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IFJ/EFJ urge Russian authorities to stop persecuting #Ukraine journalists

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Ukrainian journalists Mykola Semena and Roman Sushchenko (pictured, left and right) are facing jail following charges by the Russian authorities of separatism and espionage, respectively. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ), together with other human rights groups, are asking for these charges to be dropped immediately.

The IFJ and EFJ have joined calls from their Ukrainian affiliates, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine (IMTUU) and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), to condemn the persecution of independent media and journalists critical of the Russian authorities, especially in the Russia-annexed Crimea. Both Semena and Sushchenko are NUJU members.

On 20th January, freelance journalist and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributor, Mykola Semena, was formally indicted for “calling to action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation”. This follows an article he wrote in September 2015 opposing Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula, media reported. No trial date has yet been set. He faces five years in prison if convicted. IMTUU and NUJU both insist that these charges are fabricated.

On 24 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), also condemned such persecution and urged the authorities in the Russian Federation to drop its charges against the journalist. His lawyer, Emil Kuberdinov, was also detained on 26th January and questioned by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on suspicion of "distributing extremist material," a colleague told media.

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Mykola Semena has been under criminal investigation since April 2016 and barred by authorities from leaving the Crimea, despite the IFJ warnings about his fragile state of health. The IFJ had urged the Russian authorities to allow him to return to Kiev in order to receive urgent treatment for a spinal injury he suffered back in September 2016. The reporter also suffers from cardiac problems and risks becoming permanently disabled if he is not treated.

Furthermore, the Lefortovsky District Court of Moscow has extended pre-trial detention term for Roman Sushchenko, a journalist at the Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform, until 30th April, his lawyer reported on Twitter. Sushchenko, who is Ukrinform correspondent in France since 2010, was arrested in Moscow on 30 September during a private visit and charged with spying, which he denies.

“Roman is a respected professional journalist with a strong reputation,” said Sergiy Tomilenko, acting chairman of NUJU. “Hopefully widespread attention to the obvious absurdity of the ‘espionage’ case can help free him.”

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“We call on the international community to join us and our affiliates in calling for the fabricated charges against these two journalists to be dropped forthwith,” said IFJ President Philippe Leruth. “We condemn this campaign of persecution of media and journalists which prohibit them from providing independent information to their citizens and which is contrary to freedom of expression. We also ask the Russian authorities to let Semena be treated in Kiev as a matter of urgency.”

“It is not the first time we express concern over Semena's case,” added EFJ President, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård. “His persecution seems to be part of a huge Russian clampdown on independent media in Crimea. We call on Russian authorities to stop silencing journalists in Crimea.”

Photo Credit: VASILY MAXIMOV / AFP

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Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

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Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

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Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

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Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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