Violation of freedom of speech in Ukraine: where are we moving?

Author : Anton Pechenkin

16:19, 20 October 2015

Violation of freedom of speech in Ukraine: where are we moving?

Author : Anton Pechenkin

Despite the Maidan, Ukrainian independent mass media with dissenting opinions face growing oppression

16:19, 20 October 2015

Eric Drooker

It would seem that victory of the Euromaidan, activity of the civil society, and signing of the Association Agreement with the EU have become the powerful guaranty for further progress of fundamental human rights in Ukraine. Sure, the country is facing serious economic problems and the armed conflict in Donbas, which in addition to destabilizing activity of pro-Russian forces within Ukraine makes the authorities not to drop their guard. However, the processes taking place in Ukraine cannot be simply described as temporary tightening, involuntarily managed by the authorities in the time of sociopolitical turbulence. Several worrying cases indicate that the country suffers serious worsening in the sphere of freedom of speech.

The first thing to pay attention on this issue is indicator of World Press Freedom Index, managed by the Reporters without Borders. Ukrainian rank for 2015 is 129 of 180. One may suppose, that such low position is caused by previous hard experience of Yanukovych’s rule, and the situation is slowly improving. However, Ukraine has lost two positions comparing to 2014 and three – to 2013. For instance, in 2009, the last year of Yushchenko’s rule, Ukrainian rank was 89 of 170. It demonstrates that the new authorities aren’t concern in essential progress in the sphere. As one of the most distressing fact is that six journalists has been killed in 2014 and two more in 2015, but the Ukrainian leadership don’t pay much attention to investigation of such cases.

One of the most vivid cases of violence against journalists is murder of Oles Buzina this April in Kyiv. This controversial journalist, known by his pro-Russian attitudes and critic approach to Ukrainian cultural heritage, was shot by unknown persons near his house in the Ukrainian capital. During the Maidan, Buzina was the chief editor of Syegodnya newspaper, owned by Rinat Akhmetov, oligarch close to Yanukovych’s late Party of regions. The journalist was permanent object of critics from the far rights and nationalists, and his murder was met with active greetings among these circles. Arsen Avakov, Interior Minister, accused right radicals in the crime; President Poroshenko announced that the investigation would be performed under his direct control. Two far right activists, a member of nationalistic Svoboda and veteran of the ATO, were arrested after the prosecution in killing Buzina, but the juridical process moves slowly, and supporters of the arrested claim invalidity of the accusations. The fact that the law enforces fail to prove and punish the guilty, and blaming Buzina by the radicals demonstrate that the situation with rights of the dissenters remain rather problematic.

Related: Ukrainian far right activists brought pyrotechnics and knives to a rally

Another serious point is stepping up of the high authorities’ attempts to shape the discourse of mass media, and now not only about the conflict on the East, but also on other issues of public interest. Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskiy, ex-speaker of the ATO stuff, fired from the Military Forces this year, affirms that the military censorship, performed by the military and security bodies, has become far more wide and is now controlled from the President’s Administration.

“First there was a light military censorship, and then Bankova joined. It happened just before Ilovaisk. There was a call from Kyiv with the requirement to send the publication of our texts to the Presidential Administration for approval. Very often, these texts were severely cut back. Their content was not consistent with the current situation. For example, we reported on a large number of attacks on our positions, and back to get a message that says - firing unit no casualties. Twice I got a call from the presidential administration, trying to explain that I'm not what you need. Now all the speakers do not want to repeat my mistakes and talk about this with the management”, stated Dmytrashkivsky, who was roughly fired from the Defence Ministry after his tries to oppose the commanding informational policy.

Related: Omitting reality: Ukrainian soldiers still wait for military payment

Also, there is a remarkable story of Shuster LIVE influential talk show, which was expelled from the 1+1 TV Channel. It caused a wide public resonance, when Savik Shuster, the show’s director, announced the cause of the removal of the program from the air.

Related: Political talk show Shuster LIVE was "asked" to be taken off the air

Shuster began his translation on 112 Ukraine Channel with the statement: "For 2 minutes before the broadcast, we were taken off. I think that there was an agreement between the owner of the channel (Ihor Kolomoyskiy) and the Presidential Administration". The journalist expressed a few critical applications in address of the head of state and accused him in putting pressure on the media. "Poroshenko will not die for freedom of speech, as he has promised", Shuster said.

Related: Censorship of media increased compared to former governance - Doniy

At last but not at least, the line of oppressing the freedom of speech reached 112 Ukraine TV Channel. Several times during the last year the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting issued warnings and fines on the channel. Moreover, on September 3 the regulator decided to annul licenses for digital broadcasting for 112 Ukraine because of “failure of the order to return to performing the conditions of license agreement”. The most vivid example of the state oppression become the case of publishing the photo of handshake between Poroshenko and Putin while talks in Paris in the beginning of October.

Media person Viktor Zubrytskyi has commented on it, “Poroshenko shook hands with Putin, but wished that Ukrainians did not know about that. And strangely, all the TV channels of Ukraine did NOT notice this event. The TV channel 112 Ukraine, showing all the news objectively, was preparing for the air. And so the barrage of calls from the Presidential Administration and the "relevant services" began that it was unacceptable to demonstrate the handshake on the air… they called on the channel in order that the channel did not show it. But the channel cannot but show. That was public actions of the president. Only Poroshenko placed full responsibility for his public actions not on himself, but, for a wonder, on the 112 Ukraine channel.”

Related: Poroshenko's black hand

It would be more calming to consider all mentioned cases to be accidental, but for a pity one must recognize it is rather the indicate of system oppression of the freedom of speech in modern Ukraine, which takes place after the death of Georgii Gongadze, two Maidans and continuing public campaigns in defence of this fundamental right. So, all we have is to ask Ukrainian authorities and President Poroshenko firstly: where are we moving – to Europe, or to “good old days” of Yanukovych’s ancien regime?

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