Ternopil journalist loses suit over reports of mistreatment of prisoners
Ternopil journalist Zhanna Popovych has lost her appeal in the Ternopil Regional Court of Appeal over a defamation suit brought by the Kopychynska Penal Colony, No. 112. The Court’s ruling was issued on 7 December.
Zhanna Popovych explains that the penal colony took her and her newspaper “Nomer odyn” [“Number One”] to court over material regarding ill-treatment of prisoners. The claimant demanded a retraction from the newspaper and an apology, and 2 thousand UAH in moral compensation, from the journalist.
The first instance court, the Ternopil City-District Court, rejected the penal colony’s suit and the latter appealed.
Ms Popovych says that she cannot understand what the court was guided by in allowing the penal colony’s suit. “The material did not contain any value judgements, I only passed on the accounts of people in custody.”
She explains that two former prisoners, one released last year, the other this year, whose commentaries were used in the publication, were called to the prosecutor’s office in the places where they are now living and they confirmed that these were their words. They were then called to the court. Only one came, and the day after his appearance, Ms Popovych says, all four wheels of his car were slashed. She says that the second witness did not appear in court. It transpired that he had been beaten the day before, and his documents and mobile stolen.
Zhanna Popovych states that she could confirm the accounts she reported in the article through Dictaphone recordings and copies of 56 complaints from the prisoners. She says the prosecutor’s office which summoned her did not take the recordings into consideration. “When the judge suggesting hearing the recordings, the respondents refused, saying that they already know that there are such”. The court, she says, did not make anything of this refusal to consider the recordings.
She also cited an analogous case being heard in the European Court of Human Rights.
Five representatives of the penal colony were at the hearing. The journalist says that the claimant stated that such publications have an adverse impact on the reputation of the penal colony. She was also accused of having been commissioned to write the material.
Zhanna Popovych says that the court, having listened to her, advised her to check the information and write information requests to the penal colony. “How to check is not clear. At the end of the day I checked as much as I could the information. Those guys gave me documents indicating that they were really serving a sentence”.
The court partially allowed the claimant’s suit, rejecting the claim for moral compensation however allowing the demand for retraction and apology. Zhanna Popovych intends to lodge a cassation appeal.
Telekritika says that they will be providing lawyers’ comments after receiving the court’s ruling in writing.