Freedom of Speech Barometer for October 2023
In September the IMI experts recorded 12 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine. Five 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 abducting and firing at journalists, destroying a media outlet's office, and cyber attacks.
At the same time, the IMI recorded seven freedom of speech violations for which Ukrainian citizens are responsible. These include assault, death threats, restricting access to public information, cyber attacks and lawsuits against journalists.
In October it was reported that Ukainian journalist Victoria Roshchyna has gone missing while making a trip to the occupied territories. Her family and friends have not heard from her since August 3, when she was traveling to Russian-occupied territory. The SBU confirmed to the journalist's parents that Victoria has been taken prisoner by the Russians.
Furthermore, the occupiers are holding captive the administrators of the Telegram channels "RIA-Melitopol" and "Melitopol is Ukraine", accusing them of terrorism. The Russians only released a video of them in detention in their propaganda media and on Telegram on October 29, even though they had been arrested on August 20. The Russians released the names of the detainees: Oleksandr Malyshev, Heorhiy Levchenko, Maksym Rupchov, Yana Suvorova, Mark Kaliush, Kostiantyn Zinovkin. All of them are charged under several articles of the Russian criminal code: public calls for terrorist attacks, treason, espionage. They face 12 to 20 years in prison.
In Kharkiv, a filming crew for the Portuguese channel RTP came under fire in the October 6 shelling attack; the crew's car was severely damaged. According to RTP's Ukrainian producer Andriy Kovalenko, the crew had planned to film a report on the SES demining work and go to Hroza village, where 51 people were previously killed by Russian shelling. He noted that their team consists of three people: him and the Portuguese RTP reporter and cameraman. They were intact.
On the same day in Kharkiv, the Russians destroyed the ATN office. As editor Maryna Nikolayeva told IMI, the shock wave affected the newsroom and the advertising department the most. The team has been working remotely since the start of the full-scale invasion, realizin that there was a high probability that the house would come under fire, since it is downtown. However, their equipment, computers, and communications remained in the office.
The Odesa media outlet "Intent" reported a Russian DDoS attack on their website. The page was down for half an hour. As editor-in-chief Valeriy Bolhan told the IMI representative in Odesa oblast, it took this long for cyber security experts to repel the attack and protect the website managing features from being accessed. The editors believe this incident is related to their reporting.
The seven freedom of speech violations committed by Ukrainian citizens include assault, death threats, withholding public information, cyber attacks and lawsuits agains journalists.
Natalia Lyhachova, the "Detector Media" chief editor, received death threats. 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 October, Ukrainian journalist Anastasia Morozova, who works for the Polish outlet Frontstory.pl, reported having been assaulted. According to her, she and her colleague from a French media outlet were attacked by a man mentioned in their investigation into the "Nordstream" explosions. The man shoved the journalists, insulted them and broke their phone.
The website of the Rivne media outlet "Horyn Info" suffered a DDoS attack which caused the resource to be down for the day. The deputy editor-in-chief, Inna Denysiuk, told the IMI that the attack on the website could have been an act of revenge by those who do not like "Horyn Info" paying attention to the activities of the Russian Church (UOC MP) in Ukraine. According to her, the media outlet has often been criticized by the UOC and accused of working for the OCU.
"Slidstvo.Info" was subject to legal pressure: Serhiy Semenyuk is sueing the journalists for investigating the cleaning companies which are affiliated with the Russian businessman and have been providing cleaning services to Ukrainian strategic objects for years on end. "Slidstvo.Info" found out that Semeniuk's lawyers attempted to bypass the electronic auto-selection of judges so that the case would be tried by a "convenient" judge.
Abduction of journalists – 2
04.10.2023 Ukrainian reporter Victoria Roshchyna went missing on her trip to the occupied territories, reports The Daily Beast.
Family and friends say they have not heard from Victoria Roshchyna, 26, since August 3, when she was returning to Russian-occupied territory.
Her family fears she is being held by the Russians.
“To my daughter, journalism was the most important thing in her life, she was very devoted to her profession,” Volodymyr Roshchyn told The Daily Beast. “I asked her to slow down after her first captivity, I said, ‘Vika, I can pay your salary, just please don’t go to the front’ but she was firm, unstoppable—she was not able to stop covering the news of this war on the occupied territories for her readers.”
