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Freedom of Speech Barometer for May 2023

05.06.2023, 18:40

In May, IMI experts recorded 11 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine. Four of them were committed by Russia and targeted media and journalists.

This is evidenced by the monthly monitoring "Freedom of Speech Barometer" by the Institute of Mass Information.

The crimes against media committed by Russia include murder and abduction of journalists, cybercrimes.

At the same time, IMI recorded seven freedom of speech violations for which Ukrainian citizens are responsible. These include assault, obstruction and cyberattacks.

In May, IMI recorded the deaths of six more media workers. One journalist, Arman Soldin, died while reporting, and fime more were killed in action while defending Ukraine from the occupiers.

  • Arman Soldin, video reporter for Agence France-Presse (AFP), killed by a rocket strike in Ukraine's east on May 9.
  • Volodymyr Mukan, soldier who used to be a journalist and editor for the "Hazeta Po-Ukrainsky", the "Kraina" magazine, and the website before the full-scale war. Killed while performing a combat mission in Bakhmut on April 23, 2023.
  • Denys Kryvy, nature photographer and soldier, killed near Bakhmut while trying to rescue his wounded comrades in the spring of 2023.
  • Ivan Kuzminsky, soldier and director at the TV channel for children "Malyatko TV", killed in a battle with the Russian occupiers near Dibrova, Luhansk oblast, on May 17, 2023.
  • Yevheniy Osievsky, soldier, columnist for the popular science magazine "Kunsht" and the social criticism magazine "Commons", killed in a battle near Bakhmut on May 22, 2023.
  • Victor Petrov, soldier, journalist and activist from Lviv, killed in action in Ukraine's east on May 29, 2023.

In total, Russia's armed aggression resulted in the death of 61 media workers in Ukraine. Of those, 10 died while reporting and 51 died as combatants or were killed by Russian shelling.

In temporarily occupied Melitopol (Zaporizhzhia oblast), local journalist Iryna Levchenko and her husband Oleksandr have been kidnapped. The occupiers detained the couple on the street, first keeping them together and then separating them. Iryna and her husband have been retired for several years.

In May, the Channel 24 website was attacked by Russian hackers. The Russians began rapidly posting fake news reports that contained threats and insults against the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and mailing out similar "push messages" to the readers. The channel managed to thwart the attack and promptly identified the vulnerabilities which had enabled the attack.

"Vechirny Kyiv" was also targeted by a Russian cyberattack. The hackers posted several copies of a news item by the hacker group Sontsepyok. They were posting the same news item every minute, which featured an image of Zelensky a clown costume and went approximately as follows: "Attention, Zelensky! We, the hacker group Sontsepyok, have hacked all the state websites, discovered all the information and corruption."

The freedom of speech situation in Ukraine for which Ukrainian citizens are responsible

The seven freedom of speech violations for which Ukrainian citizens are responsible include cases of beatings, obstruction and cyberattacks.

In Poltava, an unknown man shoved the "Kolo" journalist and editor-in-chief, Tetiana Tsirulnik, and slapped her in the face. The incident happened on May 9 during the flower laying ceremony at the Soldier's Glory Memorial. One of the participants of ceremony arrived with a portrait of his father. The journalist, who was present there, said that the action was endorsing the Russian narratives and compared it to the pro-Russian "Immortal Regiment". Another man reacted to the debate very aggressively, first using obscene language to suggest that the journalist "gets away from here". And after the journalist protested, saying that they were in a public place that was open for everyone, the man first forcibly shoved the journalist away from the space in front of the memorial, then punched her in the face. The Poltava police opened a case under Part 2 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Threats or violence against a journalist").

Among the five cases of obstruction, two featured Suspilne journalists: parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (ROC-affiliated) grabbed their cameras, pushed and threatened them as they while filming parish meetings regarding the transition to the OCU. These cases occurred in Cherkasy and Kirovohrad oblasts.

Russia's crimes

Journalists murdered – 1

1. AFP reporter Arman Soldin dies in Ukraine's east

09.05.2023 Arman Soldin, a video reporter for the French news agency AFP, was killed by roket fire in the east of Ukraine on May 9.

This was reported on Twitter by AFP.

"We are devastated to learn of the death of AFP video journalist Arman Soldin in eastern Ukraine today. All of our thoughts go out to his family and loved ones," the post reads.

The agency does not report the circumstances of the journalist's death.

Arman Soldin was killed by rocket fire near Chasiv Yar, according to his colleagues who witnessed the incident. The attack took place on the outskirts of the town near Bakhmut.

According to Lemonde, Arman Soldin and his colleagues from the AFP came under fire while they were with a group of Ukrainian soldiers. The attack happened at around 4:30 pm.

Soldin, 32, was killed when a rocket struck close to where he was lying. The rest of the team was uninjured.

"The whole agency is devastated by the loss of Arman," AFP chairman Fabrice Fries said. "His death is a terrible reminder of the risks and dangers faced by journalists every day covering the conflict in Ukraine."

