Is Propaganda Protected Free Speech?

Jul 24 2019

On June 28, 2019, Free Russia Foundation hosted a conference Finding Practical and Principal Approaches to Countering the Kremlin’s Influence Campaigns While Upholding Sanctity of Free Speech at the Hague, Netherlands.

On June 28, 2019, Free Russia Foundation hosted a conference Finding Practical and Principal Approaches to Countering the Kremlin’s Influence Campaigns While Upholding Sanctity of Free Speech at the Hague, Netherlands.

See the full agenda
Download the speakers’ bios

At the conference, FRF unveiled a new report by the Congressional Research Service Limits on Freedom of Expression, which examines the scope of protection extended to freedom of speech in thirteen selected countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. This report focuses on the limits of protection that may apply to the right to interrupt or affect in any other way public speech. It also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments.

Panelist for this conference included moderators Leon Willems, Michael Weiss, Kristina Vaiciunaite, and Daniel Mitov, as well as, many other human rights activists, legal experts, authors, journalists, media experts, etc. who weighed in on the concept of protected free speech and worked together to articulate measures for countering disinformation.

The event was punctuated by the keynote remarks delivered by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech, and Richard Hoogland, D66 Board member International Cooperation.

Panel One

Panel one featured presentations by Leon Willems, Roman Dobrokhotov, Vasily Gatov, Luke Harding, Thomas O. Melia, Peter Pomerantsev, and Olga Romanova who discussed practicalities of finding a balance between protecting free speech and combating disinformation campaigns by Russia. Speakers highlighted the limits of fact-checking. According to the new evidence from neuroscience research, audience rejects the corrected information once the disinformation has previously been delivered. Instead speakers suggested contracting propaganda with personalized positive stories that affect emotions rather than the rational mind. It is also critical to follow strict guidelines of providing accurate information and avoid acting like Russian sources. Finally, there was a consensus on the panel that media too shares a responsibility as an agent of democracy for what types of narratives it highlights regularly (negative over positive).

Panel Two

Speakers of the second panel included victims of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Marina Litvinenko, Alena Balaba, Tatiana Gerasimova, Martin Kragh, Ilona Sokolova, and Liz Wahl. The discussion examined real cases of individuals targeted by Russian-state sponsored disinformation campaigns and the effects it had on them personally and the defense strategies they used against it. The speakers discussed the role the Kremlin played in labeling those who disagree with its policies as traitors and how that has dehumanized them and put a target on their back. Martin Kragh shared stories of victims of disinformation who had to deal with loss of jobs, threats against their lives and the lives of their families.

Panel Three

Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, Oleg Kozlovsky, Jeremy Lamoreaux, Joanna Szymanska, Nathalie Vogel, and Ilya Zaslavskiy spoke on the tactics and mechanisms of disinformation, and examined ways to protect social media platforms and the impact of inauthentic digital content. The discussion included evaluation of the current EU Commission’ approach to disinformation such as defining the disinformation narrowly as verifiably false information designed to mislead the public for political or commercial reasons and its inclusion in the code of conduct. Although the collaboration efforts among the EU member states against propaganda have been remarkable, panelist agreed on the critical need to expand coordination beyond the countries in the EU. Oleg Kozlovsky highlighted the importance of raising public awareness of the disinformation campaigns, particularly among the children and following the example of Finland, which recently introduced strategies for reading newspapers in the curriculum.

Panel Four

The fourth panel speakers Ralf Fuecks, Jelger Groeneveld, Padraig Hughes, David Kaye, Miriam Lexmann, Scott Martin, and Marko Mihkelson discussed legal and policy mechanisms for combating state disinformation. While for the nations within the European Union the mandate to uphold freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, dominates the discussion: there are certain limits and legal precedents where speech is either infringed upon or not well defined. The speakers in this panel, all legal and human rights experts, addressed the clash of enumerated individual speech rights against the boundaries of collective rights of a state actor; and discussed cases where states and other governing bodies such as the U.N. and the E.U. had established limits on hate speech, defamation and libel, and articulated anti-obscenity laws; because of these established limits and precedents it can be used to limit the harm rendered by state-sponsored propaganda. Finally, the panelists articulated legal recourse options available to those targeted by disinformation campaigns. Padraig Hughes, for example, weighed in on the litigation around defamation without harming free speech tenets, which is more nuanced than legislating. David Kaye raised the issue of legislating transparency such as the rules and nature of enforcement. Miriam Lexmann brought attention to the underlying problem and incentive of disinformation which is that disinformation is a business model: It does not serve local interests but rather seeks to reap profit. Similarly Scott Martin discussed that disinformation bases itself off of an economic model but he calls for regulation to deal with these issues, specifically international regulation.

The conference was followed by a closed working lunch moderated by Melissa Hooper, to gather and solidify concrete policy recommendations. The discussion focused on finding recommendations on how to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts. The attendees articulated strategies for countering state-sponsored propaganda all while having to maintain a balance between upholding free speech and limiting the damage of disinformation campaigns. They then evaluated whether the existing law can be used to establish limits on damaging speech and the need for new remedies to curtail the purveyors of propaganda.

