On December 15, 2014 the Italian reporter Giulietto Chiesa, who had been invited to take part in a conference in Tallinn on Russian-European relations, was detained by the Estonian authorities for a few hours after being declared “persona non grata“. Facts appear to point to a deliberate move on the part of the Estonian authorities meant to prevent the journalist from attending the conference, thus censoring the speech he was supposed to deliver.
Before diving into the facts, a little background info intended as a frame of reference.
|Giulietto Chiesa, journalist and MEP
Giulietto Chiesa is an Italian journalist and former member of the European Parliament. He has been correspondent from Moscow for two different italian newspapers (La Stampa and L’Unità) for 20 years, since 1980.
In Italy he is presently marginalized for his very critical opinions on a few issues which the mainstream media still consider as taboo. Chiesa is a member of the 9/11 Consensus Panel, a board whose goal is “to provide the world with a clear statement, based on expert independent opinion, of some of the best evidence opposing the official narrative about 9/11”. He is also known for being very vocal in opposing western imperialism and the hysterical russophobia that is being spread by the mainstream media. He wrote many articles condemning NATO aggression against Libya, the destabilization of Syria, the eastward expansion of NATO and the western backed coup in Kiev.
According to the Estonian Public Broadcasting, Chiesa was invited in Tallinn on December 15, 2014 by the Impressum NGO to attend a conference titled “Should Europe fear Russia?”. Apparently, Estonian authorities consider the Impressum NGO as a russian propaganda proxy. Chiesa had already spoken at Impressum events twice before.
According to Chiesa, he arrived in Tallinn at 12.45 and gave an interview to an Estonian TV channel, had lunch and then went back to his hotel room in order to complete the preparation for the speech he was supposed to give at 19.00.
One and a half hours before the appointed time, a group of four Estonian policemen knocked on his room’s door and took him into custody, intimating him to follow them to the local police station. Chiesa was later informed that he was being detained because he was the target of an entry ban signed on 13 December 2014 and valid for one month. He stated that he repeatedly asked the police to show him the related documents but his requests were denied. He was jailed for four hours, until the arrival of the Italian Ambassador, who managed to have him released a few hours later, after applying diplomatic pressure.
While the incident made the first page of a few Italian online newspapers it didn’t get much attention on the Italian television networks, that at most mentioned it casually.
The incident caused some diplomatic friction between Italy and Estonia and the Estonian Ambassador in Rome was summoned by the Italian Foreign Minister looking for answers.
It also prompted inquiries in both the Italian and European Parliament where a group of representatives (mostly belonging to the leftist list “The Other Europe with Tsipras”) filed a protest against what they suspect might constitute an extralegal detention, a violation of the Treaty on European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter on Fundamental Rights.
The Estonian authorities perspective is that Chiesa is a security threat and the detention was justified.
Legal aspects notwithstanding, the detention of Chiesa clearly appears to be motivated by censorship and intimidation: the Estonian authorities are openly troubled by the Italian reporter opinions and they acted to prevent him from sharing them with the few hundred people who were attending the conference. The accusation that Chiesa is some kind of Russian agent of propaganda and as such is a threat to the Estonian state does feel like an excuse: if he really was an immediate and serious danger they would never release him after just a few hours. Which makes the urgency of the detention suspect at best. Also, the timing of the ban, just a few days before Chiesa was to attend the conference, suggests very strongly that the measure was surgically targeted.
What’s really troubling – actually, outrageous – is that, no matter if laws were broken or the authorities abused their power, a EU country has infringed on the freedom of speech right of a European citizen, journalist and former member of the parliament. Apparently, the Estonian government – and not the Estonian citizens who could attend the conference and debate or criticize the speech – gets to decide what is Russian propaganda and what isn’t. The message is crystal clear and even intimidating. Just think about how a much less renowned journalist could react after realizing that expressing any harshly critical opinion that doesn’t measure to the standards of what the authorities consider legit criticism could get him/her branded as a security threat and a Russian agent.
It would also be interesting to know what the authorities of all the other western countries who maintain a heavy state sponsored NGO presence abroad think of the Estonian authorities attitude towards NGOs accused of being instruments of Russian propaganda. If they share the evaluation then how can the double standard be logically reconciled?
This incident casts another shadow on Europe and suggests that the tearing of the democratic fabric and the degeneration of the common sense that follows in the wake of the anti-Russian media campaign might be slowly spreading to the whole continent.