According to her father, Roshchyna set off from Ukraine to Poland on July 27 and was expected to reach Russian-occupied territories in eastern Ukraine—via Russia—three days later. When they spoke to her on August 3 she told them she had made it through days of border checks but did not tell them exactly where she was. She was first reported missing to the Ukrainian authorities on August 12. The family has also filed an official missing case with the Security Service of Ukraine, Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporary Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and the Ombudsman on September 21.
“The Ukrainian security service confirms to us that Victoria has been captured by Russia. Public officials tell us that there are many ‘frozen’ Ukrainian detainees in Russian jails, she might be among them,” Roshchyn told The Daily Beast.
Russian veteran campaigner Svetlana Gannushkina—one of the founders of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize-winning Memorial human rights organization—said she had requested the whereabouts of Roshchyna from the office of Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatyana Moskalkova. “Unfortunately, I have not received any response, yet,” she told The Daily Beast. “The answer can take more than a month, there are many requests.”
Sevgil Musaieva, the editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda, has worked with Roshchyna over the past year and calls for the Ukrainian authorities to do everything in their power to find the journalist.
“She is a brave journalist, she commits to report the most controversial topics, which require courage,” she told The Daily Beast. “She is not a spy, she is a real journalist; she is not indifferent to the fate of people who remained in the occupied territories. It is important for her to tell their stories. I am calling for Ukrainian authorities to do everything to find her and for Russian authorities to immediately release journalist Victoria Roshchyna.”
As IMI reported, on March 11, 2022, Hromadske posted an article by Roshchyna reporting on the life in the temporarily occupied Enerhodar.
Back then, the journalist covered the combat operations in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk oblasts. She planned to go all the way to Mariupol to report on what was really happening in the city, which had been under daily Russian shelling for over three weeks.
On March 16, it was reported that Victoria had been detained, probably by the Russian FSB. According to witnesses, at that time the journalist was in temporarily occupied Berdyansk.
On March 21, 2022, the Russian occupiers released the Hromadske journalist Victoria Roshchyna.
In November 2022, Victoria Roshchyna was shortlisted for the Courage in Journalism Awards.
31.10.2023 The Russians have been holding the administrators of the Telegram channels "RIA-Melitopol" and "Melitopol is Ukraine" captive for two months, accusing them of terrorism.
The occupiers only released a video of them in detention in their propaganda media and on Telegram on October 29, even though they had been arrested on August 20.
According to the Ukrainian Telegram channel "RIA Melitopol South", the fate of the detainees had been unknown for over two months. However, on October 29, the occupiers released a detailed report about the captured administrators, publishing it on the prominent Russian propaganda outlets and in Telegram channels.
"FSB officers in balaclavas, armed with machine guns, jump over fences, break down doors, grab people and take them out of the house handcuffed. Then, the propagandists film their remorse and confessions, which were extorted in a well-known way. There is even a 19-year-old girl and a boy with schizophrenia among the prisoners," the Ukrainian Telegram channel reports.
Now, RIA Melitopol South reports, the occupiers have released the names of the detainees: Oleksandr Malyshev, Heorhiy Levchenko, Maksym Rupchov, Yana Suvorova, Mark Kaliush, Kostiantyn Zinovkin. All of them are charged under several articles of the Russian criminal code: public calls for terrorist attacks, treason, espionage. They face 12 to 20 years in prison.
The propaganda outlet "Vesti.ru" also made a lengthy report on the detention. The occupiers talk about the detention of "three large intelligence groups controlled by the Ukrainian special services."
"As a result of the operation, the administrators of the fake media resource 'RIA-Melitopol' and the enemy's Telegram chat 'Melitopol is Ukraine', who were persuading locals to do espionage, were detained," the propagandists say, without informing the audience that the administrators of the Telegram channels were detained in late August. This, in turn, was reported by RIA Melitopol South, whose website, RIA-Melitopol, was hacked by the occupiers on August 20 and has been hosting their propaganda since then.
In their "Vesti.ru" report, the propagandists savor the potential prison terms awaiting the Telegram administrators, even using children: "The Levchenko's child (Heorhiy Levchenko, one of the detained administrators – Author) is 11. If everything goes well, she will be 23 the next time the man will see her."
Also, the propagandists stress in every possible way that all the detainees "had an epiphany as soon as the bracelets clicked shut on their wrists." They released a video of Yana Suvorova (aged 19) and Mark Kalush, a boy with schizophrenia, "confessing". Kostyantyn Zinovkin, 32, who is also considered a terrorist and was detained in early May 2023, is also featured in the report.
