the annual Independence March that took place in Warsaw. Police shot one photojournalist in the face with a rubber bullet and used batons and a stun grenade against other journalists. After the incidents the government announced investigations into the police actions. On December 2, police officially apologized for the incidents and announced training for police officers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits censorship of the press or social communication. Nevertheless, laws regulating broadcasting and media prohibit, under penalty of fines, license revocation, or other authorized sanctions, the promotion of activities endangering health or safety, or the promotion of views contrary to law, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts “respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values.”

Critics alleged persistent progovernment bias in state television news broadcasts.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation by print and broadcast journalists is a criminal offense and includes publicly insulting or slandering the president, members of parliament, government ministers and other public officials, the Polish nation, foreign heads of state and ambassadors, private entities and persons, as well as insult or destruction of the national emblem, the flag, other state symbols, and monuments. Defamation outside media is punishable by a fine and community service. The courts rarely applied maximum penalties, and persons convicted of defamation generally faced fines or imprisonment of less than one year. The maximum sentence for insulting the president is three years’ imprisonment.

On August 5, police charged three persons with desecrating monuments and offending religious sentiment by placing rainbow flags on several monuments around Warsaw, including an historic religious statue standing in front of a Roman Catholic Church associated with Warsaw’s occupation. If convicted the three may face a fine for insulting the monuments and up to two years in prison for offending religious sentiment.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Association of Polish Journalists reported that journalists convicted of defamation had never received the maximum penalty. According to the Helsinki Foundation, however, the criminal defamation law may have a chilling effect on journalists, especially in local media, since local authorities may use the law against journalists. Media owners, particularly of small local independent newspapers, were aware that potentially large fines could threaten the financial survival of their publications. According to the Helsinki Foundation, there was a considerable increase in the number of convictions under the criminal defamation law over the last several years. The foundation observed that those seeking to protect their reputations were more likely to pursue criminal defamation charges than civil litigation. This may negatively affect the operation of local media outlets, which the foundation stated were often the only source of accountability for local officials. According to Ministry of Justice statistics for 2018, the most recent data available, courts convicted one person of insulting the president and three persons for insulting constitutional organs of the government. In 2018 the courts fined two persons for public defamation through media using the public prosecution procedure, when a private person presses criminal charges against another person. In 2018 there were 116 convictions for criminal defamation through media using the private prosecution procedure.

On September 2, the Supreme Court struck down a Lodz District Court judgment from February 2019 against investigative reporter Wojciech Biedron on charges of public insult of a judge for inaccurately reporting that a court had initiated disciplinary proceedings against the judge. The September 2 decision resulted from a complaint filed with the Supreme Court by the prosecutor general in September 2019. The case was sent back to the district court for a retrial.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, unknown perpetrators vandalized the offices of the magazine Fakty Social Dialogue. The perpetrators wrote “Fakty TVN go away” on the office walls, apparently mistaking the magazine’s offices for those of private television station TVN’s flagship news program Fakty, which had broadcast criticism of the government. The magazine’s equipment and server room were destroyed, and hard drives from laptops and computers were stolen. The editor in chief of the magazine claimed the vandalism was the result of a campaign by the governing party against “opposition media.”

Portugal

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The law criminalizes the denigration of ethnic or religious minorities, as well as Holocaust denial, as an offensive practice. Prison sentences for these crimes run between six months and eight years.

Romania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of media, corrupt financing mechanisms, as well as editorial policies subordinated to the former elected ruling party and owners’ interests. Reporters said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the previous government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records, and pandemic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits Holocaust denial and promoting or using symbols representing fascist, racist, xenophobic ideologies, or symbols associated with the interwar nationalist, extremist, fascist and anti-Semitic Legionnaire movement. Various government bodies, mainly the gendarmerie, continued to fine, place under temporary arrest, or block individuals who protested in the streets for differing causes.

The Gendarmerie fined several individuals who attended an August 10 protest in Victoria Square to commemorate the victims of the Gendarmerie’s violent intervention against pro-rule-of-law protesters on August 10, 2018. Those fined included reporter Mircea Savin of Podul.ro.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.

