RWB call on Merkel to address the issue of freedom of speech when meeting Yanukovych
Reporter ohne Grenzen, the German Reporters without Borders have sent a letter to Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, asking her to address the issue of press freedom in her talks with President Yanukovych on 30 August.
“We observe with concern that the press freedom gained after the Orange Revolution in 2004 is again in question”.
They ask Ms Merkel to raise the issue and to remind Mr Yanukovych that lack of respect for press and media freedom is not in line with EU-Ukraine association priorities.
The letter outlines attacks against journalists over the last 6 months carried out by police; detention of reporters; searches as well as various forms of censorship and attempts to put pressure on those expressing criticism of the regime. They speak of systematic attempts by those in power to bring the media under their control and insist on the need for an independent system for allocating broadcasting frequencies, and guaranties for the independence of the broadcasting regulatory body.
They express concern over a spreading climate of impunity, with attacks against journalists remaining unpunished, and specifically mention the disappearance of Kharkiv journalist Vasyl Klymentyev.
In an interview published on the Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5951150,00.html), Yanukovych was asked by German journalists about freedom of speech in Ukraine. He once again asserted that he often meets with members of the media and that he always asks one question: give me specific examples concerning obstruction of freedom of speech by the authorities.
At this point, correspondent from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Konrad Schuller said that he would take up the President’s suggestion. “I would like to name two cases. The first concerns the Chief Editor of the television channel TVi who asserts that he has been under surveillance by the Security Service [SBU]. The other case concerns my colleagues here in Ukraine who have been invited to have conversations with the SBU and asked about my activities. I regard that as attempts to intimidate my colleagues. I would be grateful for your comments.”
The President had the following to say: “I’m hearing about that for the first time. If there are such cases, you need to make official approaches on those issues. With regard to the first issue, to me it seems unlikely that anyone was following journalists. I don’t believe that. However in any case there have not been such appeals. As for journalists being called to the Security Service, I am also hearing about that for the first time. Tell me, who was called, when, where?”
An interview with Konrad Schuller was published yesterday in Ukrainska Pravda (http://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2010/08/27/5335457/) He mentions that he raised the question with the President, but also says that a letter was sent from the newspaper to the Head of the SBU, Valery Khoroshkovsky, reporting the incidents and asking for an explanation (the letter in Russian can be seen at the URL above).
Konrad Schuller explains that he knows of two cases, but is not willing to give the names since the people are afraid of persecution. They are both Ukrainian nationals. No authorities have tried to find him in Germany. The first person whom the SBU met with is mentioned in the FAZ journalist’s article; the second was mentioned during that meeting by the first.
They were both asked questions about Konrad Schuller, what he was doing, who he saw, etc. He notes with humour that the officers apparently said that they were acting on behalf of the previous Yushchenko administration for all that the conversations took place in April, more than two months after Yanukovych came to power. “I find it hard to believe that they didn’t understand that there was a new team in charge, and were continuing to carry out the instructions of Kuchma, Kravchuk, or even Brezhnev!”
He does not think that he was the sole object of surveillance.
“All my contacts speak of some form of being observed. I hear this from various types of people in the West, from representatives of German funds and NGOs, including from the Ukrainian opposition and members of parliament.” He believes that this is more the style of the old KGB.
He says that he sent three official letters: one to the Ukrainian Embassy in Berlin, asking for it to be sent by official post to the SBU. The second he sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the third to the Head of the SBU, Khoroshkovsky. Konrad Schuller says that Khoroshkovsky is now claiming that he invited him to meet and discuss the question, but that in fact he heard nothing at all from him.
During his interview, Yanukovych also asserted that he has no information about the Head of the SBU involving himself in the work of the media.
The following give information about just some of the cases the President appears to remain blissfully unaware of. The reasons for this are not quite clear.
Information about attacks by, among others, a Presidential guard, on journalists; the attempts to strip two independent channels of their frequencies, etc: Serious conclusions http://www.kyivpost.com/news/opinion/op_ed/detail/78657/
Present action by the SBU and tax police against the only opposition TV channel in the Crimea http://www.khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1282253650
Activities by the SBU http://www.khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1281716040
The following are just some of the western NGO’s that have expressed concern