Freedom of Speech Barometer for September 2023 (amended)
Amendment. An August incident which had been included by mistake has been removed from the September monitoring. IMI apologizes to our readers.
In September IMI experts recorded 13 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 firing at journalists, legal pressure, destroying one outlet's office, and cyberattacks.
At the same time, IMI recorded eight freedom of speech violations for which Ukrainian citizens are responsible. These include obstruction, restricting access to public information, death threats and cyberattacks.
Edit by IMI
In September, photographer Volodymyr Myronyuk was killed in action near Kurdyumivka (Donetsk oblast). He is the 67th media worker to die as a result of Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Myronyuk was a Ukrainian, but lived in the US and had the American citizenship. He was both fighting and a working as a photographer.
A group of foreign jounalists came under Russian fire. The Russians attacked the Swedish TV4 crew in Zaporizhzhia oblast with a suicide drone. The car the journalists were traveling in and the filming equipment were destroyed in the attack. Reporter Johan Fredriksson and photographer Daniel Zdolsek were out of their car filming when it was hit by a drone. The journalists were unharmed. However, their local producer Oleksandr Pavlov and two Ukrainian policemen accompanying the TV4 crew received minor injuries.
In September it was reported that the "Cheline" editorial office had been destroyed by a Russian missile hitting the premises of the Shevchenko Music and Drama Theater in the center of Chernihiv on August 19. According to Pavlo Solodovnyk, the editor of "Cheline", the team no longer has an office. The impact of the missile shattered the windows and doors and caused parts of the ceiling to collapse. The journalists' equipment – laptops, computers, cameras and microphones – was destroyed or damaged. However, there was no one in the office at the time of the shelling, so the employees were unharmed.
One case of legal pressure by Russia concerned the Ukrainian TV host Maria Yefrosynina, who was sentenced by a Moscow court to seven years in prison in absentia for spreading fakes about the army motivated by political hatred. The court also banned the Ukrainian journalist from running online pages for three years. One of the executives of the Crimean Tatar channel ATR, Ayder Mujdabayev, was also sentenced to six years in prison for "public calls to terrorism" and barred from running websites for four years.
The eight freedom of speech violations committed by Ukrainian citizens include obstruction, withholding public information, death threats and cyberattacks.
The independent anti-corruption center NGL.media and the Institute of Mass Information both received threats via email.
The person writing to NGL.media said that they knew the journalists' home addresses and threatened them with physical assault. The center's executive Oleksandra Hubytska remarked that they believe the threats to be connected to the article "The Great Escape", which was released on September 14, 2023. NGL.media identified 2,248 men who fled the country through to the Shlyakh system and the persons who helped them. It is after the release of the article that the threats arrived.
IMI received an email claiming that Ukrinform office, where IMI and "Detector Media" were presenting their Recommended Media Map (a list of high quality media projects in each of Ukraine's oblasts), has been mined. In the threatening email, the anonymous person wrote: "Two time bombs have been planted at the National News Agency of Ukraine – Ukrinform," and listed the exact address of the news agency.
In September IMI experts recorded three instances of obstruction of legal journalistic work in Chernihiv, Khmelnytsky and in Mykolaiv oblast.
In Yuzhnoukrainsk (Mykolaiv oblast), officials tried to prevent "NikVesti" filming crew from entering the building where the City Council was re-electing the council chair (acting mayor) at an unscheduled meeting.
Angela Savastru, who represents the outlawed party OPFL, called the police and asked them to keep the media workers away from the hall. The deputy argued that the journalists "had no proper credentials" and that the meeting was supposed to be held behind closed doors. She also emphasized that she had rented the venue in the local cultural center "Energetik" with her own money, therefore, if the reporter wanted to stay there, they would have to pay the rent.
In Khmelnytsky, a reporter and a cameraman of the local media 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. Having received no response, the journalists decided to personally go to the first deputy's reception room 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.
In Chernihiv, a court prohibited Suspilne.Chernihiv and 0462 reporters from taking photos, an audio or video recording of an open hearing in the case of the September 3, 2022 explosion which occurred during a charity fair in Chernihiv's old district.
Furthermore, IMI experts recorded two cases of officials limiting journalists' access to information. These incidents happened in Khmelnytsky and Poltava.
