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Closure of Ukrainian media: Ahead of EU-Ukraine summit, journalists urge European foreign ministers to respond to restrictions of freedom of speech in country

Source : 112 Ukraine

The reporters ask the officials to publicly respond to the situation around the illegal closure of media outlets in Ukraine
11:30, 6 October 2021

112 Ukraine, ZiK, NewsONE TV channels
Open source

In view of the approaching EU-Ukraine summit slated for October 12, journalists of the illegally closed media, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, Strana.ua and Shariy.net, wrote an open letter to the foreign ministers of the European Union.

Among others, an open letter was sent to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia Ivan Korčok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary Péter Szijjártó and others.

In the letter, journalists noted that during 30 years of independence, positive changes have taken place in Ukraine. Recently, however, the government has been abusing its authority by illegally shutting down the media, persecuting journalists, and restricting freedom of expression in the country, in direct violation of democracy and the rule of law.

The full text of the appeal:

Your Excellency, 

The journalists of the illegally closed Ukrainian media express their respect to you and take this opportunity to draw your attention to the problem of ensuring fundamental democratic values in Ukraine, among which freedom of speech, freedom of expression and equal access to information are of particular importance to us.

During 30 years of independence, positive changes have taken place in our country aimed at ensuring fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the field of independent media. Nevertheless, today there is a certain corrosion of this fundamental idea of democracy in Ukraine.

Giving credit to what has already been done, we have recently noted the curtailment of the process of strengthening the rule of law in the sphere of functioning of mass media. This is manifested in the absence of the results of the investigation of criminal cases related to attacks on journalists and bloggers, in open state censorship, which applies only to the opposition media and most importantly - in the extrajudicial prosecution of media in opposition to the ruling regime.  

In particular, 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, which united the journalists of three closed channels, an hour after the broadcast began. In addition, 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.

The provocations of the right-wing radical forces, physical reprisals of such groups against journalists who allegedly profess “wrong” political views, are equally worrisome.

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 has already been published in all the world's leading media. In addition, just in the last few months, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 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 September 2, 2021).

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).

In other words, in our opinion, the curtailment of freedom of speech in Ukraine is evident. Due to this fact, we take this opportunity to draw your attention to this extremely alarming dynamic. Ukraine today, more than ever, needs to consolidate society and overcome the divisions between different regions. The issue of the unhindered functioning of independent media, including those opposed to the current government, in this regard is a direct way to obtaining public consent, uniting our citizens around the idea of building a strong sovereign Ukraine

Taking into account the above-mentioned facts, we ask you to publicly react to the situation around illegal closure if media in Ukraine and initiate the discussion of this issue with the representatives of the Ukrainian side during your upcoming visit to Ukraine. We hope that this position will find understanding on your part.

Sincerely,

Teams of illegally closed Ukrainian media

Earlier, on October 27 -30, a regular session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe started. The journalists of Pershiy Nezalezhniy worked at the site and informed its participants about the illegal actions of the Ukrainian authorities against independent media, such as 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, as well as Strana.uа and Shariy.net agencies. As part of the Assembly meeting, journalists handed over the letters, and brochures detailing the pressure on freedom of speech in Ukraine to hundreds of European politicians, in particular, MEPs, PACE delegates, Foreign Ministry officials, European politicians, ministers and officials from different countries.

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.

Former owner of the Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channel Roman Lyubytsky spread a false statement that he had nothing to do with the sale of the TV channel to the Novyny media holding. Lyubytsky's statement is not true, as his authorized representative acted on his behalf, and Lyubytsky himself received payment for the sale of the TV channel.

On August 20, the sanctions were imposed on the editor-in-chief of the Internet portal Strana.ua Igor Guzhva, the publishing companies of Strana.ua, blogger and journalist Anatoly Shariy and his wife Olga. As a result, Strana.ua and Shariy.net were blocked.

On May 13, Kyiv court chose the restriction measure for Viktor Medvedchuk, the opposition MP and Chairman of the Political Council of Opposition Platform - For Life party. On July 9, the court extended the house arrest of Viktor Medvedchuk until September 7. The lawyers of the politician stated about the recusal of the judge Serhiy Vovk right after the end of the court session. However, the court declined the appeal on recusal of the judge and prosecutor. On July 30, the Kyiv Court of Appeal refused to satisfy the appeal op the lawyers of Chairman of the Political Council of the Opposition Platform - For Life Viktor Medvedchuk against the extension of the politician's house arrest until September 7.

The Opposition Platform - For Life responded to this legal arbitrariness, stressing that the political persecution of MP Taras Kozak has only one purpose: reprisals against independent media, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK TV channels, and the destruction of freedom of speech in Ukraine. 

Commenting on the situation, Viktor Medvedchuk emphasized that his lawyers were fully prepared to appeal against the measure of restraint and they have evidence that refutes the prosecution's accusation and prove the illegality of applying house arrest to him.

Thus, the defense filed an appeal against the decision of the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv on extension of the measure of restraint for the politician. However, on July 30, the Kyiv Court of Appeal denied it, despite the defeat of all the arguments of the prosecution.

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.

In connection with the illegal actions of the authorities, the journalists appealed to the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken regarding the introduction of total censorship and a serious threat to freedom of information in Ukraine, handed over an open letter to European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy from 2010 to 2014 Stefan Füle and ex-President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, 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. And the Council of Europe recommended journalists of illegally closed Pershiy Nezalezhniy channel to appeal to ECHR.

At the beginning of September, the journalists of the illegally closed TV channels were visited by the Secretary of the Senator of France, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and the Armed Forces of the French Senate, member of NATO PA and member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Joël Guerriau and member of French Senate, member of the commission of Foreign Affairs and Defense Forces Nathalie Goulet. The senator said that their visit have started with the visit of the Embassy of France in Ukraine and meeting with the ambassador, during which, the diplomats were informed by the concern of the Union of Journalists of France and the OSCE about the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine.

In addition, the journalists of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK TV channels, illegally closed by the Ukrainian authorities, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, closed by a letter from the Deputy Chairman of the Security Service without a trial, as well as Strana.ua and Shariy.net outlets came to the YES Brainstorming conference, which started on September 10 in Kyiv, to talk about the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine. 

The journalists of the closed media sent a letter to the PACE delegates, where they told about the pressure of the authorities on the independent media in Ukraine and asked for their assessment. They were also supported by the Charity Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech in Ukraine, whose Chairperson sent a letter to US President Joe Biden in connection with the government's persecution of independent media in Ukraine.

Over the past four months, the world media, European politicians, and experts have published more than 96,900 materials on the persecution of the opposition and independent TV channels by the Ukrainian authorities.

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