Born in Sarajevo, Soldin was a French national who began working for AFP as an intern in its Rome bureau in 2015 and was later hired in London. He was part of the first AFP team to be sent to Ukraine following the start of Russia's invasion on February 24, 2022, arriving on the following day. Soldin had been living in Ukraine since September, leading the team's video coverage and travelling regularly to the front lines in the east and south.

According to IMI, Arman Soldin is the 57th media worker to die as a result of Russia's aggression, and the 10th journalist to die while reporting.

Abduction – 1

1. Occupiers in Melitopol kidnap journalist Iryna Levchenko and her husband

30.05.2023 Local journalist Iryna Levchenko and her husband Oleksandr have been kidnapped in temporarily occupied Melitopol (Zaporizhia oblast). This information was confirmed by IMI's own sources in the city.

According to the sources, the occupiers detained the couple on the street, first keeping them together and then separating them. Their current whereabouts are unknown. Iryna and her husband have been retired for several years.

Iryna's sister, Olena Rudenko, told the Center for Journalistic Investigations that the couple has not been in contact since May 6.

According to Olena, the couple's acquaintances started searching for the Levchenkos after they stopped getting in touch. Another difficulty in finding out what happened to the family is that the occupiers require the people coming to the "commandant's office" to ask questions about the abducted to be their close relatives. Iryna and Oleksandr have none in the occupied area.

The Levchenkos were last in contact on May 5. It was probable that Iryna and Oleksandr had gone to their dacha in the Melitopol suburbs for the weekend and have no mobile connection, or to the cemetery on the city's outskirts to tend to the graves of their relatives, or that they had just gone for a ride. So it was only three days later that the relatives started sounding the alarm.

"We went to their dacha – there was no one there. The apartments are locked, the bicycles are in place. We can't know for sure what happened to Iryna and Sasha!" said Olena.

Their friends tried to learn something about the Levchenkos' fate from the occupying "law enforcers", but they were told that this information will only be provided to close relatives. All their relatives have left the occupied territories, however.

Currently, the family has fairly approximate information about the fate of the abducted couple. On the first day, the Levchenkos were supposedly kept in a building on Chernyshevsky Street, where the occupiers are using as an office for one of their law enforcement structures.

Then Iryna was taken somewhere else, and Oleksandr remained. He is allegedly accused of "terrorism".

The relatives did not report on the disappearance of the Levchenkos at first, hoping that they would be released, but now they are asking for maximum publicity, as they consider all the accusations to be absurd.

"Of course, it's nonsense, what kind of terrorism a couple of retirees could have committed", say the family's friends, who do not lose hope that Iryna and Oleksandr will come back home shortly.

Iryna Levchenko has been a journalist since 1981. She worked for large-circulation newspapers, for the Melitopol district newspaper "Novy Den", was a correspondent for regional and national printed media.

She has not been working as a journalist in recent years due to family circumstances, and is now in retirement.

Oleksandr Levchenko used to work at the Melitopol tractor hydraulic units factory and an engine factory. After retirement, he devoted most of his time to the dacha.

As IMI reported, on March 13, 2022, the Melitopol city and district newspaper "Novy Den" stopped printing. As IMI learned later, the occupiers eventually appropriated the editorial office.

Information about the disappearance of Iryna Levchenko and her husband has also been posted by the Telegram channel "Missing in Melitopol".

Cyber attacks – 2

1. Channel 24 website under Russian attack

11.05.2023 The website of Channel 24 sustained a Russian hacker attack on May 11, according to the channel's website.

The Russians began rapidly posting fake news reports that contained threats and insults against the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and mailing out similar "push messages" to the readers.

As the channel notes, the attack took place the day before the release of a large-scale investigation about a high-ranking officer of the Russian GRU.

The channel managed to thwart the attack and promptly identified the vulnerabilities which had enabled the attack.

Commenting on the attack, the Channel 24 editor-in-chief said that Russians really don't like what the media outlet did.

"The Russians really don't like what we do. The FSB fakes using "screenshots" from Channel 24, as well as the attempted hacker attacks are proof of it. No attacks will stop us. The website is working again. As per tradition, the Russians did a negative offensive. We don't stop and go straight to victory," Anastasia Zazulyak stressed.

Channel 24 CEO, Roman Andreyko, noted that the channel had repelled the Russian attack and determined the attackers' target. "The enemy will no longer pass, and their bold warnings are empty bragging," Andreyko stressed.

As reported by IMI, the Channel 24 website suffered a DDoS attack on February 23, 2022. The servers temporarily stopped working due to the attack. The attack on the website began almost simultaneously with an attack on the government's websites.

2. Russian hackers attack "Vechirniy Kyiv"

26.05.2023 The website of the media outlet "Vechirniy Kyiv" was hacked on May 25, the publication reports.

The media outlet's editor-in-chief, Olena Petryshyn, clarified that the hackers had posted several copies of a news item by the hacker group Sontsepyok.

"The hackers did not get direct access to the server or the database. Now our specialists are working to avoid such situations in the future and make the web portal even more secure," said Olena Petryshyn.

