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World Press Freedom Review
The general situation with respect to press freedom has improved since the Orange Revolution of 2004, but problems remain, and some media reforms have been slow. State interference in journalists’ work has decreased and editorial independence has increased. But impunity continues to be a problem for attacks on journalists. Furthermore, the trial of the killers of Georgiy Gongadze also damaged the press freedom situation in the Ukraine.
The case of journalist Georgiy Gongadze continued in 2006, after the 2005 European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling. In June 2005, the Ukrainian government offered to pay Gongadze’s widow Myroslava, who fled to the United States after her husband’s death, US $13,000, if she withdrew her claim against the Ukrainian authorities filed with the ECtHR in Strasbourg in September 2002. She refused and won the case in November 2005, when the ECtHR ruled in her favour and awarded her US $131,000 in damages.
Almost one year ago, president Yushchenko announced that the killers were found; however, the organisers of the murder have not been identified.
President Yushchenko promised that he would do everything possible to make the trial open to the public. However, on 23 January, the Kiev Court of Appeals decided to close significant portions of the trial of former police officers, Mykola Protasov, Valeriy Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych, the three men charged in the 2000 abduction and murder of Internet journalist Georgiy Gongadze, to the public. This decision to bar the media and the public from the trial was strongly criticised by journalists and a lawyer representing Gongadze’s family.
The trial was supposed to start in early January, but was adjourned until 23 January, after one of the defendants reportedly fell ill. According to reports, Gongadze’s family and their lawyers were surprised by the court’s decision to adjourn the trial for such a long time. According to reports, Georgiy Gongadze’s mother, Lesya, refused to attend the hearings, saying she no longer had faith in Ukrainian justice, while Myroslava Gongadze attended the initial proceedings.
While a parliamentary commission investigating the case accused Kuchma, the late Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, Parliament Speaker Vladimir Litvin, and former Ukrainian Security Services chief, Leonid Derkach, of organising the murder, prosecutors have not yet opened a criminal case against any the supposed organisers. Gongadze’s family has strongly criticised the authorities for not identifying the people behind the killing.
Hearings went on during the year. The suspects were questioned, and Myroslava Gongadze was questioned. After a break, on 12 September a Kiev court resumed hearings in the trial of the accused killers of Gongadze. Neither his mother nor his widow attended these hearings.
While President Yushchenko had vowed to do everything in his power to conclude the long-running case, problems came up during 2006 and the investigation has not been completed.
Several journalists were attacked in Ukraine this year. While there was less government interference, other groups and individuals were able to harass media workers.
On 10 February, Igor Stolyarov, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist and Aleksandr Orlov, a correspondent for Pravoe Delo and Ukrainian South, were attacked by security guards of the Odesaoblenergo company, when covering a group of protesters demanding to speak to the company’s management. They were attacked despite showing their press cards, and Orlov’s camera was damaged. Police arrived and pulled the guards away from the journalists.
On 17 February, unidentified individuals set fire to an office building in the city of Lviv, which housed the local news agency, Press-time, and the offices of the independent Internet newspaper Vgolos (Aloud), which were destroyed by the fire. Reportedly, Vgolos had criticised local politicians in articles published earlier in the year.
In a 1 March case, someone set the basement of the house of Lilia Budjurova on fire. Budjurova and her relatives were able to put the fire out before the house could be seriously damaged. Budjurova, who works for the channel STB and the state broadcasting company Crimea in Simferopol, Crimea, is the editor of Pervaya Krymskaya weekly newspaper and president of the Crimean Association of Independent Journalists. She believes the attack came in retaliation for her publication of a list of parliamentary candidates with criminal records in the 24 February edition of the paper.
On 10 March, Irina Ovsy was attacked by two unidentified individuals at the entrance to her apartment building in Kharkov. Reportedly, the men told the editor of the Kharkov-based Sotsialisticheskaya Kharkovshchina, a weekly published by the "For Union" political group, to stop publishing the newspaper, and threatened to hurt her and her family. Ovsy filed a report with the local police.
On 15 March in Donetsk, two unidentified men attacked and beat Natalya Bogomolova, a journalist with the television channel KRT, when she was on her way home from work. The attackers also took her bag with various papers. Reportedly, the assault came after the journalist had criticised the central government in Kiev for public health policies, unpaid salaries, and rights abuses. KRT is an opposition channel. Bogomolova filed a report with the police.
Also in March, several staff from the Stryisk-based newspaper, Pyramida, received several telephone threats, after the newspaper published articles about the finances of the opposition party "Party of Regions" and the criminal record of one of the party’s local candidates.
On 8 April, Vladimir Katsman, editor-in-chief of the Stolichniye Novosti ("News of the Capital") in Kiev, as well as editor-in-chief of the newspapers, Stolichka ("Little Capital"), Vek ("Century") and several Internet publications, was attacked and beaten by two unidentified men. Katsman, who had to be hospitalised with injuries and a broken arm, believes the attack to be connected to his work. He had written about electoral fraud during the 26 March parliamentary elections, and about anti-Semitic books, which were published and distributed by the largest private university in Ukraine, the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management.
On 3 June, another journalist’s home was set on fire. The flat of journalist Sergei Yanovsky in the city of Kherson, in southern Ukraine, was set on fire. Yanovsky, a correspondent of the Kiev-based newspaper Kievskiye Vedomosti, lived there with his family. Furthermore, the door had been blocked from the outside and he and his wife and son had trouble getting out. The journalist, who has also received telephone threats, and his colleagues believe that this attack came in retaliation for his work, particularly about his publications exposing corruption among local officials.
Margarita Zakora, editor of the Dzerzhynets, weekly newspaper in the city of Dniprodzerzhynsk, which was started in January this year, and published articles critical of the local authorities, received several threats directed at her and her family. The journalist believes the harassment comes in retaliation for her work. Reportedly, nineteen almost identical legal complaints were filed against her by local officials and businessmen. Furthermore, shots were fired at her apartment, after 14 June articles critical of a local businessman. When Zakora wrote another article about him, pornographic leaflets about her and her 20-year-old daughter were distributed in the city. While the journalist asked for police and legal protection, little has apparently been done by the authorities.
Ihor Mosijchuk, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Vecherny Vasilkov ("Evening Vasilkov"), was attacked and beaten in the city of Vasilkov on 14 August. The journalist had to be hospitalised with head injuries. The attackers did not take the money Mosijchuk had on him. The attack came after a series of articles and an investigative report critical of the local authorities and reporting on some shady deals. Police initially said that this was a case of hooliganism, but the journalist believes the attack was related to his work. Mosijchuk’s colleagues said that he and his family had received numerous anonymous threats in the past three months. Reportedly, Mosijchuk’s immediate family had fled Vasilkov after the assault.
On 10 August, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that in 2001 Ukraine had violated the press freedom rights of Oleg Lyashko, former editor of the independent Kiev-based weekly Polityka, when he was convicted on charges of criminal defamation. The charges stem from a series of stories about two government officials published in 1997. The ECtHR ruled that the journalist reported on issues, which constitute a public interest and ordered the Ukrainian government to pay him compensation. Reportedly, the court also said that the conviction and sentence could have "considerable chilling effect" on freedom of expression.
Parliamentary elections took place on 26 March, and after many political debates, Viktor Yanukovych, who was defeated in the 2004 and 2005 presidential elections, became Prime Minister and formed a government in August. The political situation has reportedly led to a slowing down of progress with respect to human rights in 2006.
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