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Ukraine

Key Developments

» Journalist killer sentenced to life term.

» Police, security services accused of assaulting reporters.

Despite its status as the 2013 chairman of the human rights and security agency the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Ukraine did little to promote press freedom in the region. Local reporters expressed doubt about the editorial independence of news outlets, as the owners of a critical broadcaster and a large media holding were replaced amid controversy. Several journalists also reported being threatened or harassed in connection with their coverage. At least 101 journalists were assaulted during the year, with police accused of participating in several of the attacks, local press freedom groups reported. In May, two journalists were attacked in front of police officers who failed to intervene. The official inaction spurred local demonstrations and an international outcry, leading to the assailants being given suspended prison terms four months later. While the conviction and life term handed in January to the killer of online journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000 was hailed as a milestone on the road to justice, CPJ and others continued to push for the mastermind to be brought to justice. At year's end, as the nation plunged into a weeks-long political crisis over the government's failure to sign an association agreement with the European Union, two other brutal assaults against the press triggered nationwide protests and an international outcry: On December 1, riot police brutally attacked and beat at least 51 local and international journalists while dispersing protests in the capital. Later that month, investigative reporter Tetyana Chornovol was hospitalized and diagnosed with a concussion and multiple head injuries after being violently assaulted by at least three men.



  • 51

    Journalists attacked
  • 31

    Quit in protest
  • 139

    Violations against the press
  • 2

    Convictions
 

One single incident signifies the dire state of press freedom in Ukraine: On December 1, while trying to disperse an opposition rally in Kiev, riot police targeted and brutally assaulted at least 51 journalists who were reporting on the protests. Facing a domestic and international outcry, authorities said they had opened a probe into the assaults, but nobody had been brought to justice at year's end.

Several other journalists were attacked and brutally beaten throughout the year.


Breakdown of other attacks:

March 5, 2013:

Taras Chornoivan, chief editor of the local news website Tarasova Pravda, was assaulted by three unidentified assailants in the central city of Vinnitsa. He suffered broken ribs and teeth, a concussion, chest trauma, and multiple bruises.

May 18, 2013:

Vladislav Sodel, a photographer with the Moscow-based daily Kommersant, and his wife, Olga Snitsarchuk, a reporter with Kiev’s Channel Five television, were attacked while reporting on a protest rally in Kiev. The journalists said the attack occurred in front of two police officers, who did nothing to help them.

July 21, 2013:

Oleg Bogdanov, reporter for Dorozhny Kontrol, was hospitalized for injuries including a broken jaw and nose, a concussion, and multiple bruises after being assaulted by two unidentified men.

July 29, 2013:

Sergei Ostapenko, a reporter for the regional television channel Irta, suffered a broken jaw and other injuries when he was attacked outside his apartment building in Lugansk. Ostapenko had regularly reported on allegations of corruption in the regional police force.

December 25, 2013:

Tetyana Chornovol, prominent investigative reporter and contributor to the independent newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, was hospitalized with multiple head injuries after three men brutally assaulted her after first ambushing and chasing her car outside Kiev. Chornovol had reported on high-level government corruption. According to news reports, five men were arrested in connection with the assault.
 

At least 31 journalists quit working for the critical broadcaster TVi in protest over new management of the outlet. The journalists cited a lack of transparency in how the new owner had gained control of the outlet. In April, a team of people accompanied by security officers entered the newsroom and replaced top managers, according to reports by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a regional network of investigative journalists. TVi’s former owner and managers were prevented from entering the building and said later that the station was “literally stolen,” the reports said.

In a statement released on April 29, the TVi journalists said they were quitting the station because they thought the “people calling themselves owners and managers of the channel have destroyed TVi’s reputation” and they could not “guarantee our audience fair and unbiased reports.”

The question of who owns media companies in Ukraine has remained open over the years. In June, a 27-year-old businessman, Sergei Kurchenko, bought one of the largest media companies in the country, UMH Group. The deal was questioned as local reporters and media analysts raised doubts over the legitimacy of his fortune and accused him of being close to the ruling regime. Following the purchase, at least 38 journalists quit from the magazine Forbes-Ukraine and news website Korrespondent--both outlets belonging to the UMH Group. According to news reports, the journalists cited censorship as their reason for leaving.

 

According to CPJ research and reporting by the Kiev-based Institute of Mass Information, journalists faced other forms of abuses, besides physical attacks. Reporters were denied access to government meetings, and some faced lawsuits on defamation or insult charges. News outlets said they were censored by authorities in connection with their critical coverage. At least 139 such incidents were reported by December.


Breakdown of abuses:

31 acts of censorship

The new owners and managers of the critical broadcaster TVi prevented the outlet's journalists from going on air to announce their resignation. Thirty-one journalists quit, telling their stories to local reporters on the steps outside the building.

85 incidents of obstruction

Several critical independent journalists reported being barred from attending government meetings or other important events, while pro-government journalists were allowed access.

23 cases against the press

Journalists and news outlets faced lawsuits in connection with their reporting. In May, the Interior Ministry's regional department in Lugansk, eastern Ukraine, filed two lawsuits against the independent TV news outlet Irta, alleging that the agency's honor and dignity were damaged after Irta reported that its requests for information were denied by the agency's press service.
 

Despite the high number of attacks on the press, there were only two convictions throughout the year.


Breakdown of convictions:

January 29, 2013:

Aleksei Pukach, a former high-ranking police official, is convicted and sentenced to life in jail for strangling and beheading online journalist Georgy Gongadze in September 2000.

September 2, 2013:

A Kiev court hands suspended jail terms to three men--Vadim Titushko, Sergei Prihodko, and Mikhail Pshuk--who were found guilty of attacking journalists Vladislav Sodel and Olga Snitsarchuk at a protest rally in May.



Attacks on the Press: Table of Contents