The website was attacked around 3:00 p.m. According to the acting director of CE Kyivinform (that "Vechirniy Kyiv" is a part of), Yevhen Lopushynsky, the attack took place during the opening of the photo exhibition "Kyiv Yesterday and Today: a Journey Through Time" in Taras Shevchenko Park in Kyiv.

As the editors note, this is not the first attack on the website that has happened since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. In the first months that followed the escalation, the media outlet had to repel similar attacks every now and then, but on a smaller scale.

In the comment to the IMI representative, Yevhen Lopushynsky specified that the publication's website was attacked by Russian hackers.

"They wrote that they were the hacker group Sontsepyok, started posting the same news item every minute, which featured an image of Zelensky a clown costume and went approximately as follows: 'Attention, Zelensky! We, the hacker group Sontsepyok, have hacked all the state websites, discovered all the information and corruption,'" he said.

According to Yevhen Lopushynsky, the response team worked for three hours to restore the website, and it is currently working as usual. The team continues to improve the website's security to avoid similar hacker attacks in the future.

Occupied Crimea – 2

1. "The Iryna Danylovych case:" occupiers do not allow reporters or the father to attend the trial

03.05.2023 The Russia-backed Supreme Court of Crimea did not allow reporters or the father of citizen journalist and activist Iryna Danylovych to attend the hearing in the case against her, despite the trial being open.

The journalist's father, Bronyslav Danylovych, told this to the RFE/RL project "Krym.Realii" in his comment.

Iryna herself was brought to the courtroom by the occupiers despite the state of her health.

"There was no hearing. Didn't see anything even close to it. I'll be honest, we only came so that I could visit the toilet at the Supreme Court, sit near courtroom No. 6 for a bit, and go back outside. There was no hearing. The case was sent to the Feodosia court, because Iryna had not fully read the contents of the case, which is the fault of Judge Kulinskaya," Bronyslav Danylovych told journalists in his comment.

"The court only acknowledged that the journalist could not have fully read the minutes of the court sessions due to her poor health. In view of this, the panel decided to refer the case to back to the first instance "court" to complete the process of acquainting the convict with the contents of the case," says the message by the Crimean Process.

As IMI reported, Iryna Danilovych was detained on April 29 in the occupied Crimea. She was detained on her way from work on the road from Koktebel to Feodosia. Her house in Vladislavivka village was searched, her phone and laptop were seized.

In late July 2022, Danilovych said that officers of the Federal Security Service of the russian federation (FSB) beat her and continue to pressure her.

On December 28, 2022, the occupation court of Feodosia, Crimea ("judge" Natalia Kulinskaya), sentenced citizen journalist and human rights activist Iryna Danilovych to seven years in prison on the charges of illegal storage and manufacture of explosives under Part 1 of Art. 222.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

On March 21, Iryna Danilovych wrote a letter announcing she was going on a dry hunger strike until "the treatment begins or until biological death." In the letter, she reported on the deterioration of her health: hearing issues and a possible microstroke.

On March 22, 2023, multiple human rights organizations called for the immediate hospitalization of Iryna Danilovych.

Iryna was not taken for the promised medical examination for a long time following her hunger strike, because "judge" Natalia Kulinskaya deliberately set the date for reviewing the case material on the day when the prison administration were planning to take Danilovych to the hospital.

Iryna Danilovych worked as a nurse, and was also a citizen journalist, covering the problems of the health care system in Crimea and sharing information about the war in Ukraine.

The Prosecutor's Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea has opened a case regarding the illegal searches and detention of Iryna Danilovych.

On April 23, 2023, Iryna's father Bronislav Danylovych said that his daughter was not receiving the treatment she had been promised.

On May 2, 2023, the Russia-backed Supreme Court of the occupied Crimea referred the case against citizen journalist Iryna Danylovych backed to the occupiers' Feodosia City Court because the defendant had not completed the review of the case.

2. Russian authorities refuse to disclose information on Iryna Danylovych's health

11.05.2023 The Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia refused to disclose information about the health of the convicted Crimean citizen journalist Iryna Danylovych, reports the Radio Liberty project "Krym.Realii", citing the public initiative "Crimean Solidarity".

The agency responded to the request by doctor and public activist Olha Mazurova, who has been defending the rights of political prisoners of Crimea for many years. According to the response, Danylovych is being treated in medical unit No. 3 of the FPS medical department No. 91. Also, her treatment is allegedly proceeding in accordance with the rules approved by the Ministry of Justice of Russia.

However, the agency refused to disclose information on the state of Danylovych's health, saying that the journalist did not consent to the disclosure of such data to Mazurovya.


Physical aggression

Assault – 1

1. Unknown man in Poltava punches "Kolo" journalist Tetiana Tsirulnik in the face

09.05.2023 An unknown man in Poltava shoved the "Kolo" journalist and editor-in-chief, Tetiana Tsirulnik, and punched her in the face. The incident happened today, May 9, during the flower laying ceremony at the Soldier's Glory Memorial, the "Poltavshchyna" reports.