As the IMI reported, on the night of August 21, 2023, the Russians hacked the Telegram channel of the Ukrainian media outlet "RIA Melitopol", which continued to work even after Melitopol (Zaporizhia oblast) was occupied. According to Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov, the occupiers also hacked several other pro-Ukrainian Telegram channels which have been "tirelessly reporting the terrible truth about the life in the TOT while facing constant threats from the occupiers" since the first day of the war.
In early August, local journalist Iryna Levchenko and her husband Oleksandr, who have both been retired for years, were kidnapped in temporarily occupied Melitopol (Zaporizhia oblast). 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.
Firing at journalists – 1
06.10.2023 The filming crew of the Portuguese TV channel RTP came under fire in Kharkiv, getting their car badly damaged.
The channel's Ukrainian producer, Andriy Kovalenko, spoke about this in his comment to IMI.
According to him, the crew arrived in Kharkiv yesterday, planning to shoot a report on the SES demining work today and go to Hroza village, where 51 people were previously killed by Russian shelling.
"But at 6.50 a.m. I woke up to very, very loud whistling. I didn't even feel the explosion at first – just saw the windows burst. I was crushed by the window frame. Dust, fire... I honestly thought I'd be burned alive, but my arms were under the blanket at that moment and it saved me. But the fire did come in with the shock wave," Andriy Kovalenko said.
Later, he recalls, he went out into the hallway, saw a man with a badly cut hand and gave him first aid.
"We met with my group. The siren only sounded after three minutes. At first there was none," Andriy Kovalenko added.
He noted that their team consists of three people: him and the Portuguese RTP reporter and cameraman. They were intact.
Andriy Kovalenko also stressed that there were no soldiers in the hotel where they stayed and no military facilities nearby.
Destroying, seizing or attacking media offices – 1
06.10.2023 In Kharkiv, the office of the Television Agency "Novyny" was damaged by the October 6 shelling attack. The editor Maryna Nikolayeva spoke to the IMI representative about this.
According to her, some of their team, including her, had taken their own belongings (books, documents) from the office. The building is located downtown, on a hill, and the office was on the ninth floor and had panoramic windows. So when the full-scale invasion began, the team realized that there was a high chance of the building coming under fire. They switched to remote work, but the equipment, computers, and communications remained in the office.
"The shock wave affected the newsroom and the advertising department the most. Everything there got damaged – even parts of the ceiling and doors were torn out. The operator and assembly rooms were less affected. It was impossible to get through to some of the desks, including mine: it was near the window, and everything collapsed there," Maryna Nikolayeva said.
She noted that now their main task was to keep the premises safe from looters.
The police and the prosecutors recorded the damage to the office as part of the case opened the day of the shelling. The editors have not yet assessed the damage.
The founder of the agency, Oleh Yukht, released a video showing the aftermath of the attack and suggested that his colleagues in Kharkiv take their belongings from the newsroom if possible.
Since the start of the full-scale war, ATN, like most TV projects, only works as a website, since the Russians destroyed the TV tower in the spring of 2022.
Cyber crimes – 1
07.10.2023 The website of the Odesa media outlet Intent suffered a DDoS attack and was down for half an hour.
As editor-in-chief Valeriy Bolhan told the IMI representative in Odesa oblast, it took this long for cyber security experts to repel the attack and protect the website managing features from being accessed:
"The programmers have preliminary information that suggests the attack could have come from Russia. I believe that this is not a coincidence. We heard that we are not the only Ukrainian media outlet to come under attack lately."
The editors believe this incident is related to their reporting. The team is currently considering contacting the police.
As IMI reported, in August, Russian special services tried to break into the e-system for planning UAF operations. According to the SBU, the Russian hackers intended to tap into intelligence data. The attack was perpetrated by the hacker group Sandworm, which is backed by the Russian military intelligence.
"To spread viruses in the system, the enemy primarily 'bet' on capturing Ukrainian battlefield tablets. In the future, they planned to use the access and programs available on these devices to penetrate the system," the SBU said.
On August 5, the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine warned about the viruses being spread posing as recommendations from the Government Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine CERT-UA.
THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH SITUATION IN UKRAINE FOR WHICH UKRAINIAN CITIZENS ARE RESPONSIBLE
Beatings, assault – 1
17.10.2023 Ukrainian journalist Anastasia Morozova, who works for the Polish media outlet Frontstory.pl, reported that she and her colleague from a French outlet had been attacked this July during a journalistic investigation into the Nordstream explosions.
She spoke about this in her comment to the IMI representative.
