Despite government promises to the Council of Europe, press freedom declined in 2002, with political censorship, physical attacks on journalists and failure to punish crimes against them.
Physical violence against journalists steadily increased during 2002, especially in the provinces. No investigations into killings or disappearances of journalists were completed and top government officials implicated in such crimes continued to enjoy total impunity. Reform of the legal system, to make it independent of the government, was not completed either.
Violations of the right to inform the public increased during the campaign for the 31 March parliamentary elections. The Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deplored the unbalanced media coverage of party platforms, but broadcasting and news agencies were controlled by President Leonid Kuchma's associates.
The country's ruling elite also took control of the more independent provincial media to replace them with more pro-government national media. Most big TV stations were under the thumb of the United Social Democratic Party, led by the head of the presidential office, Viktor Medvedchuk, or the Ukrainian Labour Party, led by the president's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk.
These two parties tell journalists in the media they control how to handle the news. Their recommendations were made public on 4 September by member of parliament Oleg Rybachuk. Nearly 500 journalists signed a manifesto against censorship and went on strike. On 15 October, the head of parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, officially admitted the existence of censorship. A poll by the Ukrainian Centre for Political and Economic Research showed that 62 per cent of journalists had been victims of censorship. Parliamentary hearings on censorship began on 4 December and a law defining relations between the press and the authorities was planned.
A journalist killed
Interior minister Yuri Smirnov announced on 18 November 2002 that the body of journalist Mikhailo Kolomiets, head of the Ukrainian news agency Ukrainski Novyny, had been found on 30 October hanging from a tree in a forest near Molodechno, in neighbouring Belarus. He had vanished on 21 October and police said he left Ukraine the next day with the intention of killing himself. Friends and colleagues rejected the suicide theory and said his death may have been connected with his work and the news agency's occasional criticism of the government.
Kolomiets, 44, had founded the agency in 1997 and had a half share in it, with the other half held by the Agency for Humanitarian Technologies headed by Valery Khoroshkovsky, a close associate of President Kuchma. The prosecutor-general's office opened an enquiry into the death and agreed to accept the help of a pathologist offered by Reporters Without Borders. At the end of the year, the investigation was still going on.
New information about two journalists killed before 2002
The investigation into the death of journalist Georgy Gongadze made good progress in 2002. For nearly two years, the legal authorities had systematically obstructed the enquiry but the new prosecutor-general seemed willing to work with Reporters Without Borders to establish the truth.
Gongadze, a young journalist who ran the Internet news website pravda.com and was very critical of the government, vanished on 16 September 2000 and his headless body was found near Kiev on 2 November that year. His murder became a government matter shortly afterwards with the disclosure on 28 November of tape-recordings reportedly made in President Kuchma's office that implicated the country's highest authorities.
On 19 July 2002, the prosecutor-general's office ordered a new examination of the tapes implicating Kuchma and agreed to a new autopsy on Gongadze's remains with the help of European experts. On 5 August, the new prosecutor-general, Sviatoslav Piskun, granted Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard permission to be a legal representative of the Gongazde family, the civil party in the case.
Piskun agreed on 3 September that the law had been violated during the investigation, recognised that the body was Gongadze's and on 10 September announced the formal investigation of the prosecutor in Tarashcha, where the body had been found, for making a false first statement about the body and not immediately seeking to identify it. Serge Belinsky, who investigated the case in Tarashcha, was also put under investigation for falsifying documents.
On 16 September, the second anniversary of Gongadze's disappearance, Reporters Without Borders asked for permission to examine, with the help of an international expert, the results of all previous analyses as well as the orders for them to be carried out. It also asked the prosecutor-general to take evidence from four known men who reportedly followed Gongadze in the weeks before his death.
The same day, with the help of the Damocles Network and the Ukrainian Institute of Mass Information, Gongadze's widow Myroslava filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights about the long-standing obstruction of the investigation by the prosecutor-general's office. In October, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders and a pathologist went to look at the results of the previous analyses. A new autopsy on the remains was scheduled to take place outside the country.
On 11 July, the Ukrainian supreme court ordered the reopening of the investigation into the murder of journalist Igor Alexandrov and the parliamentary commission of enquiry into the killing was revived. The investigation was assigned on 18 October to Yuri Udartsov, the deputy prosecutor in the town of Donetsk, who in 1997 had banned Alexandrov from working as a journalist. The ban was cancelled in 1999 and Udartsov was penalised for making a professional error. Alexandrov, head of the Slaviansk TV station TOR (in the Donetsk region), was attacked with a baseball bat on 3 July 2001. He died of serious head injuries on 7 July. The killer is thought to be linked with the journalist's investigations into corruption and organised crime in the Donetsk region.
