Russian and Belarusian Independent Media Workers Face Threats, Even in Exile

London, 21 November 2023 – According to an expert survey by the Justice for Journalists Foundation, hundreds of professional and highly educated media workers have left Russia and Belarus in the past three years. Journalists highlighted three main reasons for leaving:

  1. Legal risks for their media outlet
  2. Personal legal risks
  3. Direct threats to their life/well-being

Most media workers who left eventually found refuge in either Georgia or EU countries such as Lithuania, Poland, or Germany. While living abroad, almost a third of respondents quit their media career. 

In their new countries of residence, 85% of respondents said they felt either completely or somewhat safe. However, 45% of journalists working abroad continue to face a variety of threats. The most commonly cited threats were: 

  1. Indirect threats to their life/well-being
  2. Legal risks for the media
  3. Monitoring, surveillance and hacking 

75% of respondents from Belarus and 50% from Russia sought to return to their native countries as soon as possible. Germany, France and the USA rounded out the top five ideal countries to live in. 

For Belarusian media workers, the most welcoming countries were Poland and Lithuania, where they received support with visas, finance, housing, medical care and free workspaces. Russian journalists ranked Lithuania in first place and Germany in second. 

Russian independent journalists feel the least supported in Georgia, Serbia and Armenia. Georgia was considered the most “unsafe” place to live, followed by the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Norway and France.

Regarding measures that could strengthen journalists’ sense of security in their current countries of residence, the following were highlighted:

  1. Support from NGOs
  2. Availability of special civil services and government officials
  3. Support from the local professional community
  4. Public awareness of journalists in exile
  5. Training in personal safety and security

This expert survey was conducted by the Justice for Journalists Foundation via an electronic questionnaire. 108 respondents from Russia and Belarus took part in the study. 30% of respondents stopped working in journalism after emigrating. Therefore, their responses were not taken into account in the second part of the study that looked into living conditions in their new country of residence, and measures that would help independent journalists in exile continue to work for their domestic audiences. Almost 60% of respondents were journalists and media managers with more than 10 years of experience. 

Data from the Justice for Journalists Foundation’s survey will help to shape recommendations from the Council of Europe regarding assistance to journalists in exile, and will also become the basis for the second stage of the study: in-depth interviews with a number of Russian and Belarusian media workers, commissioned by the Council of Europe.