According to the newspaper, one of the participants of ceremony arrived with a portrait of his father. The journalist, who was present there, said that the action was endorsing the Russian narratives and compared it to the pro-Russian "Immortal Regiment". Another man reacted to the debate very aggressively, first using obscene language to suggest that the journalist "gets away from here". And after the journalist protested, saying that they were in a public place that was open for everyone, the man first forcibly shoved the journalist away from the space in front of the memorial, then punched her in the face.

In the video posted by the author of the Svoboda Slova project, Vitaliy Skobelskyi, shows that Tetiana Tsirulnik was taking a photo when the man pounced on her, saying: "Do you heare me, whore, get out of here!" and started pushing here away, then punched her in the face.

A patrol police team arrived at the scene, then called an investigative team. This put an end to the conflict.

In her comment to the IMI representative in Poltava oblast, Tetiana Tsirulnik said that was about to have an appointment with the police and promised to provide her statement in an hour.

The journalist also shared the details of the attack. According to her, she had gone to the memorial to report.

"Journalists always go to the Eternal Flame on May 9. Every year, because this is news, and we are journalists. This year, I went there to see if anybody extinguished the eternal fire, if there were any rallies, to film a report. I saw two people near the memorial: a man with a portrait in his hands and another, younger man who was taking pictures of him. I approached as well, took a photo of the extinguished eternal flame, took a video of the square. At some point, one of the men asked me what had happened here on May 8. I answered that I did not know, then I asked them why they had come here on May 9. Yes, I asked if they weren't doing the 'Immortal Regiment' and that they were playing along with the Russian propaganda. This triggered a negative reaction towards me. The man who was filming the person with a portrait started shouting that I was a 'Banderite,'" Tsirulnik said.

The journalist says that there were three people at first. Then other started to arrive, journalists, people with flowers and the man who later attacked her.

"A man in a black jacket started shouting: 'Get out of here!' I replied that this was a public space and that I had the right to be there. Then someone grabbed me very unexpectedly and started shoving me into the flower bed and cursing. At first I didn't understand what was happening, but I was being dragged somewhere, I kept repeating: 'What are you doing, I'm a journalist, are you sane?'" recalls Tatyana Tsirulynik.

The journalist noted that she had been in shock and unable to resist. "It's a crowded place, I knew that my colleagues were nearby, and then someone started pulling me somewhere. This man pushed me into the flower bed, cursing, I got out of it, and then he came back. Saying, 'I'll f**** you up now.' I remember it for sure, because I was very surprised and I definitely did not believe that someone could hit me. And then he came up to me and hit me. I looked him straight in the eye at that moment and I could see that he was enjoying it. He beat me with great pleasure, cursing at me at length. And he would have hit me more. I could feel it," Tatyana said.

The police arrived quickly after the attack, according to the journalist. Tetyana filed a statement and passed an examination. At the same time, she added that the attacker had a support group that was shouting that no one had beaten her.

The journalist also added that she heard a lot of insults: "That my reporter ID was small, and that I was a rookie journalist and a nobody, and that 'it's not like anybody f***ed me, after all' all this may have been recorded on the policemen's chest cameras. I just stood next to the police and said that I would be standing next to them because I was scared," Tsirulnik said.

Obstruction to legal journalistic work – 5

1. "Espreso" reporter assaulted in Ternopil

11.05.2023 In Ternopil, a lodger of the Northern Commercial Court of Appeal judge, Lyudmila Kropyvna, assaulted the "Espreso" reporter, Maria Ivanovska. This is reported by "Espreso".

The TV channel's filming crew was on an editorial assignment, checking the judges' property declarations.

In the building where the judge's apartment is located, a man aged 36, who called himself her lodger, assaulted the reporter Maria Ivanovska.

He took her phone, tried to drag the "Espreso" journalist into the apartment and threatened to beat her with his legs.

The Ternopil district National Police department opened a case for obstructing the legal professional work of journalists and robbery in wartime. The investigation in the case is underway.

2. Parishioners of the UOC (ROC-affiliated) in Cherkasy oblast obstruct the work of Suspilne reporters

11.05.2023 Parishioners of the UOC (affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church) grabbed Suspilne cameraman, Serhiy Yefimov, by his camera and tried to shove him away near the St. Nicholas Church in Shpola, Cherkasy oblast, on May 11. This was reported by Suspilne Cherkasy.

The media also reported that the parishioners were shouting obscene insults and threats, addressing the female reporters.

As Suspilne's correspondent, Oksana Shved, reported from the scene, the people gathered near the church, expressing their wish to leave the Moscow Patriarchate and join the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. However, there were parishioners who opposed such transition. A verbal fight ensued, during which the parishioners of the Moscow-affiliated church threatened the Suspilne journalists, grabbing their camera and preventing them from filming.

The gathered parishioners voted unanimously for joining the OCU. The Shpola residents were collecting signatures for the move to legitimize it.

Suspilne stated that they would contact the police regarding the obstruction of journalistic work.

