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Honoring defenders of freedom of expression
By Leigh Hartman
May 1, 2023

Honoring defenders of freedom of expression

Russian journalist and pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, seen in a Moscow courtroom, was sentenced to 25 years in prison April 17. (© The Moscow City Court/AP)


On April 17, Russian journalist and activist Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison. His crime? Criticizing the Russian government’s brutal war against Ukraine.

Journalists in Iran, many of them women, have been arrested simply for covering demonstrations involving many parts of Iranian society — from teachers and workers’ unions to lawyers and students.

Recent arrests in Russia and Iran highlight authoritarian regimes’ continuing crackdown on freedom of expression. Freedom of expression has declined globally for 17 consecutive years, according to the Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House’s 2023 Freedom in the World report.

“While free expression does not guarantee democracy, its absence enables authoritarianism,” Freedom House’s Yana Gorokhovskaia said, announcing the report’s release March 9. “But criminal prosecution of journalists, extrajudicial violence, censorship, and laws that limit the independence of media are increasing all over the world.”

The United Nations celebrates World Press Freedom Day May 3 to remind governments to respect freedom of expression, which the U.N. calls “a driver for all other human rights.”

On December 3, a demonstrator in Toulouse, France, honors journalist Niloofar Hamedi, who was arrested after reporting on the death of Mahsa Jina Amini while she was in police custody in Iran. (© Alain Pitton/NurPhoto/Getty Images)


Freedom House will honor Kara-Murza and the women of Iran during a May 9 award ceremony for champions of democracy. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak at the event.

Russian authorities arrested Kara-Murza in April 2022, not long after he’d given speeches and interviews in Russia and abroad denouncing the Russian government’s war against Ukraine.

“The Kremlin’s preposterous charges against Vladimir Kara-Murza — ‘disseminating false information’ about the brutal war in Ukraine — is yet another cynical attempt to silence those who speak the truth,” Blinken said, calling for Kara-Murza’s release in April 2022.

Blinken has praised the courage of the people of Iran, who launched widespread protests in September 2022 after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini in police custody. Amini had been arrested for allegedly not adhering to mandatory veiling laws.

Niloofar Hamedi and fellow journalist Elaheh Mohammadi, two of the journalists who first reported Amini’s death, were later arrested in the government’s crackdown on demonstrations. “Security forces have deliberately gone after women journalists and jailed them at a rapidly increasing rate,” Britt Gronemeyer of the Washington-based Atlantic Council said in an April op-ed.

Since the Iranian regime began its brutal crackdown on protests in September of last year, the United States has sanctioned numerous government officials responsible for human rights violations. The sanctions have been imposed in close coordination with partners including the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union and Australia.

In its Freedom in the World report, issued annually since 1973, Freedom House says the desire for freedom is universal and people will continue to challenge authoritarian regimes.

“Recent events in Iran are another reminder that millions of people are willing to call for democracy and defend their rights even at great personal risk,” the 2023 report says.