The journalists of illegally closed 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZiK TV channels, as well as Pershiy Nezalezhniy, representatives of Strana.ua and Sharij.net handed over a letter about illegal actions of the Ukrainian authorities against media representatives to the U.S. Embassy and the diplomatic mission accepted it.
The letter was passed at the numerous rally organized by representatives of the media illegally closed by the authorities, as well as the Charity Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech. Journalists gathered at the walls of the US Embassy so that during a meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky, U.S. President Joseph Biden understood who he was negotiating with - the man who closed the opposition media in his country.
“We really want Mr. Biden to know who he is about to meet. This is not a person they are trying to make him seem. This is the person who illegally closes the TV channels, a person who illegally imposes sanctions on the citizens of Ukraine...We want to pass a letter, a letter from Charity Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, describing the real situation with freedom of speech in the country, the real situation where a journalist can be beaten and with no consequences, where TV channels can be closed illegally, where they can, by some letter from the SBU, stop the broadcast of a new TV channel, a TV channel in which 100 journalists are shareholders and founders. Unfortunately, we do not have freedom of speech under President Zelensky. We want Mr. Biden to be as informed as possible before this meeting, " Artem Marchevsky, General Producer of 112 Ukraine TV channel said.
Journalists came to the rally with posters about the importance of the authorities' respect for freedom of speech in the country and an appeal to the United States to influence Zelensky. "Freedom of speech is a pillar of freedom for all. Compel government to respect it", "Zelensky persecutes opposition and shuts TV channels. Why do you invite a dictator to the White House?", "Zelensky is the enemy of freedom of speech" - these banners were addressed to the American president.
“We think that the beginning of the school year - September 1 - is a pretty good day for President Biden to give President Zelensky an individual lesson about press freedom, about the need to respect the rights of journalists. I'm not saying "to protect" (by and large, no one needs Zelensky's protection anymore), but to really respect the rights of journalists and give people the opportunity to work. Very little is needed to do this: just to abide by the law, just to say he allows the existence of political and journalistic pluralism in Ukraine, to stand for completely obvious things that are written in the Constitution of Ukraine," the host of Pershiy Nezalezhniy Vyacheslav Pikhovshek said.
“We work for the sake of our profession and fight for the sake of our profession. We want to be journalists in our country. Look at how the media work in the United States. There are also opposition media out there that criticize the authorities harshly. And if they wanted to close the media out there, then it would be necessary to close half of them. But here the president decided that he can close those he doesn’t like. Then who will write how 95 Kvartal sells its serials to Russia? Who will write about Mriya's humanitarian supplies, which are then sold in the stores? Who will write about the VIP vaccination of top officials? If you close all the media, there will be no one to write it, " Strana.ua journalist Yulia Korzun added.
According to Shariy.net journalist Volodymyr Samarskiy, since the Ukrainian government does not react to the protests of journalists, whom it deprives of the right to a profession, they have no choice but to appeal to international authorities, to international leaders.
"Firstly, why did we come under the U.S. Embassy. Because Volodymyr Zelensky is going to the U.S. now to communicate with Biden. And it seems to me that now position of drawing pity to us and see what happens, to make our president turn attention to this, is no longer appropriate. President knows what he is doing, he knows that he is doing it illegally. Representatives and members of the Defense Council know that they are doing it all together outside legal boundaries. Therefore, it remains only to turn to some international institutions, to international leaders, to turn attention to the actions of this president," Samarsky said.
At the same time, journalists have a cautious optimism about Biden’s influence on Zelensky. As Ukrainian human rights activist Volodymyr Chymeris noted, the United States of America pretends not to notice the total suppression of freedom of speech and expression in Ukraine.
"The United States tells the Ukrainian leadership that it is necessary to adhere to human rights, but on the contrary, the closure of the TV channels ZIK, NEWSONE, 112 Ukraine and Pershiy Nezalezhniy, in fact, happened due to the fact that the US Embassy and diplomatic departments of a number of other countries supported this suppression of freedom of speech. In fact, the United States turns a blind eye to the total suppression of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. They establish a regime of economic dependence, de-industrialization of Ukraine, " the human rights activist said.
However, by closing down TV channels and Internet resources, it is impossible to improve the lives of Ukrainians, journalists and human rights activists believe.
It improves in other ways: by raising living standards, economic development and social development. Unfortunately, the current government believes that by closing the four channels, Strana.ua, Shariy.net, they will get some success. This is a misconception and I am very sorry that I constantly have to fight in Ukraine for freedom of speech, " ZIK TV host Rostyslav Sukhachov said.
Artem Marchevsky said that the embassy assured protesters that the letter would be handed over to the U.S. ambassador as soon as possible.
Here is the full text of the appeal:
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.,
President of the United States of America
Dear President Biden!
Charity Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, staff of illegally closed by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council "112 Ukraine", "NewsOne" and "Zik" TV channels, as well as employees of "Pershiy Nezalezhniy" TV channel, the broadcast of which was cynically shut down an hour after its start by the criminal actions of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), namely, by the letter from the Deputy Chairman of the special service, the journalists of "Strana.ua" and "sharij.net" agencies, closed by the illegal imposition of sanctions, and journalists of other agencies, united to express to you their respect and address you with a kind request to turn your attention to the improper state of ensuring freedom of speech in Ukraine, which resulted in the illegal closure of a number of media in the country by the Ukrainian authorities.
In grave breach of basic principles of rule of law, the Ukrainian authorities have banned the broadcasting of four influential TV channels and a number of online media. Today, this decision is receiving increasingly sound condemnation on the part of respected international human rights watchdogs and news about the closure of the TV channels and online media have already been published in all the world's leading media.
Since the Ukrainian authorities ignore the opinion of the world journalistic community, specialized international organizations and well-known politicians and experts, we are asking you to convey our concerns over the blatant attack on the freedom of media in Ukraine during your meeting with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky scheduled for August 31, 2021.
We believe that the discussion of this issue will be an excellent demonstration that the protection of freedom of speech and the protection of human rights and freedoms is a fundamental value and a precondition for the creation of a healthy democratic society.
With that in mind, we are resolute to stress that further indifference on the part of the US government to systemic and comprehensive suppression of the freedom of press in Ukraine would make Washington an accomplice in those violations of basic political rights.
We would like to inform you in brief about the main circumstances of the closure of media in Ukraine:
In early February, three Ukrainian TV channels – "112 Ukraine", "NewsOne", and "ZiK" – 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, we did not give up and created a new TV channel – "Pershiy Nezalezhniy" ("The First Independent"), which united the staff of "112 Ukraine", "NewsOne", and "ZiK".
On February 26, the newly established TV channel launched its broadcasting, however, an hour later and under the pressure from the authorities, Ukrainian telecom providers were compelled to stop the satellite broadcasting of the channel, even despite the previously agreed arrangements. The TV channel did not survive a day, and again without any legal background, we were denied our right to work and deprived of the access to our audience.
Later, on August 20, similarly, the authorities blocked the work of two more popular in Ukraine online media "Strana.ua" and "sharij.net".
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.
We, as journalists, want to continue our job and convey the truth about what is happening in the country and beyond its borders. However, we were denied this legitimate right.
Thus, we urge you to respond to the present situation and to express your position concerning the events around our media.
Charity Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech,
Staff of illegally closed Ukrainian media.