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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Ukraine

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Ukraine, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5651d30.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Ukrainian parliament passed a new constitution with formulations for press freedom and the forbidding of censorship borrowed from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Regrettably, lawmakers also copied the latter part of Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights that restricts expression in the interests of natural security, public order, and the protection of reputations, notions that are open to wide interpretation and abuse in Ukraine, where separation of powers is weak. In the countries of Western Europe, such constraints on speech are rarely used, overturned in constitutional courts, or ultimately appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, where a substantial body of case law has developed to protect journalists' rights to criticize the government. In Ukraine, such remedies are absent.

Violence against the media continued in Ukraine, with at least one killing attributed to a journalist's work and all suspicious deaths of journalists in past years still unsolved. Three television journalists from an independent production company, Lita-M, were declared missing in Chechnya. Reporters covering the conflict in Crimea – a region contested between Ukraine and Russia and the site of intense competition among ethnic and political groups – were particularly vulnerable to physical attack. The tension ran so high that in November, when Russia's ORT (Russian Public Television) began broadcasting weather forecasts about the Ukrainian cities of Sevastopol and Odessa along with those from Russian cities, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note of protest to the Russian government, claiming that the meteorologists were aggressively engaging in "information expansionism."

Both government and organized crime place pressure on news outlets, forcing some reporters to engage in self-censorship. Diatribes against critical independent journalists in the state-owned press contribute to the climate of intolerance. Law-enforcement officers are impervious to correspondents' pleas for protection from assailants, and themselves at times engage in beatings of those covering controversial public events.

The Ukrainian government maintains heavy control over radio and television broadcasting, although several independent stations survived a year of occasional censorship and threats. In January, for example, according to Moscow News, media officials told a Ukrainian company called Nova Mova, an affiliate of Russia's NTV (Independent Television) and producer of "Postscript," a popular news program, to cancel the program within an hour's notice one week after airing a segment on dissension within the ranks of the presidential administration. Although the administration denied responsibility for the crackdown, the pressure was believed to originate in the executive branch. In September, the prosecutor general filed a law suit against a radio station for "insulting" the president of neighboring Belarus. In December, the Parliament passed a law banning the privatization of satellite transmitters and broadcasting channels; independent companies must rent from the state.

According to the Open Media Research Institute, in September, the government set up a committee to monitor the distribution of broadcast licenses after the parliament declared a moratorium on licensing by the National Broadcasting Council. The council's chair protested that the legislature and government were trying to wrest control of Ukraine's three national channels from his presidentially appointed body.

Ukrainian news kiosks were forced to discontinue carrying Russian-language publications vital to Ukraine's large Russian-language population when tariffs on imported newspapers and magazines grew prohibitively high. Ukrainian officials repeatedly complained about what they viewed as "inequality" in the information exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

The independent Ukrainian Media Club, the Odessa Journalists' Association, a support group of reporters in Crimea from NTV, Moscow News and other publications, as well as similar local organizations battled to preserve their colleagues' freedoms and protested numerous incidents of attacks against the press in Ukraine.

May 10
Igor Hrushetsky, Free-lancer, KILLED

Hrushetsky, a free-lance journalist well-known for his articles on political corruption that were published in newspapers such as Nezavisimost and the now-defunct Respublika, was found dead near his home in Cherkassy. Police said he died from a blow to the head. According to press reports, Hrushetsky had recently testified in a criminal court case involving, among others, the son of a high-ranking police official in his region. Upon searching Hrushetsky's home after his murder, police reportedly found two files containing information about criminal cases from police archives. Colleagues believe he may have been targeted for his reporting on political corruption. On May 20, CPJ wrote to President Leonid Kuchma and Ukraine's minister of justice, calling for a prompt and thorough investigation into Hrushetsky's murder.

May 11
Anna Konyukova, NTV, ATTACKED, THREATENED
Viktor Sosnovsky, NTV, ATTACKED, THREATENED

Unidentified assailants set fire to the home of Konyukova and her husband, Sosnovsky, in Simferopol, Crimea. Konyukova is the Crimean bureau correspondent for NTV, Russia's only independent TV station, and Sosnovsky is a cameraman for the station. Just after midnight, the couple noticed that their front door, which had been doused with a flammable liquid, was ablaze. They extinguished the fire and called the police. Konyukova and Sosnovsky detected and put out a second fire before the police arrived after 1:30 a.m. The couple had been subjected to a similar arson attempt a year earlier. Police found that the same flammable substance had been used in both incidents, but they have no suspects in either case. On May 9, shortly before the latest arson attempt, Konyukova and Sosnovsky had filmed police in Simferopol blocking demonstrators from entering a Victory Day parade, in some cases by beating them to keep them back. Plainclothes security police warned the couple not to broadcast the incident. Konyukova and Sosnovsky later tried unsuccessfully to send their footage by relay to Moscow. They suspect their transmissions were intentionally blocked. In March, Konyukova and Sosnovsky were told by the head of the Ukrainian Security Service in Crimea that "the CIA arranges car accidents for journalists who dig where they shouldn't." At the time, the pair had been investigating an alleged government conspiracy to blacklist certain Ukrainian organizations that were accused of harboring spies for Russia. NTV in Moscow protested the arson attempts, but Ukrainian authorities claimed that NTV had staged the incidents to increase its ratings. CPJ urged the Ukrainian government to investigate the attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice.

June 14
Alexander Spakhov, Express-Chronicle, ATTACKED, HARASSED

According to a report in Express-Chronicle, an independent Moscow-based news agency and weekly newspaper, Spakhov, a local political activist working as a stringer for the agency, had been detained and abused by police. The newspaper said that Spakhov had tried to photograph a police barricade around Sevastopol's Nakhimov Square, which had been cordoned off two hours before ethnic Russians seeking autonomy in the Crimean region of Ukraine were scheduled to begin an unsanctioned rally. After Spakhov took some pictures of officers in the square, he was detained by members of a police squad known as the Berkut Unit. Police reportedly refused to acknowledge Spakhov's credentials from Express-Chronicle or his Russian citizenship. They reportedly pushed him into a police car, where officers choked him and punched him in the face. He was then brought to the Lenin District of the Sevastopol Interior Ministry, detained for three hours, and released. In a letter to President Leonid Kuchma, CPJ expressed concern about the beating and detention of Spakhov and called for a stop to the harassment of journalists in Ukraine.

June 15
Vecherniy Sevastopol, HARASSED

The Sevastopol city administration issued a press release criticizing the local newspaper Vecherniy Sevastopol and warning that the authorities would seek the newspaper's closure for alleged violations of the press law. Editors of Vecherniy Sevastopol, which is known for its opposition to city authorities, believe the paper is being targeted for its critical coverage of social and political controversies.

July 25
Viktor Frelix, Publisher, INVESTIGATION OF DEATH CLOSED

After more than a year of investigation, the prosecutor of the Chernovets region closed the criminal case in the death of Frelix, who died on June 2, 1995, in Lvov, reportedly of poisoning. Frelix, a publisher and founder of the ecological group Green World of Ukraine, had been investigating the military's connection with an epidemic in the city of Chernovtsy, and had alleged that the illnesses were caused by the city's proximity to a military base. According to the hospital where Frelix spent his last days, he was poisoned "by substances with unknown qualities." But authorities investigating the case concluded from legal and medical expert evidence that there were no poisonous compounds found in his body.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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