10 journalists and outlets we’ve supported

1. Dabanga radio, Sudan and Darfur

Dabanga radio station has been operating since 2008, reporting independent news, including human rights issues. Dabanga reports in Arabic for audiences in Sundan and Darfur, as well as displaced people internationally. In late 2010 a group of 14 journalists and human rights activists – including journalists for Dabanga and a number of human rights experts were arrested in Sudan on a number of charges including publication of ‘false news’, handling state secrets, and aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation. MLDI provided legal support to the imprisoned Dabanga journalists.

2. Ferghana News website, Kyrgystan

Ferghana.RU news agency has been running since 1998 and focuses on Central Asian countries of the former USSR. The popular news site has correspondents in every major city in the region and reports in a number of languages. In June 2010 Fergana news reported on the inter-ethnic riots in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, in which at least 400 people were killed. Reporters Without Borders had described Fergana’s coverage of the events as “exemplary”, however the Kyrgyz parliament described it as “subjective” and “provocative” and in 2011 the parliament voted unanimously to block the website. It remained offline in Kyrgyzstan for a year, and has since been blocked across the country.

3. Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan

Khadija Ismayilova is an award-winning Azerbaijani journalist. Her courageous reporting has exposed evidence of corruption by the President of Azerbaijan – which was later confirmed in the Panama Papers. Khadija has been the target of vicious smear campaigns, threats and intimidation in retaliation for her reporting. She was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on sham charges and was imprisoned for almost a year and half before her release in 2016. She was also subjected to a gross violation of privacy when cameras were illegally hidden in her bedroom. In January this year the European Court of Human Rights found violations of Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights by Azerbaijan in respect to these intrusions into her private life. Khadija has been represented by MLDI in a number of cases before the European Court of Human Rights.

4. Malaysiakini website, Malaysia

Independent online news outlet Malaysiakini reported extensively on the sudden environmental and health impacts residents in the Raub district of Malaysia claimed to have experienced. A gold mining operation had recently begun in the area, using certain chemicals as part of its extraction process.

In 2012, the Raub Australian Gold Mining (RAGM) company sued Malaysiakini and three of its journalists for defamation. In 2016 the court ruled that the defamation claims against Malaysiakini and its journalists were unfounded as they practised responsible journalism and the case was dismissed. In addition, RAGM was ordered to pay Malaysiakini’s legal fees. However, the gold mining company appealed and in 2018 Malaysia’s Court of Appeal ordered Malaysiakini to pay compensation to RAGM. The case is ongoing.

5. Mims medical journal, India

The Monthly Index of Medical Specialties (Mims) is a medical journal in India. In 2009 Mims’ reported that a drug produced by Danish company Lundbeck, sold in India to treat depression and other conditions, was not actually licenced for use in Denmark. In addition, Mims’ reporting revealed that no long-term clinical trials on the safety of the drug had been conducted, and that the drug – or individual ingredients of it – are prohibited in a number of developed countries.

The story was also picked up by larger news outlets including the Times of India and India’s Financial Times, and opened up a larger discussion in India’s media and civic space about the safety of medication and the how parts of the pharmaceutical industry operates in the country. Other, untested medications were taken off the market and in 2012 India’s Drug Controller General published new guidelines aimed at addressing these issues and improving public safety. In response to Mims’ critical reporting Lundbeck filed a libel case. However, the case was dismissed by the court, citing that Mims’ reporting was based on facts and fair comment.

6. Mseto newspaper, Tanzania

Mseto is a newspaper in Tanzania, which was forced to shut down in 2016 by a ministerial order. The three year publication ban came shortly after Mseto had published an article about corruption during the Tanzanian presidential election, which was critical of the president and the deputy minister. Mseto had reported on corruption in high office a number of times, and had been threatened by the government.

MLDI supported Mseto to take a legal challenge to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), arguing that the minister had failed to provide any reason for the ban, and that it interfered with the right to freedom of expression and press freedom, and was therefore unlawful under international law. The case was taken to the Court by Tanzanian lawyer Fulgence Massawe from Legal and Human Rights Centre, with the support of MLDI.