Two journalists imprisoned
Oleg Liachko, editor of the privately-owned weekly Svoboda, was arrested in Cherkassy on 15 April when he went to the local prosecutor's office to answer charges of libelling a senior official there. He was freed on 23 April (though put under house arrest) after the intervention of the national ombudsman and the rapporteur on Ukraine in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, which had been petitioned by Reporters Without Borders.
Liachko, who had strongly criticised prosecutor-general Mihailo Potebenko, was charged with "abuse of authority," "violating the principle of non-interference in a person's private life" and "resisting police." He faced a fine of between 50 and 100 times his salary or a prison sentence of up to two years. He has been frequently legally harassed and prosecuted by the authorities over the past couple of years.
Vladimir Boyko, a journalist with the weekly Salon Don i Bas, in the eastern region of Donetsk, and correspondent of the Internet websites Obkom.net and Ukrayina Kriminalnaya, was detained between 25June and 5 July and accused of tax fraud. He was tortured during his detention. He was cleared of the charges on 21 August but objected to the term used ("lack of proof of any crime") in the announcement of his acquittal and demanded that the wording be changed. He said his arrest was in reprisal for articles he had written about corruption among regional tax officials that appeared in Salon Don i Bas and in Kiev media, including the website Obkom.net.
Eight journalists physically attacked
Tatiana Goriacheva, editor of the newspaper Berdyansk Delovoj, was attacked near her home on 28 January 2002 by a man who threw hydrochloric acid in her face, burning it and nearly blinding her. She said the attack was linked to a dispute between the paper and the new port director in Berdyansk, Anatoly Reznikov. A few days earlier, the paper had refused his request to publish an article criticising a municipal election candidate, Dimitri Bero.
A drug addict who had supposedly confessed to the attack withdrew his confession and said he had been physically and psychologically pressured. On 23 September, the Berdyansk court rejected the results of the enquiry into the attack and called for a new probe.
Olena Lytvynova, a journalist with Panorama Sevastopolia, was attacked and seriously injured near her home on 20 February. The previous day she had won a legal appeal against a firm that had sued her for an article on 8 February criticising it for pollution. She said the attack was connected with the article.
Dmytro Brovkin and Stanislas Efremov, of the local TV station Khortytsia in the town of Zaporijjia, were roughed up and their camera damaged by police while they were filming vote-counting in the town elections on 31 March. The station had often criticised the mayor, Olexander Poliak, who was re-elected.
Olexander Sumets, editor of the weekly Zmiivsky Kourier, was beaten up on 28August by four thugs in the stairwell of the building where the paper's offices are in the town of Zmiiv. The paper had often criticised the head of the regional administration, Ivan Omelchenko, and a few days earlier had accused local authorities of corruption and money-laundering. Sumets said the local authorities had carried out the attack.
Petro Kobevko, editor of the weekly Chas in the western region of Chernivtsi, was attacked in his apartment building with tear-gas on 13 September. He assumed the attack was connected with the paper's opposition to the local governor.
Oleg Zavada, formerly with the national TV station UT-1 living in Canada and representing the International Press Institute (IPI), was hit by plainclothes police in Kiev on 12 October while covering a demonstration against President Kuchma. He was hospitalised with concussion. An enquiry was opened into "hooliganism" and not for obstructing a journalist. Zavada filed a complaint against the police on 24 October and the next day the description of the attack on him was redefined as "abuse of authority" by the police.
A man tried to snatch the bag of Natalia Fedushchak, correspondent for the US daily The Washington Times, in the stairwell of her apartment building on 13 October. It contained a tape-recorder with a interview done two hours earlier about Ukrainian arms sales to Iraq. Police refused to do an on-the-spot investigation.
Five journalists threatened
Sergy Sholokh, editor of Radio Kontinent, received anonymous phone threats on 21February 2002. The station is very critical of the authorities, who frequently harass it.
In March, Zinaida Navrotska, editor of the newspaper Novyny Prubuzhzhia, received anonymous phone calls. She said they were probably connected with articles criticising the methods of the presidential coalition and expressing sympathy with the reformist group led by Viktor Yushchenko.
Vitaly Vygolov, a journalist with Vostochnyi proect, said on 11 June he had received anonymous phone threats, probably because of a 16 May article about a road accident that a policeman said was caused by a member of the Donetsk regional council, Kostiantyn Machenkov.