3. "Dnipro Operatyvny" receives an email about a mine in their office

21.05.2023 On May 21, the editors of the online publication "Dnipro Operatyvny" received a notification about a mine in their office. Olesya Antoshkina, the editor-in-chief, reported this to an IMI representative.

The email arrived to the editorial inbox. An unknown person demanded that the editors transfer 170 bitcoins to their account.

"A journalist was on duty at our office on Sunday. And she told me that the police came, inspected the premises, asked questions," said Olesya Antoshkina.

She also added that their editorial office occupies one of the floors of a six-story building which hosts many other organizations as well. She finds it surprising that the email about the alleged mine only arrived to their office.

The Dnipro City Council also reported on the alleged mining of over 400 objects. According to them, four letters about mines had arrived at the SBU inbox. The "mined" facilities listed in them included schools, courts, and administrative buildings.

4. UOC (MP) parishioners in Kirovohrad oblast threaten Suspilne journalists, obstruct their work

27.05.2023 Parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) obstructed the work of a reporter and a cameraman of Suspilne Kropyvnytsky on May 27 as they were filming a parish meeting in Pryiutivka village, Kirovohrad oblast, reports Suspilne.

The people threatened physical violence on the filming crew, tried to knock the camera out of cameraman Anatoly Basysty's hands, took the phone from journalist Antonina Kreitor so as to prevent her from making a video recording of the actions of UOC priests, who at that time were storming the bus where a meeting on the parish's transition to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. was ongoing.

In view of this, Suspilne Kropyvnytsky contacted the law enforcers regarding the obstruction of legitimate professional work of journalists in the square next to the Pryiutivka House of Culture (Berehovy lane). The media outlet added that the parishioners who were obstructing the work of reporters and threatening them were caught on video.

Victor Hlushchenko, deputy chief of the Oleksandria district police department, told the media outlet that the police officers on the ground have recorded the obstruction of the journalists' work, that this fact has been registered.

5. Mall security guards in Lutsk bar "Konkurent TV" journalists from filming a public event

23.05.2023 In Lutsk, security guards at the PortCity mall barred "Konkurent TV" journalists from filming the national cycling campaign "Veloden", reports Konkurent.

The incident happened on May 21 as cyclists were gathering next to the mall. The event had been announced by the Lutsk City Council on May 19, after the relevant decree had been signed by the mayor.

The "Konkurent TV" filming crew went to where the cyclists were gathering, which was happening next to PortCity. The journalists were going to cover the event and interview the Lutsk locals who decided to take part in the race.

However, as soon as the TV channel's cameraman started filming, people in the mall's security uniform started telling the crew to leave.

As "Konkurent TV" director, Oleksandra Kurteeva, said in her comment to IMI, the security barred the entire filming crew from working. Cameraman Oleksandr Fetysov was told to turn off his camera and "leave the private property" together with journalist Olha Wozniak.

The guards said that the reasons for the prohibition was that the mall was "private property" and that the journalists had no permit from the mall's administration. In turn, the journalists stressed that the event was public, not private.

After the incident, the channel's filming crew filed a statement with the police regarding obstruction of journalistic activity.

"Some woman was the first to oppose the filming. She did not introduce herself. The woman asked who we were and said that there was martial law in place in the country and that we couldn't film. Later, this woman said that she had not invited us, insisted that we leave the event, and called two security guards. One of them showed an ID, his name was Oleksandr," Kurteeva said.

She also added that other local mass media were working on the spot, but for some reason "Konkurent TV" were the only ones to trigger complaints.

The IMI representative tried to call the mall administration and get their comment on the security guard's actions, but no one picked up the phone.

Roman Holovenko, a lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, noted that if this was really private property (owned or leased), then enforcing the ban on filming might be problematic. But, he added, if access to the premises is free, it is quite easy to film covetly, since almost everyone has a smartphone with a camera nowadays.

"Article 307 of the Civil Code mentions filming people upon their consent. However, consent is assumed if the filming is being done openly in the street, at meetings, conferences, rallies and other public events," Holovenko reminded.

The lawyer stressed that in such cases, journalists can contact the police regarding the obstruction of their work, because there are precedents of people being prosecuted for obstructing filming in shops (that is, on private property that is generally free access to the public).

According to the lawyer, the issue of filming in such places should be additionally regulated by the law.

Online pressure

Cyber crime – 1

1. Kherson media website MOST under attack for two days in a row

19.05.2023 Kherson media outlet MOST has been under a DDoS attack for two days in a row.

This was reported to IMI by MOST's editor-in-chief, Serhiy Nikitenko.

"Yesterday and the day before yesterday in the morning, the attack was particluarly powerful, our website was unavailable for several hours. Even now, the load on the server is abnormally high, but the website is working," he said.

The editors assume that the attack may be related to a series of publications about Kherson oblast officials, as earlier they had received an offer to take these reports down for money.

Also, the media outlet does not rule out that Russians might be behind the attack, because multiple government websites in Odesa oblast were down this morning, and, according to anonymous Russian hackers, some of the websites had propaganda content posted on them.