In the summer of 2018 the EACJ handed down a landmark judgment for press freedom in the region. The court agreed with Mseto’s submissions and ordered the ministerial order, which banned the paper from publication, to be overturned. Mr Massawe welcomed the result as “a landmark decision in our jurisdiction. We have witnessed the systematic attack of the freedom of expression and press freedom in Tanzania. This decision has sent the right message to the Tanzanian government.”

7. Re:Baltica website, Latvia

Re:Baltica – the Baltic Centre for Investigative Journalism – is an independent non-profit media platform in Latvia, dedicated to high quality journalism. It was founded in 2011 by award-winning journalist Inga Springe, and encourages transparency and reform by reporting in-depth on socially important issues all over the Baltic region.

In its first year Re:Baltica republished an article by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) about international money-laundering. A businessman who was mentioned in the article brought charges against Re:Baltica for defamation, demanding $40,000 in compensation.

“When I heard about the case I was overwhelmed,” said Inga. “With this kind of case, often the big guys suing don’t care if they win in the end. They just want to damage the lives of journalists. They know we have to find money for lawyers and find time for going to court. It’s very hard.”

MLDI part-funded Re:Baltica’s lawyer, Irina Kostina from law firm Lawin, and provided international case law to help build arguments for the legal defence. “When Irina started helping us I wasn’t worried anymore,” Inga remembers. The courts ruled in favour of Re:Baltica in May 2014 and, following an appeal, the case was finally closed in March 2015, finding in Re:Baltica’s favour. The non-profit media platform is now in its eighth year, publishing in both Latvian and English.

8. Sahara Reporters, USA and Nigeria

Nigerian pro-democracy campaigner and human rights activist Omoyele Sowore set up the website Sahara Reporters in 2006 to report on issues of corruption in Nigeria. Having been imprisoned and tortured in Nigeria, Sowore was granted political asylum in the USA. In response to Sahara Reporters’ journalism Sowore has faced various threats, including three legal cases which MLDI has supported with pro bono legal support. Each case was dismissed from court. In 2018 Sowore founded a political party, the African Action Congress, and intends to run for president in Nigeria’s 2019 general election.

9. Hector Silva, El Salvador

Héctor Silva Ávalos is a highly-regarded investigative journalist from El Salvador. He is a research fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, and works for investigative website InSight Crime, based in Colombia. In 2014, along with journalist Orus Villacorta Aguilar, Silva co-founded the online magazine Factum, which publishes in-depth journalistic reports in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Much of Silva’s reporting is on corruption, policing and crime, which has put him at odds with powerful and wealthy people. In 2016 Salvadoran businessman José Enrique Rais brought criminal defamation charges against Silva after Factum published articles which named Mr Enrique in relation to money laundering and drug trafficking. Criminal defamation poses a threat to a free press and freedom of expression, as the threat of fines or incarceration can cause journalists and media outlets to self-censor.

MLDI part-supported Silva’s legal costs, and in August 2017 a judge ruled in his favour. The businessman has appealed the decision, however it is not clear when a higher court will hear the appeal case as Mr Enrique, having had his Salvadoran passport confiscated by a judge, left the country on his Swiss passport. Factum continues to investigate and report on a wide range of topics, including a report on Silva’s whereabouts in Switzerland.

10. Wattan TV, Palestine

Wattan TV is a Palestinian broadcaster based in Ramallah, Palestine. It is the only independent TV channel broadcasting throughout the West Bank and Gaza regions and is well regarded for its investigative reporting.

In 2012 Israeli Defence Forces raided the station overnight and seized items including the broadcaster’s archives, financial records, several computers and laptops, and the transmitters which the station needs to be able to broadcast. The Israeli army argued that the station was ‘broadcasting illegally’. With MLDI’s support, Wattan TV filed a petition at Israel’s High Court complaining about the raid and most of the equipment was subsequently returned, although some of it was damaged. MLDI supported Wattan TV’s civil case for compensation which, in 2018, was successful.

Wattan TV is available online, and has an ongoing case to regain the right to broadcast on the frequencies they had used in the years before the raid.