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Freedom of Speech Barometer for August 2022

05.09.2022, 10:17

In August, the Institute of Mass Information recorded 17 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine. Of these, 11 were committed by russia against the media and journalists on Ukrainian territory.

The russian crimes include abductions, attacks on journalists, threats, seizing and destroying Ukrainian media offices, cyber attacks on Ukrainian media, blocking access to media websites and broadcasting russian propaganda in the occupied territories.

At the same time, IMI recorded six cases of freedom of speech violations for which the Ukrainian side is responsible.

These are the monitoring data of the Institute of Mass Information.

In August, the russian occupiers kidnapped patriotic blogger Olena Naumova, who talked about life under occupation and expressed support for Ukraine in her TikTok videos, from her own home. Her fate is unknown.

The Ukrainian Witness film crew came under russian shelling in Avdiivka. They were spotted by a drone, then the russians opened targeted fire. None of the journalists was injured. Journalist Oleksiy Prodayvoda pulled out a fragment from his bulletproof vest.

Two media outlets, Volyn Online and the Zaporizhia website, received more threats from the russians. The Volyn newspaper was threatened with accountability for the "crimes" of the "Banderite junta." The Zaporizhzhia media outlet was threatened with imprisonment.

russian troops continue to destroy media offices and seize media outlets.

In Bakhmut, the occupiers shelled Vilne Radio office to the ground. The shelling of the building resulted in no casualties. Anastasia Shibiko, Vilne Radio's executive director, told IMI that the team had managed to take all the essential equipment away at the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

Vilne Radio believes that russian troops probably deliberately targeted a civilian facility. Separatist Telegram groups wrote that this building housed the radio office, a cafe, a service station, and a post office which was allegedly being used by the military.

In Beryslav (Kherson region), the occupiers took over the editorial office of the local newspaper Mayak and started printing their propaganda under its brand. The first page contained an article about the anniversary of the Kyivan Rus Christianization, with the headline "One Faith. One Nation. One Country."

In addition, the russians keep carrying out cyber attacks on Ukrainian media platforms. On August 23, they tried to jam Suspilne's satellite signal from russian territory.

The freedom of speech situation in Ukraine for which the Ukrainian side is responsible

In August, IMI recorded six cases of freedom of speech violations for which the Ukrainian side is responsible. These include cases of beating and obstruction (one each), two cases of restricting access to public information, indirect pressure (stalking of journalists) and cybercrime – one case each.

The case of journalist Vitaliy Portnikov being stalked gained traction. He found a bugging device in the apartment he rented in Lviv – a voice recorder that can run for a long time. Portnikov supposes that this may have to do with his journalistic work. "It's a classic eavesdropping device that had been thrown in behind the sofa. I found it by accident. I'd like to know what it's about, but it's for the experts to establish when it got here: before I rented this apartment, or during this time. I could assume that it has something to do with my journalistic work, but I would prefer not to," he said back then.

IMI recorded cases of freedom of speech violations in Lviv and Rivne oblasts, as well as Zaporizhzhia and Kyiv cities.

russia's crimes

Capturing and abduction – 1

1. russian occupiers in Kherson kidnap patriotic blogger Olena Naumova

23.08.2022 In the temporarily occupied Kherson, the russian military has kidnapped patriotic TikTok blogger and kindergarten teacher Olena Naumova. Her son Mykola told Suspilne about this.

The man says that they heard nothing from his mother for two days.

"I know that people in uniform and carrying machine guns came and took her away. She is an ordinary person, I don't know what is there to demand from her. I know for sure that it was a kidnapping, because the neighbors saw it," said Mykola Naumov.

According to the son, his mother was kidnapped from her own home around 11:00 on August 23.

Olena Naumova filmed TikTok videos in which she talked about life under occupation and also expressed support for Ukraine.

Nothing is known about the woman's fate.

Firing on journalists – 1

1. Ukrainian Witness filming crew targeted by russian fire in Avdiivka

11.08.2022 The Ukrainian Witness filming crew came under fire in Avdiivka on Thursday, August 11. The media outlet reported this on their Facebook page. The journalists believe that the shelling was deliberately targeting them.

According to the journalists, the serviceman who accompanied the group heard the sound of a drone, and shortly after that, targeted fire was opened. Journalist Оleksiy Prodayvoda pulled out a fragment from his bulletproof vest. "We are alright. Oleksiy is safe, alive, and healthy. Cameraman Оleksandr Davydenko, too. Our escort was also not harmed," reports Ukrainian Witness.