The Khmelnytsky City Council refused to provide a ZHAR.INFO journalist with the structural subunits' conclusions regarding the draft decisions that were on the agenda of the September 24 City Council session. The City Council claimed that the decision was motivated by the fact that the conclusions in question are considered official internal correspondence. However, some media outlets were publishing screenshots of these conclusions on the draft decisions even before the session began.
The Poltava City Council responede to an inquiry ZHAR.INFO by saying that they would provide the answers after the martial law is lifted. The department explained that there was no deputy mayor in charge of this segment at the time of the first request.
IMI also recorded one cyberattack: unknown persons tried to access the Telegram profile of Olena Mudra, an investigator journalist. She believes this has to do with her reporting, namely with her remarks about the work of state officials. She said that a few hours before the hacking attempts on her Telegram profile she made a Facebook post about the changes in the leadership of the oblast council, which earned a lot of comments.
Firing at journalists – 1
19.09.2023 The filming crew of the Swedish TV4 came under fire from a Russian drone in Zaporizhzhia oblast on September 19, reports the broadcaster.
Reporter Johan Fredriksson and photographer Daniel Zdolsek were out of their car filming when it was hit by a drone. The journalists were unharmed.
However, their local producer Oleksandr Pavlov and two Ukrainian policemen accompanying the TV4 crew received minor injuries.
"This time we were lucky. A Russian strike drone hit the trunk of our car. Fortunately, the car was empty," said Johan Fredriksson.
The TV4 crew was going to film a report about the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The visit to the said area had been pre-planned and organized by the local police.
During the attack, the car they were traveling in and the filming equipment were destroyed.
"We are glad that nobody was injured. We were following the safety procedures prescribed by the editorial team. Both of our envoys have a lot of routine work and experience working in war zones, and this helped them quickly realise what was going on," said TV4 Nyheterna news director Fredrick Malmberg.
As the channel notes, the process of obtaining permission to accompany the patrol police started at the beginning of last week. Before setting off, the TV crew underwent a check that ensured they had the appropriate type of vehicle for the terrain and safety gear such as helmets and bulletproof vests.
The head of the Zaporizhia Oblast Council, Olena Zhuk, expressed concern over the attack on the channel's reporters.
"This is a blatant attack on the press," she told TV4 Nyheterna.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson considers the incident "absolutely terrible".
"I assume there will be a very thorough investigation into what's behind this. One can not deny that this is also a consequence that Russia wants to see. So that reporters do not dare to go there, so that they cover this war as little as possible," said the prime minister.
The lieutenant colonel of the Swedish Defense Academy, Joakim Paasikivi, noted that this was a deliberate attack on journalists.
A drone pilot observing a target sees what the camera on the drone sees, he said.
“He's deliberately aiming that drone at the target and seeing it all the way through to the hit, and that means the damage is pretty limited, as you can see on the car. Overall, the car's license plate and the inscription PRESS can be clearly seen on the safety vests," he said.
Media offices destroyed – 1
19.08.2023 "Cheline" editorial office has been destroyed by a Russian missile hitting the premises of the Shevchenko Music and Drama Theater in the center of Chernihiv on August 19.
Pavlo Solodovnyk, the editor of "Cheline", reported this to the IMI representative in Chernihiv oblast.
According to him, the team no longer has an office.
"Our team no longer has the office where we emerged as an outlet and have worked for seven years. Fortunately, there was no one in the office on Saturday (the day of the shelling. – Ed.). Although we were invited to cover that unfortunate 'drone' event, we refused. Fortunately, all the staff members are alive," he said.
As you know, on August 19, around 11:30 a.m., the Russian army hit the center of Chernihiv with an Iskander-M missile at the regional music and drama theater. The Russian missile strike injured 163 people, killing seven and wounding 156 more.
The rooms rented by the team were located in the central part of Chernihiv, a few dozens of meters from the place where the Russian missile dropped.
The impact of the missile shattered the windows and doors and caused parts of the ceiling to collapse. The journalists' equipment – laptops, computers, cameras and microphones – was destroyed or damaged.
The "Cheline" team continues its work and has already rented another office.
"Now we are actively working to move to another office, salvaging things from under the rubble, people working from home, every now and then we go out to film. That is, we try to work fully for our readers and viewers. After all, we realize how important it is nowadays for people to receive information about the safety situation, news about the key events in the oblast and the country in general. Despite everything, we persevere and we continue our work," said Pavlo Solodovnyk.