According to Morozova, they were attacked in Kyiv by a man they mentioned in the investigation. The journalists had contacted the man because, according to their information, he had been preparing financial reports for the Lviv-based company Feeria Lwowa for two years in a row. According to German police, this company rented the yacht Andromeda (the yacht that allegedly planted the explosives. – Ed.). Anastasia says that they believe that this man owns the company, because the person who is officially listed as the owner was unable to answer their questions.
"We decided to go to Kyiv. It turned out that the place is located in a closed-off area: two city streets surrounded by a fence, and managed to get inside," Anastasia said.
According to her, there were private houses on the street, and the public part was closed off by a gate. She clarified that she and her colleague did not enter the private property of the house where the subject of the investigation lives, but only the street.
According to her, when the gates opened for a car to pass, they were able to enter the street. They called the man’s apartment and introduced themselves. Then the man hid away. After the second call, he ran out of his house in a rage.
"He started shoving us, insulting us. We saw that this person was a physical threat to us and we began to walk away. And he hid in the house again. When we approached the fence, we realized that to get out, we also need a key or a remote control to open the gate," Anastasia recalls.
She added that while they were looking for a way out of the yard, the man drove up to them in a car at a manic speed, got out and started shouting.
"He was very anxious to know how we learned the address and how we found the house. He saw that my colleague was filming him on her phone, grabbed the phone from her hands, smashed it against the ground with much force. Then started stomping on the phone. All while shoving us," Anastasia Morozova said.
According to the journalist, she and her colleague asked him to open the gate so that they could leave the yard.
"He did not want to open the door for us. He insulted us, killed the phone for good, but did not open the door. We had to climb over a fairly high fence, about 180 cm. We scraped our hands," the media worker added.
Later, the investigators wrote to him, saying that if he did not respond they would publish his data, to which the man replied with a fire emoji. After that, he stopped answering their texts.
According to Anastasia Morozova, within two hours after that, she and her colleague boarded buses to leave the country. The journalists’ editors decided that it was safer than going to the police, which would delay them in Ukraine for a certain time.
After the investigation was released, the journalist added, there has been no response from the attacker.
Frontstory.pl is published by the Reporters Foundation, the first non-profit investigative journalism organization in Poland.
Death threats – 1
23.10.2023 Political consultant Volodymyr Petrov threatened Natalia Lyhachova, the "Detector Media" chief editor, with "punishment" which he will decide on himself.
He said this on his YouTube channel "Radio Islandiya" in response to her critical remarks at the sixth National Media Talk conference, "Detector Media" reports.
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."
For these statements, Petrov threatened Lyhachova with a "punishment" that he would determine himself.
"Lyhachova – I'm warning right away – she will be punished," Petrov said.
"As prescribed by law," his co-host Serhiy Ivanov tried to clarify.
"No, I will be deciding how she will be punished," Petrov objected.
"I do not demand an apology. Before, when she was saying that, I didn't give a damn. Now consider that I have set the rule. In other words, Lyhachova will be punished, this is out of the question," Petrov said (the original vocabulary has been preserved) and added that "he would have let it slip if she hadn't run away."
He also stated that Ukrainians who left the country during the full-scale war should have their rights limited and journalists who left do not have the right to "teach the rest how to live".
"All those who fled should be deprived of certain rights. Limitation of rights. That's it," said Petrov.
He also clarified how exactly Lyhachova and all others who left Ukraine and are now expressing their opinion may be punished, recalling the incident with Taras Chornovil.
"I am ready to speak and argue with those who stayed in Kyiv. But any skank who fled – any businessman, journalist, politician, I don't give a f***k – and now comes and tells us how to live, will be punished. For anyone trying to imagine that, remember what happened to Taras Chornovil a few months ago," Petrov said.
On June 13, ex-deputy Taras Chornovil was doused with green pigment in Kyiv and thrown into a garbage bin.
IMI lawyer Roman Holovenko pointed out the fact that at the end of the video, Serhiy Ivanov appealed to Volodymyr Petrov to end his speech and stop with the threats. That is, even his colleague on the air perceived these words as threats.
The lawyer also noted that the Law of Ukraine "On Media" states: "It is prohibited to distribute... statements that incite discrimination or oppression against individuals or groups of individuals based on their ethnic or social background, citizenship, nationality, race, religion and beliefs, age, sex, sexuality, gender identity, disability or on other grounds on the territory of Ukraine, in the media or on video-sharing platforms..." (Clause 3, Part 1, Article 36).