The publication quotes journalist Oleksiy Prodayvoda: "The three of us lay there for a long time – me, Sanya, and the soldier. We watched the houses burn after being hit by shells during the day; they saw us from their drone and fired eight rounds at us. Just a few meters away. Fortunately, there was a ravine and a ditch nearby, so we lay down there. Under the trees, too. I take off the vest and this thing falls out – a fragment. The soldier says that it got there on the way out already."

Separately, the publication notes that the UW filming crew was equipped in accordance with international requirements. "With PRESS written in large letters wherever possible. We have every reason to believe that those who opened the fire realized that they were shooting at journalists, since there are no military personnel in the area where the shelling took place. They aimed at people dressed in bulletproof vests with large PRESS inscriptions. Only the locals live there, and the local authorities come with a humanitarian mission every now and then," Ukrainian Witness said.

The journalists managed to shoot a video which they plan to publish as part of the new UW report about Avdiivka.

Persecution of journalists, threats, intimidation – 3

1. TV host Serhiy Ivanov reports that the "LPR" has imposed "special sanctions" on him

05.08.2022 Serhiy Ivanov, host of "Iceland" channel, said that the "LPR" had imposed "special economic sanctions" on him and his father. He wrote about this on Telegram.

"The Luhansk collaborators thought that declaring me a wanted man was not enough, now they have imposed sanctions on me and my father. This is a very serious step. We are waiting for similar documents from the 'lpr's' allies: Pushylin, Eritrea, dandruff, mold, and helminths," Ivanov wrote.

He posted the "document," that states that the sanctioned persons are prohibited from registering as entrepreneurs in the occupied territory of Luhansk oblast, as well as registering legal entities. The "sanctions" have been imposed for one year.

It will be recalled that in 2016, the "LPR" paratroopers charged Serhiy Ivanov for allegedly committing the crimes provided for in the articles on "facilitating terrorist activities, public calls for terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism, illegal acquisition and storage of ammunition."

2. Volyn Online receives new threats about "Banderite junta" from russia

15.08.2022 On August 15, the editors of Volyn Online received an email demanding they "do not spread fakes about russia." The website's editor-in-chief Maryana Metelska informed the regional representative of the Institute of Mass Information about this.

A user signed as Mylo Korpachan sent an email of the following content to the editorial inbox:

"You do understand that as soon as Zelensky's Banderite junta is in a pinch, they will all flee and leave you to take responsibility for the crimes you committed together? Before it's too late, sabotage the orders of the Ukrainian Nazis who are forcing you to write untrue articles and spread fakes against russia."

This is not the first threatening message that Volyn Online has received from russia. The website's editor Maryana Metelska has received threats, even in rhyme. According to the editor, on August 15, she received the 20th letter of similar content.

We remind you that IMI is keeping a chronicle of russia's media crimes against Ukraine.

3. russians threaten Zaporizhzhia media with imprisonment again

22.08.2022 After a long break, Zaporizhzhia online media received another email with threats from russia, related to the website's professional activities. The letter threatens the editorial team with interrogation and imprisonment for supporting "Zelensky's neonazi regime."

This was reported to the regional IMI representative by the website's editor-in-chief Eric Brynza.

The letter to the editors came on August 22 from "Zhanna Prokshina" and had been sent via russian email service "Spreading disinformation about the actions of russian troops will result in administrative and criminal punishment. Soon, all journalists who support Zelensky’s neonazi regime will be sent to investigating authorities to be questioned and charged, with subsequent deployment to penal facilities," the email reads.

Let us remind you that Zaporizhzhia media outlets, in particular and, have started receiving threatening emails in March, 2022. These emails threaten the journalists with torture, imprisonment, and deportation to Siberia for content that "discredits the russian army" and "supports Zelensky's fascist/neonazi regime." Almost no letters were received in July and August.

Seizing, destroying, attacking media offices – 2

1. russian occupiers destroy Vilne Radio office in Bakhmut

03.08.2022 On the morning of August 3, russian troops shelled Bakhmut, Donetsk oblast. They targeted and completely destroyed the Vilne Radio office. This is reported on the media outlet's website.

The building which housed the Vilne Radio office was shelled in the morning of August 3.

"The explosion was so powerful that there are no walls left in the office, which had about a hundred square meters of space, and the nearby rooms. Tons of concrete and bricks were scattered over dozens of meters," the media outlet writes.

The shelling attack resulted in no casualties.

Vilne Radio believes that russian troops probably targeted a civilian facility deliberately. Separatist groups on Telegram write that this building used to house the radio office, a cafe, a service station, and a post office.

In her comment to an IMI representative, Vilne Radio executive director Anastasia Shibiko noted that the team had managed to take all the essential equipment for their work away back at the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

Citing the building's owner, she noted that at the time of the strike, there were no people inside the building and no one was injured.

