Is the SBU spying on me?


During Wednesday’s protest action “Is the SBU [Security Service] collecting information about me”] initiated by the Stop Censorship Movement, 70 journalists and civic activists lodged individual requests for information.

The information request seeks to ascertain whether the SBU has over the last year gathered any information about the person, carried out any operational activities, tapped the telephones, organized surveillance or carried out any other activities with respect to the person asking.

The action was attended by journalists and civic activists. SBU spokesperson, Marina Ostapenko immediately came out to speak to them. She insisted that there had been no persecution of journalists in Ukraine, was none and could not be “if a person does not violate current legislation”. She said that media workers were not the object of the SBU’s interest. And that she saw the fact that the SBU was effectively newspaper No. 1 in the country was the result of their active work in fighting corruption and organized crime. Although she did not exclude the possibility that some journalists simply wanted to get publicity at the SBU’s expense.

“Not everybody likes the actions which the SBU is involved in and that, on the one hand is a political commission. On the other, I’m a journalist myself and I understand that for a journalist it’s important to be seen, to be written about, to have material noted. There are a lot of you but not all get on TV. I think that here there is a large portion of self-advertising by certain journalists who begin screaming about unchecked facts”, Ms Ostapenko asserted.

She claimed that as of today no journalists or civic activists had given any proof of SBU surveillance. She called for official requests for information to be made in all such cases.

Victoria Syumar, Director of the Institute for Mass Information, who last Friday publicly stated (cf.  that SBU officers had approached the concierge of her apartment block asking her about the people living in her flat, stresses that she was prompted to lodge such an information request through her own experience. She explained that she, like the others there, wanted to establish whether her activities fall within the sphere of interests of the SBU. “What is in question is activities linked with developing civic society, journalism including criticism of the government. I also want to understand what the SBU’s priorities are”.

Ms Syumur stated that she does not know whether they are continuing to gather information about her. “I don’t think that this is some kind of persecution, however if such gathering of information is carried out, the public have the right to know why. I am convinced that such cases are happening and they are not isolated. This seems like a system”.

The Head of the “Equal Opportunities” Committee, Oleksandr Chekmyshev, said that he had come to support the protest although the last time the SBU had come to him had been somewhere in the 1990s. “As a civic activist  and media specialist, involved in monitoring since 1994, I believe that in a situation where pressure is put on journalists and civic organizations, the public need to unite.”

TVi presenter, Artyom Shevchenko, says that the nature of his work and the media outlet he works for give grounds for suspecting the SBU could engage in operational activities. He points out that in June TVi noticed that their office was being watched. Their investigation found that the car numbers were faked.

Prominent journalist and head of the Svidomo Bureau of Investigative Journalism Yehor Sobolyev, like Oleksandr Chekmyshev, does not think that the SBU is gathering information against him, but came together with colleagues to demonstrate that he does not want to accept absurdities.

“I am very disturbed by the direction the SBU is now taking, I mean in the first instance the situation with historian Zabily. This is first of all incredible idiocy, and total degeneration of the Service. A normal officer will not go and arrest a historian for what he read in a history textbook in the eleventh grade. That means that there will be less normal people remaining in the Service.”

He points to an inefficient use of public funding.

“The tragedy is that they are not interested in Zabily or Syumor, the tragedy is that the Service is turning into a mechanism of absurdity. Because Khoroshkovsky does not want to persecute historians and journalists, he wants to show those people who lobbied for his appointment that he is persecuting historians and journalists. That’s as if the Minister of Education was circulating pornography in schools. This is terrible. Our officers are forced to engage in idiocy, and public funding is squandered”,

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