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. Representatives of the media illegally closed by President Volodymyr Zelensky were at several locations: along Boryspil highway and in Mariinsky Park.
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.
Journalists of the Ukrainian media rally
It is worth noting that in Kyiv, the billboards with the appeal from journalists of illegally closed media - 112 Ukraine, ZIK, NewsOne and Pershiy Nezalezhniy, Strana.ua and Shariy.net to the participants of the EU-Ukraine summit to protect freedom of speech were being torn down and destroyed.
Political scientist Serhiy Hodny, who came to support the journalists, said that today's action was an attempt to draw the attention of the European community to the attack on the fundamental constitutional rights of Ukrainians.
"This cannot be the case in a European country in the 21st century. This cannot be covered up by any manipulative definitions of misinformation or anything else. This is a truth that European officials if they are really our partners, must provide for our fellow citizens. Personally, I believe that freedom of speech and the prospects of the Ukrainian state are inextricably linked, there must be a pluralism of opinion, and if censorship is imposed in Ukraine, it is not democracy, then it is a completely different state formation and we need to speak about it openly. If Europeans want to see Ukraine as a state where everything is censored, where there is no dissent, then we do not have a way to Europe, maybe we should have a different perspective, "the political scientist said.
In turn, publicist Denys Zharkykh, who was also present at the rally, noted that media exist to establish a dialogue in society, but the government shuts up the independent media, and Europe should pay attention to this.
"Freedom of speech is a fundamental value, and we exist to have a dialogue with different people, with different positions. But it is nothing like that, they accuse us, they cannot argue with us, they are not going to talk to us, they accuse us for no reason at all, that we are propaganda, that for some reason we say wrong narratives. In any case, you can just tell any person that they are telling a lie, that they are spreading some propaganda, that is, there is no need to argue, you should just put more and more pressure. In the center of Europe, we have a totalitarian state, a state that is 100 to 70 years backward. This should not be the case, Europe should not demonstrate double standards, because if there is freedom of speech, then it is for everyone. NATO propaganda is not propaganda, EU propaganda is not propaganda? After all, is the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and vaccination not propaganda? I understand that we have support in Europe and it is very important that we are heard in Europe and around the world, " the publicist added.
And Doctor of Law, Academician Vitaliy Zhuravsky, also present at the rally, stressed that the authorities have not been able to provide evidence that would justify the closure of three independent Ukrainian media 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK.
"When Zelensky shouts: 'Why doesn't Europe accept us?'But we will not be accepted there as long as we have persecuted journalists. If you ask any European parliamentarian - from Germany, France, Austria - is it possible to close media without a trial and investigation? No, it isn't!" Zhuravskiy stated.
He reminded that earlier the authorities promised to provide evidence for the closure of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK, but did not do so.
"I have often been on live broadcasts of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK. And the presenters never broke the law. Never! And if there is a claim against the guest, for example, you need to open a case against him. But I have not yet heard that at least one case has been opened against the invited guests. And we invited those who represented different political views, "he stressed.
The head of the youth wing of the Opposition Platform - For Life Artem Marchevsky supported those present and said that nowhere in the civilized world it is possible to close TV channels because they express a different point of view from the one generally accepted by the state.
"We are constantly communicating with members of the European Parliament, European and world politicians of various calibers. When we tell them how things really are with freedom of speech, they are usually terrified, they do not understand how this is possible in principle? Geographically, we seem to be in Europe, but mentally we are still some aborigines. Nowhere in the civilized world can TV channels be shut down simply because the president or some ministers or the Verkhovna Rada do not like them. You can not close the channel just because it expresses a point of view that differs from the one generally accepted by the state," he said.
Marchevsky also added that Zelensky deserves impeachment for his actions.
Diplomat and political consultant Andriy Telizhenko, speaking at the rally, noted that many European governments are interested in the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine, so the more President Volodymyr Zelensky's government puts pressure on the opposition media, the more questions they will have.
In turn, journalist Ruslan Kotsaba, commenting on the actions of the authorities, did not rule out that it may soon lead to imprisonments of media representatives for an alternative point of view.
On the day of the summit, from 9:00 to 12:00, journalists of Pershiy Nezalezhniy held a special broadcast dedicated to the events of the EU-Ukraine summit. The journalists' protest action was broadcasted we were able to communicate with them live.
The journalists wanted to draw the attention of the international partners to the recent 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.
Earlier, 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 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.
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.
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.
The journalists of the illegally closed TV channels met with 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 senators were informed 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.