WASHINGTON – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is alarmed at increasing pressure directed against its investigative journalists in Ukraine, following no fewer than three incidents in recent months.
Expressing the company’s concern, RFE/RL Acting President Daisy Sindelar said that the ability of journalists to do their jobs is indispensable to any democracy and urged Ukrainian authorities “to fulfill their international obligations to ensure that RFE/RL journalists can work safely, that investigations are meaningful, and that impunity does not protect perpetrators of crimes against journalists.”
On March 6 reporter Katerina Kaplyuk and cameraman Borys Trotsenko, two members of the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service’s investigative Schemes team, were assaulted by local officials in the village of Chabany, just south of Kyiv, as they investigated the allocation of state lands controlled by Ukraine’s National Academy of Agrarian Sciences for private use. The attack, in the offices of the village council, left Mr. Trotsenko with a concussion and damaged his camcorder.
Police responded to the scene, took statements from the journalists and subsequently announced an investigation.
In February, Schemes journalists published video evidence indicating that bodyguards with a security company owned by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, had been following them on assignments since last September. Journalist Mykhailo Tkach and his colleagues have said they are convinced “that such actions are aimed at interfering” with their reporting.
Schemes has previously reported on Mr. Akhmetov, including coverage in 2016 of clandestine contacts with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and other high-ranking officials. Police have said they are investigating the claims of surveillance.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned these incidents, calling on Ukrainian authorities to ensure the safety of Schemes journalists and hold attackers accountable.
Both developments follow an additional case in August of last year, when a Kyiv court, in connection with a criminal investigation involving the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine, ruled to allow the Prosecutor General’s Office access to mobile phone data belonging to award-winning Schemes author and host Natalie Sedletska over a 17-month period in 2016-2017. The ruling drew outrage among media rights advocates and was challenged by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which issued a decision on October 16, 2018, banning public authorities in Ukraine from accessing the data “until further notice.” The ECHR continues to examine this case.
“Schemes: Corruption in Details” is a joint production of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television (UA:Pershiy). It also airs on the private Ukrainian Channel 24, independent channel Hromadske TV, and on Facebook and YouTube.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to 34 million people in 26 languages and 22 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 2.6 billion times on Facebook and YouTube in Fiscal Year 2018. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.