As IMI reported, Arsen Chepurny, a reporter for the outlet "Chas Chernihivsky" was wounded in the arm when a Russian missile hit the Shevchenko Regional Music and Drama Theater in downtown Chernihiv on August 19. At the moment of the impact, he and the website's cameraman, Dmytro Falchevsky, were at the theater, which hosted the drone exhibition "Angry Birds Fly to Chernihiv".
Cyberattacks – 1
06.09.2023 The website of the Institute of Mass Information has suffered a DDoS attack on the morning of September 6 and was down for over an hour.
The technicians tried to repel the attack and protect the website.
The website is now back online.
"I believe the attack is connected with our materials about Russian crimes against journalists and the media. We will continue to expose and document Russian crimes," said IMI director Oksana Romaniuk.
We remind you that in April 2023 unknown hackers tried to access the IMI website and were looking for a vulnerable spot through the newsletter subscription form. IMI believes the attack to be connected with the organization's professional work, such as exposing Russian war crimes, publishing the War Crimes Barometer and investigations into the work of Russia's aggressive propagandists.
after February 24, the IMI website has suffered daily cyber attacks which were committed by hackers from the russian federation. At the time, hackers used various methods to hack into the IMI website to gain access to the administration panel. In particular, they tried to find vulnerabilities by writing scripts in the form of donations. However, due to the high degree of protection, they failed.
The IMI website was subjected to especially powerful DDoS attacks on May 10 and March 25, as well as on December 22, 2022, when unknown persons tried to disrupt the work of IMI through the newsletter subscription form.
Legal pressure – 2
15.09.2023 In Russia, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced Ukrainian TV host Maria Yefrosynina in absentia to seven years in prison for spreading fakes about the army motivated by political hatred.
This was reported by the Russian media outlet "Mediazona", which cited the court's press office.
The court also banned the Ukrainian journalist from running online pages for three years.
As SotaVision writes, the prosecutor announced that while examining the evidence they studied "testimonies from persons with special knowledge and proven competence."
The prosecution asked for seven years in a low security prison for Yefrosynina, but asked to take into account that she has a small child.
As reported by IMI, on May 17, 2023, in Russia, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow arrested Ukrainian TV presenter Maria Yefrosynina in absentia for "fakes" about the military. A case against Yefrosynina was opened on April 7, 2022, under point "D" of Part 2 of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The reason was the TV host's Instagram posts. This March, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs declared her wanted.
Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code is deliberate public spread of false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the exercise of their powers by the Russian state bodies, the assistance by volunteer groups, organizations or individuals in the performance of the tasks assigned to the AFRF.
After the start of the military invasion of Ukraine, Russia adopted new administrative and criminal articles on "fakes" and "discrediting" the Russian army. According to them, anti-war statements and any statements about the war in Ukraine that contradict the official position of the Russian authorities are criminalized.
20.09.2023 The Second Western District Military Court of Russia sentenced Ayder Mujdabaev, an executive of the Crimean Tatar channel ATR, to six years in prison in absentia for "calls for terrorism", reports the Russian propaganda outlet TASS, citing the court.
"The court convicted Mujdabaev under Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (public calls for terrorism, public justification or promotion of terrorism) and sentenced him to six years in a low security prison in absentia; the convict will also be barred from running websites for four years," the report says.
The journalist himself, who has been living and working in Ukraine since 2015, responded to the news sarcastically.
"Sad news incoming from the Reich... I am distraught. The sentence is too mild. Based on the total of my Russophobic crimes, I thought I'd get at least eight years... Still, convicted by a wartime court. So I will respond with wartime crimes. Reich, thank you for your trust!"
Ayder Mujdabaev is a journalist, media manager, deputy CEO of the Crimean Tatar channel ATR (Kyiv, Ukraine), former deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Moskovsky Komsomolets" (Moscow, Russia).
As reported by IMI, on June 25, the Russian Investigative Committee announced that it had placed the journalist and ATR presenter Ayder Mujdabaev on the international wanted list. He is being accused of making public calls for terrorist activities and publicly justifying terrorism online (Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
According to the Russian investigation, Mujdabaev made two text posts on his personal Facebook page "featuring calls for acts of violence and forceful capture of Russian citizens in Ukraine to further swap them for Oleh Sentsov, who was convicted of terrorism in Russia."
