Employees of illegally closed by the Ukrainian authorities 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and Zik TV channels, as well as Pershiy Nezalezhniy which was closed by a letter from the Deputy Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) without trial and Strana.ua and Shariy.net websites wrote an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan, and the Spokesperson of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado. In the letter, the journalists thank for the consistent position on the inadmissibility of non-observance by the Ukrainian authorities of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and also express concern about the violation by the Ukrainian government of laws and international norms, and purposefully destroying freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Here is the full text of the letter.
Mr. António Guterres,
Secretary-General of the United Nations
Ms. Michelle Bachelet,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ms. Irene Khan,
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Ms. Marta Hurtado,
Spokesperson of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Journalists of Ukrainian opposition TV channels “Pershiy Nezalezhniy,” “112 Ukraine”, “NewsOne” and “Zik” as well as “Strana.ua” and Shariy.net” agencies take this opportunity to express to you their respect and thank you for your consistent position on the inadmissibility of Ukrainian authorities' non-compliance with the basic principle and core value of a developed civil society - freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
We are convinced that your statements in support of freedom of speech in Ukraine and the inadmissibility of illegal actions of the authorities against the independent Ukrainian media create the necessary foundation for the preservation of democracy in Ukraine.
Unfortunately, the actions of the Ukrainian authorities today remain an example of violation of the rule of law and non-observance of freedom of speech. In grave breach of basic principles of rule of law, extrajudicially (by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council, while deprivation of media licenses is possible by court decision only) the Ukrainian authorities banned the broadcasting of three leading news channels – “112 Ukraine,” “NewsOne,” and “ZIK.” By the ordinary letter of the Deputy Head of the Security Service of Ukraine and again without trial, the authorities criminally stopped the broadcasting of “Pershiy Nezalezhniy” TV channel an hour after the broadcast began. Also due to the illegal sanctions, the authorities have stopped the work of “Strana.ua” and “Shariy.net” agencies and there are now under the threat of complete destruction.
Today, the actions of the Ukrainian authorities are receiving increasingly sound condemnation on the part of respected international human rights watchdogs, prominent politicians, and experts. The news about the closure of our TV channels have already been published in all the world's leading media.
You are well aware of the circumstances of closure of our TV channels, but let us remind you the main details of the authorities’ fight against the opposition media in Ukraine:
On February 2, “112 Ukraine”, “NewsOne”, and “ZiK” TV channels were shut without any legal background. At the whim of President Zelensky's Office, almost 1,500 journalists were kicked out on the street. However, the journalists did not give up and created a new TV channel – “Pershiy Nezalezhniy” (“The First Independent”), which united the staff of three closed TV channels.
On February 26, “Pershiy Nezalezhniy” launched its broadcasting, however, an hour later under the pressure from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) which sent letters to telecomm providers, the channel's satellite broadcast was disconnected despite the previous arrangements. The TV channel did not survive a day, and again without any legal grounds its journalists were denied the right to work and lost the access to our audience.
On August 20, the authorities blocked the work of two popular online media in Ukraine, – “Strana.ua” and “Shariy.net.”
Earlier, in July 2020, the authorities revoked the broadcasting license of the “KRT” TV channel after the broadcast of state ceremonial events in Belarus.
The actions of the Ukrainian authorities gained wide publicity in the world and were criticized by relevant organizations. In particular, we are grateful for the position of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which expressed concern over the imposed sanctions, which led to the closure of “112 Ukraine,” “NewsOne” and “ZIK” TV channels and stated that this decision contradicted the international standards (Statement of Spokesperson of OHCHR Marta Hurtado from August 24, 2021).
UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission stated (rapport by Irene Khan from June 21, 2021) that censoring of broadcasting in Ukraine is “not only incompatible with international human rights law but also contribute to amplifying misperceptions, fostering fear and entrenching public mistrust of institutions.”
In his turn, PACE General Rapporteur on media freedom and safety of journalists, Member of the Federal Council of Austria Stefan Schennach said that Europe was very concerned about the catastrophic situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine and stressed that the Commissioner for Human Rights will work to ensure that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies end impunity for crimes against journalists. (a statement from September2, 2021).
