Reporters without Borders: Open letter to the Ukrainian President
Dear President Yanukovych,
Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends journalists and press freedom worldwide, has closely followed your recent statements and actions regarding the media in Ukraine and would like to share its surprise and concern with you.
Your government’s behaviour towards the media conflicts with what you told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, namely that reinforcing democracy was an “absolute priority” and that “it is free, independent media that must ensure society’s unimpeded access to information.” We are puzzled by the difference between your statements and the recent conduct towards the media.
Many journalists were barred from a news conference which you and your Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, gave in Kharkiv on 21 April. Reporters Without Borders is astonished by this, as it violates the very principle of a news conference and is the exact opposite of what you recently said in response to our press release of 16 April. The excluded journalists were forced to watch the news conference from a room set aside for this purpose, and had no chance to ask questions. A news conference is supposed to give an opportunity for questions and answers and an exchange of views. The Kharkiv news conference did not fulfil that role. We wonder what the point of this news conference was if most of the journalists were unable to participate.
Speaking through your deputy chief of staff, Hanna German, a few days before this incident, you announced that you would meet some of the journalists who had been attacked in recent weeks, including those working for the newspaper Express in Lviv. There was also talk of creating a special commission of enquiry into the violations against these journalists. These very positive initiatives are unfortunately deprived of meaning if they are followed by such an incident.
We had been reassured by your statements, interpreting them as a sign of determination to reinforce and protect the freedom of the Ukrainian media. We had hoped to see signs of improvement in the situation of journalists, not such a flagrant violation of access to information. Reporters Without Borders would like to think that your undertakings are firm and not just declarations of intent.
We therefore hope that your government will do what is necessary to ensure that journalists are able to work in the manner that is normal in a democratic country, especially as Ukraine is a member of the Council of Europe and, as such, a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. Reporters Without Borders would also like to remind you of the importance of media diversity and respect for journalists under the rule of law.
We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.
Jean-François Julliard Secretary-General
Open letter to Ukraine’s minister of interior
Mr Anatoliy Mohylyov
Minister of Interior
Paris, 23 April 2010
Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to the erosion of the right to information in your country in recent months as a result of arrests and intimidation of journalists working for both traditional and online media.
This aim of this behaviour by police officers abusing their authority appears to have been to scare journalists and pressure them into censoring themselves. Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned by the fact that the police are beginning to target online journalists.
A blogger and journalist has for the first time been the target of repeated intimidation attempts. Olena Bilozerska covered a protest by a group called Autonomous Resistance on 18 February in which demonstrators threw eggs, paint and smoke grenades in a Kiev shop that sells furs. The police searched her apartment illegally on 27 March, seizing material. They hadn’t informed the judge that they wanted to search a journalist. She was then interrogated on 30 March and 13 April in an unacceptable manner.
In the second interrogation, she was brought face-to-face with a person claiming to have been one of the demonstrators, who implied she had been involved in organizing the protest. Her basic rights were violated as she was not able to talk to her lawyer and she was denied medical treatment when she suddenly needed during the interrogation.
She was also accused by police spokesman Volodymyr Polishchuk of failing to inform the police about the demonstration so that they could arrests its participants.
We fear that the treatment given to Ms. Bilozerska could become standard practice. Reporters Without Borders therefore urges you, as the minister responsible for the police, to intervene to put a stop to such behaviour. Journalists and bloggers are meant to provide information to the public, not to act as police auxiliaries.
The police officers behaved illegally in this case, violating article 17 of the Ukrainian law on the protection of journalists. This law says that the activities of journalists cannot be the motive for their arrest or for the seizure of their material.
The frequency of acts of intimidation and aggression by police against journalists has increased since the recent presidential election. Among the journalists who have been arrested are Andriy Vey, the publisher of the newspaper Express, Ihor Myrishnychenko of Poverkhnost and Andriy Mokhnyk of Svoboda. Borys Brahinskiy of TV 9 Kanal was physically attacked and the Avtor-V television station was forced to stop broadcasting.
At the time of your appointment, you promised to respect the rights of journalists and on 25 March, you issued orders to the police to improve cooperation with journalists. Reporters Without Borders urges to you respect your promises and to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that journalists are able to work freely.
I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this request and I look forward to a favourable response.