"The issue of the women and children, who mostly fled due to the full-scale invasion, returning from abroadis particularly acute. That is, the talk about restricting the rights of Ukrainian migrants in the media is questionable not just from a legal point of view, but also in terms of pure rationality, if we take into account the demographic crisis."
Danylo Popkov, a lawyer at the "Zmina" Human Rights Center, explained that Petrov's remarks about Natalia Lyhachova fall under Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine: threats or violence against a journalist.
According to him, since Lyhachova's words about Petrov's activities, which he threatened her for, were said in public, they can be interpreted as journalistic activity, and therefore are covered by the article.
"This article covers threats of any violence against journalists. The mention of the incident with Taras Chornovil, who was thrown into a garbage bin, can be interpreted as a threat of violence. Therefore, I would advise to contact the police with a statement about a crime," explained the lawyer.
The media outlet recalled that during Viktor Yanukovych's presidency, Volodymyr Petrov was organizing campaigns against the opposition. For example, in May 2013, the protesters at the rally "Stand Up, Ukraine!" were approached an armored personnel carrier, and the activists and journalists were attacked by hired young men, one of whom was Vadym Titushko. Volodymyr Petrov initially admitted that he had rented the car for the campaign. Now it denies it.
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.
CENSORSHIP, INFORMATION ACCESS
Information access – 2
19.10.2023 The Khmelnytsky Oblast Military Administration only invited selected media outlets to the briefing with the first deputy chair Serhiy Tyurin regarding the establishment of the Netishyn City Military Administration. The briefing was only attended by TV presenters and some online outlets, who had been informed about the event by phone.
This was reported by Alyona Bereza, the IMI representative in Khmelnytsky oblast.
"I regularly monitor the official pages of the state government and local authorities. This time, I also thoroughly checked everything and learned that the oblast administration had held a briefing, which had not been previously announced either on the official website, on Facebook, or in the Viber group for journalists," Alyona Bereza said.
The IMI representative contacted the administration's special department which deals with communications, arranges and holds briefings for the management and representatives of structural subunits.
"We invited television people, because we planned to livestream the event on the OMA Facebook page," explained the head of information, culture, nationalities and religions, Inna Mykhaylova.
As the IMI representative notes, the Facebook livestream did take place and has been recorded and saved.
However, Alyona Bereza notes, a livestream cannot replace the opportunity for journalists to ask questions to the speaker during the briefing. According to her, there is a special Facebook group for all media workers, which includes over a hundred journalists who were essentially left out of this briefing. It was only attended by the filming crews of several TV channels and some online media outlets, which, according to the head of the department, were not invited, but learned about the briefing elsewhere and were present.
As IMI reported, in August a reporter and a cameraman for the Khmelnytsky media outlet ZHAR.INFO were not allowed into the regional administration hall. The journalists wanted to get a comment from the first deputy head of the Khmelnytsky Oblast Military Administration, Serhiy Tyurin, regarding aid to the Hruzevytsya residents who were affected by the Russian shelling.
Prior to that, the editors contacted Tyurin personally and asked the press office for his comment three times during August. Having received no response, the journalists decided to personally go to the first deputy's reception room in the morning of August 28 to try to get a comment. However, the security guards asked the journalists whether they "got an approval for their visit" and refused to let the media into the building.
The security guards asked the journalists to leave the checkpoint and wait. The reporters disagreed and asked them to contact the administration staff who could help resolve the issue and help them get a comment. The guards replied that the building was a "military object" and pointed their weapons at the journalists.
After the incident, the media called the police and wrote a statement about obstruction of journalistic work.
20.10.2023 The Khmelnytsky territorial department of the State Bureau of Investigation did not find any signs of a crime in the Khmelnytsky Oblast Military Administration denying access to ZHAR.INFO journalists and tasked the National Guard with investigating this incident.
This is said in the letter sent by the SBI to journalist Alyona Bereza via Ukrposhta (received on October 20).
The letter was sent on September 21 and contained the results of the SBI verifying the facts regarding the regional administration refusing access to journalists, which was handed over to the Bureau by the local police in late August.
"Khmelnytsky TD of the SBI fully verified the facts presented in the UA case No. 14792 (28.08.2023). However, no objective data that would testify to the occurrence of a criminal offense was found, therefore there are no grounds for entering the information into the Unified Register of Pretrial Investigations," reads the reply signed by the head of the first investigative department, Mykhailo Borusovsky.