In 2020, the Basmanny Court of Moscow (Russia) arrested the journalist in absentia.
THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH SITUATION IN UKRAINE FOR WHICH UKRAINIAN CITIZENS ARE RESPONSIBLE
Death threats – 2
18.09.2023 The independent anti-corruption center NGL.media received threats by email. The center's executive Oleksandra Hubytska reported this on Facebook and shared the details with IMI.
"An email to our office from football fans. The level of culturedness and education is obvious right away," she wrote.
The author of the letter wrote that they knew the journalists' home addresses and threatened them with physical violence.
In her comment to IMI Hubytska said that they believe the threats to be connected to the article "The Great Escape", which was released on September 14, 2023. NGL.media identified 2,248 men who fled the country through to the Shlyakh system and the persons who helped them.
According to her, the editorial team received threats right after the article was released. So far, the team has not contacted the police, she added.
18.09.2023 The Institute of Mass Information received an email claiming that Ukrinform office, where IMI and "Detector Media" were presenting their Recommended Media Map, has been mined.
IMI director Oksana Romaniuk announced this at the presentation on September 18.
"We received a threat to the IMI email inbox that two bombs have been planted at the Ukrinform office due to this presentation. I take this opportunity to say hello to the anonymous persons threatening us. These are most likely Russians, I am 100% sure," she said.
In the threatening email, the anonymous person wrote: "Two time bombs have been planted at the National News Agency of Ukraine – Ukrinform," and listed the exact address of the news agency.
We remind you that today, on September 18, the Ukrinform IA hosted a presentation of the interactive Recommended Media Map. The event was organized by the NGOs "Institute of Mass Information" and "Detector Media".
The project's analysts released a list of high-quality reporting outlets from all oblasts of Ukraine.
Obstruction – 3
05.09.2023 Yuzhnoukrainsk officials tried to prevent reporter Olena Kozubovska and cameraman Serhiy Ovcharyshyn from the Mykolaiv online media "NykVesty" from entering the building where an unscheduled City Council meeting was taking place. The police found no violations on the part of the journalists, so the journalists were allowed to the meeting and recorded it.
The incident took place on September 5, reports the IMI representative in Mykolaiv oblast.
Yuzhnoukrainsk deputies held a meeting to re-elect the City Council secretary and acting mayor.
At the beginning of the meeting, some deputies started obstructing the work of "NikVesti" journalists: namely, Angela Savastru, who represents the banned party OPFL and is the deputy CEO of the South Ukrainian NPP. She called the police and asked them to keep the media workers away from the hall.
The deputy argued that the journalists "had no proper credentials" and that the meeting was supposed to be held behind closed doors.
The police, having looked into the situation, refused to commit unlawful actions as requested by the deputy, so the journalists were allowed to attend the meeting.
"The organizers stressed that the session was off-limits and we had no right to be there. Later, they started threatening to call the police and tried to prevent us from entering the hall where the meeting was taking place. The deputy emphasized that she had rented premises in the local cultural center "Energetik" with her own money, therefore, if we want to stay there, we would have to pay the rent. A team of investigators was summoned to the scene, but after its arrival, the deputy refused to file a statement," journalist Olena Kozubovska told IMI.
IMI representatives contacted the main office of the National Police in Mykolaiv oblast, who confirmed that the incident had taken place, but the deputy refused to file a statement against the journalists in the end.
13.09.2023 In Khmelnytsky, a reporter and a cameraman of the local media 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.
Media journalist Alyona Bereza informed IMI about this.
The incident took place on August 28, but the journalists only shared the details two weeks later, hoping the situatuin would get addressed. However, reporters could not get the comments they wanted.
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.
According to Alyona Bereza, they wrote to Tyurin and the press office on August 16, 18 and 21, but received no reply.
"This situation spanned many days. Back on August 16, I informed Serhiy Tyurin at a public event that we needed his comment on the aid provided to the Hruzevytsya people and that I would contact the press office when I receive the information I requested. Having received a response to the first request on August 18, I contacted the management of the relevant department, which is responsible for all communication. No result. I wrote to them again on August 21. No result, ignored again. On the morning of August 28, I contacted them once more. Ignored yet again, so my cameraman and I decided to go straight to the administration to get an explanation of what is really happening and why we are being ignored," said Bereza.
