May 24, 2016
Dear President Poroshenko:
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, press freedom advocacy group, write to express our support for Ukrainian prosecutors’ investigation into a Ukrainian website’s defamation of thousands of local and international journalists and human rights activists as “terrorist accomplices,” and to express our shock that instead of condemning the act that puts our colleagues’ lives at risk, senior Ukrainian government officials have praised this deliberate attempt to intimidate journalists and potentially to put them at risk.
A group of hackers on May 7 announced on a website called Myrotvorets (Peacemaker) that they had breached computers pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine used to keep track of journalists they had allowed to work in the region, and published a database containing the names, affiliations, and contact information of more than 7,000 individuals. The database included 4,508 local and international journalists and media workers who have reported from the conflict zone. According to CPJ research, the separatists have been collecting journalists’ contact information as part of an accreditation process even though their authority over eastern Ukraine is not internationally recognized.
Human rights groups report that journalists have been threatened following the publication of their contact details. Ukrainian journalist Roman Stepanovych, for example, told the group Mapping Media Freedom that he had received threatening emails since the list’s publication.
We are troubled that Ukrainian officials, including Anton Geraschenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, and Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister, praised the publication of the list in statements published on their social media accounts. In a post to Facebook, Geraschenko praised Mirotvorets for publishing the data, accused the journalists on the list of aiding terrorists and of spreading Russian propaganda, and suggested that Ukraine should take tough measures, including censorship, in response.
We are shocked that Avakov, who, as interior minister is ultimately responsible for investigating the incident and protecting journalists, praised the website and blamed the journalists for registering with separatists.
“Do not blame Myrotvorets in this case,” Avakov wrote on Facebook. “The journalists made their choice when they handed their own personal data to the bandits from the occupying regime.”
The publication of the journalists’ contact information, and the unfounded accusations that accompanied it, drew domestic and international outcry. Local and international reporters and press freedom advocates noted that reporting on a conflict is not a crime. CPJ unreservedly agrees that the journalists did nothing wrong in reporting on a conflict of international concern.
As Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, wrote in a May 13 open letter to you, the release of the journalists’ information violated Ukraine’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the data-protection standards of the Council of Europe. In a May 24 meeting with Avakov, European Union ambassadors to Ukraine Jan Tombinski and Christof Weil urged the minister to ensure the removal of journalists’ data from the website, to prosecute those responsible for the leak, and to protect reporters in light of the threats they have received since the publication of their personal information.
We applaud Ukrainian prosecutors’ May 11 announcement that they had opened a preliminary investigation into the website, and we call on them to complete their investigation thoroughly. We call on you to support this investigation, and to make clear your government’s committment to press freedom and the safety of journalists.
We view this is especially urgent because Myrotvorets continues to release journalists’ personal information.
In a statement published on May 20, the creators of Myrotvorets wrote: “Many journalists demanded an apology from us, and now we understand the reason for this. The staff of [Myrotvorets] offer their sincere apologies in regards to the list’s not being fresh.”
The statement said that the website initially published data retrieved in December 2015, whereas the new list, which it said consists of contact details for 5,412 reporters, among them 2,082 Russian journalists, 1,816 international correspondents, and 1,514 Ukrainian journalists, was collected in February 2016.
Announcing today’s release, the website said that the list includes journalists who “cooperate with the aggressor state that funds international terrorism and has occupied a part of Ukrainian territory.”
We call on you to condemn the unfounded and damaging allegations published on Myrotvorets, and to clarify publicly that the Ukrainian Interior Ministry is dedicated to protecting journalists and apprehending the people responsible for threatening them, in contrast to Interior Minister Avokov’s previous statements.
Arsen Avakov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine
Pavlo Klimkin, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
Yuriy Lutsenko, Prosecutor General of Ukraine
Valeriya Lutkovska, Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States
Geoffrey R. Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights
Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media