On March 4, the High Court of Justice ruled against an appeal by Vrancea County Council President Marian Oprisan (PSD) against reporter Sebastian Oancea of Vrancea24 who wrote about public contracts granted by Oprisan to his business associates and individuals with criminal records. It was the fourth case lost by Oprisan against Oancea in recent years.

In March the government ordered prefects and public health authorities to ban the publication of county-level information on the number of COVID-19 tests performed and number of infections. On March 20, 14 civic associations issued a joint statement protesting the move, and on April 6, almost 100 news outlets and 165 journalists from national and local organizations signed a freedom of information request initiated by the Center for Independent Journalism asking for fair and timely access to COVID-19 information. Due to media and NGO protests, in April the government created a Strategic Communications Task Force to manage messaging during the pandemic. It also expanded its daily reports to include county-level breakdowns.

Violence and Harassment: Some reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by authorities they investigated or by their proxies.

In February reporters Alex Costache of TVR and Cosmin Savu of ProTV were followed, filmed, and intimidated by six individuals before, during, and after the two met with a military prosecutor and a judge at a private event in a restaurant. Footage of the four was disseminated on February 21 by outlets controlled by oligarchs and media owners facing criminal chargers, under investigation, or previously arrested for fraud. Military prosecutors opened an investigation into the illegal surveillance and filming. In April, Prosecutor General Gabriela Scutea dismissed the evidence gathered by military prosecutors, claiming the prosecutors lacked jurisdiction.

Slovakia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits the defamation of nationalities and race, punishable by up to three years in prison, and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes, which carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibitions against defamation of nationalities and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes also applied to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. According to media organizations, criminal libel provisions restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of media. In one instance criminal court proceedings were pending against a journalist who was sentenced for libel after he published a 2015 article concerning alleged corruption by former speaker of parliament Jaroslav Paska involving his health-care business.

In June 2019 a Bratislava district court issued a preliminary measure ordering former presidential candidate Martin Dano to withdraw his online videos targeting investigative journalist and anticorruption NGO director Zuzana Petkova. The court ruled Dano’s videos incited hatred and defamed Petkova and other investigative journalists. Petkova informed media outlets that Dano had not complied with the court decision. Appeal proceedings were pending. In December 2019 an investigator pressed charges against Dano and his YouTube partner, Rudolf Vasky, for hooliganism after they allegedly incited violence against several political, judicial, and media personalities. In January a Bratislava district court issued a similar ruling against Dano and ordered him to remove his online videos targeting a journalist. Criminal proceedings were pending.

The majority of media are privately owned or funded from private sources. Radio and Television Slovakia and the TASR news agency received state funding for specific programming. Observers expressed concern, however, about the increasing consolidation of media ownership and its potential long-term threat to press freedom. NGOs reported most of the country’s private media outlets, including television stations and print publications, are controlled by relatively few financial conglomerates or wealthy individuals.

Violence and Harassment: In 2018 investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were murdered in their home. Kuciak regularly reported on allegations of high-level corruption and documented tax-fraud schemes. In 2019 authorities arrested and indicted four suspects in the case, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was charged with ordering the murder. In January the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Zoltan Andrusko and in April sentenced Miroslav Marcek to prison sentences of 20 and 23 years, respectively, for their involvement in the murders. In September the Specialized Criminal Court acquitted both Marian Kocner and indicted collaborator Alena Zsuzsova of ordering the murder, citing a lack of evidence. The prosecutor appealed the acquittals to the Supreme Court. The court sentenced Tomas Szabo to 25 years in prison as an accessory to the murder.

Nationwide public protests in 2018 following the killings prompted the resignation of then interior minister Robert Kalinak, then prime minister Robert Fico, and then police president Tibor Gaspar. Since the resignations, Fico on multiple occasions accused media outlets and NGOs of using the killings to foment a “coup.”