At the same time, the law enforcers passed the materials on to the Western Territorial Department of the National Guard of Ukraine, asking them "to investigate the case within the scope of their authority; in the event that signs of a criminal offense are detected, the materials should be mailed to the SBI Territorial Department in Khmelnytsky city within the deadline established by law." The National Guard was also asked to inform the interested persons about the results of the inspection within the timeframe established by the law.
The ZHAR.INFO team notes that they were not surprised by this reply, as they already have the experience of having their appeals regarding non-admission to the City Council reviewed by law enforcers. In that case, no signs of a crime were found, either.
"Similar picture. Denial again, and again the law enforcers find no grounds to punish those who prevent journalists from performing their duty. We have to wait for an inspection by the National Guard, which is the body that denied us access in the first place. We will follow up on this issue in the future," commented ZHAR.INFO journalist Alyona Bereza.
As reported, in August a reporter and a cameraman for the Khmelnytsky media outlet ZHAR.INFO were not allowed into the regional administration hall. The journalists wanted to get a comment from the first deputy head of the Khmelnytsky Oblast Military Administration, Serhiy Tyurin, regarding aid to the Hruzevytsya residents who were affected by the Russian shelling.
Cyber attacks – 2
30.10.2023 The Facebook page of the NGO "Automaidan Vinnytsia", which was also the page of the "DePutaty" media founded by it, has been hacked, reports the IMI representative in Vinnytsia oblast.
The administrators have been trying to get the page access back for several weeks. As the organization has said, the Facebook support "has started investigating the page," but no progress has been made so far: i.e. the page has not been given back to the administrators.
The media workers and activists have created a new Facebook page and announced that in addition to "relocating" their page on the social network, they are also planning to change the media domain.
"Our journalistic investigations, revealing and critical materials were followed by phishing attacks on our organization's social media resources. Recently, our Facebook page was hacked. But we keep on working," the post reads.
The media outlet also noted that they continue working on their projects on history and ecology and do not stop "the fight against illegal construction that destroys green zones and historical areas" for the community's sake.
As of now, the new Automaidan page only has 140 followers, several dozen times less than the hacked one.
It will be recalled that IMI also reported on the mass influx of hackers targeting Ukrainian media: "In recent weeks, we have received loads of phishing PM texts pretending to be the Meta support service. In Ukrainian and English. Now they also started texting in Russian."
31.10.2023 On October 31, the website of the Rivne media outlet "Horyn Info" suffered a DDoS attack which caused the resource to be down for the day.
The deputy editor-in-chief, Inna Denysiuk, spoke to an IMI representative about this.
According to her, the website was practically paralyzed throughout the day.
"From morning to late evening, numerous DDoS attacks targeted the online platform of the media outlet 'Horyn Info'. Our website received over a dozen requests from abroad per second. Such activity made the website temporarily unavailable to readers. However, thanks to our technicians, the resource is already up again," said Inna Denysiuk.
She assumed that the attack on the website could have been an act of revenge by those who do not like "Horyn Info" paying attention to the activities of the Russian Church (UOC MP) in Ukraine.
"We report on communities switching from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Moreover, we monitor the progress of the trials regarding the church buildings or land plots ownership. Such as, say, the Horodok village community defending their legal right to retain ownership of the land, which the local Moscow Patriarchate monastery has been trying to appropriate for many years, in court. By the way, in the comments under articles on this or similar topics, MP supporters usually aren't careful about their choice of words," Inna Denisyuk said.
The editor also believes that the media outlet could have received such a response due to their active reporting on the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. "A part of our team is now working on a project to create a virtual catalog of UIA memorial sites. And such DDoS attacks are very detrimental to our work. After all, if this is the reason our website is being hacked, then we are doing everything right," said the journalist.
Inna Denysiuk suggests that supporters of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate may be involved in the attack on the website, because UOC resources have repeatedly criticized the media outlet and accused it of working for the OCU. However, the mass media does not rule out that Russians may also be behind the attack.
Now the "Horyn Info" website works as usual. The last time the resource suffered such attacks was at the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
Lawsuits against journalists – 1
05.10.2023 Serhiy Semenyuk, who figured in the joint investigation by "Slidstvo.Info" and the OCCRP as a business partner and friend of a Russian businessman, is sueing the journalists for investigating the cleaning companies which are affiliated with the Russian businessman and have been providing cleaning services to Ukrainian strategic objects for years on end. However, "Slidstvo.Info" found out that Semeniuk's lawyers attempted to bypass the electronic auto-selection of judges so that the case would be tried by a "convenient" judge.
