Kiev, February 1, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists called today on Ukrainian authorities to investigate death threats made against Igor Guzhva, editor-in-chief of the Kiev-based news website Strana. Guzhva fled to Austria after receiving death threats, and amid “unprecedented pressure from the [Ukrainian] authorities,” according to a statement from the editor that was published yesterday on Strana.
In the statement, Guzhva said that he decided to flee after Ukrainian law enforcement agencies ignored several requests to investigate the threats against him. He said other Strana journalists had also received threats.
Critics see Strana‘s editorial line as being pro-Russian and at odds with official government narratives. The site gives positive coverage to members of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly Opposition Bloc political party, and its articles are often critical of authorities, including President Poroshenko.
“We are concerned that editor Igor Guzhva was compelled to leave Ukraine because he lost confidence in his government’s ability or will to ensure his safety,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said from New York. “A critical editorial line is no reason for any journalist to be left vulnerable to harassment or attacks.”
A spokesperson for the interior ministry and national police, Artem Shevchenko, told CPJ that he was unaware of any requests Guzhva said he sent to the agencies. Shevchenko also accused Guzhva of being a Russian “information agent of influence.”
The presidential administration did not respond immediately to CPJ’s request for comment.
Authorities previously accused Guzhva of taking orders from Moscow, something he denied in interviews with CPJ in 2017.
Guzhva founded Strana in February 2016 after growing the daily Vesti into one of Ukraine’s largest outlets, according to a report by the independent website Open Democracy.
Guzhva also faces extortion charges in Ukraine. In June, the country’s National Security Service (SBU) searched Strana’s Kiev office and briefly arrested Guzhva for allegedly demanding a US$10,000 bribe in exchange for not publishing reportedly compromising materials on a politician. Speaking to CPJ after being released on bail, Guzhva denied all charges and called the case a “witch hunt” against him. He said of the Ukrainian authorities at the time, “They want to close [Strana] and put me in jail.”
Guzhva said in his statement that he was able to leave Ukraine after a court order preventing him from leaving the country expired on January 6.