"People on the Z Telegram channels wrote that they had been leaking the coordinates, and we assume that this may be true, because every now and then they discuss some object or other, and in a few days it gets hit. They wrote there that there had been Aidar fighters and soldiers in the building, and they were all crushed. This is why we assume that this was a deliberate act. Moreover, they did not hold back with this airstrike," Anastasia Shibiko said.

According to her, the first floor of the building had the only remaining service station in the city, and both military personnel and other residents were its clients. There was also a Nova Poshta branch there. Local collaborators used to spread rumors that the Ukrainian military was allegedly using the branch to mail away looted goods. On the other hand, as the Vile Radio executive director noted, this branch had been closed for several months.

Recently, the editorial office started receiving threats from unknown people again.

"They were wrtiting, 'We will find you!' So, we removed the office address from our website, but it remained on various other websites. I don't know if the threats are related to the shelling, but recently these bots or not-bots have become more active," Anastasia said.

She added that it was the only room in Bakhmut that suited them. "They divided the office into two parts for us, changed the heating system. We had a very good relationship with the landlord. We haven't been paying rent since March. The owners were understanding and issued no bills."

2. russians steal another Ukrainian newspaper brand in Kherson region

08.08.2022 In Beryslav, the occupiers took over the editorial office of the local newspaper "Mayak" and started publishing their propaganda under its brand. This was reported by Nova Kakhovka journalist Oleh Baturyn, Chytomo informs.

The first page contained an article about the anniversary of the Kyivan Rus Christianization, with the headline "One Faith. One Nation. One Country."

"Mayak" is a district social and political newspaper. It is published in Ukrainian weekly on Fridays in Beryslav district, Kherson region. The average print run is on 2,500–3,000 copies. The first issue was published in 1932.

We remind you that the occupiers in Kherson are printing their propaganda under the brand of the "Naddnepryanskaya Pravda" newspaper. Earlier, russians stole newspaper brands in Mariupol and Melitopol.

Cyber crimes – 1

1. Attempts to jam Suspilne's satellite signal from russian territory recorded

23.08.2022 Suspilne Broadcaster recorded another attempt to jam the signal of its channels on the Amos satellite. Dmytro Hruzynsky, Suspilne Broadcasting Networks's Director for Organization and Development, informed Detector Media about this.

According to him, on August 23, they recorded a jamming attempt, with the interference coming from russian territory.

"Since the beginning of the russian federation's full-scale war against Ukraine, we have recorded regular attempts at damaging the broadcasting of Suspilne's TV and radio programs, namely through the satellite. My colleagues and I recorded the first such attempt back in March. Then we received documentary confirmation of this from our licensed satellite relay operator, Spacecom. Another attempt happened in late May. And now, on the eve of Independence Day, on the Day of the National Flag, on August 23, they recorded yet another attempt to jam our satellite signal..." Dmytro said.

However, Suspilne's partners – "Telekanal STB" LLC, which uploads Suspilne's television and radio programs to the satellite, and Spacecom, the satellite relay operator – made efforts to ensure that the company remained on air. Although there were obstacles.

Currently, the NPTU is collecting all the necessary papers for a litigation, since there was third party interference in the work of the channels.

"I will say more: technical experts have confirmed that the interference was committed by special radio-electronic means precisely on the territory of the aggressor country. It is no secret that real Ukrainian media, especially such as Suspilne, make the occupiers 'fret,' because the power of truth that Suspilne journalists demonstrate is almost like the weapons our UAF use. That is why I say that after the Victory, both the UAF and Suspilne will be indisputable authorities," Dmytro added.

According to him, Suspilne is now looking for ways to diversify risks for the sake of security. Therefore, according to the board's decision, applications have already been submitted to the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting to amend the licenses with regards to the satellite retransmitter.

The media outlet reminds that in March, after the start of russia's full-scale offensive, there were attempts to jam the satellite signal of channels – DDoS attacks and obstruction. Suspilne channels repelled the attacks, but had to switch to a backup satellite. They do not disclose which satellite is currently more secure, so as not to subject themselves to a new flurry of attacks.

In 2016, NPTU (then NTCU) transferred all its channels to the Spacecom satellite Amos. Until now, the telecommunications operator had been the subsidiary of the Swedish group SES, SES Sirius Ukraine, and the state enterprise "Ukrkosmos." STB became the telecommunications operator.

As IMI reported, on March 1, the Suspilne Broadcaster's website was attacked. According to the broadcaster, a file-destroying virus was launched. On March 4, Ukrainian citizens started receiving emails of suspicious content, allegedly coming from Suspilne Broadcaster's press office. On March 25, Suspilne's website suffered a powerful hacker attack.

Blocking Internet access to media – 1

1. Roskomnadzor blocks russian users from accessing Kherson media outlet MOST

08.08.2022 The Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media has blocked the access to Kherson media outlet MOST for russian users.