Freedom of speech defense

The authorities' response to freedom of speech violations – 2

1. Poltava police opens a case over an assault on journalist

09.05.2023 The Poltava police opened a case over an assault of a "Kolo" journalist Tetiana Tsirulnik.

Yuriy Sulayev, head of the press office of the main office of the Poltava National Police, reported this in his comment to an IMI representative.

According to him, the proceedings have been opened under Part 2 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Threats or violence against a journalist").

"The video recording of the incident has been provided. Further investigation will be carried out. The investigators will interview the witnesses, everyone who was there. The identity of the man has been established. I don't know if he has given an explanation, we are not allowed to interfere in the investigation," Sulayev said.

Tetiana Tsirulnik told IMI that she had gone through a forensic medical examination.

Part 2 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine provides for restriction of liberty for up to five years or deprivation of liberty for a term of up to three years.

2. Cherkasy police looks into the obstruction faced by Suspilne reporters

12.05.2023 The Cherkasy oblast police has opened a case under the article "obstructing the legal professional work of journalists" after an attack on the Suspilne cameraman, which had taken place at a church in Shpola town.

This was reported by the Cherkasy National Police press office.

The police explained that on May 11, a reporter from one of the local television companies had approached them, saying that his professional activity was being obstructed.

"We are currently carrying out a pre-trial investigation," the police said.

As IMI reported, parishioners of the UOC (affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church) grabbed Suspilne cameraman, Serhiy Yefimov, by his camera and tried to shove him away near the St. Nicholas Church in Shpola, Cherkasy oblast, on May 11, 2023.

The journalist community's response – 2

1. Kremenchuk journalists demand that the Mayor allow them to attend City Council meetings

03.05.2023 Kremenchuk journalists have sent a letter to Mayor Vitaly Maletsky, calling for an end to restrictions on the rights of reporters.

Oleh Bulashev, editor-in-chief of the "Kremenchutska Hazeta", where the journalists published their address, informed the IMI representative in Poltava oblast about this.

The letter to the city authorities was signed by Oleh Bulashev, editor-in-chief of the "Kremenchutska Hazeta"; Olha Minchuk, editor-in-chief of the "Kremenchutsky Telegraf"; Artem Kuzmenko, journalist of the "Prohrama Plus";, Alyona Malichenko, reporter with the "Poltavshchyna. Media Dokaz" Center for Journalistic Investigations; and Iryna Skrypachova, regional correspondent for "TV Espreso".

"The Kremenchuk journalistic community believes that the Law of Ukraine 'On Information', which guarantees journalists the right to freely visit the premises of subjects of power, to attend open events organized by them, and to be personally received by their officials and staff within reasonable timeframes (except for the cases specified by the law), is being violated. Moreover, the Law of Ukraine 'On Access to Public Information' guarantees the right to access public information through the meetings of collegial authorities, except for the cases provided for by the law. All this is reinforced by the dedicated Law of Ukraine 'On Local Self-Government in Ukraine', which stipulates that council sessions should be held publicly and everyone should be granted the right to attend them, except for cases mentioned by the law. The procedure for access to meetings is determined by the Council in accordance with the law. This law also says that the minutes of the Council's sessions should be open and made public and provided upon request in accordance with the Law of Ukraine 'On Access to Public Information,'" the address states.

Kremenchuk media workers cite the example of the Poltava RMA and the Oblast Council, which hold regular meetings with all journalists so that those can ask any questions they may have, all while martial law is in place. In Poltava, journalists are provided with a YouTube link to watch live streams from the Poltava Oblast Council sessions. Similarly, the sessions of the Poltava City Council are livestreamed. Livestreams of the sessions at the Kyiv City Council, the Kryvy Rih, Zaporizhzhia, and other local Councils, as well as meetings of deputy commissions are all open access.

"Unfortunately, the Kremenchuk City Council remains completely closed off to journalists: the content of the meetings of the subcommittees and the draft decisions of the executive committee sessions are never made public, and the committee meetings and sessions of the Kremenchuk City Council are not livestreamed. Also, the orders by Mayor Vitaly Maletsky are practically never posted on the City Council website," Kremenchuk journalists note in their address.

In his comment to the IMI representative in Poltava, Oleh Bulashev, said that they have not received a response from the authorities yet. According to the journalist, the City Council has scheduled a session on May 5, where media workers, as Bulashev expects, will not be allowed again.

"They have never allowed us in since the start of the full-scale war. They only let us in when the parents were rallying against schools being closed and online education being unavailable," says Oleh Bulashev.

In their address, the journalists ask the authorities to listen to their demands, and note that in case they are not admitted again, they will file a statement with the police regarding a criminal offense under Art. 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

IMI has not yet been able to get a comment from the City Council.

As IMI reported, the Mykolaiv City Council provided Oksana Orsach, a reporter with the Center for Journalistic Investigations "Nikcenter", with information about the city officials' salaries following a court ruling.

