HOTLINE(050) 447-70-63
We are available 24/7
Leave your contact details
and we contact you
Thank you for reaching out

Or contact us:

[email protected]

(050) 447-70-63

File a complaint

Freedom of Speech Barometer for January 2024

07.02.2024, 10:30
Freedom of Speech Barometer. Edit by the IMI
Freedom of Speech Barometer. Edit by the IMI

In January 2024, IMI experts recorded 23 freedom of speech violations in Ukraine. Of these, the responsibility lies with the Ukrainian side in 17 cases. This is evidenced by the monthly monitoring "Freedom of Speech Barometer" by the Institute of Mass Information.

During the same period last year, these figures were significantly different, as the IMI recorded 10 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine, nine of which were committed by Russia and targeted the media and journalists.

The six Russian crimes in January 2024 include firing at and injuring journalists, cyber attacks, legal pressure and damage a media office as a result of missile strikes.

Types and numbers of violations recorded by the IMI in January 2024

At least three journalists from Ukrainian and foreign media crews were injured by Russian shelling. For instance, the crew of the Turkish news agency Anadolu were injured by the Russian shelling strike of the Park Hotel in Kharkiv. The journalists said that they were shocked by the audacity of the Russians, since this site was exclusively civilian and no military personnel were present. The Ukrainian fixer for the TV channel France 2, Violetta Pedorych, was also injured by the strike. Now she has a glass shard stuck in the bridge of her nose, which the doctors plan to observe for some time.

Furthermore, Radio Liberty reporter Dmytro Yevchyn was injured on the front line on January 17. He and cameraman Mykyta Isayko came under artillery fire while filming a TV story near Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia oblast. Dmytro Yevchyn received a shrapnel wound in the leg and was timely evacuated and taken to a hospital.

The mass shelling strike on Kyiv on January 2 damaged the NV office building. Radio NV editor-in-chief, Oleksiy Tarasov, says that some windows were blown out and the entrance door was blown away. The team had to postpone the broadcast for two hours.

At the same time, IMI recorded 17 freedom of speech violations for which Ukrainian citizens are responsible. These include cases of death threats, preclusion, surveillance, restriction of access to public information, indirect pressure and cyber crime.

January 2024 turned out to be a month full of pressure and persecution for Ukrainian journalists. Investigative journalist Yuriy Nikolov and the Bihus.Info team were subjected to pressure, wiretapping and surveillance.

Kherson oblast journalist Oleh Baturyn reported violent threats and contacted the police over them. He believes that the threats have to do with his reporting on the current Kherson Oblast Council deputy Valeriy Saltykov registering his business in Russia.

Two more journalists, Iryna Hryb from Odesa and "Politerno" chief editor Andriy Shchesnyak (Ternopil), reported being surveilled. Iryna Hryb discovered a listening and tracking device in her car. She believes that the surveillance has to do with her report on the Odesa oblast grain corridor, which, according to her, featured representatives of the Odesa Oblast Military Administration, the Bureau of Economic Security, the Odesa Customs Offie and the Tax Office.

Andriy Shchesniak reported surveillance and covert police actions. The editor believes that the surveillance has to do with his earlier articles (from November 2023) about the oblast police chief, Serhiy Zyubanenko. He believes that, following these articles, the Ternopil City Joint Territorial Center for Staffing and Social Support began a covert investigation of him, serving his mother with a draft notice for him. Both media workers contacted the police with statements accordingly.

Two journalists, Natalia Rop from NV.ua and Alina Kondratenko from "Watchers", reported preclusion. Nataliya Rop says that "Pryamiy" TV host Peter Zalmayev interfered with her work and was rude to her. He prevented her from recording a pre-arranged interview the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden in Switzerland. When the journalist refused to let her colleague ask the Minister a question, Zalmayev used obscene language with her.

Alina Kondratenko was barred by court security from attending an open hearing at the Solomyansk District Court of Kyiv in the case about the Motor Sich ex-CEO Vyacheslav Bohuslaev. The journalist was asked to submit a petition "on her wish to be present". The court security said that there were not enough seats in the courtroom, mentioning possible explosives inside, the air raid alert and even the lunch break. The defense also cited the presiding judge's order to limit the audience admitted into the courtroom in view of the martial law. At the same time, the participants and journalists who agreed to file a "petition about their wish to be present" were allowed to attend the meeting despite all the listed "obstacles".

Read the full monitoring below:

RUSSIA'S CRIMES

Journalists injured – 3

1. France 2 fixer injured by the Kharkiv hotel strike

10.01.2024 At the moment of the January 10 Russian shelling strike on the Park Hotel in Kharkiv, journalists for the TV channel France 2 were present in the building. The channel's Ukrainian fixer Violetta Pedorych was injured, Ukrinform reports.

The journalists were checking into the hotel and were in the hallway at the time of the strike. Although they remained unharmed, one of the members of the group, Violetta Pedorych, was injured: the galss shards cut her face and hand.

Violetta provided Ukrinform with a video she filmed immediately after the attack.

2. Anadolu crew injured by the air strike on Kharkiv

10.01.2024 Journalist Davit Kachkachishvili and photographer Özge Elif Kızıl of the Turkish news agency Anadolu were injured by the Russian shelling strike of the Park Hotel in Kharkiv on January 10, reports the news agency.

According to the media outlet, the upper floors of the hotel were completely destroyed. The journalist and the photographer were taken to a hospital for examination by an ambulance. Kachkachishvili has minor cuts on his hands.

The crew's car was destroyed, as were most of the cars parked nearby.

The head of the Kharkiv Oblast Military Administration, Oleh Synehubov, said that the Russians fired two S-300 missiles at the hotel around 10:30 p.m.

According to the Kharkiv Oblast Prosecutor's Office, 13 people were injured by the shelling, including the two Anadolu employees, who are citizens of Turkiye and Georgia.

As of now, 10 people have been hospitalised, and three received medical assistance on the spot. The missiles are said to have been fired from the Belgorod region of Russia.

The police have opened a pre-trial investigation into violation of the laws and customs of war (Part 1 of Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov stressed that the strike was targeting civilian infrastructure, not a military facility.

Volodymyr Tymoshko, the head of the Main Office of the National Police in the Kharkiv oblast, said that Russia had shelled the hotel in Kharkiv deliberately and that all the victims were civilians.

"They are all civilians, including foreign journalists, they work in Kharkiv oblast, Donetsk oblast, reporting the truth about the crimes committed by the ruscists on Ukrainian soil. Russia hit the hotel deliberately – a 4-meter-deep crater was discovered on the spot, and a Russian rocket destroyed another building nearby," Tymoshko said.

In a comment to Suspilne, Tymoshko reported that the hotel struck by the Russians was predominantly used by foreign journalists.

"Soldiers have never stayed in this hotel, almost all of Kharkiv knows that. This hotel was used by journalists. It was a well-known fact. At the time of the attack, foreign journalists, namely from Turkiye, were staying in the hotel. This leads me to believe that the Russian Federation was targeting the mass media specifically," he said.

The journalists said that they were shocked by the audacity of the Russians, since this site was exclusively civilian and no military personnel were present.

3. Radio Liberty journalist Dmytro Yevchyn wounded while reporting from the front line

17.01.2024 Dmytro Yevchyn, a reporter for Krym.Realii (a Radio Liberty project), was injured in the Zaporizhzhia oblast on the morning of January 17, reports Radio Liberty.

The filming crew consisting of journalist Dmytro Yevchyn and cameraman Mykyta Isayko came under artillery fire while filming a TV story in the Zaporizhzhia oblast. The journalists were working near the front line settlement Robotyne.

Dmytro Yevchyn received a shrapnel wound in the leg from mortar shelling. Ukrainian soldiers and the cameraman provided him with first aid and evacuated him to a stabilization point in a nearby village, later transporting him to a hospital in Zaporizhzhia.

According to the doctors, the surgery was completed successfully; Dmytro Yevchyn will remain in intensive care for the time being.

Dmytro Yevchyn has been working for Krym.Realii (Radio Liberty) since 2018, hosting TV programs and producing high-profile stories about life in Crimea under Russian occupation. Since the start of Russia's large-scale invasion into Ukraine in 2022, he has been covering the combat operations, working on the front line. Together with cameraman Mykita Isayko, he has been reporting from the front line in the southern segment of the Ukraine–Russia front.

Seizing, attacking, shelling media offices – 1

1. NV office damaged by the Russian strike on Kyiv

02.01.2024 Russia's mass shelling strike on Kyiv on January 2 damagd the NV office building and the House of Cinema.

Presenter Serhiy Fursa spoke about the damage to the NV office on Radio NV. This information was confirmed to Detector Media by the Radio NV editor-in-chief, Oleksiy Tarasov, who is currently in Lviv.

"Honestly, I know no more than the others. This morning, the NV office in Kyiv was damaged by Russian shelling: some windows were blown out, the entrance door was blown away, some things fell from the ceiling. Due to all this, we had to postpone our broadcast for two hours today," said Tarasov.

According to him, the overall damage is not critical.

"As far as I know, the doors of our office have already been fixed somehow, the windows are now being addressed. Of course, those who experienced the shrapnel hitting their workplace are scared. Everything around is burning and exploding, and people have to go on air. These are unworkable conditions. Today's events forced us to revisit the idea of creating a backup studio in some kind of bunker, that is, in a safe place, so that we could avoid both interrupting the air and exposing our colleagues to danger. Now we are looking into technical ways to achieve this," said Tarasov.