The reason behind the block was the russian Prosecutor General's Office's demand 27-31-2022/Treb823-22 of July 15, 2022, which cited Article 15.3 of the Law "On Information, Information Technologies, and Information Protection." The demand itself is not publicly available, but the record on the website shows that the decision on the block was made on July 15, and the website was blocked on July 18, 2022. 

"We felt the block physically when we saw that the number of readers with 'russian' IPs decreased. It became clear that the russians had restricted the access, mainly for the residents of the temporarily occupied Kherson region. As you know, all Kherson providers have been using the russian communication channel for several months, so the russians can block websites themselves," MOST editor Serhii Nikitenko said.

Disabling Ukrainian broadcasting and streaming russian propaganda – 2

1. New propaganda channel opens in occupied Melitopol

01.08.2022 On August 1, new propaganda TV channel "ZaTV" started working in the occupied Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia oblast.

This was reported by a number of russian media outlets with reference to Vladimir Rogov, a self-proclaimed member of the pseudo-administration of Zaporizhia oblast.

The regional IMI representative also notes that reports about the opening of a "regional russian TV channel in the oblast" were spreading on August 1 through the main Telegram channels of local collaborators.

"ZaTV" channel was opened by the self-proclaimed head of Zaporizhzhia oblast pseudo-administration Yevhen Balytsky. On his Telegram channel, he reported that "the television channel... is a great help in matters of truth, in matters of explaining the situation, solving the problems of all residents of Zaporizhzhia oblast."

At the same time, according to Perevireno.Zaporizhzhia project, the "official Telegram channel" of the self-proclaimed head of the region is at the forefront of spreading fakes and manipulations in Zaporizhzhia oblast.

It is currently unknown who became the head of the collaborationist TV channel, which positions itself as a regional one. As IMI was able to find out, the new TV channel's studio was opened separately from the "Melitopol" (TVM) and MTV Plus TV channels. The studio was opened under the seized TV tower located in Melitopol. Although, according to Opendatabot, collaborator Yevhen Balytsky is the owner of MTV Plus Television and Radio Company LLC. It is his "LEGION" LLC that owns 100% of the TV company.

Currently, information about the TV channel "MTV Plus" on the Ukrainian- and russian-language Wikipedia pages has been edited. Namely, the description of the TV channel reads, "Melitopol TV Company is one of the largest TV companies in Zaporizhzhia oblast. It rebroadcasts the programs of the informational TV channel Rossiya 24 and also has daily four hours of its own air time, filled by informational and analytical programs on regional topics. The office is located in Melitopol at Khmelnytsky Ave. 70B, first floor." However, it is noted on the Wikipedia pages that the information about the rebroadcast (previously the TV channel would broadcast programs of the satellite channel Sonce) was edited on July 12, 2022 and is unverified.

As IMI reported, in March, the occupiers kidnapped several journalists of the MV-holding; later, the media holding closed down. Also, almost all pro-Ukrainian media stopped working in Melitopol.

2. Another propaganda newspaper is being distributed in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia oblast

29.08.2022 Propaganda newspaper "Novoye Vremya" is set to start issuing on August 29 in the Polohy District of Zaporizhzhia oblast, which is temporarily occupied by the russian army. News about this appeared on propaganda Telegram channel "Zaporozhsky Vestnik" on August 26.

The first editions of the newspaper, which is being launched for printing "thanks to the assistance from the Head of Penza region," will be distributed for free. The occupiers promise an "objective assessment of the events" taking place in the part of the region they have occupied.

The first page includes a photo of people voting in support of the pseudo-referendum which the occupiers plan to hold in the occupied territories in September. There is no caption or credit under the picture. It is also unclear where and when this photo was taken. And the article "Brotherly Helping Hand" is signed with the name Victoria Solomayko. Currently, the search of this name has yielded no results. It is also unknown who is the newspaper's editor, what is its print run, and where it is being printed.

russia-occupied Crimea – 1

1. Case against a Krym.Realii journalist for "discrediting the russian army" opened in Crimea

03.08.2022 In occupied Crimea, a case against Krym.Realii (Radio Liberty project) journalist Olena Yurchenko was opened under the article "public discreditation of the actions of the russian military," Radio Liberty reports.

The russia-controlled Kerch City Court has already taken up the administrative case. It had been brought to the court on July 18, and will be considered by judge Olena Bogdanovych. The date of the hearing is unknown.

Olena Yurchenko is a Ukrainian journalist from Kerch; she left the peninsula after Crimea was occupied in 2014 and she received threats. Since 2014, he has been working as a journalist and editor of Krym.Realii. He is the author of articles on political and economic topics, as well as publications on russia's armed invasion of Ukraine.

