Physical attacks against investigative journalists increased alarmingly throughout the country. At least 11 journalists were assaulted in 2003 while investigating corruption implicating regional authorities or challenging local officials. Some police investigations brought quick results but victims often complained of their lack of openness. Two journalists died in particularly dubious circumstances but as of 1st January 2004, there was no firm evidence that they were murdered.
The killers of political journalist Géorgiy Gongadze, editor of the online news website www.pravda.com.ua, continued to enjoy impunity. In the autumn, for the first time since the start of the case, a ranking government official was arrested: Olexi Pukach, former head of intelligence at the interior ministry. But a week later President Kuchma dismissed prosecutor-general Sviatoslav Piskun, who had announced in September that the investigation had entered its "final phase". This move came when the investigation appeared poised for a breakthrough, raising fears that the search for the truth, after years of mistakes and failures was again being if not actually obstructed, at least slowed down.
On the legislative front, parliament approved a raft of measures aimed at boosting the rights and freedoms of journalists. Following a 4 December parliamentary session on "Society, the media and government: free expression and censorship in Ukraine", parliament on 16 January adopted a resolution condemning political censorship and calling on the government to give better guarantees of the right to be kept informed and to inform others, which it termed "precarious".
On 3 April, parliament went further, adopting amendments to the information law banning censorship, defined as illegal pressure on the media or on journalists, applied directly or indirectly by government bodies or local organisations to disseminate or prevent dissemination of some news. Censorship of journalists, seen as obstructing their professional work, was to become a criminal offence. Other amendments were adopted to give more protection to journalists’ rights, particularly on access to public information and responsibility for the content of news output. The real effect on media freedom can only be evaluated when these new measures are put into effect, since the press remains subjected to numerous forms of harassment and censorship.
Local tax authorities heaped pressure on media that were the most critical of the authorities in 2003. With presidential elections planned in October 2004, the parliamentary committee for freedom of expression and information urged the government to suspend tax controls on the media from 1st January to 30 October 2004. In a country were most media, and in particular broadcasters and press agencies are controlled by associates of President Kuchma or by the oligarchy, the election campaign is likely to be a high risk period for the most independent journalists.
Two journalists killed
On 14 July, journalist Vladimir Efremov, correspondent in eastern Dniepropetrovsk for the press freedom organisation Institute of Mass Information (IMI), died after his car hit a lorry near eastern Verkhnyodniprovsk. The IMI received two videotapes of the fatal accident to Efremov, who was also editor of the weeklies Sobor and Dniepropetrovsk and founder of regional TV11 television.
The footage, filmed by two different people from two different viewpoints, although the area was quite remote, showed the car on fire after the accident. Police identified the person who made the first film, but not the second. The driver of one of the lorries involved in the accident, Pavlo Pinchuk, said he had noticed Efremov’s vehicle travelling erratically before the accident. In his account to IMI, the car was travelling at high speed and zigzagging as though the driver had lost control. Tests on the journalist’s body showed no sign of alcohol or drugs. An investigation was opened headed by Andriy Zinchuk of the Verkhnyodniprovsk department of the interior ministry but as at 1st January 2004, there had been no progress.
The journalist had agreed to testify at the trial of the former prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko, charged with embezzling public funds. On 13 October 2001, Efremov wrote in an article in the official Golos Ukrainy newspaper that he feared for his life because of his professional work and that he was afraid he could be the victim of a car crash. He was arrested an imprisoned on 13 January at Dniepropetrovsk prison for two days. He was accused of irregularities in connection with a 1995 loan made to Sobor. But Efremov, who said he had finished repaying the loan, considered the arrest linked to a TV11 broadcast of the seasonal wishes of Pavlo Lazarenko, chief opponent of President Kuchma, during the traditional speech to the nation on New Year’s Eve. All the other channels had broadcast the president’s speech. In 2000, Efremov was obliged to give up a part of his shares in TV11, of which he was co-founder, to the president’s brother-in-law. Shortly before his death he was trying to give the rest of his shares to the opposition. At this stage of the investigation, there is nothing to indicate that he was murdered.
The deputy editor of the weekly Kurier, Volodymyr Karachevtsev, was found dead in his Melitopol apartment on 14 December. Karachevtsev, 47, who also worked for the online news site Vlasti.net and was president of the regional union of independent journalists in south-eastern Zaporijjia, was found by his former wife, hanging by the neck of his pullover from the refrigerator handle about 70cms off the ground. She had also visited him the previous evening because he was upset by the death of his father a week earlier. The journalist, father of two children and a former naval officer was buried two days after his death on 16 December.
Melitopol prosecutor Leonid Vasylenko announced the opening of an investigation, saying that Karachevtsev had died from mechanical suffocation, that some tests had already been carried out and that other samples still needed to examined. The prosecutor and the deputy police chief Oleg Bukach both ruled out suicide. Police considered that his death was most likely accidental. Bukach said on 16 December that he believed the journalist had fallen while in a drunken state and the neck of his pullover had got caught in the refrigerator door handle and he had suffocated. He said police had found no sign of disorder in the apartment and that the body bore no marks of violence.
