Kiev, February 9, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Ukrainian law enforcement raid at the Kiev offices of Media Holding Vesti, which includes Radio Vesti, the daily newspaper Vesti, and the news website Vesti-ukr. More than a dozen masked officers ripped open doors with crowbars, seized property, and fired tear gas in the offices yesterday, the company’s editor-in-chief, Oksana Omelchenko, said on her Facebook page.
— Газета Вести (@vesti) February 8, 2018
According to Omelchenko and Vesti, which reported live on its website during the raid, officers from the national police and prosecutor general’s office arrived around 6 a.m. local time and immediately used force to enter the premises. Vesti cited Omelchenko as saying that it sounded like the officers “were destroying everything.”
The officers, including representatives of the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office and at least 50 members of the National Police, gave no reason for the raid, according to Vesti. The company’s owner, Oleksandar Klymenko, a former tax minister under the disgraced Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, is currently being investigated by Ukrainian authorities for fraud. Klymenko denies the allegations.
“There is no justification for the hostile raid by Ukrainian law enforcement against Media Holding Vesti, which appears to be part of an ongoing campaign of harassment against the critical outlet,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova in New York. “We call on Ukrainian authorities to explain their forced entry, return property taken, and stop harassing Media Holding Vesti so that its journalists can resume their work.”
During the raid Omelchenko posted an image on Facebook that she said came from a security camera installed at the entrance to the office that showed authorities in the office corridor.
A video published on Vesti’s Twitter account also showed three men–two of whom were in masks–prying open an office door with a crowbar. Photos shared by Vesti showed dozens of police in riot gear outside its entrance. Other photos published on the Vesti site showed shattered glass inside the office, and one appeared to show an agent dumping something from a bag on to the ground in a back corner of the office.
Attempts by CPJ to reach Omelchenko for comment were not successful. CPJ was unable to determine what items officers seized during the raid.
Rostislav Kravets, a lawyer for Media Holding Vesti, was quoted by the outlet as saying the raid was “a hindrance to journalistic and entrepreneurial activities.”
An article in Vesti on February 9 said that its office is, in effect, closed and its journalists prevented from carrying out their duties. “The work of Radio Vesti is impossible because of the lack of access to expensive equipment and broadcast studios,” the report said.
CPJ could not determine if the staff were ordered to leave the premises or whether they would be allowed back inside.
Media Holding Vesti has come under scrutiny by Ukrainian authorities for taking what they describe as a pro-Russian editorial line. In July CPJ documented how national police and military prosecutors raided the outlet. Media Holding Vesti’s owner, Klymenko, fled to Russia when the Euromaidan protests in Kiev turned deadly in February 2014. CPJ could not immediately reach Klymenko for comment.