2. Zaporizhzhia journalists refuse to work with the RMA, say its communication tactics are a failure

12.05.2023 Journalists from various Zaporizhzhia media outlets have refused to maintain dialogue with representatives of the Zaporizhzhia military administration due to its inefficiency and inability to keep the regional media sufficiently informed about the Russian attacks on Zaporizhia and the oblast, as well as their impact. As of now, 12 journalists have left the communication platform.

Several journalists told the IMI representative in Zaporizhzhia oblast about this.

The journalist see the regional authorities' communication strategy as deliberately intended to silence them and disregard the society's right to information, and consider such actions as helping collaborators and their propaganda media to spread fakes about the events in the oblast.

It will be recalled that in March, Zaporizhzhia journalists complained that the new head of the Zaporizhia Oblast State Administration and of the Regional Military Administration, Yuriy Malashko, who had been assigned this position on February 9, had never met with them and avoided giving any comments about events in the city to local mass media.

According to Ukrinform correspondent Olha Zvonaryova, many Zaporizhzhia journalists have actually been having trouble working due to the lack of operational and official reports about the Russian missile strikes on the part of the ZRMA representatives. She noted that the latter constantly say that they do not have the right to disclose information about the "hits" at their own discretion, without the consent of various authorities. At the same time, when journalists request a meeting with all these authorities and a special group chat for operational communication so that they may understand the situation better, the officials only say it will be done "in the near future."

"Whenever the ZRMA tells us that the special services do not allow filming yet and if someone goes there now, their accreditation will be revoked, some media outlets are already posting photos and videos from the site. That is, those same special services actually do allow it, but only to selected journalists? All mass media that have accreditation from the Ministry of Defense should work at the sites of the enemy's attacks and record their impact, and it should be happening not after all the services have already done their job, retrieved the bodies of all the dead and provided assistance to the survivors," the journalist said.

According to her, the journalists have shared their opinions with the ZRMA representatives. If the issue is not resolved, the media workers plan to seek a meeting with the head of the oblast, write to the President's Office, the General Staff, and other structures.

"Akcent" editor-in-chief Oleksandr Chubukinsupports this stance: "I have decided to leave the group chat with the RMA, as it brings basically no benefit for journalistic work. In recent months, none of the requests filed by my colleagues have been satisfied by the ZRMA management. No meetings for coordinating the authorities' decisions regarding the work in the front-line area with journalists and for solving current issues have been organized. No group chat with the press offices of state bodies, which should facilitate the work of journalists in real time and the right and correct presentation of information about the events in the oblast, has been created."

"Moreover, there is an incomprehensible and, in my opinion, harmful practice of silencing, disregarding, or not informing the people of the region about the shelling and its impact on the part of the regional leadership. In the end, this leads to people looking up all the information about the impact of shelling attacks on Telegram channels and other social media and getting it from pro-Russian sources only. Namely, in the case of Zaporizhzhia, the traitor-collaborator Volodymyr Rogov is one of such sources. In this way, the government only helps the enemy to attract a larger audience and influence it with propaganda," says the editor. journalist Elmira Shagabuddinova specified that in the last three months, no meeting with the press has been held in any format, and in recent weeks there have been absolutely no reports on the strikes, although some residential buildings were hit, but journalists were not informed about this in time.

"This information vacuum is dangerous for the public, as people are unable to assess the risks of what is happening and start looking for information elsewhere, in particular on the enemy-backed resources. I joined this decision because it is a kind of protest against the regional military administration for ignoring journalists and their professional work," she said.

Another journalist who has stopped communicating with the authorities, Margaryta Ogneva from the Zaporizhia Center of Investigations, believes that there is simply no one in the ZRMA who knows how to talk to the mass media and, accordingly, convey their message to the people properly.

"After each shelling, if we can not get even a tiny bit of information by whatever means, Zaporizhzhia journalists receive dozens of comments from the people: what happened last night? Are they being silent again? Why are they silent? They abandoned us, and so on. […] It seems that the ZRMA is doing nothing to remedy this situation. Journalists are being told that there will be some vague meeting with representatives of special services, at which... what? Okay, we don't even know what this meeting is supposed to be, but we're ready to go. But no, empty promises again. Thank you, we have had enough," the journalist remarked.

We remind you that the ZRMA representatives have promised to hold a press conference with the chair of the ZRMA on March 14, in response to the appeal filed by IMI in March. However, this meeting never took place. After that, the ZRMA representatives have been making promises to hold a meeting with all the services relevant to the issue and journalists. The last planned date of such a meeting was Wednesday, May 10. However, it was postponed again.

On May 12, the IMI representative contacted to the head of the ZRMA Culture and Information Policy Department, Vladyslav Morok, for his comment on the communication crisis. However, he has not yet responded to the request. IMI has learned from their own sources that another attempt at a meeting may take place next week.

Lawsuits filed by journalists – 3

1. Mykolaiv City Council provides journalist with info on the city officials' salaries following a court ruling

02.05.2023 The Mykolaiv City Council provided Oksana Orsach, a reporter with the Center for Journalistic Investigations "Nikcenter", with information about the city officials' salaries following a court ruling.