The head of Ukraine's National Union of Cinematographers, Serhiy Bordeniuk, reported the damage to the glass facade of the Cinema House on Facebook and posted a photo.

He considers the incident to be symbolic: a banner for the 100th anniversary of the classic Ukrainian director, Serhiy Paradzhanov, was to be erected in the damaged spot in a few days.

"The House of Cinema and the Union members have proven more than once that they are doomed to resist any encroachment. The remembrance evening for the "dangerously free man" Serhiy Paradzhanov will take place! We invite you to the House of Cinema on January 9 at 6 p.m. for a solemn event honoring the Maestro and an action showing resilience, will, and absolute readiness to fight against the enemy's ignominy!" Bordeniuk wrote.

Legal pressure – 1

1. Russia declares Dmytro Gordon a wanted person again

29.01.2024 The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia declared the founder of the "Gordon" website, Dmytro Gordon, a wanted person again, reports "Nastoyastchee Vremya", citing pro-Kremlin media.

Gordon's photo appeared in the wanted persons database of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. This may be related to the initiation of a new criminal case against him, over "public incitement to terrorism", write the Russian news agencies.

Russia has already declared Dmytro Gordon a wanted person on July 19, 2022.

Earlier, in March 2022, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation initiated a criminal case against Gordon under articles on public appeals for aggressive war, inciting nationality-based hatred or enmity, and public dissemination of false information about the actions of the Russian armed forces.

Russia has also included Gordon in the list of organizations and individuals considered to be involved in extremist activities or terrorism. In September 2022, the Ministry of Justice of Russia added him to the list of "foreign agents".

Cyber attacks – 1

1. "Ukrainian Pravda" reports a DDoS attack but the website is back to normal

24.01.2024 "Ukrainian Pravda" reported a DDoS attack, but the team has already restored access to the site.

In a comment to IMI, the media outlet's editor-in-chief Sevgil Musaieva explained that the website is often under attack and the website may be down again.

According to her, identifying the people behind the attack is possible after the fact, but usually it is Russian hackers.

"The attacks vary in intensity. Today's attack is very intense," Musaieva noted.

She also added that the editors do not believe the attack has to do with any specific article. The Russians attack large websites and projects in this way.

As IMI reported, on January 13, 2024, the media outlet "Censor.Net" suffered a cyber attack that lasted for at least six hours.

THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH SITUATION IN UKRAINE FOR WHICH UKRAINIAN CITIZENS ARE RESPONSIBLE

PHYSICAL AGGRESSION

Death threats – 3

1. Khesron oblast journalist reports death threats to the police

04.01.2024 On January 4, journalist Oleh Baturyn from Kakovka filed a statement with the National Police of Ukraine regarding a crime committed under Part 1 of Art. 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – threats or violence against a journalist.

He wrote about this on Facebook and shared the details with the IMI.

According to Baturyn, he did this due to an atypical surge in death threats that he started to receive recently.

"Since it started after the release of a report saying that a current deputy of the Kherson Oblast Council from the European Solidarity party, Valeriy Saltykov, registered his business with the Russians, I believe this wave of death threats to be a response to this material specifically," he wrote.

As Oleh Baturyn told the IMI representative in the Kherson oblast, the death threats come from various people, both anonymous and not, and the senders include other public figures, but all the threats are similar.

"Since the wave of threats began after the material about Valeriy Saltykov was released, I consider him or his associates to be the initiators. They threaten me, try to convince me that Valeriy Saltykov is honest and good, leak my personal data and photos with 'announcements' of sexual character. Prior to that, in 2022–2023, I have received various death threats from anonymous sources, with hints of their origin (collaborators, traitors, Russian citizens). However, these threats were few and far in between. Now I see signs of a deliberate hate campaign and death threats, which I associate with my reporting and the material about Valeriy Saltykov," he said.

According to the regional representative of the IMI, Valeriy Saltykov is in the temporarily occupied part of the Kherson oblast and contacting him for a comment on Oleh Baturyn's words is impossible.

Earlier, the head of the regional European Solidarity branch, Oksana Pohomiy, reported that Valeriy Saltykov would be expelled from the party and an imperative mandate will be applied to him.

The journalist also recalled that he had previously contacted the police regarding death threats due related to his reporting. In 2019, he filed a statement against Pavlo Filipchuk, then a Kherson Oblast Council deputy from the Opposition Bloc, now the head of the occupation administration of Kakhovka. "Then the police was reluctant to even register my statement about death threats from Filipchuk, because, as the policemen explained to me, they were afraid of him," he added.

2. Journalist Yuriy Nikolov says someone tried to break into his apartment

15.01.2024 Investigative journalist Yuriy Nikolov reported an attempt at intimidation: unknown men tried to break into his apartment on January 14. He wrote about it on Facebook.

According to him, these persons "were trying to break through the door, shouted that I should go serve in the army," and covered the door with paper notes.

Nikolov said that he himself was not at home, but his mother was, and the men's actions frightened her.

"So these freaks only scared my old mother, who lives with me after recovering from an oncological disease, because she has no one else: her second son is in Avdiivka, her adult grandson – fighting near Kupyansk," he wrote.

After that, Nikolov noted, the attackers posted a video of themselves trying to break into his home on the Telegram channel "Kartochny Ofis".

The journalist considers this incident to be an act of intimidation and noted that the ex-Minister of Defense, Oleksiy Reznikov, promised to open a case against him after his reporting on corruption schemes in military procurement.

"I don't even know which degenerate came up with an idea to intimidate a journalist. A year ago, Reznikov asked the SBU to open a case for undermining defense capabilities over my article on corruption in military procurement," Nikolov wrote.

He also added that in all interviews with Ukrainian and foreign media, he constantly said that this was the only instance of pressure that he faced during the invasion.

"But I see that someone decided to change this situation," Nikolov wrote.

In a comment to the IMI Nikolov noted that he had not filed a statement to the police on this matter, but was in contact with the law enforcers. The initiative to look into the details of the incident came from the police.

"I am in contact with them. If there is any news, I will come out and announce it publicly. I'm not trying to hide anything. Now we are deciding what is the better and more appropriate way to go about it," Nikolov said.

When asked whether this provocation could be related to his criticism of the President on UP-CHAT a few weeks ago, when Nikolov called the President a "dodger", the journalist replied:

"An hour ago, a the Telegram channel 'Joker' posted the video with a caption noting that it 'serves Nikolov right for mouthing off about our President.' It seems that some person of limited intellectual capabilities decided to add some new colors to the scandal and hint that this is the revenge I get for criticizing the president. The fools did this to add some weight to the arguments of those who say that Ukraine has freedom of speech problems."

Yuriy said that the provocation went on for about half an hour, according to his mother. The men left, then came back and continued knocking on the door.

He himself could not come because he was too far away.

It should be noted that a provocative post about Yuri Nikolov was shared by the Telegram channels "Vertykal" and "Joker" at about the same time.

We remind you that Yuriy Nikolov exposes corruption in his materials. In particular, on January 21, 2023, his article about overpriced food for Ukrainian military personnel was released in "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia".

Following the article, the prices under the deals made by the Ministry of Defense were reduced in an amount that should save about 6 billion hryvnias per year. A bill was also passed to open procurement prices for non-weapon related military purchases up for better public scrutiny. The head of the Ministry of Defense department at the time, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and the relevant deputy minister, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, were dismissed from their positions and are currently under investigation.

Later, the police identified five people who tried to break into the apartment of investigative journalist Yury Nikolov. On January 20, their apartments were searched and the police carried out a series of investigative actions there, seizing computer equipment and mobile phones used by the suspects to film their "visit" to the journalist.

3. "Kremenchutsky Telegraf" receives a letter threatening to bomb their office, finds no explosives

23.01.2024 On January 23, the "Kremenchutsky Telegraf" team (Poltava region) received a letter threatening to blow up their office. However, the police, who arrived at the journalists's call, found no explosives on the site.

The media outlet's editor-in-chief, Lesya Lazorenko, reported this to the IMI's the regional representative.

According to the journalist, the team received a letter to their corporate email address.

"The text was very concise. Only the threat to blow up the editorial office. That's it. Before that, the staff has received no such messages," said Lazorenko.

She is unsure which articles by the outlet could have triggered such a message. However, Lazorenko adds, they are currently reporting on topics related to officials' declarations and public procurement deals.

Lesya Lazorenko hopes that "the police identifies the 'wannabe miners' and we get an answer as to who is behind such pranks, an enemy from outside or those who attracted our journalists' attention."

She also thanked the police for a prompt response to their report and posted a video of the service dog Karat looking for explosives in the walls of the office on her Facebook.

Preclusion of legal journalistic work – 3

1. NV journalist reports preclusion and rude remarks by "Pryamiy" host Zalmayev

18.01.2024 NV correspondent Natalia Rop reports preclusion and rude remarks by Peter Zalmayev, a "Pryamiy" TV channel host. The journalist wrote about this on Facebook and shared the details with the IMI.

According to her, the incident happened at the Ukrainian embassy in Davos, Switzerland, while she was interviewing the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs after a panel in the Ukrainian House. Rop notes that she had arranged the interview in advance with the Minister's communications team and only had five minutes to ask her questions after a World Economic Forum panel.