In addition, Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit, noting that the latter continues to use executive power, without judicial review, to sanction media outlets, tech platforms, journalists, and websites under the pretext of fighting disinformation. (a letter from September 26, 2021).
We must conclude with regret that the Ukrainian authorities have gone far beyond all reasonable bounds by violating legislation and international norms, and continue to purposefully destroy freedom of speech in the country. However, fighting the authorities is not our goal. We, as journalists, just want to continue our job and convey the truth about what is happening in the country and beyond its borders. However, this legitimate right has been denied.
We thank you for protecting freedom of speech in our country and ask you to continue to cover the events taking place in Ukraine.
We hope for your continued support.
Respectfully, the staff of Ukrainian media:
Earlier, the journalists of the media illegally closed by the authorities came to the Yalta European Strategy forum in the YES Brainstorming 2021 format, which started on September 10 in Kyiv, to talk about the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine.
As it was reported, the employees of these media passed an open letter to European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy from 2010 to 2014 Stefan Füle and ex-President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, who came to Kyiv for the YES international conference, about the serious threat to freedom of information in Ukraine and the introduction of total censorship.
In the letter, the journalists recalled that the last two years in Ukraine have been marked by an increasingly fierce struggle between the authorities and the unwanted media, which are not afraid to tell the truth about the numerous mistakes of the current government and dare to voice a direct disregard for its commitments and promises to its voters.
During the rally, they were holding posters with the words: “Mr. Kwaśniewski, inform European politicians about the violation of freedom of speech in Ukraine,” “112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy were illegally closed by the authorities - Zelensky is destroying freedom of speech in Ukraine,” “Mr. Füle, tell Zelensky to adhere to the Constitution of Ukraine, which guarantees freedom of speech (Article 34).”
By the way, this is not the only rally of the journalists of the illegally closed 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK and Pershy Nezalezhniy TV channels where they call on the international community to pay attention to the problem of freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Earlier, teams the TV channels and websites illegally closed by the Ukrainian authorities wrote a letter to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken about total censorship and a serious threat to freedom of information in Ukraine.
The also met with the Secretary of the Senate, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces Joël Guerriau, and the Vice-President of the Committee on Constitutional Laws, Legislation, Universal Suffrage, Rules and General Administration (LOISa) of the French Senate Nathalie Goulet and informed the senators about the catastrophic situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Before that, they appealed to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with a request to pay attention to the problem of the destruction of freedom of speech in Ukraine and to influence the Ukrainian government in general and President Zelensky in particular.
In late August, the journalists of the illegally closed 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZiK TV channels, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, KRT, representatives of Strana.ua and Sharij.net held a mass rally and handed over a letter about illegal actions of the Ukrainian authorities against media representatives to the U.S. Embassy. They also called on U.S. President Joe Biden to raise the problem of Zelensky's destruction of freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Before that, on August 23, hundreds of journalists of illegally closed channels held a rally demanding the protection of freedom of speech in Ukraine. The journalists planned to hold a rally under the building of the National Opera, where the participants of the Crimean Platform gathered, but the police did not let them in.
In addition, hundreds of the journalists of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZiK came to UN Office in Ukraine to show gratitude for the report declaring the closure of TV channels illegal.
On February 2, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on the imposition of sanctions against 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK TV channels. According to the decree, which came into force from the moment of signing, sanctions were applied to TV channels for five years. This provides for blocking the broadcasting of all three TV channels.
On February 26, journalists of the TV channels illegally closed by President Volodymyr Zelensky united and created a new TV channel - Pershiy Nezalezhniy. The founders of the new media are a group of journalists who previously worked on the 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK channels. However, within an hour after the start of broadcasting, Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channel was illegally turned off under pressure from the authorities.
Leading European politicians, international and Ukrainian experts, and the world media criticized Zelensky's decree on the closure of the TV channels 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK.
Over the past four months, the world media, European politicians, and experts have published more than 80,000 materials on the persecution of the opposition and independent TV channels by the Ukrainian authorities.