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Court fines the men obstructing the work of two reporter crews 850 hryvnias

03.04.2024, 17:07

The Kamin-Kashyrsky District Court of the Volyn oblast convicted two citizens of obstructing the work of journalists and fined them 850 hryvnias each. The judgement was passed on March 26, 2024, reports "Sudovy Reporter".

The crews of the TV channels "1+1" and "Avers" were attacked on April 27, 2021 in Stobykhivka village (Volyn). The journalists were filming a report about illegally operating sawmills in the Kamin-Kashyrsky district.

The media workers entered the premises of the company Ecopalet, where they were led by two locals. There they met two men, introduced themselves and said they wanted to talk to the owner. But the men pushed them out into the street with wooden batons. One of the men also took away the 1+1 cameraman's camera, only giving it back after the journalists left the enterprise.

The defendants pleaded not guilty. They said that the company belonged to their brother and they helped him every now and then. One day, strangers entered the premises and started filming, accompanied by two locals. The defendants claimed that they were unaware that the people entering were journalists, asked who they were and, having received no answer, asked them to leave. But the people refused and continued filming defiantly, disregarding safety rules, brazenly heading to the production rooms where woodworking machines and other dangerous equipment were in action. An argument ensued and the defendants said that they had to pick up some timber rails to defend themselves from the attack, because one of the locals had taken up a wooden board.

The two locals confirmed that the filming crews arrived in the village on their initiative to report on the illegal sawmills. Before that, one of them posted a video showing a large amount of timber products stored in the premises of Ecopalet LLC, most of which did not appear to have accounting chips. The eyewitness received an open sourced document excerpt saying that this plot of land is in communal ownership, which convinced him that they had the right to enter it.

The CEO of Ecopalet LLC said that he owned a woodworking enterprise in Stobykhivka village and that the defendants are his brothers. He received no requests for an interview from the journalists or the activists. He rents the land plot under a sublease agreement. According to the owner, the actions of his brothers in chasing out the outsiders were legal, as there was woodworking equipment on the property that is dangerous to approach. Furthermore, the equipment is expensive and must be protected from competitors. He noted that all the timber was purchased at an auction and he has the documents to confirm it. In 2020, the company was searched and part of the products were seized, but later returned due to the lack of evidence suggesting illegal activity.

The village mayor confirmed that the land plot belonged to the village council and has been subleased to Ecopalet LLC. The local authorities had no complaints against the enterprise, as it operates legally, pays taxes properly and creates jobs in the village.

The police officers who arrived at the scene noted that the filming crew's video camera and microphone have 1+1 logos, which contradicts the defense's claim that the victims could not be identified as journalists.

The 1+1 video includes the fight, during which the journalists introduce themselves as media representatives and say that they want to talk to the company's owner. A recording made by onoe of the journalists on her mobile phone shows a defendant holding a video camera with the 1+1 Studio logo in his hands, only returning it after being warned about criminal liability. On the video, on of the journalist can be heared asking to call for the director of the company for a talk, which the defendants ignore.

The details are confirmed by video footage that journalists posted online, as well as by a video recording made by an eyewitness (a local) on their mobile phone and footage from an Ecoplanet external CCTV camera.

The police opened a case under Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Obstruction of the legal professional work of journalists") following the attack.

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