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OSCE Chair Ann Linde responds to address of journalists of Ukrainian media illegally closed by authorities: Freedom of media is top priority

Source : 112 Ukraine

OSCE Chair supports the right to freedom of opinion, expression and information, as well as free, independent and pluralistic media
20:35, 13 October 2021

OSCE Chair and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Ann Linde
zerkalo.az

OSCE Chair and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Ann Linde reacted to the address of the representatives of Ukrainian media illegally closed by the authorities. In her letter, she underlined that she fully supported the right to freedom of opinion, expression and information, and free, independent and pluralistic media, in line with international law and commitments of OSCE.

“Sweden's bilateral support to Ukraine's reform agenda has for many years focused i.a. on independent media and will continue to do so,” the letter reads.

Below is the full text of the letter:

As Foreign Minister and as OSCE Chair, I stand fully behind the right to freedom of opinion, expression and information, as well as free, independent and pluralistic media, in line with international law and OSCE commitments. Sweden's bilateral support to Ukraine's reform agenda has for many years focused i.a. on independent media and will continue to do so.

As Chair of the OSCE, Sweden places top priority on respect for human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law. This includes freedom of media. The participating States have made strong commitments in these areas, and we continue to emphasise this in our role as Chair. To highlight the importance of respecting freedom of the media in the OSCE region and to promote full implementation of participating States' commitments in this regard, the Chairpersonship and the Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) held a special conference on this subject in May.

The autonomous institutions of the OSCE all have strong mandates to monitor how participating States implement their commitments and support them in doing so. In this respect, the RFoM monitors developments concerning freedom of media throughout the OSCE region and is in regular dialogue  with participating States about these issues.

Earlier, on October 12, journalists of independent Ukrainian media, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, on the day of of EU-Ukraine summit held a mass rally to draw attention of EU-Ukraine summit guests to violation of freedom of speech in Ukraine.

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.

However, on the same day, October 12, the billboards with an appeal to the EU-Ukraine summit participants from journalists of illegally closed media - 112 Ukraine, ZIK, NewsOne and Pershiy Nezalezhniy, Strana.ua and Shariy.net - with a demand to protect freedom of speech were ripped off and destroyed in Kyiv.

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.

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.

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.

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