Viktor Vorotnikov, editor of the newspaper Grani, said on 28 June he had been threatened by a secret serviceman, Vassyl Sitar, because of an article criticising the secretary of the Ukrainian National Security Council, Evgeni Marchuk. It had accused him of being involved in arms dealing and working with former bodyguard Mykola Melnichenko, who secretly recorded the conversations of President Kuchma for several years. It said Sitar had helped Melnichenko leave the country in 2000.
Tatiana Goriacheva, editor of the newspaper Berdyansk Delovoj, said on 12 December that she had received death threats from people who had warned her outside the newspaper offices that she would be killed if she continued to investigate the acid attack on her on 28 January.
Pressure and obstruction
Lyudmyla Senchenko (editor), Stepan Derkach (deputy editor) and Leonid Senchenko (journalist) of the of the weekly Rubizh, organ of the Ukrainian Socialist Party in Chernihiv, began a hunger strike on 30 January to protest against the refusal by the town's only printers to print their paper. They accused it of censorship and rejected the printers' financial and technical reasons.
The transmission mast of the radio station Nostalgia in the southern town of Mariupol was cut between 4 and 6 February during unexplained repairs to the facility shared with several other TV and radio stations. Only Nostalgia's aerial was cut. The station had broadcast an interview on 28February with former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the Nasha Ukraina coalition, which had been President Kuchma's main rival in the 31 March parliamentary elections.
On 6 February, the National Broadcasting Council cancelled the frequency used by the Pavlograd Television Association, which included two privately-owned stations, NPT and Fakt-Infos, and a municipal station, Pavlogradsky Telesentr. The Association appealed against the decision, which thereby gave it the right to continue broadcasting in the meantime. However, from 21October, the national station ICTV, owned by President Kuchma's son-in-law, began illegally using the frequency. During the March parliamentary election campaign, the Association's three stations had backed opposition candidates.
On 14 February, the National Broadcasting Council cancelled the frequency of the TV station Khortytsia in the eastern town of Zaporijjiya. On 25 March, the Chevchenkovski court in Kiev returned the frequency to the station. On 17 April, the station's licence was cancelled by the National Broadcasting Council which gave it to another station. The court cancelled its registration certificate on 24 July, saying the station had not informed the town hall of its change of address in due time. Khortytsia appealed against the decision on 28 August and closed down. During theMarch elections, the station had opposed mayor Olexander Poliak and backed his rival Viktor Kaltsev, the station's owner, who lost the election.
Some 40,000 copies of a special issue of the newspaper Azovskie Novosti were seized on 15 February by unknown people from the warehouses of the firm Ostek, in Mariupol. The issue contained an article about the suspension of the Nostalgia radio station and a report on a visit to the town by presidential candidate and former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko. On 1 March, the local prosecutor's office opened an investigation into the "disappearance of property" and not for obstructing journalistic activity.
Tax officials searched the Kiev offices of the online newspaper obkom.net, which specialises in political news, without a warrant on 20 February and seized five computers and all the administrative and financial records. It may have been due to a dispute involving parliamentary deputy Olexander Rjavsky, co-founder of the Corall bank where obkom.net has its account. The website was forced to close on 25March because it could no longer honour its financial commitments.
Its editor, Sergy Sukhobok, filed a complaint against the tax authorities on 4 March for obstructing journalistic activity and violating the confidentiality of correspondence. The complaint was rejected on 25 October. Sukhobok was summoned by tax police on 3 April and questioned about his colleagues and the newspaper's sources of information. He filed a complaint on 7 November against tax chief Mykola Azarov. By the end of the year, the computers and records had not been returned.
Employees of the National Frequencies Monitoring Centre destroyed the transmission mast of the privately-owned TV station Canal 5 in the southern town of Nikopol on 4 March. The station's chief, Kostiantyn Liashchenko, said it followed broadcast of a programme featuring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko on 28 February.
The National Broadcasting Council had withdrawn the station's licence on 17 January and reassigned its frequency to the national TV station STB, controlled by President Kuchma's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk. Canal 5 filed a complaint against the decision on 25 January and was authorised to continue broadcasting until the appeal was heard. But STB began broadcasting on the frequency on 5 March.
All Nikopol printing works refused on 4March to print the newspaper Nikopolskie izvestia, which is owned by the Canal 5 media group.
On the night of 13 March, a vehicle belonging to Canal 5 was burned after a petrol bomb was thrown at it. Unknown people also halted the radio station Nikolpolskie Vedomosti, belonging to the same media group, when they cut its electricity cables. The Canal 5 media group, founded in 1988, was forced to suspend all its operations.
Anti-gang police searched the offices of the privately-owned TV station Express-Inform on 22 March without a warrant. Journalists were forced to leave and forbidden to make phone calls and a camera was smashed. Material damage was put at $7,000. Soon afterwards, police said the search had been done by mistake. The station's journalists said it was probably to do with the fact that the honorary president of the station, Petro Porochenko, was the electoral campaign chief for the reformist group Our Ukraine.