When the filming crew arrived to the administration building on August 28, they introduced themselves to the security guards, who wrote down their personal details in the registration log, and told the security that they were heading to the reception hall to see the first deputy. After taking this information down, the 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. The patrol officers were the first to arrive at the scene, followed by the investigation group, which accepted the statement and recorded the explanations of the guards.
Initially, the application was considered by the police. However, since the security officers are members of the National Guard, it was forwarded to the State Bureau of Investigation.
As Alyona Bereza noted, as of now no police officer had come into contact with them. After the incident, the reporters tried multiple times to get a comment from the administration, but to no avail.
IMI lawyer Roman Holovenko noted that a journalist has the right to freely visit the premises of subjects of authority.
"A journalist has the right 'to freely visit the premises of subjects of power, open events held by them, and to be personally received within a reasonable time by their officials and staff except for cases specified in the law' (Clause 2, Part 1, Article 11–1 of the Law on State Support of the Media). But giving comments is a right, not an obligation. This is not a matter of access to (already existing) information – the comment involves the creation of new information. Therefore, I would advise the media who requested a comment and received none to write in their report that such and such official did not give a comment," the lawyer explained.
ZHAR.INFO operates on the basis of the public organization "Women's Anti-Corruption Movement".
14.09.2023 On September 14 Tetyana Roshchyna, a judge of the Desnyansky District Court of Chernihiv, prohibited Suspilne.Chernihiv and 0462 reporters from taking photos, an audio or video recording of an open hearing in the case of the September 3, 2022 explosion which occurred during a charity fair in Chernihiv's old district.
The journalists informed the IMI representative in Chernihiv oblast about this.
According to 0462 reporter Serhey Karas, they submitted a request for recording permission together with journalists from Suspilne before the start of the hearing. However, the court decided to only satisfy a part of the request. On that day, the court was supposed to hear witnesses.
"We were not allowed to take video or audio recording of the witnesses' testimonies. Neither were we allowed to take photos of the accused because those are in the military. The judge explained that other witnesses may read or watch those testimonies and change their own testimonies in turn, which would affect the objectivity of the court. Yet, the judge's decision affected the objectivity of reporting. Seeing as the hearing only featured the testimonies from witnesses, there was effectively nothing to make news from," the journalist noted.
Anastasia Loza, a Suspilne.Chernihiv reporter who was present at the hearing, noted that she had never encountered such a court decision before.
"The judge allowed us to take notes during the questioning, but I don't know if we can use these notes in our material. The judge explained why our request was not satisfied in full by citing the Criminal Procedure Code, but did not specify which articles. She only added that releasing the witnesses' testimonies to the public could significantly affect the future testimonies of other witnesses. There were also people from the military present at the meeting, and all parties petitioned for a ban on filming them, which is understandable," Loza said.
IMI media lawyer Roman Holovenko notes that at an open meeting, those present may freely take notes and make audio recordings on portable devices, which is laid down in Part 6 of Article 27 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine.
"Taking photos or videos and broadcasting a hearing can only be done upon the court's permission. Perhaps the reason was that you can't always make sure that a person is making an audio recording and not an audio broadcast from the courtroom. I do not rule out that some changes will have to be made to the procedural codes in this aspect. Regarding the questioning of witnesses, there are, of course, requirements to ensure that witnesses who have not yet been questioned do not learn the content of the testimonies of those who have already been questioned. For this purpose, it is preferable to interrogate everyone on the same day," Holovenko commented.
We remind you that on September 3, 2022, an explosion went off in Chernihiv's old district during the charity fair "Pivnichny Sharvarok". One of the attractions was an ammunition exhibition, and a manual anti-tank grenade launcher, which was on display, went off. The explosion left eight children and seven adults injured.
The accused are two army soldiers who face imprisonment for up to three years and will have to pay over 2.5 million hryvnias in material and moral damages.
CENSORSHIP, INFORMATION ACCESS
Access to public information – 2
19.09.2023 The specialized department of the Khmelnytsky City Council refused to provide a ZHAR.INFO journalist with the structural subunits' conclusions regarding the draft decisions that were on the agenda of the September 24 City Council session.
