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Since beginning of the year, 184 cases of violations of freedom of speech recorded

03.11.2020, 14:53

Within the space of 10 months in 2020, 184 violations of freedom of speech have been recorded. Physical aggression targeting journalists remains the main trend, which accounts for almost 80% of all violations.

The executive director of the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) Oksana Romanyuk reported it at an online briefing "Persecution of journalists in Ukraine: how to stop it?" , which was held on occasion of the UN International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

The second trend this year, as Oksana Romaniuk said, were restrictions and interference with journalistic activity by authorities at various levels. Under the pretext of lockdown, the  journalists were illegally banned from public meetings and hearings on socially important issues. As a result, Ukrainians cannot get some important information.

According to the IMI monitoring, the right of journalists to the profession was mainly violated by some individual persons, local authorities, law enforcement, the judiciary, the President's Office and others.

One recent incident involving interference with journalistic work occurred in the settlement of Gatne (Kyiv region). Taisiya Kutuzova, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, was attacked by police, when she was filming them for a documentary about local activist Serhiy Chagarov. 

"The attackers did not introduce themselves and did not show their IDs. They twisted my arms and tore the camera from my hands, they damaged my on-camera microphone. After the assault, another policeman apologized for his colleagues, but those policemen who assaulted me did not feel guilty and did not apologize, ”Kutuzova said. 

The director filed a complaint about the crime with the State Bureau of Investigation, but it had not been entered in the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations for more than a week, although they had to do so within 24 hours. Moreover, the press service of the police reported that the attackers were not police officers. Only publicity and pressure from the media community forced the law enforcement officers to register that attack, as Kutuzova said. The journalist has so far been questioned by an investigator, but not the police officers who attacked her. 

A media lawyer, head of the NGO "Human Rights Platform" Oleksander Burmahin noted that despite the active work of their organization for the safety of journalists, the problem of not sufficient efficiency of investigation into obstructing the legitimate professional activities of media workers and attacks on them still existed. 

According to him, criminal proceedings are often not opened or investigated within the time limits set by law. Besides that, the law enforcement officials can still consider the journalists’ complaints about crimes against their profession as the citizens' appeals, and so, they can drop criminal proceedings without any reasonable cause. 

"The statistics are also disappointing. There are very few cases that actuallyget to the court with indictments, and they have even fewer sentences, " as Oleksander Burmahin said.

Meanwhile, as the journalists in the government-controlled territory of Ukraine are enabled to defend their rights, in the temporarily occupied Crimea the freedom of speech condition remains very difficult, for years. Since the beginning of the occupation, human rights activists have recorded more than 300 cases of harassment of journalists and media in Crimea.

The Prosecutor's Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is investigating 17 criminal proceedings over crimes committed against journalists on the peninsula. In eight of them, 13 people were reported as suspects. These cases have been instituuted under several articles, including Art. 146 (“Illegal deprivation of liberty or kidnapping”), Art. 170 (“Obstruction of lawful activity of trade unions, political parties, public organizations”) Art. 171 (“Obstruction of lawful professional activity of journalists”), Art. 345-1 (“Threat or violence against a journalist”) and others. 

In the context of elimination of any independent professional journalism in the Crimea, another trend has emerged: citizen journalists. Despite persecution by the occupying authorities, the activists from the Crimean Solidarity are trying to speak of what is happening on the peninsula through streams and social networks.

According to Lutfie  Zudieva, an activist of the Crimean Solidarity initiative , eight citizens journalists have been currently placed in jail and another stayed under house arrest for some health reasons. These are streamers and citizens journalists with Crimean Solidarity : Server Mustafayev, Timur Ibragimov, Marlen Asanov, Seyran Saliyev, Remzi Bekirov, Ruslan Suleymanov, Osman Arifmetetov, Rustem Sheikhaliev and Amet Suleymanov. All of them were unjustifiably detained and they are victims of politically motivated persecution and fabricated accusations of "terrorism."

Actually, Server Mustafayev, Timur Ibragimov, Marlen Asanov, and Seyran Saliyev have been convicted of "terrorism" and have been sentenced to 14 to 19 years in prison. Remza Bekirov, Osman Arifmetemov, Ruslan Suleymanov, Rustem Sheikhaliyev face terms of 15 to 20 years.

Illegally imprisoned civic journalists desperately need the support and publicity of their stories. To this end, Lutfie Zudieva invites non-indifferent people, representatives of the embassies, international organizations and human rights activists to attend the trials taking place in Rostov-on-Don. 

“Earlier, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine announced an initiative to assign an authoritative politician and public figure to each political prisoner, through whom the stories of specific prisoners can be conveyed to a wider range of people. We guess, this is an efficient approach. In addition, it is important to involve more actively the MEPs and to initiate appropriate statements, for example from the European Parliament. And, of course, it is necessary to constantly start some news platforms, various events, discussions of human rights activists to tell about the repressions in Crimea before more people, ”Zudieva added.

The director of Freedom House in Ukraine, Matthew Schaaf, is convinced that journalists played a crucial role for development of democracy in Ukraine, protection of human rights, and counteraction to corruption. Schaaf is convinced that they must be protected by law and culture, because the threat to freedom of speech is a threat to democracy and human rights.

***

Additional information: Irina Ivanchenko, 099 772 56 67, ii@humanrights.org.ua.

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