On June 28, 2019, Free Russia Foundation hosted a conference Finding Practical and Principal Approaches to Countering the Kremlin’s Influence Campaigns While Upholding Sanctity of Free Speech at the Hague, Netherlands.

See the full agenda
Download the speakers’ bios

At the conference, FRF unveiled a new report by the Congressional Research Service Limits on Freedom of Expression, which examines the scope of protection extended to freedom of speech in thirteen selected countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. This report focuses on the limits of protection that may apply to the right to interrupt or affect in any other way public speech. It also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments.

Panelist for this conference included moderators Leon Willems, Michael Weiss, Kristina Vaiciunaite, and Daniel Mitov, as well as, many other human rights activists, legal experts, authors, journalists, media experts, etc. who weighed in on the concept of protected free speech and worked together to articulate measures for countering disinformation.

The event was punctuated by the keynote remarks delivered by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech, and Richard Hoogland, D66 Board member International Cooperation.

Panel One

Panel one featured presentations by Leon Willems, Roman Dobrokhotov, Vasily Gatov, Luke Harding, Thomas O. Melia, Peter Pomerantsev, and Olga Romanova who discussed practicalities of finding a balance between protecting free speech and combating disinformation campaigns by Russia. Speakers highlighted the limits of fact-checking. According to the new evidence from neuroscience research, audience rejects the corrected information once the disinformation has previously been delivered. Instead speakers suggested contracting propaganda with personalized positive stories that affect emotions rather than the rational mind. It is also critical to follow strict guidelines of providing accurate information and avoid acting like Russian sources. Finally, there was a consensus on the panel that media too shares a responsibility as an agent of democracy for what types of narratives it highlights regularly (negative over positive).

Panel Two

Speakers of the second panel included victims of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Marina Litvinenko, Alena Balaba, Tatiana Gerasimova, Martin Kragh, Ilona Sokolova, and Liz Wahl. The discussion examined real cases of individuals targeted by Russian-state sponsored disinformation campaigns and the effects it had on them personally and the defense strategies they used against it. The speakers discussed the role the Kremlin played in labeling those who disagree with its policies as traitors and how that has dehumanized them and put a target on their back. Martin Kragh shared stories of victims of disinformation who had to deal with loss of jobs, threats against their lives and the lives of their families.

Panel Three

Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, Oleg Kozlovsky, Jeremy Lamoreaux, Joanna Szymanska, Nathalie Vogel, and Ilya Zaslavskiy spoke on the tactics and mechanisms of disinformation, and examined ways to protect social media platforms and the impact of inauthentic digital content. The discussion included evaluation of the current EU Commission’ approach to disinformation such as defining the disinformation narrowly as verifiably false information designed to mislead the public for political or commercial reasons and its inclusion in the code of conduct. Although the collaboration efforts among the EU member states against propaganda have been remarkable, panelist agreed on the critical need to expand coordination beyond the countries in the EU. Oleg Kozlovsky highlighted the importance of raising public awareness of the disinformation campaigns, particularly among the children and following the example of Finland, which recently introduced strategies for reading newspapers in the curriculum.

Panel Four

The fourth panel speakers Ralf Fuecks, Jelger Groeneveld, Padraig Hughes, David Kaye, Miriam Lexmann, Scott Martin, and Marko Mihkelson discussed legal and policy mechanisms for combating state disinformation. While for the nations within the European Union the mandate to uphold freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, dominates the discussion: there are certain limits and legal precedents where speech is either infringed upon or not well defined. The speakers in this panel, all legal and human rights experts, addressed the clash of enumerated individual speech rights against the boundaries of collective rights of a state actor; and discussed cases where states and other governing bodies such as the U.N. and the E.U. had established limits on hate speech, defamation and libel, and articulated anti-obscenity laws; because of these established limits and precedents it can be used to limit the harm rendered by state-sponsored propaganda. Finally, the panelists articulated legal recourse options available to those targeted by disinformation campaigns. Padraig Hughes, for example, weighed in on the litigation around defamation without harming free speech tenets, which is more nuanced than legislating. David Kaye raised the issue of legislating transparency such as the rules and nature of enforcement. Miriam Lexmann brought attention to the underlying problem and incentive of disinformation which is that disinformation is a business model: It does not serve local interests but rather seeks to reap profit. Similarly Scott Martin discussed that disinformation bases itself off of an economic model but he calls for regulation to deal with these issues, specifically international regulation.

The conference was followed by a closed working lunch moderated by Melissa Hooper, to gather and solidify concrete policy recommendations. The discussion focused on finding recommendations on how to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts. The attendees articulated strategies for countering state-sponsored propaganda all while having to maintain a balance between upholding free speech and limiting the damage of disinformation campaigns. They then evaluated whether the existing law can be used to establish limits on damaging speech and the need for new remedies to curtail the purveyors of propaganda.

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.