Country Conditions: Persecution Of Journalists In Ukraine
The Republic of Ukraine is a semi-presidential system with three arms of government: the executive, a unicameral legislature, and the judiciary. The executive is led by a directly elected President who is Head of State and commander-in-chief(currently being Volodymyr Zelenskyy), and a Prime Minister(currently, Denys Shmyhal) who leads the Cabinet of Ministers as Head of Government and is chosen by a legislative majority.
The Press of any given nation is more or less the information box of that nation. The measure of freedom given to the Press is usually relative to the freedom of the country's people. This is because oftentimes an uncensored press is a true voice of the people.
How free is the press of Ukraine? How are journalists treated? Who sanctions negative treatments of the press, if any? These are some questions that the article tries to answer.
Freedom Of Press In Ukraine
For the most part, the Ukrainian press has been described as "partly free,"holding the 96th position out of 180 countries according to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Since 2004, the Ukrainian press has experienced a significant level of constant improvement in its freedom except in 2010 and 2021.
In 2010 the Ukrainian Media was reported to be more censored and according to reports, journalists voluntarily tailored their coverage to not offend the administration then. Then-President Yanukovych denied any claim of attempting to censor media coverage and said he enjoys a free press system.
Although the Ukrainian constitution allows for freedom of speech and press threats, harassment, and undue arrest of journalists has been a thing of worry. Many of these actions are reported to be committed by the Russian government in the Crimean area.
Early on in 2020, the President of Ukraine presented two new draft laws. One is called "On The Media"and the other is the "Law On Disinformation."While it is not out of place to curb disinformation in a country at war, the second draft is perceived as a move by the President to censor journalists' reports.
The new draft law is seen as an instrument attempting to hush journalists. The draft allows for an information commissioner appointed by the government to identify "fake news."The commissioner is empowered to charge a fine against journalists and media outlets for the identified "fake news,"bring criminal charges against them, and also ask the courts to shut down the media outlets.
The draft law also stipulates grounds for the regulation of the journalism profession. In which case journalists can only get legal protection from attacks. The draft law also criminalizes the dissemination of "fake news"by journalists. The punishment for dissemination of fake news is a fine of 4.7million UAH($195000) alongside acquiring a criminal record. Journalists who are considered spreading "fake news"repeatedly will be subject to five years imprisonment.
The draft law does not address the major source of this information in Ukraine- the Russian Media.
Persecution Of Journalists In Ukraine
A journalist, Katerina Sergatskova, co-founder of Zaborona, an online media outlet, has been a target of online threats of violence. This happened after an article was published on Zaborona concerning alleged friendships between the leaders of neo-Nazi groups and the directors of StopFake- a non-profit organization aiming to stop the spreading of false news about Ukraine. The article quoted commentators who suggested that the friendship between StopFake and the neo-nazi leaders distorts their(StopFake) editorial choices making them more nationalistic and sympathetic to neo-Nazi causes.
StopFake denied the claim by responding with a statement. But online commentators picked up the issue and threatened Katerina Sergatskova over what they called pro-Russian propaganda.
This led to pictures of Sergatskova's son and her home being posted online alongside personal details about her life. Threats of death and physical confrontations were made against her while a journalist continues to write and share falsehoods about her.
After Russian-led forces took over Donetsk, most journalists left the city, but one Stanislav Aseyev, an Eastern Ukrainian stayed behind.
With Eastern Ukraine now under the control of Russian-led forces, Aseyev reported about everyday life in the area. He once said, "We will not be defeated in the field, but when the last person with a Ukrainian dream will leave."
Aseyev was captured in the spring of 2017 and has been in prison with almost no information about him. In October 2019, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for espionage. Information gathered is that before his sentence he has been severely tortured in prison, and at some point, he went on hunger strike.
These are stories of some journalists who are being hunted for their works, thereby impeding their freedom of speech.
Some others are the likes of Oleh Halazyuk who is still in detention for unknown reasons. Alina Smutko, banned from entering Crimean grounds. Mykola Selena has been prohibited from practicing journalism and also on a two and a half year suspended sentence. Natalie Sedletska was harassed severally and is still being harassed for her report on President Poroshenko's Christmas vacation in the Maldives.