On International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Ukraine’s media and human rights organizations call on the Government and law enforcement agencies to conduct effective and transparent investigations into crimes against journalists, reform law enforcement agencies, and carry out judicial reform to prevent impunity.
Free, high-quality, and independent media outlets are extremely necessary for the successful development of Ukraine as they expose corruption, inform about human rights violations, and provide citizens with reliable socially important information on a daily basis, which is especially important in times of pandemic and misinformation challenges Ukraine faces.
In January-October 2021, the Institute of Mass Information recorded 153 violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine. Two-thirds of violations relate to physical aggression against journalists. In particular, 19 cases of beatings of journalists, 80 cases of obstruction, 12 threats have been recorded in 2021. COVID-19 pandemic has been yet another challenge, used by local authorities as an illegal excuse for not allowing journalists to attend sessions and working groups of local councils.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, in January-September 2021, law enforcement officers investigated and submitted to court 17 indictments relating to crimes committed against journalists under “journalistic” articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. As of October 2021, courts delivered seven judgments in cases related to the journalistic activity. Six of them are related to obstruction of journalistic activity (Article 171 of the Criminal Code), another one – cumulative sentence under Articles 171 and 345-1 (threats to or violence against a journalist) of the Criminal Code. The courts handed down one not guilty and six guilty verdicts.
We also underscore that 12 journalists, citizens of Ukraine, currently stay in prisons or under house arrest in Russia and in the temporarily occupied Crimea for political reasons. Ten of them are Crimean Tatar citizen journalists. They were detained by Russian security forces for journalistic activities to cover the persecution of Crimean residents. Their cases are fabricated and considered with numerous violations of the right to a fair trial. Some of the citizen journalists were tortured to force them to incriminate themselves. In addition, since October 25, Russian security forces in Simferopol have conducted three mass arrests of people who tried to attend court hearings in trials of Crimean political prisoners. Four journalists were among the detainees.
We call on public authorities to:
Fulfill their obligations to protect the rights of journalists in accordance with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, and the requirements of the ECHR’s judgments related to Ukraine, as well as other international legal obligations of Ukraine
Take appropriate measures to prevent violence, threats, and attacks on journalists
Ensure proper, timely, and high-quality investigation into crimes against journalists and to bring perpetrators to justice
Refrain from any action that may be considered as fomentation or encouragement of violence against journalists
Strengthen practical activities of law enforcement agencies that ensure the protection of the right to freedom of speech and the right to access to information
Protect precisely journalistic activity and not just the status of holding press cards
Ensure effective investigation into the facts of persecution of journalists, citizens of Ukraine, as well as the facts of violation of freedom of speech and obstruction of journalistic activity in the temporarily occupied Crimea.
We call on the Russian Federation, as the occupying power of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, to immediately release journalists and all other Ukrainian political prisoners and to end the persecution of journalists in Crimea. The Russian Federation, as an occupying power, must abide by its obligations under international law, including ensure observance of freedom of expression and other human rights.
We also call on journalists and media organizations to systematically cover violations of journalists’ rights, as well as the quality and status of investigations into such violations. Public exposure and mutual support for journalists can be a factor that will improve the safety of journalistic activity in Ukraine. We also urge journalists to apply to law enforcement agencies in case of violation of their right to exercise journalistic activity.