There are currently no details of what exactly the journalist is being accused of.

Article 20.3.3 of the Civil Code of the russian federation refers to "public actions aimed at discrediting" the russian army and the use of russian military forces abroad. The journalist faces a fine of 30,000 to 50,000 rubles. The law provides for criminal liability for similar actions committed repeatedly within a year.

We will remind you that in February, Roskomnadzor blocked the Krym.Realii website on the territory of russia and occupied Crimea.

The freedom of speech situation for which the Ukrainian side is responsible

Beatings – 1

1. Lviv oblast deputies attack a blogger during a livestream. Police opens a case

18.08.2022 Video blogger from Lviv oblast Volodymyr Yavdyk reported that deputies of the Skole territorial community attacked him, stole his phone, and the community head forbade him to film. The City Council denies Yavdyk's accusations. In the meantime, the police has opened a criminal investigation into the attack on Yavdyk.

As Volodymyr Yavdyk told IMI, on August 18, he attended a session of the city's territorial community, which he had been assigned to cover by media outlet "Bahnet Natsii." At 11 o'clock, he started the livestream in front of the City Council building and started walking into the hall where the session was to take place. According to the blogger, local deputy Vasyl Kylyniv pushed him in the passageway and a verbal quarrel occurred between them. Then the video blogger went into the session hall, but the community head Mykola Romanyshyn forbade him to film.

"I show the deputies, I stand there in the corner so as not to disturb anyone, they play the national anthem, the chairman sees me. The session begins and the chairman says, 'Operator, turn off the camera.' Why should I turn it off? At that moment, we somewhat raised our voices. I admit that I was wrong, I overreacted. I asked which law says I have to turn off the camera, and he said it was martial law. I say, show me the document, your session is open, why should I not film it. He stops the session, says, call the police. I walk up close to him, the other deputies walk up behind me, he distracts me, tries to take away my phone, which I'm using to stream. Fails to pry the phone out of my hands, I step back, and they immediately attack me," the video blogger said.

According to Volodymyr Yavdyk, deputy Vasyl Kylyniv grabbed him by the neck and put him down onto the ground. "At the moment when he threw me down, the phone falls from the selfie stick and lands between the seats. He's holding me and beating me, while the other deputies run around looking for the phone. You can hear him hitting me on the phone, many people got into the frame. Then they take the phone in their hands, he sees that the phone has been found, starts beating me even more. And you can hear all this live. They could not turn off the phone. When he (Kylyniv – Ed.) saw that I didn't have the phone, he let me go," Yavdyk added.

In a comment to IMI, the head of the Skole city territorial community Mykola Romanyshin noted that he did not ban the video blogger from attending the meeting, but recommended not to hold a livestream and instead to post a recording.

"At the very beginning, he filmed himself, showing, 'I am going to a session, there may be provocations.' That means he deliberately decided to create such provocations. Starting by filming the City Council's administrative building, bothering the elderly, the deputies. We are operating under martial law, there are several dozen people there so as not to expose anyone to danger. But he started interrupting, 'Who are you, why are you telling me nonsense.' The dispute got to the point where I interrupted the session and the police were called, because he was interfering with our work. He then started shouting, yelling, approached me, snagged our deputy, tore his shirt, lost his phone, I don't know how. He lay down on the floor, started screaming, 'Don't hit me,' started shouting, 'Call the police,' because he'd lost his phone. He ripped the panel coverings off the central heating radiator as if someone was hiding somewhere there, thus damaging the City Council's property, in fact. This has all been recorded," said Romanyshyn.

Later, the police and the investigative task force arrived at the scene. Yavdyk filed a statement for obstruction of filming. After the incident, the authorities opened a case under Part 2 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (deliberately inflicting beatings, light or moderate physical injuries on a journalist, his close relatives or family members, due to their legal professional activities).

Also on this day, the blogger and the paramedics went to a local hospital, where, according to him, the doctors refused to give him an appointment. Yavdyk suggests that the reason is that two heads of healthcare facilities are local council deputies.

"I felt ill. They did not want to see me, I called the police, they sent me to Lviv. There, the doctor took an X-ray and sent me back to Skole. I refused to see me again, I called the police again. Then the doctor told me to do an MRI. Did it in Drohobych. Passed the forensic examination. Two hernias, osteochondrosis, I can't turn my neck around, bruises, strangulation," the blogger said.

Yavdyk connects the attack on himself with his hobby, blogging, since he is an electrician by profession. "I work with various media, they give me certificates, editorial assignments. After work, I cover illegal deforestation, theft, corruption. In 2021, I opened cases against the chairman and deputies who were giving land away into the wrong hands. They are all mad at me," the video blogger said.