ZHAR.INFO journalist Svitlana Rusina reported this to the IMI representative in Khmelnytsky oblast, Alyona Bereza, who attended an unscheduled session that day and prepared the material based on the results.
The City Council claimed that the decision was motivated by the fact that the conclusions in question are considered official internal correspondence. However, some media outlets were publishing screenshots of these conclusions on the draft decisions even before the session began.
According to Svitlana Rusina, after the session she went to the department for facilitating the work of City Council deputies and directly asked its chair, Viktor Babin, for information about the deputies who reported a conflict of interest during the vote; the infromation was provided to her immediately. Another request, however, posed problems.
"I asked them for the conclusions of the City Council's structural subunits on the draft decisions, in particular for the conclusion by the Legal Support and Representation Department. I was especially interested in the issues related to the interests of deputies engaged in the construction business. The official (Viktor Babyn. – Ed.) said that he could not fulfil my request because these conclusions were allegedly attached to the draft decisions, which are currently being signed by the mayor. He suggested I write a request asking for them. I replied that I was making a verbal request at that very moment and noted that I had to report on this session urgently. That is, I had to write the article as quickly as possible, otherwise it would lose its relevance. I kept insisting on receiving it and asked to either give me the conclusions or to tell me the official reason why I could not receive them right away," said Svitlana Rusina.
She added that after her request, Viktor Babyn talked to someone on the phone for a few minutes, then asked her to wait in the hall and walked out. In five minutes, he returned, and Lilia Demchuk, chair of the Legal Support and Representation Department, immediately came to see him.
"After she (Lilia Demchuk. – Ed.) left, Viktor Babyn invited me to his office and gave me a printed order by the mayor dated April 26, 2023 and explained that my request for legal opinions could not be granted, since the latter are considered official internal correspondence of the City Council which precedes public discussion or decision-making. I noticed that the voting had already taken place, so such information could not affect the voting result. To which Mr. Viktor replied: the legal department believes that it applies," the journalist said.
After the session and after hearing the details of this case from their journalist, ZHAR.INFO editors spoke with two officials and provided information to the regional representative of IMI.
According to Viktor Babin, the chair of the department for facilitating the work of deputies, he was guided exclusively by the order he provided while considering the oral request by the ZHAR.INFO journalist. He is also unaware of other media outlets having published these conclusions before the extraordinary session.
However, Lilia Demchuk, head of the Legal Support and Representation Department, replied that she did not have to explain anything and that she was visiting the department at that time to discuss other issues.
"It was a coincidence, I may visit them to discuss different work issues... I don't have to explain anything to you. Excuse me, please. Goodbye," she said.
Roman Holovenko, a lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, explains that, according to the current law, a document is not classified in its entirety and must undergo a three-fold check after the request.
"First of all, according to the law, not the entire document is classified, but the relevant part. Second of all, there must be a three-fold check that proves it needs to be classified. The mere fact that the document falls on the list of official information is not enough. On the other hand, making a verbal request does not necessarily warrant an immediate response, the standard term is five working days," said Roman Holovenko.
27.09.2023 The Khmelnytsky media outlet ZHAR.INFO emailed inquiries to ten City Councils to learn about the implementation of an automated public transport payment system in Ukraine's populated areas. The request was sent to the Poltava City Council twice. To one of them the Council replied that they would provide the answers after the martial law is lifted.
The journalists informed the IMI representative in Khmelnytsky oblast, Alyona Bereza, of this.
The journalists have been sending requests in two rounds since early August. The transport and communications department of the Poltava City Council responded to the first request, albeit without providing the information in full. That is why the editors sent another request, asking to provide a clearly laid out list of information. In response they heard that the information cannot be provided due to the martial law. It will be provided after the martial law is lifted. The department explained that the data previously provided by them was sent due to the absence of a deputy mayor who deals with the transport sector.
The head of the department, Vitaliy Zhyvotenko, explained that there was no deputy mayor in charge of this segment at the time of the first request.
