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October 18, 2015



Annual report on attacks against freedom of speech and harassment of journalists in Ukraine

by Ievgen Diemenok


Despite the victorious Revolution of Dignity and the Ukrainian movement towards European democratic values, the present situation with the freedom of speech in the country remains rather tense. At the end of 2014 Ukraine ranked 127th in free speech rating – between Columbia and Afghanistan. This data can be found in the annual 2014 World Press Freedom Index conducted by the international organization Reporters Without Borders. For the first time in the last decade Ukraine witnessed the killing of journalists. However, there was almost complete absence of censorship in Ukraine in 2014, the criminal prosecution of journalists stopped and there was significantly less political pressure on mass media.
Institute of Mass Information (IMI) recorded 995 cases of free speech violation in 2014 – a twofold increase compared to 2013 (496 cases) and a threefold increase compared to 2012 (324 cases). The most difficult months were February, March and May.
Most of these cases were attacks against safety and physical integrity of journalists – 286 cases. For the first time there were recorded cases of journalist kidnappings by illegal armed units, for the first time there appeared journalists who were forced to become refugees from the ATO zone. 79 journalists were taken captive throughout the year. Out of 79 cases 46 happened in Donetsk region, 15 in Lugansk region and 11 in the Crimea.
The organization Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Protect Journalists included Ukraine in top three most dangerous countries for journalists in 2014 (following Syria and Palestine). The main reason for this was the fact that 7 journalists died in the country in 2014 – a Ukrainian Vyacheslav Veremiy was killed at Maidan, six other journalists including an Italian died in ATO zone.
It is worth mentioning that in most cases there was no punishment for those responsible for journalist attacks. At the same time most of these accidents happened on the territories which are currently not controlled by the Ukrainian government.
In 2014 there were threefold more censorship cases than in 2013 – 152 and 62 respectively. Most censorship cases were recorded on the Crimean territory and in the eastern regions of the country, where Ukrainian TV channels were cut off. During the year there were also 63 cases of mass media editorial office attacks, with its peak in May, when pro-Russian separatists attacked the editorial offices of local printed media in Donetsk and Lugansk regions. This resulted in dozens of journalists being forced to leave the occupied territories, and dozens of local printed media were shut down.
In 2014 there were also 148 cases of obstruction of journalists’ work, 98 cases of threat and harassment, more than 100 cases of pressure on journalists including judicial pressure, 25 cases of journalist arrests. 8 arrests took place at Maidan, 7 – in the Crimea, 5 – in Donetsk and Luganks regions, three journalists were arrested by Russian border guards at the border between Ukraine and Russia and one was arrested on the spot in Russia.
In the current year of 2015, taking into account the past 10 months, a murder of a journalist took place (a famous newspaper editor and a journalist with controversial views Oles Buzina was killed in Kyiv), with 42 cases of physical abuse and attacks, 66 cases of obstruction of professional activity and 11 cases of censorship.
The situation has changed – at the heat of the political fight journalists are not allowed at the party conferences. Among censorship cases the most attention was paid to the case of banning the broadcast of a very popular Ukrainian show of Shuster by the owners of TV channel «1+1» - Savik Shuster himself, a famous journalist, blamed the Administration of President Poroshenko in putting the channel authorities under pressure.
In the sanctions list, signed by the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, there is a number of Russian and European journalists, «whose professional activity or public speeches contributed to terroristic acts on the territory of Ukraine, spread misleading information regarding the events on the occupied territories on a global scale, or those who illegally crossed the national border of Ukraine attempting to get to the occupied territory». After a strong negative response on behalf of western mass media some British, Spanish and German journalists were excluded from the list.
Institute of Mass Information named the Enemies of the Press – 2015. Journalists included former General Prosecutors Yarema and Makhnitskyi in the top three for the absence of investigation of journalists’ attacks by law enforcement officers at the Euromaidan; they also included an oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi for introducing censorship to the media holding “1+1” that he owns. It should be pointed out that prominent Ukrainian mass media are owned by oligarchs, who pay for providing information in their own mass media and have introduced a strict cersorship policy for news. Public mass media, which have been the topic of heated discussions for more than ten years now, are yet to be created.




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