Instead, the head of the community, Mykola Romanyshin, noted: "He claims he is a journalist from Bahnet Natsii. This media outlet was registered in Donetsk, then re-registered in Dnipro. He was given an ID to walk around, to shout something. His friends are the antivaxxer Stakhiv, the collaborator Stremousov, who is currently in the Kherson occupation administration. He is only PR-ing himself in order to become someone."

According to Romanyshyn, he and Yavdyk are currently in the middle of court proceedings which involve the examination of facts that have been confirmed by linguistic expertise, that suggest that in his videos, the blogger does not assume certain facts about Mykola Romanyshyn, but presents them as statements.

IMI lawyer Roman Holovenko notes that there are currently no restrictions on filming or livestreaming local council meetings.

"Currently, there are no restrictions on filming or livestreaming local council meetings (and in general, restrictions on the collection and distribution of information during martial law are clearly insufficiently developed by the lawmakers). This applies not only to the work of journalists, but to any citizen (the scope of their rights is not very different, in fact). Some of Volodymyr Yavdyk's videos can indeed be viewed as antivaxx agenda, but if it is a livestream or just a video recording of a session, there are no grounds to oppose the filming itself, nor any grounds to take away gadgets or prevent the filming in any other way, because in the case the person's journalist status is confirmed, the offender may face criminal responsibility," Roman Holovenko said.

Obstruction of legal journalistic activities – 1

1. Rivne City Council prevents a journalist from attending an event, tries to keep it secret

09.08.2022 Rivne City Council tried to prevent Chetverta Vlada journalist Yaroslava Nikityuk from attending its standing committee's meeting with entrepreneurs. The editors write that this is the first such violation in a long time.

Chetverta Vlada reports this.

The journalist came to the meeting, which the media learned about from their own sources, as the City Council did not announce the event.

The editors suspected that the event was being kept secret deliberately, because it was preceded by a conflict. Moreover, according to the media outlet, some corruption could be taking place behind closed doors. The meeting was preceded by a conflict with the entrepreneurs who had worked in a local park until they were kicked out and replaced by others. After this, the officials decided to meet with the businessmen, who had some questions to ask them.

Oksana Vlasyuk, the head of the information and analytical support department at the City Executive Committee, initially did not allow the journalist to attend the deputy committee's meeting, arguing that it was an internal event. Subsequently, the chief expert of the City Council's organizational support department Oleksiy Shklyarenko tried to prevent the journalist from entering as well.

After Yaroslava Nikityuk's insistence, the committee's head, Tamara Tymoshchuk, came down to the journalist and referred to the event as an "internal meeting" again, but in the end allowed the Cetverta Vlada representative to attend it.

As a reminder, journalists are allowed to freely visit the premises of bodies of state power. Article 25 of the Law of Ukraine "On Information" guarantees this.

"If the event is closed, there must be an according decision, which must be presented at the media worker's request. If something contradicts the legal acts of the local self-government body or limits the journalist's rights established by law, such actions can be qualified as obstruction of legitimate journalistic activity," said Yevhen Vorobyov, a lawyer from Human Rights Platform CSO, in his comment to Chetverta Vlada.

Censorship. Information access

Information access – 2

1. Rivne officials deny journalists access to information, use war as an excuse

09.08.2022 For three months, Chetverta Vlada editors tried to get a response to their requests for access to public information from local councils, utility companies, and the court. However, no information has been provided, with russia's military aggression being used as a justification. There are no military operations ongoing in Rivne region and institutions are working as usual.

Chetverta Vlada reports this.

Journalists tried to get information on the salaries of city mayors and their deputies. However, Rivne, Varash, Dubno City Councils provided none.

Also, the journalists were unable to obtain any information about the time frames of the examination of some specific cases by the Rivne City Court and about sewer networks in Rivneoblvodokanal, as well as a list of people who received corporate housing from the Rivne City Council.

In all cases, the excuse was more or less the same – they are not going to provide information until the martial law is lifted.

Moreover, the Rivne City Council has classified the information about persons who had received corporate housing as "limited access" information, the disclosure of which during martial law and the full-scale russian invasion could cause significant damage to the national security interests and the territorial integrity of the state. "Because it can negatively affect the performance by the above-mentioned bodies of their constitutional functions," Rivne Council replied.

The editors of Chetverta Vlada believe that in this way, city officials want to illegaly hide the distribution of residences to prosecutors.

Media lawyer of the Human Rights Platform CSO Lyudmila Opryshko believes that the fact that the war really is what prevents the officials from fulfilling their obligations, i.e. responding to journalists' requests, is yet to be proven. She believes that with the beginning of russia's large-scale armed aggression on the territory of Ukraine, various authorities and structures found themselves in different conditions.

