Ukraine August 30, 2010

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Ukraine

H.E. Viktor Yanukovych
President
Office of the President
11 Bankova Street
Kiev  252024
Government of Ukraine
Fax: (011.380.44) 291.1001

Your Excellency:

The level of harassment, attacks and violence on the working press in Ukraine seems to be escalating to a new and dangerous level despite the best effort of news organizations around the world to enlist your support for basic press freedoms. We, the Freedom of the Press Committee of the Overseas Press Club of America urge you to change course.

Today, we learn that a court in Kiev has cancelled all the licenses of TVi and cancelled the licenses of 5 Kanal to broadcast nationwide, on the grounds that there were “irregularities” in their applications. TVi is already off the air. The senior executives of these stations face possible criminal prosecution and jail sentences. Since these stations have been critical of your government, and since the head of your Security Services owns much of the remaining media in Ukraine, it is not difficult to see that the actions against these stations is part of your government’s repression of the freedom of speech.

In our May 12 letter to you, we cited four serious instances of violence and intimidation in just a four-week period during March and April, 2010. Since then, attacks have become even more frequent, with personal assaults and the possible murder of a missing investigative reporter.

According to the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) in Kiev and other international journalistic organizations, investigative journalist, Vasyl Klymentyev, chief editor and reporter for the Kharkiv-based weekly newspaper, Novyi Stil (New Style), has been missing since August 11. The IMI has since reported that police in the Kharkiv region have classified Klymentyev's disappearance as "pre-meditated murder." Witnesses saw the journalist leaving with an unidentified man in a BMW on August 11. On August 17, reports said that Klymentyev's mobile phone was found in the bottom of a boat on a lake in the Kharkiv region. Klymentyev was well known for exposing corruption among local municipal officials. Reports say no arrests have been made.

In the same week, national newspapers reported that Chornomorska, the most important independent regional television and radio company in Ukraine, and the voice of Crimean opposition, had been closed by your government's tax authorities. Station president, Tetyana Krasykova, pointed out that the government had tried to silence the broadcaster three times previously during election campaigns. She said there had been no charges filed against the broadcaster despite a five-month investigation by tax and economic crimes authorities.

In still another August incident, the UNIAN news agency reported that photographer, Danylo Pavlov, 22, of the regional newspaper, "Donetskie Novosti" was attacked by two persons while taking pictures of a "hemp" market stall. Pavlov said he deleted the pictures to prevent a scuffle, but believed the attackers were trying to get him to fight so they could personally harm him.

On July 22, Volodymr Ushchapovsky, editor-in-chief of the on-line newspaper, "Svobodnaya Odesa," said he was harassed by police who raided an Odesa Internet café where his newspaper's main server was located. He said they "beat up" a colleague and disabled the server. Police later said the destruction of the server was an accident and that the raid was aimed at seizing counterfeit software. Ushchapovsky viewed it as an attack on his paper for its exposes of corruption among government officials and the police.

Your Excellency, add these incidents to those cited in our May letter, and the pattern of escalating attacks on the press in your nation is clear. Those attacks included a savage beating of Vasyi Demyanly, editor of Kolomoysky Visnyk, which also exposes corruption; the arrest of journalist, Andriy Vey, director of Express newspaper, on charges of tax evasion; the attempt to silence the independent station, TVi, by the Secret Service of Ukraine, and raids on the homes of two journalists and a blogger seeking their private files.

Your Excellency it seems to us that your government tolerates attacks on individual Ukranian journalists and their organizations with impunity. At the same time, your policies show clearly a trend towards censorship. The “personal information and protection” law signed by you in June, to become effective in January, would ban the publication of any information about a person, including the name of the person, without the person’s approval. Clearly this is meant to stop journalists from investigating public officials. One of the essential functions of the press is precisely to serve as a check to keep public officials honest.

You govern under an international spotlight where events in Ukraine are immediately known to the world. We urge you to force authorities to resolve the disappearance of editor, Vasyl Klymentyev and, if murder is involved, to bring charges. Your office also has the power to crack down on local officials who beat, harass and intimidate journalists doing their jobs. We urge that you change your nation’s detrimental course against a free press.

We ask for the courtesy of a reply.

Respectfully yours,
Robert Dowling
Jeremy Main
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

H.E. Mykola Azarov
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
12/2 Krushevsky, Kiev  252008
Government of Ukraine

H.E. Oleh V. Shamshur
Ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S.A.
Embassy of Ukraine
3350 M Street, NW (Suite 711)
Washington, DC  20007
Fax: (202) 333.0817/ 7510

Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations
220 East 51st Street
New York, NY  10022
Fax: (212) 355.9455

H.E. John F. Tefft
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
Embassy of the United States of America
10 Yurii Kotsiubynsky Street
04053 Kiev
Ukraine
Fax: (011.380.44) 490.4085

Institute of Mass Information
8 Krupskoi Str.
02096 Kyiv
Ukraine
Fax: (011.380.44) 566.1534

Mr. Roman Skrypin
TVi
Gaydara Str. 50
UA-01033 Kyiv
Ukraine

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