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UN Special Report: Journalists of illegally closed 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK TV channels are under authorities’ pressure

Source : 112 Ukraine

UN OHCHR records the restriction of freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly both in the territory controlled by Ukraine and in the occupied territories
17:14, 9 December 2021

112 Ukraine, ZiK, NewsONE TV channels
Open source

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released a special report on the situation with fundamental freedoms in Ukraine over the past two years. The study, conducted from November 2019 to October 2021, documented dozens of violations throughout the country, including those related to pressure on freedom of speech and journalists from the illegally closed TV channels NewsOne, ZIK and 112 Ukraine.

It was noted that throughout the reporting period, OHCHR documented 29 incidents targeting journalists, media professionals, bloggers, and individuals expressing opinions critical of the authorities, Government policies or the mainstream political agenda. In 22 of these cases, perpetrators resorted to violence, while other cases involved threats (including online), incitement to violence, online smear campaigns and intentional damage to property. The majority of the 15 attacks OHCHR recorded in 2020 targeted investigative journalists and media workers covering political topics such as corruption allegations and implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. In 2021, 7 out of 14 documented attacks targeted individuals expressing opinions on political matters or criticizing mainstream narratives.

As an example of the state's offensive on freedom of speech, the report mentions the sanctions imposed by the National Security and Defense Council, which led to the closure of the TV channels of the MP from the Opposition Platform -For Life party Taras Kozak (ZiK, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne), and also blocked access to online agencies Strana.ua and Shariy.net.

"The decisions on sanctions were imposed by an executive body chaired by the President, and the text of the decrees did not contain any reasoning behind the imposition of the sanctions, including the specific security concerns, or an explanation how specific sanctions
would address these concerns and less intrusive sanctions would not be effective. Therefore, the decisions failed to demonstrate compliance with international standards on necessity and proportionality of restrictions of freedom of expression," the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights states.

The authors are concerned that the lack of explicit justification for the sanctions may contribute to self-censorship by media to avoid reporting on sensitive topics that may be assessed to relate to issues of national security.

In addition, the OHCHR report mentioned among examples of attacks on journalists the story of the editor of an online outlet from Poltava region, who criticized local political leaders because of possible corruption. As it is reported, due to the inability of the police to investigate the first attack on the journalist, the same men beat him a second time eight days later.

"The failure to appropriately address such violence, during or immediately after attacks, creates an environment of impunity in which further attacks against journalists and media professionals can occur, increasing the risks for those reporting on sensitive topics," the report states.

In addition, OHCHR recorded five incidents of violence by right-wing groups against participants in political rallies - it is about the rallies of the “Partiia Shariia” and the Opposition Platform -For Life parties, which were thwarted by counter-demonstrators.

"None of the attacks against “Partiia Shariia” have been classified to reflect the political motive of the perpetrators of the attacks, and as such, may undermine the victims’ right to an effective remedy and discourage the general public from participating in political and public affairs," the report reads.

OHCHR is also concerned that Covid-19 restrictions are selectively applied to peaceful assemblies in Ukraine.

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.

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 Nezalezhniyon 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 Nezalezhniy112 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 120,969 materials on the persecution of the opposition and independent TV channels by the Ukrainian authorities.

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