A newspaper vendor in Kiev in 2007. Security agents in the city have raided the offices of independent news website Strana. (AFP/Sergei Supinksy)
A newspaper vendor in Kiev in 2007. Security agents in the city have raided the offices of independent news website Strana. (AFP/Sergei Supinksy)

Ukrainian press union president threatened after criticizing raid on news website

New York, August 14, 2017–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the harassment of journalists in Ukraine and called on authorities to ensure the press can report freely, after the country’s National Security Service raided the offices of a news website and a member of parliament criticized Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, for his response to the raid.

Security service agents searched the Kiev premises of the independent news website Strana and the homes of at least two of its journalists on August 8, according to media reports. Authorities accused the website of allegedly disclosing state secrets, reports said. The day after the raid, MP Dmytro Tymchuk accused Tomilenko of supporting anti-Ukrainian activities after the head of the union criticized the raid. Tomilenko told CPJ that he has since received threatening messages on social media.

The search of Strana’s offices is part of a criminal investigation into allegations that the publication disclosed state secrets, Kyiv Post reported. Agents searched the website’s offices in June on the same accusations and confiscated a flash drive from Editor-in-Chief Igor Guzhva that allegedly contained confidential information belonging to the Ministry of Defense, reports said. Guzhva is being investigated for disclosure of state secrets, according to reports. He has denied the accusation and said the flash drive was planted, according to reports.

Separately, prosecutors charged Guzhva in June with extorting money in exchange for not publishing articles about a politician, according to reports. Guzhva denied the charge and said he was set up, according to press reports.

“Ukrainian authorities should end their harassment of Strana, drop all charges against Igor Guzhva, and stop fostering a hostile environment toward the press,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Politicians are creating a toxic atmosphere for the media by dividing Ukrainian journalists into patriotic and unpatriotic, when they should be encouraging a wide variety of viewpoints to inform the public.”

Tomilenko said that after he criticized the harassment of the news website last week, MP Tymchuk accused the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine in a Facebook post of “[acting] against the informational security of Ukraine” by supporting anti-Ukrainian media. Tomilenko said he has since received multiple threats on social media. Some of the threats sent from Facebook users, which CPJ has viewed, called for Tomilenko’s imprisonment and the “cleansing of the fifth colony”–a reference to independent media.

During a mission to Kiev last month to launch a report on the unsolved murder last year of International Press Freedom Award recipient Pavel Sheremet, a CPJ delegation found an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation of independent journalists who criticize Ukraine’s government policies.