Journalist Oksana Orsach informed the IMI representative in Mykolaiv oblast about this.

"A week after the court's ruling, the executive committee of the Mykolaiv City Council sent me the information that I had requested. They listed the salaries, bonuses, allowances and financial assistance received by the mayor, his deputies and assistants in the period from January 2022 to January 2023. That is, the executive committee did have access to all the data, even for the months which, as they claimed in court, they could not disclose to journalists. To be honest, I don't really understand why the City Council tried so hard to avoid the question about the salaries. But it's good that they didn't try to delay it further through an appeal," Orsach said.

As reported, on April 11, the Mykolaiv District Administrative Court obliged the Mykolaiv City Council to provide Oksana Orsach, a reporter at the "NikCenter" Investigative Journalism Center, with the information she had previously requested regarding the salaries, bonuses, and other additional payments received by Mayor Oleksandr Sienkovych, his deputies and assistants in 2022.

On January 19, Oksana Orsach contacted to the Mykolaiv City Council, requesting data on the city officials' salaries, but the City Council withheld the information from her, citing the martial law as the reason.

2. Court orders the LRMA to provide journalists with the names of men who left abroad through "Shlyakh" and never came back

02.05.2023 The Lviv District Administrative Court satisfied the lawsuit by "Nashi Hroshi. Lviv" co-founder, Oleksandra Hubytska, and obliged the Lviv Regional Military Administration (LRMA) to disclose the information about men who used the "Shlyakh" system to travel abroad and did not come back to Ukraine, the editors report.

The court ordered the LRMA to provide copies of the decisions on the revocation of permission to leave Ukraine for the drivers who were transporting humanitarian cargo between February 24, 2022 and January 30, 2023, showing their surnames, first names, and patronymics. The LRMA revoked these decisions after it became evident that 234 men who left the country through the "Shlyakh" system with LRMA-issued permits did not come back within the stipulated time.

Judge Halyna Morska, who tried the case, decided that the refusal to provide annexes to the orders on the grounds that they contain personal data of individuals is invalid, since the documents can be provided only the surname,the  first name, and the patronymic, without disclosing the rest of the information which might allow to identify the person (passport series and number, date of birth, etc.).

In their response to the lawsuit, the LRMA lawyers claimed that the administration was not a proper defendant, and Oleksandra Hubytska was not a proper plaintiff, because the lawsuit was not filed by the media outlet, and insisted that the requested information was not of public interest.

"The public interest cannot be reduced to the desire of the public to obtain information about the private life of other people or to the desire of the audience to learn something sensational. The [LRMA] believes that the information requested by the 'Nashi Hroshi. Lviv' journalist is not necessary for them to carry out the work of promoting public discussion on socially important issues, and also considers the claim that the journalist requested the information in order to satisfy the public interest unconfirmed," reads the response of the LRMA lawyers.

However, the judge reasonably decided that the requested information was of significant public interest.

"It is necessary for a person to perform their work of promoting public discussion on socially important issues, and the journalist did request the information in order to satisfy the public interest," noted the Lviv District Administrative Court judge, Halyna Morska.

The decision has not yet entered into force, as the LRMA has 30 days to appeal it.

Legal support to the NHL editors was provided by Yevhen Vorobyov, a lawyer with the NGO "Human Rights Platform".

3. Khmelnytsky editors ask the court to order the City Council to provide the requested information

12.05.2023 In early May, the editors of the Khmelnytsky media outlet ZHAR.INFO filed an appeal with a court, requesting that the Khmelnytsky City Council be obliged to provide information on the state of educational facilities in Khmelnytsky and their usability as basic bomb shelters.

This was reported by the IMI representative in Khmelnytsky oblast.

The claim was submitted to the Khmelnytsky District Administrative Court, which opened proceedings in the administrative case on May 9 and is now to consider it as per simplified litigation rules, without notifying the parties to the case.

ZHAR.INFO journalist Alyona Bereza sent a request to the Khmelnytsky City Council on April 19, asking for inspection reports for all (buildings) of the secondary educational institutions (secondary comprehensive schools, educational complexes, preschool comprehensive educational institutions, specialized schools, gymnasiums, lyceums, collegiums) in Khmelnytsky in order to find whether they can be used by citizens as basic bomb shelters. On April 27, the journalist's request was declined by the executive committee of the City Council.

In their response, the executive committee noted that "the possible harm from such infromation being accessed, published and distributed outweighs the right of the person requesting this information to know it."

"The requested information concerns the work of educational institutions under martial law, therefore it is classified information which can only be accessed in the interests of public order and for the prevention of threats to the life and safety of those who participate in the education process, to protect the citizens' health, the right of educational process participants to a safe educational environment, to prevent the disclosure of information which may potentially harm a person or the society," the executive committee said in their response.

Disagreeing with the position of the executive committee, the editors decided to contest it and appealed to the court. Legal support to the editorial team is being provided by the non-governmental organization "Human Rights Platform".

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