Journalists of illegally closed 112 Ukraine, NEWSONE, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channels and online agencies Strana.ua and Shariy.net ahead of 41st General Conference of UNESCO, which will take place from November 9 to 24 in Paris, addressed an open letter to all its delegates with a request to respond to the arbitrariness of the Ukrainian authorities.
Director-General of the UNESCO Audrey Azoulay, Assistant Director-general Firmin Edouard Matoko, President of the National Commission of France for UNESCO Yves Saint-Geours, Secretary General French National Commission for UNESCO Alexandre Navarro, Head of Policy, Research and Communications at the UK National Commission for UNESCO Matthew Rabagliati, Manager of the Public Affairs at Canadian Commission for UNESCO Vanessa Poulin-Gladu, Secretary-General of the National Commission of Japan for UNESCO Yasushi Taguchi, President of the German Commission for UNESCO Maria Böhmer, Non-Executive Director of the UK National Commission Colin McInnes, Chairman of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO Franco Bernabè, President of the Belgian French-speaking and German-speaking Commission for UNESCO Yves Rouyet received an open letter.
The media workers drew the attention of UNESCO delegates to the fact that freedom of speech is one of the fundamental values of democracy, and the illegal actions of the Ukrainian authorities in terms of extrajudicial prosecution of undesirable journalists lead to its curtailment.
Journalists told about the numerous world politicians and international organizations that have condemned the criminal actions of the authorities and insisted on ending the pressure on freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Below is the full text of the letter:
Journalists of illegally closed Ukrainian media take this opportunity to express their respect and draw your attention to the problem of ensuring the fundamental democratic values in Ukraine, among which the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and equal access to information are of particular importance for our state.
As you know, during 30 years of independence, positive changes aimed at ensuring fundamental human rights and freedoms have taken place in our country, including those in the field of independent media. Nevertheless, there is a considerable corrosion of this fundamental idea of democracy in Ukraine today.
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 extrajudicial prosecution of media which are in opposition to the ruling regime.
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 illegally 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 they are now under the threat of complete destruction.
Recently, the Ukrainian public broadcaster - "UA:Pershiy" TV channel - accused the Office of the President of Ukraine of "long and strict control over the presence of the deputies from "Servant of the People" party in its programs", and in addition of "imposing conditions on the TV channel editors" and "putting ultimatums on the presence of the people's deputies". In the opinion of "UA:Pershiy", actions of the President's Office are "a threat to the freedom of speech and independent journalism in general". Also, the list of media outlets that suffered from the current authorities could include Radio Liberty, but significant public resonance compelled the authorities refrain from the backing of the head of the Board of Directors of Ukreximbank Yevgen Metsger and his associates, who attacked the filming crew of the program "Schemes".
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 have already been published in all the world's leading media.
In particular, only in recent 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.”
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).
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).
In other words, in our opinion, the curtailment of freedom of speech in Ukraine is evident. Due to this fact, we use this opportunity to your attention 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 abovementioned facts, we kindly urge you to give your public assessment of illegal closure of Ukrainian media and to initiate the discussion of violations of the freedom of speech during your meetings with Ukrainian authorities. We hope that this position will find full understanding on your part.
Work collectives of illegally closed Ukrainian media
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.
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.
On October 27, 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 October 12, the employees of independent Ukrainian media 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, on the day of the EU-Ukraine summit held a large-scale rally to draw the attention of the guests of EU-Ukraine summit to the violation of freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Dozens of journalists at one of the locations - Boryspil highway, where the summit participants were leaving the airport, unfurled posters with inscriptions in Ukrainian and English: Pershiy Nezalezhniy, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, illegally closed by the authorities. Zelensky destroys freedom of speech in Ukraine. The journalists' mouths were sealed. Dozens of media workers were also present in Mariinsky Park and other locations which the guests were due to visit.
The media, covering the G20 summit in Rome, expressed concern about the situation with censorship in Ukraine and supported the illegally closed 112 Ukraine, NEWSONE, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channels and the Internet outlets Strana.ua and Shariy.net.
On November 1, the journalists of illegally closed 112 Ukraine, NEWSONE, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channels and the Internet outlets Strana.ua and Shariy.net also held a meeting with the representative of the German embassy Lucas Behm. During the meeting, media representatives informed about the pressure of the Ukrainian authorities on freedom of speech in the country, and also provided an international legal opinion of a group of French lawyers provided upon the appeal of the Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech on the illegality of closure of Ukrainian TV channels Pershiy Nezalezhniy (First Independent), 112 Ukraine, ZIK and NewsOne.
Over the past four months, the world media, European politicians, and experts have published 114,853 materials on the persecution of the opposition and independent TV channels by the Ukrainian authorities.