"And then, in the middle of the conversation, a man bursts in, puts down his phone, starts recording our interview and waving his hands at me. I ignore it and continue with my questions. Then, at some point, the man waving his hands and preventing me from talking starts telling me: 'Don't be greedy!' Then: 'Girl, please, let me ask a question,'" Rop wrote.

The journalist says that she explained to Zalmayev that the interview had been pre-arranged and continued her conversation with the Minister. "The man kept trying to intrude in the conversation, and at some point, when I prevented him from doing so, he said: 'Bitch.' Both me and the Minister were puzzled by this behaviour. I can't imagine how puzzled the Minister would have been if he could interpret the Pryamiy host's remarks," added the correspondent.

Following this incident, Rop complained about Zalmayev's inappropriate behavior to the organizers of Deciding Your Tomorrow (one of the projects organized annually during the World Economic Forum by the Ukrainian businessman Viktor Pinchuk's foundation. – Ed.). He denied caling her a "bitch".

"And when I said that it was recorded on audio, he started saying that he wasn't addressing me. I told him that I would make it public, to which Zalmayev replied something along the lines of: maybe that will bring you at least some fame. I ended this useless conversation, and after a few minutes Zalmayev started chasing after me, saying, 'Let's make peace' and 'What, are you going to be mad at me forever now?'" noted the NV correspondent.

In her comment to the IMI, Nataliya Rop clarified that Zalmayev later apologized in the comments under her Facebook post.

"I only now saw this post and haven't had a chance to react before accusations from colleagues started pouring in. i tried to apologize to you in person but you refused to speak with me. I understand, as that is your choice and I respect it. Let me simply quickly say here that, though i do not agree with all the details of the situation, i deeply regret that it happened and apologize to you for it. And i hope that it doesn't distract us from working on behalf of Ukraine at such a sensitive moment for our country, here in Davos," wrote Zalmayev.

"He noted that he did not agree with all the details of the situation I described. I don't understand what he means by that. And he also said that he regrets what happened and apologizes. A little later, he approached me personally. He said he was sorry and started asking what he could do to fix the situation," the correspondent said.

According to her, she replied to him as follows: “First of all, don't ever do that to anyone again; secondly, our conversation is over."

"He started asking if I was refusing his apology, and I had to repeat at least twice to this person that our conversation was over. That's where we parted ways," the media woman stressed.

She considers Zalmayev's actions to be a preclusion to journalistic work, as his remarks and interventions at the very least prevented her from focusing on the questions and the Minister's replies and having a proper conversation.

"I told this person during the interview that we were having a pre-arranged conversation with the Minister, but he continued to insert his comments. In addition to obstructing my work, this is also plain unprofessionalism and lack of manners," the journalist added.

Since yesterday, January 17, the IMI has asked Peter Zalmayev for a comment on social media, but he did not reply despite having read the message and did not pick up the phone.

The IMI is ready to give him the floor to share his perspective on the conflict.

2. Kryvy Rih City Council security bars 0564.ua editor from attending a commission meeting

18.01.2024 The editor-in-chief of the local website 0564.ua, Svitlana Romanenko, says that she was barred from attending a meeting of the Kryvy Rih City Council commission on place names (renaming) on January 18. The media worker informed the IMI representative about this.

According to Romanenko, the municipal guard did not let her in, arguing that the meeting was off limits.

"In our opinion, in the opinion of the journalists, my colleagues, there is no reason to hold this meeting behind closed doors, there is no objective reason for it to be some kind of regime meeting. In fact, if the commission did not include Olha Honchar (commission member and "Expert-KR" editor-in-chief – Ed.), we, the alternative, non-government media outlets, would not know what was happening, what proposals were being made, etc., we would have had no access to what was happening at the meeting," says Svitlana Romanenko.

Olha Honchar, a commission member and the "Expert-KR" editor-in-chief, told the IMI representative that she recorded the meeting on January 11, 2024, and on January 18. However, she was attending the meeting as a member of the commission.

"The recording was my initiative, I just came there, put down my phone and hit record. No one said anything to me – neither the chairman nor other members made any comments. I am aware that my colleagues were not allowed to attend the meetings on January 11 and today, and this outrages me deeply, because, according to the provisions that the commission should adhere to, these meetings are not closed. When I asked why the public was there on January 11, no one gave me a clear answer. So I have no comments on this. I know that such meetings should not be closed," she says.

Following the January 18 meeting, a video recording of it was uploaded to the "Expert-KR" pages.

Svitlana Romanenko noted that the municipal guard standing at the entrance to the City Council had lists and only let in those who were on them. According to her, the conversation took place outside and was polite.

"No one really managed to break through today. They reported that a journalist had come and wanted to enter. However, they were not instructed to let me in, and I was not on the lists. Then they said to wait for someone from the press office to come out. I waited 10 minutes, the meeting had already started, I realized that no one was coming and left," the journalist said.

IMI lawyer Roman Holovenko notes that, according to the provision on the commission, it is an advisory body, that is, it is not a subject of power which is guaranteed to be open by the law on access to information.

"The provision itself is not detailed, it does not prescribe its meetings to be neither public nor closed. The Executive Committee could supplement this provision by prescribing the meetings to be open. After all, classified information is almost never discussed there," said the lawyer.

Journalist Svitlana Romanenko noted that she and several of her colleagues were admitted to the meeting on November 17, 2023. At first they were stopped and had to get their presence approved, but finally managed to get to the meeting.

The chairman of the commission, Serhiy Milyutin, who is also the deputy mayor of Kryvyi Rih, told the IMI representative by phone that overseeing the media coverage of the commission's work is not his job, but he believes that the public should know what is happening at the commission. Which is why, when he noticed Olha Honchar's camera, he did not make any comments about it and understood that they were being recorded or livestreamed. To the IMI representative's direct question on whether the commission's meetings were closed or open, he replied: "Yes, the meetings are open."

The city's Commission on placenames (renaming), assigning individual names (pseudonyms) to legal entities and communal property objects, jubilees and holidays, names and dates of historical events in the Kryvy Rih territorial community was created on October 18, 2023.

3. "Watchers" journalist barred from attending an open court hearing

31.01.2024 "Watchers" journalist Alina Kondratenko was barred from attending an open hearing at the Solomyansk District Court of Kyiv on January 31 in the case about the Motor Sich ex-CEO Vyacheslav Bohuslaev and the company's head of foreign economic activities Oleh Dzyuba, "Watchers" writes.

The journalist was asked to submit a petition "on her wish to be present". Having received none, the media outlet writes, the court security (at the judge's approval) prevented the journalist from attending the hearing, saying that there were not enough seats in the courtroom, mentioning possible explosives inside, the air raid alert and even the lunch break. The defense also cited the presiding judge's order to limit the audience admitted into the courtroom in view of the martial law.

At the same time, the media outlet notes, the participants and journalists who agreed to file a "petition about their wish to be present" were allowed to attend the meeting despite all the listed "obstacles".

The hearing was supposed to start at 12:00. The January 31 session was supposed to be open, as the court itself ruled at the preparatory meeting.

Alina Kondratenko argued to the court security and Judge Serhiyenko's secretary that an open hearing means that non-participants have the right to attend it freely, which is why they are called "free listeners". According to her, the Criminal Procedure Code does not imply the creation or censoring of a list of such listeners, or that they must file individual written requests to attend the meeting, or that there is any system of special written or oral permits for this.

The secretary asked Kondratenko whether she had filed a statement or petition on "wishing to be present at the hearing." The journalist reported that such a request was not provided for by law. However, the secretary said that in this case the journalist would be unable to pass.

IMI media lawyer Roman Holovenko explains: Part 2 of Art. 27 of the Criminal Procedure Code (a perpetrator (co-perpetrator) is a person who, in complicity with other subjects of a criminal offense, directly or through other persons who are not subject to criminal liability for the committed crime, committed a criminal offense provided for by this Code) is quite clear and an open meeting must admit free listeners unless quarantine restrictions are in place.

"The number of seats is not mentioned anywhere. The Solomyansky court order does not explicitly contradict the CPC, as there is no provision in Part 1 that the hearing is to be held in the presence of the participants alone. Free listeners are not mentioned in Part 1 and there is no explicit limitation of presence, as it is guaranteed by Article 27 of the Criminal Procedure Code. After all, no internal act of the court can cancel the Criminal Procedure Code," says the lawyer.

"Watchers" recalled that a similar incident in the Solomyansky District Court of Kyiv happened to a Media Initiative for Human Rights journalist. Maryna Kulinich came to the court at 25 Maksym Kryvonis St. on November 7 at 3:30 p.m. However, security guard Serhiy Meleshko did not let her into the premises, saying that the chairman's order prohibiting free listeners from entering the courtroom during martial law.

In her comment to IMI, Alina Kondratenko noted that the hearing was cancelled, so she could not say whether she would have been allowed to attend it if it had taken place.

She also noted that the Vyshgorod court recently canceled a similar order restricting the admission of free listeners to open hearings, which was introduced in the court earlier in view of the martial law. It was cancelled after her media outlet reported on it, giving it publicity.

"When it was all clear and the explosion report was checked and not confirmed, I asked to be admitted to the hearing again, but the judge came down once again and said that the meeting had been canceled. Finally, she said that I was legally illiterate," added the journalist.

On December 2, 2022, "Watchers" journalist Alina Kondratenko reported that the spokeswoman of the Solomyansky District Court of Kyiv, Alyona Petukhova, tore up her request for access to an open court session in front of her. Petukhova explained to the IMI that she had torn up the printed request because it did not have an electronic signature and did not meet the legal requirements due to this. After the journalist wrote a new request by hand on a new piece of paper and put her signature on it, it was granted.

CENSORSHIP, INFORMATION ACCESS

Access to information – 1

1. "Konkurent" journalist complains to the Commissioner over an incomplete reply to a request

25.01.2024 "Konkurent" journalist Maksym Kosyur appealed to the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights over the failure of the municipal enterprise "Lutsk City Dental Clinic" to provide a full reply to his request.

He reported this to the IMI representative in the Volyn oblast.

According to Kosyur, in the request sent to the company on December 11, 2023, he asked for a copy of the contract between the clinic and a private law firm.

"I was also asking them to provide the documents that were issued as the result of such cooperation. I received the contract, but not the rest of the information. Which is why I contacted the NGO "Human Rights Platform". The lawyer Mykola Hrynyshak said that the refusal was unlawful and could be appealed to the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights," the journalist said.

The company explained the refusal saying that the private law firm considered the information 'classified,'" noted Maksym.

Maksym Kosyur noted that he filed the complaint to the Human Rights Commissioner on January 4, 2024.

The journalist explained why he considered the failure to provide these documents to be unlawful.

"I am yet to receive the full information from the municipal company. But I know that the Commissioner's office in the Volyn oblast deals with such issues. This is not the first time they have helped journalists get information from this institution, which they refused to provide," the journalist said.

As the IMI reported, on January 5, 2024, "Syla Pravdy" journalist Oksana Petruk sued the state-owned enterprise "Forests of Ukraine" for their refusal to provide her with the information she requested. The company refused to provide information on the Polissya Forestry Office's staff list including the full names of the officials and their salaries.

INDIRECT PRESSURE

Surveillance – 3

1. Bihus comments on the provocative video with his employees, claims surveillance

16.01.2024 The head of the Bihus.Info project, Denys Bihus, recorded a statement in response to a video in which his employees negotiate the purchase of drugs and use them. He explained that the video was recorded covertly by unknown persons at the team's corporate New Year party in a hotel complex outside the city.

Bihus emphasized that it was camerapeople, not journalists, using drugs. He fired the former and now encourages people to send in their resumes and join the team.

Despite the announced staff changes, Denys Bihus points out that the actions of the unknown persons who filmed the video were unlawful.

"But, first, their phones were tapped as they discussed their need to buy it because they 'won't make it through the party' otherwise. Secondly, a camera was installed in the building where they stayed, which filmed them consuming it," said Denys Bihus.

Denys Bihus noted that he will not condemn anyone for consuming "weed", but the editorial team has a staff purge ahead of it.

"I'm not sure if all the decisions I'm making are the right ones. I'm pretty wound up right now, making work decisions based on what people do in their free time. And while we're here: we're hiring camerapeople. Send in your resumes and, apparently, your narcologist's approval or a rehab certificate to the email address under this video," Denys Bihus concluded.

In the description to the video, the editor notes:

"The team is aware of how serious the situation is. Of course, the wiretapping and surveillance were illegal, and the intentions of the perpetrators are clear. But this does not excuse what we saw in the video, namely the use of prohibited substances by several of our colleagues", says the message.

The editors also noted that everyone who works with Bihus.Info will be tested for drug use. Viewers will be notified of the results in their Telegram channel.

"We would like to sincerely apologize to the audience. Email address for the camerapeople's CVs: [email protected]," the editors remark.

The phones of the Bihus.Info team were wiretapped for several months, according to Denys Bihus's second video address. He says that the leaked phone conversation recordings point to this. These conversations happened some time apart.

On January 17, the Security Service of Ukraine opened a case over unlawful wiretapping and video surveillance of Bihus.Info employees. On the same day, SBU officers searched at the suburban complex where the Bihus.Info team members were illegally recorded on video. The law enforcers confiscated the hard drives with CCTV footage. On January 18, 2024, it was reported that the Kyiv Oblast National Police HQ had opened a pre-trial investigation into the violation of privacy following a statement by Bihus.Info journalist Maria Zemlyanska.

The team performed their own investigation, and Denys Bihus reported that at least 30 people were involved in the surveillance operation targeting the Bihus.info team. The surveillance cameras were installed in the rooms where the project's employees, mostly women, stayed. Other guests at the hotel were also under unauthorized surveillance.

The National Police is investigating four cases related to surveillance of Bihus.Info journalists. This was announced by the head of the National Police, Ivan Vyhivsky, at a briefing in Kyiv on January 22. "There is the SBU case. The second case is not even one, but four Bihus.Info representatives contacted us and we registered four cases under Article 182 – violation of privacy. They were effectively filed over the weekend, Friday–Saturday. Certain investigative steps are planned. Bihus.Info has reported that the SBU has already carried out certain investigative actions. We will coordinate our actions and move along," said Vyhivsky.

2. Odesa journalist discovers covert surveillance device in her car

19.01.2024 Odesa-based journalist and blogger Iryna Hryb reports discovering a listening and tracking device in her car.

She wrote about this on Facebook on January 19 and shared the details with the IMI.

She noted that the system she found in the car was not cheap and was online non-stop.

"An autonomous power unit, a GPS, Wi-Fi, audio control. Simply put, they were listening to Irochka and tracking where he was going. This piece of marvel was installed about 10 days ago. I hope you enjoyed driving around with Irochka, but enough is enough. It is a shame that in a country at war, the law enforcement is spending resources on intimidation and persecution of journalists and bloggers," the journalist wrote.

In her comment to IMI, she clarified that she discovered the device today, on January 19. By now she has called the police, who are removing the listening device from her car. Iryna noted that she would write a statement to the police under articles 171 ("Preclusion of legal professional activities of journalists") and 359 ("Unlawful acquisition, sale or use of special technology for secret obtaining of information,") of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

She said that her friends pointed out a malfunction in her car two weeks ago, but she herself noticed it two days ago. In particular, the battery was draining very quickly.

Iryna Hryb believes that the surveillance has to do with her report on the Odesa oblast grain corridor, which, according to her, featured representatives of the Odesa Oblast Military Administration, the Bureau of Economic Security, the Odesa Customs Offie and the Tax Office.

She added that on January 13 there was an attempt to hack into her Telegram channel "Irochka Explains" and that she reported the incident there.

In the past, Iryna Hryb was the editor-in-chief of the local media outlet USI. Now she runs her own Telegram channel "Irochka Explains".

3. Chief editor of Teropil's "Politerno" reports surveillance and pressure by the police

05.02.2024 Editor-in-chief of the Ternopil online investigative outlet "Politerno", Andriy Shchesniak, reported being surveilled and covert police actions.

According to the regional IMI representative, the outlet reported this on their website.

The editor believes that the surveillance has to do with his earlier articles (from November 2023) about the oblast police chief, Serhiy Zyubanenko: "The talented police PR man. How the Zyubanenko's 'glass' dream got bogged down in corruption and became a long-term project" and "Corrupt collaborator from 'Voda Kryma'. Why did Zyubanenko hide information about his father-in-law."

Shchesniak also says that while he was away from the city, his mother received a draft notice issued in his name. He filed a statement with the Ternopil Joint City Territorial Center for Staffing and Social Support on January 26 regarding his right to invoke Art. 35 of the Constitution of Ukraine (freedom of religion), as he is a "long-standing member of the Evangelical Church". According to him, this is the second notice he received; the first one was handed to him on January 17, but he did not go to the TSC due to health problems.

"She was told that they were granting me a deferment from military service in accordance with Article 35 of the Constitution. But, as I said, instead of a deferment, they handed her a summons to the TCSSS for the next day, although she told the visitors that I was away," Shchesniak wrote.

He also stated, citing his own sources, that both the surveillance and the TSC's unlawful actions were the result of his reporting.

"The online outlet's sources say that I am under surveillance on Serhiy Zyubanenko's orders, with involvement from the 'search team', bugging my cell phone and tracking its GPS location. Which is why the police and TSC employees 'suddenly' appeared on Mykulynetska St., where I had a meeting and where I was served with a draft notice for the first time on January 17. Which is why I was being 'tracked' even on the evening of January 25," wrote Andriy Shchesnyak. The journalist notes that at that time he was staying at his friend's home, which only his family knew about.

According to Shchesnyak, he has sent a request for a surveillance check to the head of the SBU, Vasyl Malyuk. He also sent statements regarding covert investigative actions to the SBU, the Ternopil Oblast Prosecutor's Office, and the National Police.

Roman Holovenko, a lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, noted that since the journalist claims that law enforcement officers have committed a crime against him, it is the jurisdiction of the State Bureau of Investigation, although the journalist did not mention contacting it.

Indeed, Andriy Shchesniak has not contacted the SBI. As he explained in a conversation with the regional IMI representative, he "sees no point."

"I filed [the statement] to the police purely to see their reaction. And to the SBU and the prosecutor's office to see certain action," Shchesniak commented.

The IMI representative wrote to the press service of the Ternopil Oblast National Police to get a comment from the head of the department, but they refrained.

Meanwhile, the oblast Prosecutor's Office reported to the IMI representative that a case based on Politerno's reports has been opened on January 31 under Part 3 of Art. 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. The pre-trial investigation will be carried out by the SBI, and the oblast Prosecutor's Office will be managing the process.

As the IMI reported, in May 2023, unknown persons created a "Politerno" clone with fake news about a the "uncovering of a bot farm" allegedly working to undermine the Mayor, with the headline "Hostile bot farm spreading fake news about Nadal uncovered in Ternopil oblast". In October 2020, the website was "down" for several days due to DDoS attacks. There had been a similar incident in early December 2019, when the website "crashed" for over a day.

Other kinds of indirect pressure – 1

1. Petrov and Ivanov publicly humiliate TV presenter Alina Dorotiuk for her looks

30.01.2024 "Islandiya" channel hosts Serhiy Ivanov and Volodymyr Petrov made humiliating comments on the looks of YouTuber and TV presenter Alina Dorotyuk in the project "Rozryv". Dorotiuk posted a fragment of the discussion on Facebook.

She noted that there should be discourse about interviews and the audience should have their opinions. "But when I saw two adult men sitting on camera and discussing my looks, seriously advising me to look for an 'uglier' woman than myself among, as I understood it, highway prostitutes (although I would not underestimate their beauty nor their work), I suddenly had doubts," wrote Dorotiuk.

She noted that Petrov and Ivanov have a follower base of 500 thousand YouTube subscribers, and such public comments further legitimise shaming women for their appearance.

"As for my subjective opinion... These two to would be better off venting their misogyny at the front line. Not by discussing the appearance of Ukrainian women," the presenter noted.

In her comment to the IMI, Alina Dorotiuk said that for now she would like to hear a public apology. "But I am also considering other options. I consider this an unacceptable isult of human dignity," Dorotiuk stressed.

She also added that she is not acquainted with either blogger and as of now, neither of them have reached out to her to apologize.

IMI lawyer Volodymyr Zelenchuk noted that the bloggers' statements have signs of shaming and the channel may face consequences if the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting sees signs of discrimination in their remarks.

"Undoubtedly, the comments in question by 'Islandiya' hosts can be considered as shaming, responsibility for which is not outlined in the Law of Ukraine 'On Media' explicitly. However, if the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting sees signs of incitement to discrimination or oppression against a certain person based on appearance or gender, then this will be grounds for bringing the channel where such remarks were made to justice," said the lawyer.

In October 2023, political consultant Volodymyr Petrov threatened her with "punishment" which he will decide on himself. This was his response to the editor's critical remarks at the National Media Talk conference. In her speech, Lyhachova noted: "The fact that the NCTRB licensed 'Islandiya' is nonsense. They are the political consultants working for the President's Office, who have no place in any telethons, on YouTube, or anywhere. Vova Petrov is the one who was once bringing titushkas to the Maidan, who beat up Olya Snitsarchuk from Channel 5, he is the one who promoted a bunch of black technologies, and now he works for the President's Office. I am very surprised why no one is telling Bankova St. that this is just a disgrace."

In December 2021, Petrov became one of the presenters on the overhauled state channel "Rada". However, he was officially suspended on the second day after comparing Angela Merkel to a pig. At that time, journalist and blogger Serhiy Ivanov announced that he would stop working with "Rada" if Petrov was suspended, but did not act on this promise. Yet three days later, Petrov was back on the air of "Rada" as an expert together with the host Ivanov.

ONLINE PRESSURE

Cyber attacks – 5

1. Unknown persons attempt to access the editorial email inbox of the Kherson media outlet MOST

09.01.2024 Unknown persons are trying to access to the editorial email inbox of Kherson's MOST.

The media outlet's editor Serhiy Nikitenko reported this to the IMI.

According to him, they received a letter supposedly from the Ukrainian State Tax Service, but there are all the hallmarks that the letter was Google translated from Russian into Ukrainian.

"This is not the first time we have received such letters, but this one, unlike the others, which were disguised as newsletters from foreigners, is written in broken Ukrainian and claims to be from the State Tax Service of Ukraine," he said.

The letter had an attached archive with "documents" which, Nikitenko supposes, may contain malware that will help the criminals access the receiver's e-mail inbox.

"The scammers are learning; in this letter they only made one glaring mistake when they wrote, 'We have substantial differences' with the word 'substantial' entirely in Russian. Well, it's obvious that they don't know that communication with the tax office in Ukraine is done through a personal account," Serhiy added.

Previously, the IMI explained how to protect yourself from phishing.

2. Censor.Net suffers a six-hour hacker attack

13.01.2024 On January 13, 2024, the media outlet "Censor.Net" suffered a cyber attack that lasted for at least six hours. This was reported to the Institute of Mass Information by the website's editor-in-chief, Tetyana Nikolayenko.

According to her, it was an intense DDoS attack that began around 5:00 PM and lasted for several hours. At that time, accessing the website was significantly more difficult.

"Despite the hackers' attempts to block the website, the Censor.Net technicians promptly responded to the incident, taking the necessary action to defend and restore the normal work of the resource," Nikolayenko said.

An investigation is currently underway to identify the source and motive for the attack.

"Censor.Net declares its unwavering commitment to the principles of freedom of speech and promises to continue providing relevant and unbiased information to its readers despite any attempts at censorship or interference in its work," the website's editor-in-chief stressed.

She added that as of now the editors have no idea who attacked the website or why.

3. ZN.ua reports a several days' cyber attack

25.01.2024 The online media outlet ZN.ua suffered a cyber attack that lasted from the evening of January 19 to January 21, 2024. Anna Zdorenko, head of ZN.UA's digital department, reported this to an IMI representative.

"We don't know whether it has anything to do with the joint article by Inna Vedernykova and Tetyana Bezruk about pressure on anti-corruption journalists and activists, which was released at lunchtime on Friday (January 19. – Ed.), but we do not rule that out, either" Zdorenko noted.

She stressed that the team's main task is to "fight back and give readers the opportunity to receive unbiased information and analysis."

Zdorenko added that the editors do not know who is behind the cyberattacks: the "order" could have come from abroad as well as from within the country.

In recent years, Anna Zdorenko said, ZN.ua has been posting anti-corruption investigations related to procurement deals by the Ministry of Defense, withdrawal of money from the Ministry of Defense, the energy sector, agricultural export, as well as draft bill No. 5655 (on amendments to some legislative acts regarding the urban planning reform).

"On the other hand, 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnia' has been known since its inception for its hardline anti-Russian stance. The Roskomnadzor blocked access to our website a while ago and put it on all possible blacklists," explained Zdorenko.

She added that since the start of the full-scale invasion, the team has faced over 100 DDoS attacks.

"They were targeting as particularly actively in the first months, when the attacks were almost non-stop around the clock", stressed the head of the digital media outlet.

In January 2024, they saw three such attacks, which, in her opinion, indicates that the website is under constant surveillance. "As we step up our protection, more and more resources are being channeled to DDoS us," added Anna Zdorenko.

As reported by the IMI, in March 2022, the Roskomnadzor blocked access to multiple Ukrainian media websites and institutions. This included the online media outlet ZN.ua.

In March 2022, the ZN.ua website was hacked, as well. The media outlet also suffered a DDoS attack in August 2023. The attack lasted several hours.

On January 24, 2024, the media outlet "Ukrainian Pravda" reported a DDoS attack as well.

4. "Dim" and FREEDOM websites crash due to a cyber attack

25.01.2024 On January 25, the websites of the TV channels "Dim" and "FREEDOM", which are part of the state enterprise "International Multimedia Broadcasting Platform of Ukraine", crashed due to a large-scale cyber attack on a data center, reports the "Dim" website.

The "Dim" wesbite and the digital news aggregator FREEDOM were temporarily down. The FREEDOM website worked intermittently: it remained available to users, but the content could not be updated. As of 10 a.m. on January 26, the website works as usual.

The channels' TV broadcasts, YouTube channels and SMM websites also remained functional. The Gaze website also worked without interruption.

As the IMI reported, on January 25, 2024, the gas supply company "Naftogaz Ukraine" and the LLC "Gas Distribution Networks of Ukraine" recirded a large-scale attack on a data center. Ukrposhta also reported a technical failure in their IT systems. The data center of the Ukrainian State Transport Safety Service also suffered a failure, making the "Shlyakh" system and the official Ukrtransbezpeka website temporarily unavailable.

On December 13, 2023, the state-owned enterprise "International Multimedia Broadcasting Platform of Ukraine" received several anonymous phone calls. The caller threatened them with explosions on their premises, as well as in hotels and educational institutions in Kyiv.

5. FREEDOM websites under a cyber attack

29.01.2024 On January 29, two websites of the state-owned "International Multimedia Broadcasting Platform of Ukraine" – those of the FREEDOM TV channel and the FREEDOM digital news aggregator – were subjected to a massive DDoS attack. The company believes that Russian hackers could be behind the incident.

The IMI was informed about this by the IMBPU press office.

The company notes that the attack happened in several waves. The DDoS requests were coming from the USA, Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia.

According to the company, the news aggregator's website received over 180 million requests and was partially unavailable in the countries from which the requests were coming for two hours. At the same time, the TV channel's website received several million requests, but continued to work without interruption.

The company's technicians were able to quickly resolve the problem. The website of the TV channel "Dim" and the digital portal The Gaze, which are also part of the IMBPU, were working as usual.

On January 25, the websites of the TV channels "Dim" and "FREEDOM", which are part of the state enterprise "International Multimedia Broadcasting Platform of Ukraine", crashed due to a large-scale cyber attack on a data center.

LEGAL PRESSURE

Lawsuits against the media – 1

1. Dental polyclinic director sues "Konkurent", demands UAH 100,000

06.02.2024 Lyubov Yakovchuk, director of the Lutsk City Dental Polyclinic, filed a defamation lawsuit against the media outlet "Konkurent", demanding a UAH 100,000 compensation for moral damages.

The IMI representative in the Volyn oblast, Maia Holub, was informed about this by the "Konkurent" editor-in-chief Andriy Luchyk.

The plaintiff claims that the information shared by "Konkurent" in five articles harms her dignity and business reputation and demands that it be declared misleading. She asks the court to order the media outlet to remove all five articles mentioning her from the website. Yakovchuk also demands the editors repay her the court fees and professional legal assistance.

Andriy Luchyk considers Yakovchuk's demands excessive.

According to him, the team received the lawsuit in early January. A preliminary court hearing was scheduled for February 7 at the Lutsk City and District Court.

The articles about Lyubov Yakovchuk were published between September 19 and December 5, 2023.

The materials in question are as follows:

  • "The scandalous Lyubov Yakovchuk becomes the Lutsk Dental Polyclinic director (photo)" – Yakovchuk disagrees with the headline, claiming that the mention of her "scandalousness" is false. The director of the dental polyclinic also considers the following information to be manipulative: "Our sources at the polyclinic told us that Mrs. Yakovchuk constantly complained to the 'high offices' in order to take the chair as head of the institution."
  • "Scandal at the Lutsk Dental Polyclinic: an incompetent 'admin' was hired instead of a manager (photo)" – Yakovchuk believes that the author of the article accuses her of making inefficient decisions.
  • "Lutsk Dental Polyclinic plans to relocate their dentists: what problems does this pose to doctors and patients" – the plaintiff believes that the author gives "his expert assessment" of her management decisions.
  • "Lutsk Dental Polyclinic takes money from combatants for free services (photo)" – the plaintiff believes that she is being accused of violating the law.
  • "The Lutsk Dental Polyclinic diretor holds her position illegally" – the director believes that the article contains misleading information that harms her honor, dignity and business reputation.

At the same time, the "Konkurent" editor-in-chief Andriy Luchyk says that the team included her opinion in most of the articles.

"In other words, we did everything to properly balance the opinions in the articles. What interests me most is how a sentence saying that Ihor Polishchuk lobbies for Yakovchuk's interests harms her honor, dignity and business reputation? Does she consider him such a bad person that mentioning him in one sentence humiliates her?" Andriy Luchyk remarked.

DEFENDING FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The authorities' response to freedom of speech violations – 11

1. Court orders a Vinnytsia oblast village council to post public information on their website

03.01.2024 The Vinnytsia District Administrative Court declared the inaction of the Yaryshivka Village Council (Vinnytsia oblast), which does not post the information required by the Law on Access on its official website, unlawful.

The judgement was issued on October 4, 2023, reports the regional representative of the IMI in the Vinnytsia oblast.

The NGO "Automaidan Vinnychchyna" sued the Village Council for consistently failing to post decisions, orders and other documents that should be made public in accordance with the Law of Ukraine "On Access to Public Information" on its website as a local self-government body is supposed to.

The organization asked the court to declare the Village Council's inaction in not posting public information on its official website as unlawful and to order it to do so.

As the IMI representative points out, the Village Council posted no session decisions, public procurement deals, or the village Mayor's orders on its website. As early as 2021, the obligation to publish such information online was assigned to the village Mayor's daughter, Oksana Kukharchuk, who is the chief accounting specialist at the Village Council.

Later, at the request of local activists, the Yaryshivka Village Council replied that the information on its website may be completely false.

As soon as in 2023, in response to the request by the NGO "Automaidan Vinnytsia", the Village Council noted that "information about the publication of decisions" by the Village Council "is not public information."

This reply was what prompted "Automaidan Vinnytsia" (the founders of the depytaty.pro website) to go to court.

The Yaryshivka Village Council did not file a response to the lawsuit. The case was considered without any Village Council representatives present, as they did not attend the court hearing.

The court decided that the Village Council's disregard for the legal requirements is unlawful, and ordered it post all the documents stipulated by the law on the Yaryshivka Village Council website.

Also, with regard to administrators who claim to withhold information due to the martial law, court judge Mykhailo Slobodonyuk noted: "The legislation does not provide for any special norms limiting access to public information as stipulated in Clause 2, Part 1 of Article 15 of Law No. 2939-VI, under martial law, neither there are any norms that could be bypassed."

Despite the court's decision having entered into force, no decisions, orders, or procurement plans have been posted to the website of the Yaryshivka Village Council. The executive service has not opened proceedings yet, the IMI representative notes.

2. State enterprise in Khmelnytsky provides documents to journalist after a complaint to the Commissioner

05.01.2024 After a complaint to the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights, the state-owned enterprise "Khmelnytsky Oblast Single Procuring Entity Service" provided ZHAR.INFO with documents on the procurements for reconstructing apartment buildings in the Vysokopillya community (Kherson oblast).

The ZHAR.INFO team reported this to the IMI.

Earlier, the enterprise refused to provide journalists with the information, saying that the access to it was restricted due to a set of requirements.

In November 2023, the journalists pointed out 26 procurement deals related to reconstruction in Kherson oblast, which is being handled by the Khmelnytsky Oblast Military Administration as part of the presidential initiative "Shoulder to shoulder". Information about these deals in the electronic procurement system was shared by the manager, SE "Khmelnytsky Oblast Single Procuring Entity Service", and it was the bare minimum: the standard name and serial number, the name of the contractor and the expected cost. Upon receiving the refusal, the journalists decided to contest it immediately.

After the Commissioner's response, the enterprise said that the journalists could view the requested documents at their office and has already done so on December 26, 2023.

The enterprise reported this in a letter to the office of the VRU Human Rights Commissioner's regional representative in Khmelnytsky.

"In a letter dated 12.26.2023, the company informed the Commissioner's Secretariat that on 12.26.2023 you were granted access to the documents you requested at the company's office by processing them in a place specially designated by the company for requesters to work with documents, as evidenced by your label 'on reading the documents' on a copy of the information request dated 06.12.2023, which was provided by the Enterprise as confirmation. Thus, your right to access the requested information has been restored," says the official response received by the editors, signed by the Commissioner's regional representative in the Khmelnytsky oblast, Oksana Kizayeva.

The editors confirmed that they have viewed the requested documents and are preparing a material on the Khmelnytsky oblast's role in the reconstruction of the Kherson oblast.

3. The police to investigate death threats to "Chetverta Vlada" chief editor

08.01.2024 The police have opened a case over death threats to the "Chetverta Vlada" chief editor Volodymyr Torbich. Law enforcers are checking the offensive text messages sent to Torbich by the former PR manager for Anatoliy Shariy's party in Rivne, cameraman Eldar Magomedov, reports "Chetverta Vlada".

According to the media outlet, on November 29, 2023, a Rivne district police department received a report from Maria Yustytska, head of communications at the Rivne Oblast National Police Headquarters.

The report says that a policewoman was monitoring the "Chetverta Vlada" website and came across an article titled "The Rivne 'Shariyites' send death threats to Chetverta Vlada editor-in-chief" and penned by the Institute of Mass Information representative in the Rivne oblast, Hanna Kalaur. It reports on threats of physical violence received by the chief efitor.

On the same day, the police filed a statement about an alleged crime committed under Part 1 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (threatening a journalist with death or violence for their legal professional work) to the Unified Register of Pretrial Investigations.

The maximum penalty for this crime is imprisonment for up to three years.

On January 4, 2024, the "Chetverta Vlada" chief editor Volodymyr Torbich went to the district police department to testify after being summoned by the investigator.

"Today, the investigator questioned me about the details of the case. I did not file a statement myself, because I do not believe that Magomedov will be prosecuted for these covert threats. He is like a bully: he threatens many people and tries to scare many people, but is worthless himself. If I took threats from people like Eldar seriously, I would have had pick some other profession, not journalism," said Volodymyr Torbich.

He also added that, according to the investigator, they have arranged a linguistic examination of Eldar Magomedov's statements.

"Chetverta Vlada" provides examples of Magomedov's text messages sent to Volodymyr Torbich on different days: "You must be aware that 'the Earth is round'"; "There is a time and occasion for everything – yours is ahead." "Where are you now? Let me come over and we'll have a talk. Are you afraid of me?) Or are you all bark no bite? Well then, wait and get ready)".

As the IMI reported, in late November, Eldar Magomedov, who is affiliated with the Rivne branch of Shariy's party, texted implied death threats to the "Chetverta Vlada" editor-in-chief, Volodymyr Torbich. The threats had to do with a photo featuring Magomedov that Volodymyr Torbich posted on Facebook and that Magomedov believes to have been taken by Torbich. The photo confirms that Eldar Magomedov was present at the wake for Taras Davydiuk, a soldier and "Horyn.Info" editor-in-chief who was killed in action on November 8. Many people in Rivne were surprised and outraged by Magomedov's presence at the wake, because Eldar Magomedov is considered one of the "Shariyites" who assaulted Taras Davydiuk in 2019 on the eve of the parliamentary elections.

4. Police ordered to resume investigation into violent threats to Sumy's CUKR

12.01.2024 A District Prosecutor's Office of Sumy city resumed the investigation into death threats to the journalists of the local media outlet "CUKR", which the police had closed on December 5, 2023.

Having learned about the case being closed, the IMI contacted the police for a comment and received confirmation of this information.

Volodymyr Krupetskikh, the head of communications at the National Police Office in Sumy, informed the IMI representative that the case was closed due to "the lack of corpus delicti."

"Yes, the case has been closed, but the decision to close it has been submitted to the prosecutor's office for review," said Krupetskikh.

However, Natalya Naumenko, the press secretary of the Sumy oblast prosecutor, noted in her comment to the IMI representative that the prosecutor's office reopened the case on January 11.

"On January 11, the District Prosecutor's Office of Sumy city canceled the decision to close this case. The pre-trial investigation is underway, the prosecutor has instructed the investigator," said Naumenko.

CUKR editor-in-chief Oleksiy Tucha told the IMI that was unaware that the case had been closed.

"I was not informed about that, not by phone at least, so I did not know about the decision. But I am glad that they are continuing to work on this, because we still want to reach a fair solution to the problem," he said.

As reported by IMI, on July 12, unknown persons were threatening to destroy the office of the Sumy media outlet "CUKR" following their material about the life of the local LGBTQ+ community and later called for the journalists' murder, posting a "hit list" with the names of the editorial team.

The Sumy Oblast Police opened a case over these death threats in response to a statement filed by "CUKR" journalists (under Part 1 Article 345-1 of the CCU).

5. Police opens a case over violent threats to Oleh Baturyn

15.01.2024 The police have opened a case over violent threats to the journalist from Kakhovka, Oleh Baturyn. He wrote about this on Facebook and shared the details with the IMI representative in the Kherson oblast .

"On January 12, 2024, a case was registered on the grounds of Part 1 of Art. 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – death threats or violent threats to a journalist," he wrote.

The Institute of Mass Information previously reported that Oleh Baturyn filed a complaint with the police over the threats he received after an article reporting that a current deputy of the Kherson Oblast Council from the European Solidarity party, Valeriy Saltykov, registered his business with the Russians.

However, the journalist specified to the IMI representative, the Kherson police filed the information in the EDPR based on the reporting about the threats in mass media.

"I contacted the police with a statement about the threats, but the police opened the case after monitoring the Kherson media. Based on the materials they found during the monitoring, a case was initiated," Baturyn told the regional IMI representative.

He also added that he continuted to receive threats even after contacting the police.

6. SBU opens case over Bihus.Info surveillance and wiretapping

17.01.2024 The Security Service of Ukraine has opened a case over unlawful wiretapping and video surveillance of Bihus.Info employees, reports the SBU Telegram channel.

Proceedings are opened under Article 359 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Unlawful purchase, sale or use of special technology for secret obtaining of information).

"The SBU believes that the transparent and unhindered work of independent and professional mass media is an important condition for Ukraine's development as a democracy. Such instances of surveillance should be legally assessed regardless of whether or not the covertly filmed materials reveal possible violation of the law related to the circulation of narcotic substances," the SBU said.

Such assessment can only be performed by law enforcement bodies in accordance with their jurisdiction, the report says.

As the IMI reported, on January 16, the head of the Bihus.Info project, Denys Bihus, recorded a statement in response to a provocative video shared on YouTube by the website "Narodna Pravda", wherein his employees negotiate the purchase of drugs and use them, and reported unlawful surveillance and wiretapping. He also announced staff changes.

The phones of the Bihus.Info team were wiretapped for several months, according to Denys Bihus's second video address. He says that the leaked phone conversation recordings point to this. These conversations happened some time apart.

The director of the Institute of Mass Information, Oksana Romaniuk, demands that the authorities address systematic pressure on journalists. She said this while commenting on the pressure on journalist Yuriy Nikolov, whose apartment suffered a break-in attempt by unknown men, and the Bihus.Info team.

The Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, has also said that expects the police to respond to the attacks on the Bihus.Info team and the journalist Yuriy Nikolov.

On January 17, the Media Movement called on President Volodymyr Zelensky to resolutely condemn the pressure campaign on independent journalists and investigators and ensure that the crimes against the media are properly investigated.

7. Police opens a case over Bihus.Info surveillance (updated)

18.01.2024 The National Police of Ukraine has opened a case following a statement by Bihus.Info journalist Maria Zemlyanska.

The deputy editor-in-chief of Bihus.Info, Alisa Yurchenko, reported this on Radio Liberty (the "Svoboda.Ranok" project).

According to her, the journalists are now waiting for additional proceedings to begin, since other members of the team have also filed their statements.

"The National Police has already opened a case following the statement by the journalist Maria Zemlyanska, who stayed in one of the bungalows (of the recreational complex. – Ed.) the interiors of which were featured in the video you saw. Maria just stayed there, she did nothing wrong. Many other members of our team have written statements to the police as well. Now one case has been initiated by the National Police," said Alisa Yurchenko.

She also said that the law enforcers have no qualms with the team members regarding the alleged drug use, which was recorded in the video "leaked" online. Moreover, she confirmed that those who were in the recreation complex have no status in the criminal case carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine. However, she stressed that the confiscation of CCTV camera recordings which belong to the recreation complex was the SBU's initiative, because journalists did not contact the department with any statements about a crime. According to Yurchenko, this is not the SBU's jurisdiction.

"They (Bihus.Info journalists – Ed.) don't have any status, they are not identified as victims in the case. We will address this, but it is important to understand that as the SBU took the video evidence for all the days when not yet identified persons had cameras installed in our rooms – at that moment the Security Service of Ukraine was acting of their own accord. They opened the case themselves, we did not contact the SBU, because the articles under which we filed our statements are not in the SBU's jurisdiction," the journalist said.

The deputy editor-in-chief also said that the journalists managed to find out that unknown persons rented out the same rooms as the journalists on the eve of their arrival at the recreation complex. Alisa Yurchenko believes that it was they who installed the cameras in the rooms. And the SBU now has the opportunity to identify these people, having extracted the video from the CCTV cameras in the recreation facility.

The Prosecutor General's Office later confirmed that a case has been opened following the journalist's statement regarding violation of privacy.

"A journalist from a media project contacted the police with a statement saying that unidentified persons illegally obtained and distributed private information about her. The previous day, a video featuring the victim, filmed by a hidden camera in a rented room in a countryside complex in the Kyiv oblast, was shared by the media," noted in the Prosecutor General's Office.

As the IMI reported, on January 16, the head of the Bihus.Info project, Denys Bihus, recorded a statement in response to a provocative video shared on YouTube by the website "Narodna Pravda", wherein his employees negotiate the purchase of drugs and use them, and reported unlawful surveillance and wiretapping. He also announced staff changes.

The phones of the Bihus.Info team were wiretapped for several months, according to Denys Bihus's second video address. He says that the leaked phone conversation recordings point to this. These conversations happened some time apart.

The director of the Institute of Mass Information, Oksana Romaniuk, demands that the authorities address systematic pressure on journalists. She said this while commenting on the pressure on journalist Yuriy Nikolov, whose apartment suffered a break-in attempt by unknown men, and the Bihus.Info team.

On January 17, the Media Movement called on President Volodymyr Zelensky to resolutely condemn the pressure campaign on independent journalists and investigators and ensure that the crimes against the media are properly investigated.

On January 17, the Security Service of Ukraine opened a case over unlawful wiretapping and video surveillance of Bihus.Info employees. On the same day, SBU officers searched at the suburban complex where the Bihus.Info team members were illegally recorded on video. The law enforcers confiscated the hard drives with CCTV footage.

8. Bihus.Info surveillance: police is investigating privacy violation following a journalist's statement

18.01.2024 The Kyiv Oblast National Police HQ is conducting a pre-trial investigation into violation of privacy following the statement by Maria Zemlyanska, a Bihus.Info journalist.

As reported by the press office of the Prosecutor General's Office, the journalist contacted the police with a statement saying that unidentified persons illegally collected and distributed confidential information about her.

The PGOU added that the day before, a video of the victim filmed by a hidden camera in a rented room at a Kyiv oblast recreation complex was circulated in the media.

Earlier, Bihus.Info deputy chief editor Alisa Yurchenko reported that Zemlyanska had contacted the police and a criminal case had been opened.

According to her, the editors managed to learn that unknown persons illegally collected and distributed confidential information about the journalist. The day before, a video featuring the victim filmed by a hidden camera in a rented room at a Kyiv oblast recreation complex was circulated in the media.

9. Police opens a case over preclusion of Nikolov's work

19.01.2024 The police have started a case over pressure on the investigative journalist Yury Nikolov, report the Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office and the Kyiv City National Police.

The case has been opened based on the fact of pressuring the journalist to prevent him from performing his professional duties and persecuting the latter due to his reporting (Part 2 of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

According to the investigation, a group of people arrived on January 15 at the apartment building in the Darnytsky district where the special correspondent lives. They committed illegal actions in the hall next to the journalist's apartment. Currently, the police are taking action to identify the persons involved.

The pre-trial investigation is being carried out by the Darnytsia Police Department of the Kyiv City National Police under the procedural guidance of the Darnytsia District Prosecutor's Office in Kyiv city.

As the IMI reported, on January 15, investigative journalist Yuriy Nikolov reported an attempt at intimidation: unknown men tried to break into his apartment on January 14, scaring his mother and neighbors, and left paper notes saying "draft dodger" and "traitor" on his door. After the incident, the Telegram channel "Kartochny Ofis" posted about it, claiming that it was military servicemen trying to deliver a draft notice to the journalist. A provocative post about Yuri Nikolov was shared by the Telegram channels "Vertykal" and "Joker" at about the same time. On January 15, the Telegram channel 'Joker' posted the video of Nikolov's comment on President Volodymyr Zelensky and implied that the attack on the journalist's apartment was retaliation for his remark about the head of state.

10. Bihus.Info surveillance: police opens four cases

22.01.2024 The National Police is investigating four cases related to surveillance of Bihus.Info journalists. This was announced by the head of the National Police, Ivan Vyhivsky, at a briefing in Kyiv on January 22, Ukrinform reports.

"There is the SBU case. The second case is not even one, but four Bihus.Info representatives contacted us and we registered four cases under Article 182 – violation of privacy. They were effectively filed over the weekend, Friday–Saturday. Certain investigative steps are planned. Bihus.Info has reported that the SBU has already carried out certain investigative actions. We will coordinate our actions and move along," said Vyhivsky.

He also said that four perpetrators in the case of precluding the work of investigative journalist Yuriy Nikolov have been identified, investigative steps are currently being carried out, the suspects' phones are being examined.

11. Court orders Vinnytsia City Council to grant the media access to the city's master plan text

31.01.2024 The Vinnytsia District Administrative Court ordered the Vinnytsia City Council to provide the NGO "Automaidan Vinnytsia" with a copy of the text part of the city's master plan.

According to the ІМІ's regional representative, the judgement was made on January 2, 2024.

The court also recognized the City Council's refusal to provide the NGO with a copy of the document as unlawful.

At the same time, the court refused to order the City Council to post the text of the master plan on the Council's official website, as the plaintiffs requested.

The organization sued after the City Council refused to provide the documents in response to a request for public information in May 2023. The Council argued that "the text materials (explanatory note) to the Vinnytisa City Master Plan have the stamp 'FOU' (for official use), therefore a copy of the requested documentation can not be provided."

It also turned out that in February 2023, the City Council's executive committee adopted decision No. 288 on the "Procedure for publishing information on the official web portal of the Vinnytsia City Council." According to this document, the city authorities would not post "the the content of the Vinnytsia City Master Plan, the zoning plan, changes to the master plan, detailed territorial plans" before the martial law is lifted.

Judge Yuliya Boshkova disagreed with the City Council's arguments and noted that they did not comply with the "threefold test" criteria and did not specify what what exactly would be the harm of providing the socially important information.

In view of this, the court ruled in favor of "Automaidan Vinnytsia".

According to the IMI representative in the Vinnytsia oblast, the NGO plans to post the reply given by the City Council in the online media outlet founded by the NGO: depytaty.pro.

The media community's response – 1

1. Media Movement reports systematic pressure on independent journalists and investigators

17.01.2024 The Media Movement, a Ukrainian media freedom movement comprising leading media outlets and watchdogs, demands President Zelenskyy to “resolutely condemn” a pressure campaign on independent journalists and ensure that incidents of intimidation are investigated as crimes against media professionals.

Anonymous Telegram channels that openly declare working for the government and constantly defend it, along with propaganda websites, have systematically targeted independent media and investigative journalists, staging provocations against them in real life. Unknown aggressors have tried to portray Ukrainian journalists as ‘enemies of the people,’ Russian agents, drug addicts, and discredit their professional work.

In recent days we have witnessed attacks on "Nashi Hroshi" journalist Yuriy Nikolov and on Bihus.Info, and before that – on "Detector Media", "Ukrainian Pravda", NV, "Censor", "Babel", "Liga.net", "Espreso". Aside from provocations and smear attempts, the targeting includes surveillance, phone wiretapping and violations of journalists' right to privacy – all for the purpose of putting independent media under pressure.

All these actions are crimes that require an urgent response from law enforcement agencies. And they all damage Ukraine’s future as a democratic state.

We call on Ukraine’s law enforcement to recognize the gravity of the situation and swiftly identify and prosecute those responsible for the harassment and attacks on journalists.

Defending freedom of speech and putting an end to provocations targeting journalists is in the government's interest, seeing as anonymous Telegram channels linked to the provocations see them as retaliation for criticism of the authorities, including President Volodymyr Zelensky.

We also urge international partners to speak out in defense of the persecuted journalists, because public scrutiny is what guarantees staunch adherence to the principles of democracy, rule of law and effective anti-corruption efforts, which your states uphold and Ukraine seeks to implement.

We appeal to civil society: for over 30 years of modern Ukraine's independence, you and us have been fighting for democratic values specifically, in particular for freedom of speech. If Ukraine abandons these values, the society will lose understanding: are we fighting this terrible war for a state that is moving towards a European future? Independent media, the right to criticism as enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine, are primary drivers of progress towards democracy. Together, we have to defend what we rallied at the Maidans for, what we resisted and are resisting Russian aggression for, as it seeks to drag us back to the authoritarian past.

Only a joint effort by the society and the state will help overcome the threats to our statehood and freedom. We will not let those who try to intimidate independent Ukrainian media undermine our unity. Because unity is the only thing that guarantees our victory.

Lawsuits by journalists – 2

1. "Syla Pravdy" journalist to sue a state-owned enterprise over access denial

09.01.2024 "Syla Pravdy" journalist Oksana Petruk is sueing the state-owned enterprise "Forests of Ukraine" for their refusal to provide her with the information she requested.

Oksana Petruk shared this with the IMI representative in the Volyn oblast.

According to the journalist, she filed a lawsuit with the Volyn District Administrative Court on January 5. Her case will be tried by judge Viktor Valiukh.

Earlier, on December 12, 2023, "Syla Pravdy" wrote to the State Enterprise "Forests of Ukraine" with a request to provide information on the Polissya Forestry Office's staff list including the full names of the officials and their salaries. However, the enterprise replied that the requested information was of no public interest and they were under no obligation to provide it.

The journalist sent a second request on December 21, 2023. To confirm the public interest of the request, she added a link to the articles about the discrepancy between the lifestyle of the head of the Polissya Forestry Office and his official declaration, as well as to the news about the case that the police have opened against the Office's officials, suspecting them of illegal logging and embezzlement.

However, the state enterprise gave no reply within the five-day deadline stipulated by the Law "On Access to Public Information". On December 29, 2023, after the journalist's phone conversation with the enterprise's employee regarding the reason for delaying the response to the request, "Forests of Ukraine" sent another refusal.

"Your request contains no substantiated arguments that would prove a significant public interest specifically in the articles mentioned in the request, indicate that their content concerns issues that are of exceptional importance to society in the context of the above criteria. Moreover, two of the four articles listed in the request were prepared for the online media 'Syla Pravdy', which implies cooperation, which may indicate that the interest in them is being manufactured artifically," reads the letter signed by the CEO of the State Enterprise "Forests of Ukraine", Ihor Lytsur.

In her turn, the journalist filed a lawsuit, asking the court to declare the refusal by the SE "Forests of Ukraine" unlawful and order them to provide the requested information.

As reported earlier, the Lutsk police interrogated "Syla Pravdy" journalists as part of the case opened on the basis of the statement by Anastasiya Venislavska, who was featured in a journalistic investigation.

2. ZHAR.INFO sues the Chernivtsi Trolleybus Management over access to public information

01.02.2024 The Chernivtsi District Administrative Court has agreed to hear the lawsuit filed by of the Khmelnytsky media outlet ZHAR.INFO and opened proceedings in the case.

The editors turned to the utility company "Chernivtsi Trolleybus Management" with a request to provide scanned copies of documents on the introduction of an automated payment accounting system in the city. In response, the company listed some publicly available links, but did not attach the requested documents.

This is stated in the ruling published in the Unified State Register of Court Rulings.

On October 20, 2023, the ZHAR.INFO team sent a request for public information to the utility company "Chernivtsi Trolleybus Management", asking for a scanned copy of the document(s) containing information on the expenses and the software, scanned copies of documents on the procurement of the devices (validators, terminals, etc.) that were purchased to introduce the automated accounting system for travel payments.

In response, the editors received a letter stating that the information they requested was publicly available on the Prozorro website and the company's website, including links to those resources. The company did not provide copies of the documents.

"According to Part 2, Article 22 of the Law of Ukraine 'On Access to Public Information', the information manager's reply that the requester can obtain the information from publicly available sources, or a reply that is irrelevant to the request is considered an unlawful refusal to provide information", explains Oksana Maksymeniuk, a lawyer and head of the legal department of the Institute for Regional Press Development, who helped the editors prepare the lawsuit.

On December 18, 2023, the Chernivtsi District Administrative Court accepted the editors' claim for consideration and opened proceedings in the case, which will be tried by judge V. O. Kushnir alone under the rules of simplified claim consideration, without notification to the parties to the case (in written proceedings).

As of late January 2024, no judgement has been made in this case. The court said to the editors that they have a heavy workload and were considering cases in order of priority.

Liked the article?
Help us be even more cool!