June 17, 2019
His Excellency President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Presidential Administration of Ukraine
Bankova St, 11
Kyiv, Ukraine 02000
Sent via email and facsimile: +380 44 255 6161
Dear President Zelenskiy,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization based in New York, congratulates you on your election to the office of President of Ukraine. These are challenging times for your country and, in efforts to foster peace, security, and democracy during your administration, we urge to prioritize and promote press freedom.
In recent years, a number of Ukrainian journalists have faced reprisal attacks for their reporting, marking a deterioration of press freedom in the country. The most prominent case is that of Belarusian-born investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed by a car bomb in Kyiv on July 20, 2016. CPJ has repeatedly called on the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough and independent investigation and to bring the perpetrators, including the masterminds, to justice.
On the first anniversary of Sheremet’s killing, I led a CPJ delegation to Ukraine to launch our special report, “Justice denied: Ukraine comes up empty in probe of Pavel Sheremet’s murder.” During the trip, we met with then-President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the findings of the report and to present recommendations to the Ukrainian authorities. Poroshenko told the delegation that his government had the political will to solve the case. However, there was no progress in the investigation under the Poroshenko administration, and authorities limited the public’s access both to the information on the probe and to the investigators.
We ask that you ensure a swift and thorough investigation into Sheremet’s murder and bring those responsible to justice. Ongoing impunity in murders of journalists has a chilling effect on the country’s press, especially among journalists covering potentially sensitive and controversial issues.
Another journalist, Kirill Vyshynsky, head of the Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti’s bureau in Kyiv, has been in Ukrainian police custody since May 2018. He is facing a lengthy prison term on anti-state charges, which Vyshynsky has denied. We call on your government to meet its international commitments to uphold press freedom and safeguard the rights of all journalists, regardless of their political affiliation or editorial stance, by immediately and unconditionally releasing Vyshynsky.
In Ukraine’s east, Russia-backed separatists have held freelance journalist Stanislav Aseyev mostly incommunicado for two years. As a contributor to the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service, Radio Svoboda, Aseyev, also known as Stanislav Vasin, reported for both international and domestic audiences on the realities facing Ukrainians living in the east. CPJ is deeply concerned about his safety and well-being and asks that you to use the authority of your administration to secure Aseyev’s release.
Relatedly, we continue to work tirelessly to ensure the release of Ukrinform journalist Roman Sushchenko, who has been held in a Russian jail since September 2016, and urge you to push forward efforts to secure his freedom.
Ukraine is in a position to set a regional example for freedom of the press–depending on the steps you take during your tenure as president. We implore you to resolve cases of impunity, such as Pavel Sheremet; to protect the space for critical and independent journalism by ensuring that international and domestic reporters–including journalists in the country’s east and in Crimea–can work freely and safely, with the full protection of the state; and by advancing appreciation and support for press freedom through your words, actions, and policies.
We appreciate your consideration of these important issues related to press freedom and journalists’ safety in the country, and look forward to your response.
Joel Simon, Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists