The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is concerned over the closure of independent mass media. A number of delegates from the European parliaments spoke out against pressure on freedom of speech and opposition media in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, September 28, the journalists addressed the PACE delegates to give their assessment of the illegal blocking of independent media. They handed over letters to the MEPs saying how the Ukrainian authorities, in grave violation of the rule of law principle, illegally suspended the broadcasting of the three leading news channels - 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK. Later, after an hour of broadcasting, by the order of the Deputy Chairman of the SBU, they blocked Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channel. In addition, because of the illegal sanctions, the authorities stopped the work of the Strana.ua and Shariy.net agencies.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Hungary Péter Szijjártó supported the representatives of the Ukrainian media and spoke against the pressure on the media in Ukraine.
He stated that freedom of expression was one of the most important humanitarian rights, and human rights are extremely important for Hungary.
"We often hear reprimands from the European Union regarding freedom of the media, but we have not closed any media in our country. Moreover, the major media in Hungary, which are the leading players in the media sector, oppose government policies. And this is a democracy, we have to live with it," Szijjártó stressed.
Member of PACE delegation from Austria and PACE General Rapporteur on media freedom and safety of journalists Stefan Schennach is also concerned about the authorities’ persecution of opposition Ukrainian media. He stressed that only a court can close a media in Austria, and the Council of Europe has a specialized platform where journalists can inform the committee about cases of violation of freedom of speech.
"There is no country in Western Europe with problems with freedom of speech. Powerful public and private media, function there plus unprofitable ones. This means, there are three possibilities for realizing media freedom. There are also telecommunications laws that must be followed in order to qualify for broadcasting rights. We know that the situation in Ukraine is not very good," the MEP said.
Italian Senator Roberto Rampi also took the side of closed media journalists and noted that the authorities had violated the principles of the resolution on people’s right to be informed.
"There is no such thing as democracy without freedom of speech, without versatile media and people’s opportunity to hear different opinions. I think this is a big problem. We know about the Ukrainian situation. The Assembly adopted a resolution on people's right to be informed. A certain freedom of speech exists. But we continue to work, to improve the situation with it in all countries, " the Italian politician said.
PACE member from the Czech Republic Jiři Valenta added that the issue of freedom of speech is very important for countries that want to observe democratic principles.
"This is a very serious issue for all the peoples, for all countries of the world. In the Czech Republic, everything is already in order. But in some countries - not yet. We need to study the situation in these countries more. I think that this will happen in the future," Valenta said.
Another Italian Senator Gianni Marilotti stressed that there was a crisis in Ukraine, and journalists are becoming victims of political pressure.
"Freedom of speech is extremely important for the United Nations, in particular, so that people are informed and understand what is happening around them. This plays a key role in democracy. Therefore, freedom of speech is something that we must protect everywhere. In Italy, in Ukraine, in the USA. And we work on this every day. This is how we acted during the crisis with Assange, and we will act in the same way in the situation with the closure of Ukrainian TV channels. These are the issues that are fundamental to democracy," Marilotti noted.
In his turn, French Senator Didier Marie reminded that independent journalism is the foundation of a democratic society.
"Freedom of speech is very important for democracy: to have free journalists and free media. Everyone needs to know what other people think. We need journalism that can explain what is happening and we need different points of view. Therefore, it is very important for us that the media are free. One of the fundamental criteria for belonging to Europe and to democracy is free journalism. And it is necessary to protect it from the authorities when the authorities infringe upon it, " the French politician summed up.
A member of the Portuguese delegation in PACE Paulo Pisco stressed that freedom of speech is one of the most important principles of democracy, and the closure of independent media violates the rights and freedoms of the citizens.
Portugal's representative in PACE Pedro Cegonho said that in his country the freedom of speech is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Therefore, according to him, the existence of the media, in which a person with any political position will be able to speak out and thereby implement democratic principles in relation to all institutions and organizations, is very important.
The representative of Germany in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Andrej Hunko also expressed concern about the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine:
"I am very concerned over the closure of various TV channels now. I am worried about the situation and threats against Anatoliy Shariy, and I stay in touch with him, and the situation with the Ukrainian journalist Ruslan Kotsaba, who was attacked by nationalists. The state of affairs with free media and freedom of speech in Ukraine is worrisome in general, and this is monitored here in PACE, and also in Germany."
The representative of France in PACE Dimitri Houbron regarding the closure of independent media in Ukraine said he believed that people must fight to ensure that democracy remains viable.
A member of PACE from Finland and Vice-Chairperson of PACE ПАСЕ Kimmo Kiljunen in his turn stated that there can be no serious political and democratic processes in a country where people are not allowed to freely express opinions.
Earlier, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about sanctions against the opposition media in Ukraine. The head of the UN Mission, Matilda Bogner, stated that these decisions of the Ukrainian authorities did not meet international standards in the sphere of freedom of expression, as they were not adopted by independent authorities and could not prove the proportionality of these restrictions.
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.”
At the same time, the Council of Europe recommended journalists of illegally closed Pershiy Nezalezhniy channel to appeal to ECHR over restriction of freedom of speech in Ukraine.
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro expressed her concern regarding the imposing of sanctions by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC) against a number of mass media, recommending to introduce careful check of each news agency before the introduction of the restrictions against them
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.
Journalists of the closed mass media sent a letter to the PACE delegates, where they informed about the pressure of the authorities on the independent media in Ukraine and asked to give their assessment. They were also supported by the Charity Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech in Ukraine, the Chairperson of which sent a letter to the U.S. President Joe Biden in connection with the government's persecution of independent media in Ukraine.
On September 2, Pechersk District Court ruled to extend house arrest for Medvedchuk for 2 months, untill October 31.
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.
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.
Over the past four months, the world media, European politicians, and experts have published more than 82,500 materials on the persecution of the opposition and independent TV channels by the Ukrainian authorities.