"It is clear that those of them who are on the front line, the nearby areas, or in temporarily occupied territories cannot fulfill the requirements of the law 'On access to public information,'" Lyudmila Opryshko said to Chetverta Vlada.

2. Zaporizhzhia City Council closes access to all its decisions

17.08.2022 A few days after Zaporizhzhia City Council's last meeting, which was held on July 27, officials closed access to the Council's draft decisions, providing no explanation. journalist Elmira Shagabutdynova informed the regional representative of the IMI about this. City Council member Andriy Sohorin also posted about this on his Facebook page.

On August 13, he posted a screenshot of a chat message where deputies were being informed that "according to the Mayors March 31, 2022 order 'On the temporary restriction of access to public information during martial law,' access to public information is being limited, which is why ZCC's draft decisions will be submitted to this chat for perusal every Tuesday."

According to journalist Elmira Shagabutdynova, from now on, journalists cannot access information on the allocation of budget funds or changes to city programs related to healthcare, housing and communal services, ecology, and many other things.

"In recent months, decisions approved at the meetings have not been published at all. First, they did not publish the orders of the Council's temporary acting Chairman, and then they stopped making absolutely all draft decisions public. Moreover, the officials even removed all those decisions that had been published earlier, in June–July and in late May. Now the latest documents on the website are dated May 17," she said.

According to her, the decisions related to the city's activities, people's safety, and distribution of taxpayers' money should be transparent at all times, because there are risks that officials may exploit these restrictions for their own benefit.

"For example, we have already seen that during the war, the City Council's Culture and Tourism Department purchased generators at almost twice the market price, and "City Heating Networks" planned to pay over a hundred thousand hryvnias for Columbian coffee at a crazy markup, and only the mass media publicity made it possible to avoid this," she said.

According to Roman Holovenko, a media lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, such a decision of the Zaporizhzhia City Council is illegal.

"In the Law 'On Access to Public Information,' force majeure circumstances are only mentioned as the reason for delaying request fulfilments (Part 6, Article 22), not the proactive disclosure of information by the administration body (Article 15). It is clear that such an approach on City Council's part does not comply with the law. If their draft decisions contain certain information that the enemy may exploit, then the decision should be published with redactions, with relevant words, phrases, images, etc. omitted (Part 8, Article 6 of the Law 'On Access to Public Information')," the media lawyer said.

Indirect pressure

Stalking journalists – 1

1. Journalist Vitaliy Portnykov finds a bugging device in his apartment

10.08.2022 Journalist Vitaly Portnikov found an eavesdropping device – a voice recorder that can run for a long time – in his home in Lviv. This was first reported by people's deputy Mykola Knyazhytsky, writes

He noted that the police and the Security Service of Ukraine were called to the scene.

In his comment for, Vitaliy Portnykov explained that he had found the bugging device while cleaning the apartment. He has been renting this Lviv apartment since February this year. He believes that this may have to do with his journalistic work.

"The relevant authorities are working here now. It's a classic eavesdropping device that had been thrown in behind the sofa. I found it by accident. I'd like to know what it's about, but it's for the experts to establish when it got here: before I rented this apartment, or during this time. I could assume that it has something to do with my journalistic work, but I would prefer not to," he says.

Online pressure

Cyber crimes – 1

1. Editor-in-chief of Kherson media outlet MOST reports a hacking attempt on his Telegram account

31.08.2022 Unknown persons tried to gain access to the Telegram account belonging to Serhiy Nikitenko, the editor of the Kherson website MOST. He told IMI about this.

This morning, he started receiving texts and phone calls from US numbers, which made it clear that someone was trying to access his account.

As can be seen from the messages, the attempt to gain access was coming from Ukraine, though the IP address belongs to a Polish mobile operator.

The attackers entered the code correctly, but failed to guess the two-factor authentication password.

Freedom of speech defense

The authorities' reposns to freedom of speech violations – 2

1. Zhytomyr Court acquits the security guard accused of obstructing and threatening a journalist

23.08.2022 The Korolovsky District Court of Zhytomyr declared the security guard accused of obstructing the work of "Antirating" investigation program journalist Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky and threatening him innocent and acquitted him.

The court passed such a sentence on August 23, reports Sudovy Reporter.

According to the court ruling, in August 2021, the founder and editor-in-chief of CSO "Anticorruption Rating" Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky arrived to film a story about illegal construction on the bank of the Teteriv river, where the land is communally owned. In particular, he knew that a deputy of the Zhytomyr City Council lived there. The journalist was accompanied by his wife, who acted as cameraperson and held a small video camera in her hands.