"I will explain why we wrote it like that. At the time when your request first arrived, we did not have a deputy mayor overseeinhg the work of executive bodies, the one who deals with our segment. As the head of the department, I am not authorized, I am not in charge of the documents, so I cannot provide them. Now we had a session, there was a session on September 15, a new leader was appointed, so there is no problem. If you don't mind, you can submit a new request, and we will, of course, coordinate everything with the boss," Zhyvotenko explained to ZHAR.INFO journalists.
The journalists also spoke with the executive who wrote the reply and with an employee of this City Council department.
"I prepared the reply according to what the management decided to list in the reply, they signed it and sent it," said executive Yuriy Khomenko.
At the same time, the secretary of the Poltava City Council, Kateryna Yamshchykova, informed the IMI representative in Poltava oblast, Nadia Kucher, that this matter would be overseen by a special deputy mayor, and the work of the department and its head would be handled by a task force.
"You know that the topic of public transport is problematic for us. We are creating a task force that deals with the work of this entire department, including the head," said Kateryna Yamshchykova.
ZHAR.INFO plans to submit a second request, and in the event of a refusal or an insufficient reply the journalists will file a complaint with the Human Rights Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
Cyberattacks – 1
27.09.2023 Olena Mudra, an investigator journalist from Zakarpattia, says that unknown persons tried to access her Telegram profile twice on September 27. She believes this has to do with her reporting.
Mudra reported this on Facebook and shared the details with the IMI.
"Experts from the Digital Security Lab, whom I shared the screenshots with, confitrmed that the official notifications from Telegram and the messages sent through CloudOTP suggest a hacking attempt," she wrote.
She says that this is the first time that such a thing has happened to her.
"But I no longer believe in coincidences and consider this a consequence of my reporting, in particular of my remarks on the actions of those in power. I also openly put my name under each of my articles. In general, since the start of the big war, this is the third attempt to get back at me as a journalist in some way, which, considering the genre I deal in, gives grounds to talk about professional pressure. Twice they spread distorted information about my work and family on social media. Now they tried to access my correspondence on Telegram," Mudra wrote.
She noted that publicity and media traction is her only defense.
She also reported that the pre-trial investigation in the case opened in March, with suggested an offence under Part 2 of Art. 171 of the Criminal Code (Persecution of a journalist for the performance of professional duties and criticism), is still ongoing. According to Olena, she was interrogated once, right after the information on her application was entered into the URPTI.
In a comment to IMI, Olena Mudra specified that the hackers failed to access her Telegram profile.
"Fortunately, no one was able to breach it, because I have two-stage protection when logging in and I successfully followed the algorithm after I started receiving notifications about a suspicious log-in," said the journalist.
Olena Mudra said that a few hours before the hacking attempts on her Telegram profile she made a Facebook post about the changes in the leadership of the oblast council, which earned a lot of comments.
"The authorities of the oblast, the mandated officials are sensitive to constructive criticism and try to avoid uncomfortable questions, making different efforts to prevent people from thinking to ask such questions. I, however, report on public procurement, do investigations, for which I request various kinds of public information, which I often receive only through complaining to the Human Rights Commissioner at the Verkhovna Rada. I also openly report on crimes on my Facebook page and sometimes speak about the political situation in the oblast. Yesterday, a few hours before the suspicious attempts to access my Telegram profile, I made a post about the changes in the leadership of the oblast council, which was gained a lot of comments. Maybe it's a coincidence. However, this is not the first such coincidence, so for the sake of my safety, I decided to speak up about it," she said.
As IMI reported, in March 2023 Olena Mudra, investigator journalist from Zakarpattia, reported being doxxed and facing pressure due to her reporting. This happened following her article about staff changes at the State Environmental Inspection in Zakarpattia oblast, which was published by Zakarpattia Online.
The police opened a case under Part 2 of Art. 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Obstructing the legal professional work of journalists").
DEFENDING FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The authorities' response to freedom of speech violations – 2
08.09.2023 The Oktyabrsky District Court of Poltava fined the man who hit the "Kolo" chief editor, Tetyana Tsirulnik, in the face UAH 850.
The ruling was issued on September 8. The court found the man guilty of committing a criminal misdemeanor as defined in Part 1 of Art. 125 of the Criminal Code (intended minor bodily injury), reports Tetyana Tsirulnik, the IMI representative in Poltava oblast.