This is reported on the "Slidstvo.Info" website.
Moreover, a person with a residence permit to live nearby the Zhovtnevy district court (Dnipro) was also involved in the case.
The investigation in question is titled "From the Kremlin Palace to Ukrenergo: who cleans Ukraine's strategic objects".
The journalists learned that cleaning companies affiliated with a Russian businessman have been cleaning Ukrainian strategic facilities, such as Ukrzaliznytsia, Ukrenergo, the State Tax Service, etc., for years on end. The companies providing services to these facilities have ties to the Russian businessman of Belarusian origin, Eduard Apsit. His business partner and close friend, Serhiy Semeniuk, owns the "Chysto" group companies in Ukraine.
According to the OCCRP, the cleaning companies affiliated with the Apsit family have cleaned the Kremlin Palace in Russia.
Furthermore, the journalists found that a "Chisto" company has worked in occupied Crimea and cleaned the barracks of the Russian MoD's Black Sea Fleet.
After the investigation was released, Serhiy Semeniuk sued the editors of "Slidstvo.Info" and the author of the material, Yanina Korniyenko, for slander. However, his lawyers tried to manipulate the procedure of electronic selection of judges, which automatically determines who will try the case. For this, the lawyer submitted an application to the court and withdrew it multiple times until the system assigned the judge they needed.
Serhiy Semeniuk initially approached the court on 17 July 2023. At that time, the system randomly selected judge Oleksandr Antoniuk. Yet, Semeniuk’s lawyer, Anna Haponets, promptly withdrew the lawsuit.
On 8 August 2023, Semeniuk filed the lawsuit once again. Evidently, this time he was also discontented with the composition of the panel and the outcome of the automated allocation. This time, judge Viktoriya Batmanova was the random choice. So, the very next day, Semeniuk’s lawyer withdrew the lawsuit again.
However, just hours later on the same day, Semeniuk’s representatives submitted yet another lawsuit to the same court. This time, the system automatically assigned judge Dina Pokoptseva. It seems this was the judge they had been angling for through all those manipulations, as, notably, Semeniuk’s team did not withdraw the lawsuit this time around. The following month, this judge opened proceedings in a case for the protection of honour, dignity, and business reputation.
Nika Kreidenkova, Advocacy Manager at DEJURE Foundation, comments that such tactics are frequently employed in court proceedings.
“This bears all the characteristics of a classic ‘rolling lawsuits’ strategy. Such tactics are frequently utilised by plaintiffs and their legal counsels, occasionally in agreement with certain judges. You file a lawsuit, sometimes with intentional errors to prevent the judge immediately accepting it. Then you observe if the lawsuit has been sent to the ‘right’ judge. If not, you withdraw it and submit a new lawsuit, identical to the previous one. The cycle continues until the lawsuit gets to the ‘intended’ judge,” says Nina Kreidenkova.
Further evidence suggests that Semeniuk was keen on having this specific judge. Semeniuk introduced an obscure individual, Vladyslav Hrindak, as the third defendant in the case, because he shared the post about the investigation on his Instagram page. The page looks empty and inactive, with its first post dated 14 June, a month following the release of the investigation. A mere week later, on 22 June, Vladyslav shared Slidstvo.Info’s investigative report. This post remains the only subsequent activity on Hrindak’s page, which has only 33 followers.
By a strange coincidence, Hrindak is registered in Dnipro, within the same district where the Zhovtnevyi District Court of Dnipropetrovsk City is located. It is primarily due to Hrindak’s inclusion as a defendant that the case will be heard in this specific court. Semeniuk is also registered in Dnipro, which means that two of the parties involved in the case have connections to the Zhovtnevyi Court of Dnipropetrovsk City.
“It is highly probable that this man was used to ensure that the lawsuit was directed to the ‘preferred court.’ In civil proceedings, a lawsuit can be filed at the defendant’s registration or residential address. Sometimes, you do not want the case to land in the courts associated with the ‘original’ defendants. So, if you want to manipulate, you look for a defendant who is registered within the territorial jurisdiction of the ‘desired’ court. The motive, it seems, is also to place the case with a specific judge,” says Nika Kreidenkova, Advocacy Manager at DEJURE Foundation.