Police seized about 107,000 copies of the newspaper Svoboda, edited by Oleg Liachko, from a lorry belonging to the Respublika publishing firm in Cherkassy on 23 March and dumped them in a river. The driver was beaten. The paper had criticised President Kuchma and prosecutor-general Mihailo Potebenko. The next day, police seized 100,000 copies of the paper, which reported a demand by several members of parliament for an investigation of bribe-taking by Potebenko. Editor Liachko was summoned as a witness on 9 April by the Pechevsky court in Kiev in a case against Respublika. The same day, Svoboda's offices were searched and many documents seized.
Some 115,000 copies of the newspaper 21 vek were seized on 27 March in Lugansk. Legal officials presented a warrant which said the paper had not paid all of a fine imposed on it in 2001 in a case brought by a local businessman. The paper's journalists said the copies had been seized because it contained 10 articles about corruption in the Lugansk region, appearing only a few days before the parliamentary elections.
A large part of the print-run of the newspaper Melitopolske Vedomosti was seized during the night of 29-30 March. A court said three articles in it were "propaganda" against the pro-Kuchma bloc. The paper's editor, Mykhailo Kumok, said the court wanted to protect the interests of Kuchma's supporters on the eve of the parliamentary elections. The paper filed a complaint with the Zaporijjia regional appeals court.
A court rejected on May an appeal by the privately-owned Radio Kontinent, which relays Deutsche Welle, the BBC and Voice of America, against cancellation of its licence on 12 April 2001 by the National Broadcasting Council, which reassigned its frequency to Radio Onix. Station chief Sergy Sholokh's filing of the appeal had allowed the station to continue broadcasting until the case was heard.
Despite this, Radio Onix had began using the frequency on 25 December 2001. In April 2002, the two stations reached a friendly agreement allowing them to in effect share the frequency. In June, Radio Kontinent appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, supported by the Damocles Network and the Institute of Mass Information, in an effort to get back its licence and the court agreed to hear the case.
Sholokh protested in an open letter to President Kuchma on 12 July about constant harassment he had received since filing the complaint, especially from the National Frequencies Monitoring Centre and from the tax authorities.
On 17 July, the Kiev appeals court upheld a decision by a city court in February cancelling the licence of the privately-owned TV station 1+1 for not paying its operations tax. The station's chief, Olexander Rodniansky, appealed, allowing the station to continue until the appeal hearing. He said the station's existence angered some politicians and business interests and accused businessman Vadim Rabinovich of being behind the harassment of the station, which he had earlier tried to get control of.
In August, staff of the TV station Efir-1, broadcasting in the Lugansk region, drafted a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights since they had been unable to file an appeal against a 5 June 2001 decision by the Lugansk town authorities to close the station and give its frequency to another on 1 November that year. Despite a hunger strike by some of the station's journalists, the National Broadcasting Council had cancelled the licence on 17 January 2002 and reassigned the frequency to the LKT station. The journalists said Lugansk officials were punishing the station for supporting the town's former mayor, Anatoly Yagoferov, when he was forced to resign in 2001.
On 4 September, member of parliament Oleg Rybachuk made public anonymous recommendations sent to the heads of major media by President Kuchma's office saying which events journalists were to cover or not cover and how they should be reported. On 13 September, parliament, under pressure from journalists and some deputies, called on the secret services to reveal exactly who had sent the recommendations.
Police in Lviv went to the offices of the online newspaper anty-teror.lv on 24 October and seized the computer hard drive containing the website's archives. The site had posted an article on 16 October about a complaint filed against President Kuchma. A few days later, journalist Zoriana Ilenko was dismissed, although she had a contract until 31 October. The website had been set up by the Lviv regional police authority in January 2001 in response to a government suggestion that websites should be created to inform people about the work of the police, petty crime and news of missing persons. The hard drive was returned on 25 October.
Natalka Prudka, a journalist with the TV station Express-Inform and the weekly Energobusiness, said publicly on 24 October that she had been harassed for the past four months since investigating the affairs of the firm Energoatom. Two days earlier, the firm's press officer had barred her from a press conference. In June, she had been forced to resign her job at the TV station STB after it broadcast a programme about Energoatom that displeased President Kuchma.
Journalists on the programme "Kievian" put out by the Kiev TV station announced their resignation on 4 November in protest against censorship of the programme. The station's chiefs had made a list of 12 opposition politicians who were not to be invited onto the programme, which was broadcast for the last time on 12 November.