"I am not satisfied with how the criminal offense was classified: I would have liked my attacker to be tried under Part 1 of Art. 345 of the Criminal Code, 'Threats or violence against a journalist,' but Vitaly Burmaka's actions were classified as Part 1 of Art. 125: 'Intended minor bodily injury.' It was very important for me and for the journalistic community to have him punished precisely for assaulting a journalist. Because I came to the Eternal Flame on May 9 not to have a walk, but to report, for which I was beaten," said Tetyana Tsirulnik.
At the same time, the journalist remarks that part of the situation was her own fault.
"Had I worn a cap with the Kolo.News logo, or a PRESS vest, or that damned journalist ID badge, I probably would have been hit anyway, but that would have given the police grounds to classify the case as an attack on a journalist! In fact, the law does not force journalists to wear a badge visibly, it can be carried in a bag and shown on demand. But the badge is not visible, it will be very difficult for you to prove in court that your attacker beat you because you were reporting, specifically. It will just be an attack based on sudden hostility (although sometimes you can get beaten just for having a badge – the Revolution of Dignity has a lot of such examples)," said the journalist.
In addition, Tetyana Tsirulnik said that the attacker tried to smear her in court.
"He claimed to have 'inquired with the camerapeople, who said that I was a provocateur.' He swore that I ran after him shouting 'f****t' and called him a person who 'doesn't love Ukraine, but loves a man.' Yes, I am quoting because I recorded the court session on an audio recorded, the law allows it. This is a lie: first of all, journalists realize that when they are at work and in a public place they are the face of their outlet, and behave accordingly. Secondly, I never use this type of insults. His remorse was more like whining: that a bad journalist filmed the assault on video, which was seen by my attacker's daughter who lives abroad, by his neighbors, friends and colleagues – and he was suspended from his job as a photographer in one of the respected institutions of Poltava. Lost his gig," Tsirulnik said.
According to the journalist, she has the right to file another civil lawsuit within three years after the court ruling. "I want my attacker to know that he can expect a lawsuit within three years," the journalist said, adding that she would sue if he tries to contact her.
Tetyana also noted that she fears for her safety: "I probably won't feel safe around my colleagues anymore. One journalist shot the video, but the other simply turned his back on me."
As IMI reported, on May 9, 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"). Tetyana Tsirulnik received minor injuries in the attack.
21.09.2023 On September 19, the Zhytomyr Court of Appeal dismissed the prosecutors' appeal in the case for obstruction and threats against Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky, a journalist for the investigative program "Antirating".
The spokeswoman for the Zhytomyr Oblast Prosecutor's Office, Tetyana Gosha, reported this to the IMI representative in Zhytomyr oblast.
According to the spokeswoman, the prosecutors asked for the previous (August 23, 2023) ruling by the Korolyovsky District Court of Zhytomyr, which acquitted the security guard accused of obstructing and threatening journalist Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky, to be cancelled.
The prosecutors asked for a new verdict that would convict the accused.
The injured journalist, Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky, told the IMI representative that it was essential for him to ensure that the attacker was punished specifically for obstructing the journalist's professional work.
"The court of appeal decided that attacking journalists is acceptable. It seems that it takes a broken skull or at least an arm for such actions to be recognized as obstruction to journalistic work," said Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky.
"The appeal was filed because, according to the prosecutor, Pavlenko (the attacker. – Ed.) was aware that he was attacking a journalist. In his testimony he admitted that he had been aware that they were being filmed and what they were filming (this is all in the interrogation transcripts), but in court he 'changed his mind'. They could have punished him for hooliganism, but this was not included in the indictment. He admits that the event took place, says that he regrets it, but assures that he did not realize that they were journalists," the journalist added.
As reported, on August 19, 2021, in Zhytomyr, during the filming of the journalist investigation program "Antirating," a security guard of the private buildings on the Teteriv riverbank attacked journalist Oleksandr Kryzhanivsky with his fists and threatened him. The attack was filmed.
Zhytomyr District Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the threat of violence against journalists (Part 1 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).
According to the Korolyovsky District Court ruling, the accused claimed that he did not know that the victim was a journalist, since he had not identified himself, had not shown his ID, and hadn't had a press card on his clothes.
Instead, the victim believes that the security guard could have told that he was a journalist, because during the phone conversation that was happening in his presence, Kryzhanivsky called himself "editor."
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