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11 court decisions rendered for offenses against journalists in 2021

09.02.2022, 20:55

The search engine of the register of court decisions gives 71 decisions in the cases of criminal proceedings with the word “journalist” in 2021. But as you read these sentences, you’ll see that in most of the cases, it was just said that the person (both the victim and sometimes the offender) had press card, but these sentences have nothing to do with journalism. IMI constantly monitors progress into case law on violations of journalists' rights and obstruction of journalistic activities. The analysis of the texts allows to count only 11 sentences related to journalistic activity in 2021. Ten of them were accusatory, one was acquittal. For comparison: in 2020, according to the court register, six sentences were delivered for "journalistic" articles.  

The vast majority of court decisions delivered in 2021 dealt with criminal offenses under Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (CCU) "Obstruction to the lawful professional activity of journalists" : nine such sentences. Three more sentences were dealt with the Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code "Threat or violence against a journalist" (in one case, the sentence was passed under a combination of Articles 171 and 345-1). No verdict has been passed under Articles 347-1 "Deliberate destruction or damage to a journalist's property", 348-1 "Assault on a journalist's life", 349-1 "Taking a journalist hostage" in 2021, according to the register of court decisions.

In particular, during the fourth quarter of 2021, courts issued four convictions for criminal offenses against journalism. Two sentences were passed under Art. 171 of the Criminal Code, two sentences - under Art. 345-1 of the Criminal Code.

In particular, on November 25, 2021, the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv pronounced the court decision on obstruction of the profession of journalist of the NewsOne TV channel. The incident happened on October 10, 2018 during a rally held on October 10, 2018 near the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. The suspect approached the journalist covering the rally and doused her with an unidentified white substance. In court, according to the case file, the defendant pleaded guilty and agreed the case to be considered in his absence in a simplified manner (which deprives him of further opportunities to appeal the verdict on appeal in the circumstances of the case). In the court decision, the judges noted that the circumstance that mitigates the punishment is his sincere repentance, while there are no circumstances that aggravate the punishment of the accused. However, the court sentenced the accused to one year probation. We will remind, that courts often award fines for obstructing a journalist's lawful professional activity. Why in this case the court imposed a more severe punishment, despite the lack of criminal record of the accused and mitigating circumstances, the sentence did not specified it. It is also worth remembering that on February 2, 2021, sanctions were imposed on MP Taras Kozak and legal entities licensed by 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK. Thus, at the time of sentencing, NewsOne no longer had media status. And although this does not negate the illegality of actions against the journalist in 2018, it could affect the court's assessment of the motives of the accused. But this did not affect the position of the court in any way and was not mentioned in any way in the court decision.

On November 1, 2021, the Holosiivskyi District Court of Kyiv announced a verdict on the attack on a journalist of the KYIV.LIVE TV channel. The incident happened on December 14, 2020,  during an inspection in the area near the Vydubychi metro station. Correspondent Kamila Mammedova tried to find out whether the salespeople who worked near the metro strew sand over the icy sidewalk. Suddenly, an unknown man aggressed her and started beating her and the cameraman. In court, the accused stated that he did not identify the young girl and the guy with the camera in any way as journalists. Neither the girl, nor the cameraman identified themselves as journalists, did not present press cards, did not ask for comments, were dressed in plain clothes. However, having examined the evidence and additional information provided in the case, the court found that, in the court's opinion, the evidence and the general level of awareness of the modern citizen could allow them to affirm that the journalist really became the subject of illegal encroachment. The accused could be aware and was aware that in front of him was a journalist and a cameraman, and not the so-called pranks. In accordance, the court decided to find the accused guilty of committing a criminal offense under Part 2 of Art. 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, and sentence him to imprisonment for a term of two years and six months and, in accordance with Art. 75 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, to release him from serving a sentence in the form of restriction of liberty with probation, setting a probationary period of two years. The court also decided to recover from the accused in favor of the state procedural costs for the involvement of an expert in the amount of UAH 2,174 90 kopecks. 

On October 20, 2021, the Primorsky District Court of Odessa issued a verdict on obstruction of the performance of professional duties of the journalist of the news agency "Ukrainian Information Service". The incident happened on January 22, 2020.  the guard of the Odessa State Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture Mykola Yakovenko threatened journalist with the web-based edition “Ukrainian Information Service” Anna Pokrovska. The journalist was shooting a story about fire safety at the academy for the special program ”USI inspection” dealing with safety of schools and colleges, as USI reported. At the court hearing, the accused pleaded guilty in full to committing the criminal offense specified in the sentence, and confirmed that in these circumstances he hindered the lawful activities of the journalist, he repents. The court decided to find the accused guilty of a criminal offense, provided for in Part 2 of Art. 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, and to sentence him under Part 2 of Art. 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine in the form of a fine of 50 tax-free minimum incomes, namely 850 hryvnias, to state revenue. It should be noted that despite the use of physical force against the journalist, despite the possibility in part two of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of imprisonment for up to four years, the court limited itself to a fine. The court decision did not specify the reason for this type of punishment, despite the existence in the second part of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of the possibility of punishment in the form of restriction of liberty for up to four years, the court limited itself to a fine. The verdict does not substantiate why this type of punishment was chosen by the court. 

On October 7, 2021, the Starokostiantyniv District Court of the Khmelnytsky Region rendered a court decision in the case of the assault on the NewsOne TV crew. The incident happened on March 25, 2020, in Krasyliv, Khmelnytsky region, in a shop, as the journalist was to film a story on  quarantine and trade in medicines and protective face masks in Khmelnytsky region. The accused, vendor of a shop, pleaded not guilty in court, arguing that he did not know that the TV crew were journalists. However, the court did not accept these arguments. Interestingly, among other things, the sentence stipulated that no written editorial assignment with the signature of the superior and the seal is not provided by any legal act of Ukraine, and so the absence of such a document could not indicate the persons were not fulfilling one’s professional journalistic activity. Having examined the case file, the court decided to find the accused guilty of committing a crime under Part 2 of Art. 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine and sentence him to imprisonment for a term of two years. With release from serving a probation sentence and setting a probationary period of one year. In addition, the court awarded compensation for non-pecuniary damage caused to the victim in the amount of UAH 20,000: to collect UAH 10,000 from the accused in favor of the victim of moral damage, as he has already paid UAH 10,000 voluntarily.

Thus, within the year 2021, the register of court decisions mentioned 11 convictions for criminal offenses against journalism. At the same time, the sentences did not only apply to the events happened in 2021, most of the verdicts were passed on violations that occurred in previous years. It is worth noting that in 2021, IMI recorded 197 cases of violations of journalists' rights. Thus, the government's response to offenses against journalism is far from normal.

It will be recalled that the IMI has a legal hotline where experienced media lawyers Roman Golovenko and Ali Safarov provide consultations by calling 050-44-77-063. Questions can also be sent to IMI [email protected].   

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