‘Abide by international standards of press freedom’, human rights organization tells #Ukraine

| December 13, 2018


A leading human rights organization has called on Ukraine to “abide by the international standards” concerning freedom of the press. The demand by Human Rights Without Frontiers comes after a conference in Brussels this week heard how some journalists are being victimized and harassed by the Ukraine authorities merely for going about their work, writes Martin Banks.

The issue of freedom of speech and rights of journalists in Ukraine was the focus of the event at which Andrei Domansky, a prominent Ukrainian lawyer, cited several examples of alleged human rights violations.  Domansky, who also hosts a top rated TV and radio show in Ukraine, represents a number of journalists in Ukraine who have been detained or harassed for “doing nothing more” than carrying out their professional duty.

He’s logged 200 such cases, 90 of them involving violence being used against journalists. A notable case highlighted by the lawyer is that of Kirill Vyshinsky who has been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest in Kyiv by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in May. Vyshinsky is the bureau chief of the RIA Novosti Ukraine news agency and is held on charges of high treason pending further investigation.

It has been suggested he cooperated with the Russian intelligence services, allegations he strenuously denies. The SBU accuses RIA Novosti Ukraine of participating in a “hybrid information war” waged by Russia against Ukraine. A pre-trial hearing is due to take place in Kiev on 11 December while 28 December has been set for Vyshinsky’s trial. This case is particularly controversial because the accusations against Vyshinsky, who has dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship, concern a total of 14 articles written by other journalists and with a range of different opinions, but published by him in 2014. None of the authors has been charged and Vyshinsky’s detention has drawn angry criticism from Moscow and expressions of concern from media watchdogs.

Speaking to this website on Thursday (13 December), Willy Fautre, director of HRWF, a leading Brussels-based rights NGO, cited this and other cases, saying they all gave “cause for concern”.  He recalled how, in May of this year, prominent Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, 41, a critic of Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria, was shot and killed in the back at his home in Kiev. And a dozen journalists have been in the past five years in Ukraine, said Fautre.  “Last year, eight Georgian citizens were deported from Ukraine to Georgia, including Tamaz Shavshishvili, a cameraman of Georgia’s TV channel Rustavi 2. Shavshishvili claimed the Ukrainian law enforcers kidnapped and physically abused him. Around 15 armed men broke into his flat, hit him with the butt of a gun and threw him on the floor.”

The Belgian-born rights expert added: “Ukraine must urgently abide by the international standards concerning freedom of expression and the press it has committed to respect in the framework of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.” His comments are timely as, on Tuesday evening (11 December), the plenary session of the European Parliament debated the report on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. A resolution adopted by members underlines that Ukraine should “prioritize the fight against corruption”.

MEPs regret that the existing judicial system “still remains ineffective, corrupt and politically dependent”. Judges and prosecutors have to be selected in a more transparent and highly reliable manner, says the text.

Further comment came from Helmut Scholz, a German MEP with the GUE group, who told EU Reporter: “It remains to be stated that the many unresolved domestic and foreign policy problems require fundamental course corrections by the Ukrainian government, as well as the overcoming of the oligarchic system.”

Parliament’s rapporteur on the Ukraine file, German MEP Michael Gahler said: “The fight against corruption must be carried out in a more determined manner.”


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