Interestingly, the plaintiff holds no claims against Vladyslav Hrindak. He merely serves as a defendant in the case, with no claims of moral damages against him. Conversely, the plaintiffs are seeking UAH 200,000 from Slidstvo.Info. Attempts to contact the man have been futile, as the phone calls remain unanswered.
The judge opted for a simplified procedure to hear the case. This entails an in-absentia trial, conducted solely through correspondence with the court, without the need to summon the parties involved. Although, it is customary for such cases to undergo the standard procedural route.
“Opting for a case to be heard through a simplified procedure (i. e. in writing) without summoning the parties facilitates a swift resolution, avoiding the typical delays of postponing or deferring court hearings. This can play to the advantage of the plaintiff, especially if there is an urgency to secure a court decision. Another ‘benefit’ of this approach is that such decisions are not subject to cassation appeals, effectively eliminating another possibility to challenge the decision,” says Oksana Maksymeniuk, a defence lawyer, and a media lawyer at the Regional Press Development Institute.
Belarusian journalist, previously Belarusian Investigative Centre investigative reporter Aleksandr Yarashevich expresses concerns over the nature of the trial. He finds it dubious, especially given the involvement of an unrelated party.
“Regarding the trial, it seems suspicious that a guy who shared the investigation on his Instagram page with just over 30 followers was added as a party to the case. What is even more concerning is the endeavour to hear the case in absentia, without any court appearance, effectively making it a closed-door proceeding,” says Aleksandr Yarashevich.
DEFENDING FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Media community's response – 1
13.10.2023 The Institute of Mass Information and the media community plan to initiate a meeting with the Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Rustem Umerov, to discuss the issues with Ukrainian reporters' access to the frontline.
This was announced by IMI executive Oksana Romaniuk at the round table panel "Issues with Accreditation and Frontline Access for Journalists" at the National Media Talk-2023 conference on October 13.
"We plan to initiate a meeting between the media community and the new Defense Minister Umerov and present a list of issues that need to be resolved. Unfortunately, they have not been resolved in any way, as of now. One of these issues is bringing the Decree No. 73 into compliance with the norms of the law 'On Media' — I would like to remind you that online media are considered equal to printed media and this should also be reflected, say, by the accreditation mechanism for journalists," said Oksana Romaniuk.
The war correspondents present at the discussion shared the problems they have been facing trying to access information that was not classified and the frontline itself.
IMI and the media community plan to meet the head of the Ministry of Defense, discuss the streamlining of the approval process for the media to access the frontline, with increased accountability, and stress that reporters will be taking safety risks at their own discretion and are ready to bear responsibility for it.
They also plan to discuss the definitive answer as to who is responsible for working with the media and the establishment of inter-department coordination which would help prevent state bodies from shifting the responsibility onto one another in a circle.
Lawsuits by journalists – 1
31.10.2023 In mid-October, the Khmelnytsky media outlet ZHAR.INFO filed an appeal to the Administrative Court of Appeal No. 7 against the Khmelnytsky District Administrative Court's ruling in the case on public information access, namely to the data on the condition of bomb shelters in the Khmelnytsky territorial community.
The editors reported this to the IMI.
Earlier, on September 18, the Khmelnytsky District Administrative Court partially satisfied the editors' lawsuit by admitting that the response of the Khmelnytsky City Council executive committee's response, which said that the requested information counted as service information and was thus classified, is unlawful. Yet, the court refused to provide it in accordance with Part 1 of Article 22 of the Law of Ukraine "On Access to Public Information".
Disagreeing with the ruling, the editors appealed to the Administrative Court of Appeal No. 7. The composition of the court in the case has already been chosen, and on October 18, the court of appeal began working on the case.
Yevhen Vorobyov, a lawyer at the NGO "Human Rights Platform", who represents the journalists in the case, noted that the media outlet is asking the court to oblige the City Council to provide the requested information.
"In the appeal, we ask the court to pay attention to the circumstances which, unfortunately, were not taken into account by the first instance court. We also ask the court to oblige them to provide documents assessing the state of the facilities (buildings, structures, premises) and whether they are fit to be used as basic bomb shelters for people," Vorobyov said.
We remind you that on June 1, 2023, the Khmelnytsky District Court already obliged the Khmelnytsky City Council to process the journalist's request. However, the City Council denied them access. Journalists contacted the City Council once again, narrowing down their request about the state of the bomb shelters to only two schools. The City Council refused again. Disagreeing with this decision, the editors went back to court.
Previously, the IMI reported that ZHAR.INFO journalists were able to obtain public information only after appealing to the Commissioner.
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