Paris, February 2, 2023 – Ukrainian authorities must conduct a swift and thorough investigation into recent online harassment faced by journalists at the independent news website Ukrainska Pravda, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On January 27, the outlet published a video investigation by reporter Mykhailo Tkach, which claimed that former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of Ukraine’s parliamentary party Batkivshchyna, traveled to Dubai for a vacation earlier that month. The investigation sparked public outcry and calls to exclude Tymoshenko from the party.
Since the investigation was published, Tkach, chief editor Sevgil Musaieva, and Ukrainska Pravda’s social media accounts have received hundreds of menacing messages online, according to Musaieva, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and Tkach, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.
“Ukrainian authorities must conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the menacing messages sent to Ukrainska Pravda journalists Mykhailo Tkach and Sevgil Musaieva, and ensure that members of the press do not face harassment over their work,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The work of investigative journalists serves the public interest and should not be discouraged.”
Screenshots of the messages reviewed by CPJ showed Facebook accounts sending messages threatening that Musaieva will “be held accountable for everything one day” and criticizing Tkach for leaving the country to work during the war.
Tkach told CPJ that, before the investigation was published, he received a Facebook message saying “Die, you bitch” sent from an account that was named “Sergey Sergey” and featured no other information.
The messages “are trying to bully him [Tkach] and to bully Ukrainska Pravda’s editorial staff,” Musaieva said. “These are psychological attacks.”
Before the investigation was published, public relations specialists and political analysts told Musaieva, CPJ’s 2022 International Press Freedom Award winner, that they believed Tymoshenko was preparing to use a bot farm, or a network of manipulated social media accounts, for “an attack” on the journalists and Ukrainska Pravda.
Musaieva told CPJ that this bullying was coming from representatives of Tymoshenko’s party, and alleged that it was also from Tymosheko’s “fans” and anonymous computer bots. She called the messages “de facto pressure from a [political] party on the press.”
“They will continue, and I don’t know how this can end. This is wrong, this is ugly, and it should not happen,” Musaieva said.
Tymoshenko’s Foreign Media Officer Natasha Lysova told CPJ via email that allegations that Tymoshenko was orchestrating the messages were “nonsense, proved by nothing.”
Musaieva told CPJ that the outlet’s lawyers planned to file a criminal complaint about the messages. CPJ emailed the Ukrainian National Police for comment, but did not receive any reply.