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Restriction of journalists’ rights in courts inadmissible - IMI statement

01.04.2021, 19:21

Restriction of journalists’ rights in courts inadmissible - IMI statement

To the High Council of Justice

High Qualification Commission of Judges

 Council of Judges of Ukraine

Supreme Court 

Statement of inadmissibility of illegitimate restriction of the rights of journalists in courts

The NGO "Institute of Mass Information" declares inadmissibility of illegal restriction of the rights of journalists in courts. 

The Institute of Mass Information recorded several incidents of denial of access to journalists to public court hearings without proper legal grounds. This is especially true for high-profile cases, which are the subject of heightened public interest.

-On March 23, a journalist of the media project Watchers.Media Alina Kondratenko was denied access for a hearing at the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv to choose a measure of restraint for veteran Vladyslav Granetsky-Stafiychuk (Sorda) for the rally under the President's Office.

-On March 26, Alina Kondratenko, a journalist with the Watchers.Media media project, and Dmytro Khilyuk, an UNIAN correspondent, were not allowed to attend a session of the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv. The court session chose a measure of restraint for activist Roman Ratushny on suspicion of hooliganism during a protest rally near the President's Office on March 20. The refusal was justified by lockdown measures and the absence of journalists on the list. Instead, journalists of Channel 5, 1 + 1, the online edition Hraty, NPTU, and Channel 4 were allowed to enter.

- On March 30, Alina Kondratenko, journalist with the media project Watchers.Media, was not allowed to the hearing at the Darnytsa district court of Kyiv, by justifying that refusal with quarantine restrictions. The case of two accused in the abduction and murder of activist and participant of the EuroMaidan Self-Defense of Cherkasy region, journalist Vasyl Serhiyenko, was considered at the hearing.

-In support of its position, in particular, the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv, in response to a request from IMI, explained that journalist Alina Vitalievna Kondratenko was not allowed to attend the open court hearing on March 23 due to default of the electronic digital signature of the journalist on her letter of request and data about her professional affiliation. At the same time, for some reason, the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv additionally mentionned the provisions of Article 26 of the Law of Ukraine “On Information”, which have nothing to do with this legal matter. And even if it had, the law stipulates, in particular, that default of accreditation cannot serve grounds for denial to admit a journalist, an employee of the mass media to public meetings held by the entity of power. The order of the Pechersk district court of Kyiv dated 09.11.2020 №529-з / 2020 “On regulation of the work of the court during the lockdown period”, to which the court representatives referredd in their response, did not cite any requirement for  journalists’s requests to attend the court hearing, did not mention any precise grounds for denial of access. That is, in response to IMI's request, the court failed to give legal grounds for denying to the journalist Kondratenko Alina Vitaliyivna to attend the court hearing.

The provisions of the second part of Article 19 of the Constitution of Ukraine stipulate that public authorities and local governments, their officials are obliged to act only on the basis, within the powers and in the manner prescribed by the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. This applies, in particular, to the courts. 

According to Article 11 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges”, the court hearings and information on cases considered by the court are public, except as otherwise is required by law. The cases shall be considered in public in the courts. Any person has the right to attend a public court hearing. Persons present in the courtroom, media representatives may take photographs, video and audio recordings in the courtroom using portable video and audio equipment without obtaining a separate court permit, but subject to restrictions established by law. Consideration of the case in a closed-door court session is allowed only by a substantiated court decision only in cases specified by law.

In addition, according to Article 25 of the Law of Ukraine “On Information”, after presenting a document certifying professional affiliation, a media professional has the right to collect information in areas where administrative and health measures (quarantine) have been taken, except as provided by law. That is, restrictions on the admission of citizens to stay in certain places, premises, etc. during lockdown do not apply to journalists. 

Despite the above-mentioned norms, the Institute of Mass Information has been recording repeated cases of denial of access to journalists to public court hearings without proper legal grounds. Thus, it can be said that some Ukrainian courts have been systematically, for a long time, violating the rights of journalists, violating freedom of speech in Ukraine and violating the requirements of publicity of the trial. Such actions of the judiciary, taking into account other systematic and long-term violations of freedom of speech, including repeated cases of illegal blocking of websites by courts as a precautionary measure, indicate a deep crisis of the judiciary in Ukraine, its inability to comply with Ukrainian legislation and international agreements, non-abidance of the principles of the rule of law that are enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine. This status rerum with regard to the branch of government, which must stand precisely to protect the law and prevent its violation by the legislative and executive branches of government, raises concerns about the future of Ukraine as a European state governed by the rule of law.

In connection with the above, we call on the highest bodies of judicial self-government and supervision:

  • To secure ceasing of the practice of unlawful selective non-admission of journalists to public court hearings.
  • To bring judges who have allowed illegal restrictions on the rights of journalists, violation of the requirements of publicity of the trial, to disciplinary or other legal liability provided by law.
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