The investigation into the Kuciak murder led to allegations that Kocner and his collaborators conducted surveillance of selected investigative journalists, allegedly with the assistance of law enforcement. According to media reports, the investigation revealed that police representatives illegally accessed government databases to collect information on journalists and their family members. Information collected through surveillance and from state databases was allegedly used to intimidate individual journalists. In June a court took into custody the former chief of the Financial Intelligence Unit, Pavol Vorobjov, who was accused of unlawfully accessing police databases. Investigations into the surveillance and intimidation cases involving unlawfully collected personal data of 140 individuals, including 28 journalists, were pending (see section 4, Corruption).

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are treated as criminal offenses. Media organizations criticized a criminal libel provision in the criminal code as restricting freedom of expression.

Financial elites targeted the press in several civil defamation lawsuits, which often required the press to pay large sums of money in penalties or legal costs. The International Press Institute Slovakia and other observers expressed concern this financial risk and the administrative burden of constantly contesting lawsuits could lead to media self-censorship.

Slovenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits the incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order, typically requiring violence to occur for the prosecution of such incitement. The penal code also prohibits the expression of ideas of racial superiority and denial of the Holocaust.

On May 11, police launched an investigation against demonstrators for their participation in regular antigovernment protests, at which some brandished the slogan “Death to Jansism,” in reference to Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The Prime Minister claimed the slogan was a death threat that could escalate into physical violence. The state prosecution did not press charges, determining on May 20 that the word “death” in the slogan should be seen as metaphorical and as a call to halt the policies of Jansa.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Nevertheless, journalist organizations reported growing hateful rhetoric and threats against journalists online, spurred by animosity from officials. The International Press Institute highlighted a series of Twitter attacks on reporters, “enabling a wider increase in digital harassment from online trolls and contributing to an increasingly hostile climate for watchdog journalism.”

On March 15, the government’s COVID-19 Crisis Headquarters retweeted an insulting claim about investigative journalist Blaz Zgaga, alleging that he had a “COVID Marx-Lenin virus,” after Zgaga filed a freedom of information request regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this tweet, progovernment media and social media users engaged in smears and verbal attacks on Zgaga, claiming he was an “enemy of the state.” Zgaga also received online death threats. Several international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as press freedom groups, condemned the threats against the journalist, and European Union Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova contacted the country’s authorities about the media freedom situation. In a reply to the Council of Europe, the government condemned the case of alleged harassment of the journalist, but stated that there is no conclusive evidence as to what caused the harassment.

The European Commission reported in its September rule of law report for the country that concerns have been raised by stakeholders about possible politically motivated changes to the funding of the national public broadcaster and the governance of the national press agency.

Media freedom watchdogs also expressed concerns about government moves to exert pressure on public broadcaster RTV through changes to its governing bodies, especially following criticism by government officials of RTV’s reporting that was unfavorable to the government. One of the new administration’s early actions was to replace a subset of RTV’s supervisory board, intended to insure its financial independence, as is not uncommon with a change in government. Though the move was not unprecedented, one of the supervisory board members appealed, noting their terms had not expired. The case was still being adjudicated, however, an attempt to change two other supervisory board members was blocked by a parliamentary committee on May 21. The government also appointed some new members to RTV’s Program Council, which oversees its editorial policy and selects its director general.

On March 20, Prime Minister Jansa accused RTV on Twitter of spreading lies about an alleged decision by the government to raise salaries of ministers and state secretaries, adding that “obviously, there are too many of you and you are overpaid.” The Association of Slovenian Journalists expressed concern about the Prime Minister’s statement, asserting that it should be understood as a threat to RTV employees against possible loss of employment if they do not report according to the government’s liking. RTV Director General Igor Kadunc claimed that the comment had damaging consequences for media freedom and was aimed at the subordination of the central media to one political option.

RTV complained about a growing number of insulting tweets and verbal attacks against the institution and its journalists by politicians, labeling such attacks an attack on democracy. Following these verbal attacks, RTV journalists experienced several physical attacks by nongovernment actors.