On the spot, the journalist met a stranger whom he mistook for a security guard. He asked where exactly the deputy lived, and said that he was headed to the river, to which the man did not object. Kryzhanivsky did not introduce himself to security guard as a journalist and did not explain the real purpose of his visit. He and his wife started filming, using the video camera and a mobile phone. The deputy was absent at the place. But the journalists met one of the residents who lived nearby and interviewed him.

After recording the interview, the journalist and camerawoman headed towards the exit. They intended to wait for the deputy and record the boat base premises using a drone.

At that time, a security guard approached the journalist, handed him a mobile phone and asked him to talk to an unknown man. The journalist introduced himself as the editor-in-chief of the "Antirating" project. His interlocutor on the phone started explaining that the deputy did not live on the territory of the boat base. But the journalist objected, referring to the fact that the security guard had just confirmed this to him.

The latter, hearing this information (which according to him is untrue), grabbed a wooden bat and began to chase the journalist and the camerawoman out, uttering threats and cursing.

Fearing for their wellbeing, the journalist and camerawoman left the territory of the boat base without waiting for the deputy to return and decided against filming from the drone.

The accused claimed that he did not know that the victim was a journalist, since he had not identified himself, had not shown his ID, and hadn't had a press card on his clothes. Arriving at the boat base, he had not mentioned that he planned to make a report. The accused did not see him filming. He also had no idea that the object that the victim was holding in his hand was a microphone, and that the photocamera-like object in the woman's hands was a video camera.

The accused imagines a journalist as a person with a large video camera and carrying a press card.

Instead, the victim believes that the security guard could have told that he was a journalist, because during the phone conversation that was happening in his presence, Kryzhanivsky called himself "editor."

The accused denied this, saying that he had understood that to mean that the victim was a book editor. During the phone call, the guest in his presence started telling lies about the information on the deputy's place of residence that Kryzhanivsky had allegedly received from him. This angered him. Thus, acting on emotion, he took a wooden bet and drove the man out of the base. He sees the victim's behavior as provocative, but his assessment of his own actions is now negative as well.

It was clear from the documents that a month before the conflict, the local deputy indeed rented a house on the riverbank. Interrogated as a witness, the deputy said that he had known the victim to be a journalist for a long time. That day, he was just leaving the base when he noticed that a journalist had filmed him on his mobile phone. Later, he learned about the fight with the security guard from the media. He believes that the journalist's actions were provocative, since he could have contacted him and gotten all the information, which is what he did later.

According to the court, the fact that the victim did not introduce himself as a journalist and did not announce the filming was confirmed by the testimonies of the victim himself and his wife, as well as by the video recordings of the event.

The court was critical of the possibility the accused could have recognized the person as a journalist by standing next to him during a phone conversation, in which the victim had called himself the editor-in-chief of the Antirating project.

Accusations cannot be based on assumptions. And all doubts regarding the proof of a person's guilt are interpreted in the person's favor.

As IMI reported, in June 2022, the Korolovsky District Court of Zhytomyr started the trial in the case of attack on Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky, a journalist of the investigation program "Antirating."

On August 19, 2021, in Zhytomyr, during the filming of the journalist investigation program "Antirating," a security guard of the private buildings on the Teteriv riverbank attacked journalist Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky with his fists and threatened him.

Zhytomyr District Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the threat of violence against journalists (Part 1 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

On May 6, 2022, Zhytomyr region authorities notified a Zhytomyr resident of suspicion for threatening Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky, a journalist with the Antirating investigation program, and interfering with filming the buildings on Teteriv riverbank. The suspicion note was issued under Part 1 of Art. 345-1 (threat of violence made against a journalist due to performance by this journalist of his/her lawful professional activity) and Part 1 of Art. 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (willful preclusion of lawful professional activities of journalists).

In May, 2022, the Zhytomyr Regional Prosecutor's Office sumitted an indictment to the court against a Zhytomyr resident for threatening journalist Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky and obstructing the filming of a video about the development of the Teteriv riverbank.

2. SBU opens case for possible stalking of Vitaliy Portnykov

12.08.2022 The Lviv Regional Office of the SBU opened a case regarding the alleged stalking of journalist Vitaliy Portnykov, Detector Media reports, citing the SBU press office.

The criminal proceedings are registered under Part 1 of Art. 359 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (illegal acquisition, sale, or use of special technical devices for obtaining information).

At the moment, examinations have been scheduled to establish whether the object discovered in the journalist's apartment is really a special technical device and whether it can be used to covertly obtain information.

On August 10, it became known that Vitaliy Portnykov had found what is possibly a bugging device in his apartment. The journalist moved to Lviv in February, following the start of the full-scale invasion. In a comment to Detector Media, the journalist said that he did not associate the stalking to any specific publications and had no assumptions about who had brought this equipment to his home.

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