The International Press Institute estimated that “few countries in Europe have experienced such a swift downturn in press and media freedom after a new government came to power,” leading to “a worrying decline in press freedom in a very short space of time in a country previously considered a relative safe haven for independent journalism, sending up further warning signs about deteriorating media freedom in Central Europe.”

Responding to allegations of pressure on the media in the country, the government attempted to justify its criticisms of the press by providing additional context in a April 7 letter to the Council of Europe, stating that the situation is a result of the country’s media having “their origin in the former communist regime” and the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of circles close to the left.

Journalists and media representatives stated existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in media, which could limit the diversity of views expressed. On July 23, the European Commission expressed concern about transparency of media ownership in its rule of law report for the country. Particularly in the case of multiple shell owners, the law may make it difficult to identify who ultimately controls editorial decision making.

The European Commission also reported on a high level of political influence over some media companies, which could trickle down to the press and broadcasters at regional and local levels. Most media in the country are perceived by the population as somewhat biased, with those on the right asserting that the predominantly left-leaning media environment prevents a full spectrum of political views from being widely expressed.

Watchdog groups’ concerns about alleged financing of certain Slovenian media outlets by sources tied to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party increased on September 30, when Telekom Slovenije sold Planet TV to Hungary’s TV2 Media, owned by Jozsef Vida, reportedly linked to the business network of Fidesz. Two Slovenian media outlets associated with the Slovenian Democratic Party, weekly newspaper Demokracija and the NovaTV web portal and TV channel, have long been rumored to receive funding from Fidesz allies.

The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws prohibiting hate speech, libel, and slander.

Violence and Harassment: RTV journalists reported several physical attacks. On March 31, a news crew from RTV was verbally abused and threatened in the street by an unidentified individual as they were reporting from the capital, Ljubljana. After walking away, the assailant returned to the crew’s company vehicle and damaged the tires.

Such incidents were strongly condemned by the country’s senior officials and parties, including Prime Minister Jansa, who tweeted: “We condemn any form of street violence targeting journalists or anyone else, as well as any instigating of such acts.”

On June 1, Eugenija Carl, a journalist at RTV, received an envelope addressed to her containing a threatening handwritten note and a suspicious white powder that she said caused irritation and gave her a sore throat.

Physical attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors occurred particularly during protests. For example, on November 5, an unknown assailant hit photojournalist Borut Zivulovic in the head, apparently deliberately as journalists covered violent clashes with riot police during protests in Ljubljana. Press freedom groups strongly condemned the attack. A police investigation is ongoing. Several other media outlets also reported that their crews were intimidated, pushed, and obstructed during the protest.

During an antigovernment rally in Ljubljana on October 16, a protester, rapper Zlatan “Zlatko” Cordic, approached a cameraman for progovernment broadcaster Nova24 and grabbed his camera, demanding that he erase the recording. After police intervened, the camera was returned. Several videos of the incident appeared on social media. Journalist groups on both sides of the political spectrum condemned violence against media in response to the incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Instances of overt political pressure on the press remained isolated. The Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure, nonstandard forms of employment such as freelance or student status, and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship to maintain steady employment.

Libel/Slander Laws: The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws criminalizing hate speech, libel, and slander. The government has not used the law to retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Sweden

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes expression considered to be hate speech and prohibits threats or statements of contempt for a group or member of a group based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a maximum of four years in prison. In addition the country’s courts have held that it is illegal to wear xenophobic symbols or racist paraphernalia or to display signs and banners with inflammatory symbols at rallies.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law criminalizing hate speech applies as well to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists were subjected to harassment and intimidation. Swedish Television (SVT) reported it handled an average of 35 security threats daily. Threats ranged from social media attacks on journalists and information technology breaches to physical threats against employees. The CEO stated in August that security costs had quadrupled since 2015 and that she had to have a bodyguard.

On February 26, Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a blogger critical of authorities in Chechnya, Russia, survived a violent assault in his home in Gavle. Two Russian nationals were arrested in connection with the attack.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future