The journalists’ colleagues however, especially the editor of Kurier, Igor Yenin, rejected the accidental death theory and were convinced that he had been murdered to prevent him from revealing matters embarrassing for the local authorities. The newspaper, which was carrying out its own investigation, said that the apartment was disordered and the police, who still did not have the blood-alcohol test results, should avoid jumping to hasty conclusions. Karachevtsev was investigating corruption among various local political officials connected with the low price sale of a government-owned property by the town mayor and on the bankruptcy of the Start factory. In an interview with IMI, Yenin said that Karachevtsev had gone out reporting not far from the town a week before his death and that his equipment, in particular his dictaphone and camera, should have been in the apartment. He said the journalist had received death threats and had been physically attacked at the start of the year. Several items, that appeared in the press support the theory that it could have been a murder linked to his professional work. On 16 December, an anonymous male caller to the newspaper Vlasti.net said in a cheery voice, "that’s one idiot less, see what happens next. I will call you again." The journalists, who managed to get the caller’s phone number, passed it on to the prosecutor’s office, which quickly traced him. Prosecutor Vasylenko said it appeared to be the head of a commercial centre in Melitopol. Kurier frequently publishes highly critical articles about the town mayor, Vasyl Yefymenko, and his deputy, Oleksander Ilchuk. The site Vlasti.net, set up by the regional independent journalists’ union, set out to uncover and to publicise all the dubious practices by the authorities and local politicians. There is no evidence at this stage of the investigation that his death was murder.
New information about three journalists killed before 2003
Olexi Pukatch, former head of intelligence at the interior ministry, was arrested on 22 October 2003. His lawyer said he was suspected of having ordered the destruction of documents proving that certain people, probably police officers, were tailing political journalist Géorgiy Gongadze, editor of the online site www.pravda.com.ua, several months before his death. Online news site Ukrainska Pravda said that Pukatch apparently met Gongadze on the day he disappeared and told him to get into a police car. The newspaper described this as crucial testimony that could lead to those who ordered the murder.
Ukraine Prosecutor-general, Sviatoslav Piskun, who had been on the Gongadze case since 2001, was dismissed on 29 October by President Kuchma for "abuse of power" and "serious violations of the law". On 11 September, Sviatoslav Piskun had said that the investigation into the Gongadze case was in the "final phase". The nomination of Gennadi Vassiliev, deputy parliamentary speaker and former prosecutor in the eastern Donetsk region, was approved by parliament on 18 November. On 5 November, Kiev appeal court released Pukatch and put him under house arrest. Piskun’s deputy, Viktor Chokin, who was responsible for the Gongadze case, was replaced on 25 November by Mykola Golomsha, former prosecutor for the Rivne region.
An independent examination, carried out at the Institute of Forensic Medicine Lausanne, Switzerland in January identified the body as being 99.99% certain of being that of the journalist. Senior figures from the prosecutor’s office in Tarachtcha, a small town in the Kiev region where Gongadze’s body was found, who were found guilty of faking documents, negligence and abuse of power, were amnestied and released. Sergiy Obozov, examining magistrate of the Tarachtcha office, accused of serious failings during examination of the file on Gongadze, was amnestied on 25 April. Sergiy Belinskiy, Tarachtcha prosecutor was charged on 10 September 2002 for failing to try to identify the body immediately it was found and for falsifying the first report on the body. On 6 May 2003, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but he was immediately amnestied and released "because of his family situation".
A key witness in the Gongadze case, the former criminal police officer, Igor Goncharov, died in prison on 1st August in very dubious circumstances. His body was cremated three days later. He had been arrested in May 2002 for his suspected part in murders carried out by a group of bandits and former police officers. He refused on several occasions to testify before the prosecutor-general, saying that he was afraid of being killed in prison. In a letter received after his death by IMI and certified as genuine by the prosecutor-general, Goncharov said he had been beaten and tortured in prison. His lawyer said the illtreatment had caused his death. In the letter, the former police officer referred to a number of murders for which he had been imprisoned, including that of Gongadze. He said they had "committed on the orders of the interior minister at the time, Yuri Kravchenko, and by his successor, Yuri Smirnov". He added that "the highest powers in the government and the president had known about the kidnappings and murders and were implicated." Kravchenko is currently head of tax administration and Smirnov is a presidential adviser. In September, Prosecutor-general Sviatoslav Piskun said that the involvement of the those people "referred in Goncharov’s letter had not been established."
Géorgiy Gongadze, who was 31, disappeared on the evening of 16 September 2000. His mutilated and decapitated body was found on 2 November 2000. The case became an affair of state after the broadcasting on 28 November 2000, of recordings supposed to have been made in President Kuchma’s office and appearing to prove the involvement of the highest authorities in the journalist’s disappearance. A Reporters Without Borders on the spot investigation in January 2001, found a host of exceptionally serious failings. Mikhailo Potebenko, former prosecutor-general elected to parliament in March 2001, carried out the investigation with his first priority to protect the government from the serious charges against it. Myroslava and Lessia Gongadze, widow and mother of the journalist, were systematically excluded from the investigation and were at the end of January 2001 denied the right to civil party status. Myroslava Gongadze laid a complaint against the Ukrainian government before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on 16 September 2002.
On 13 February, Reporters Without Borders released the conclusions of French pathologist Dr Jean Rivolet, who went to Ukraine from 11 to 13 December 2002, to take part in an autopsy on the body of Mikhailo Kolomiets, head of the Ukrainski Novyny press agency, who was found hanging from a tree in Belarus on 30 October 2002. The autopsy, carried out at the request of his mother and with the agreement of the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, did not invalidate the suicide theory, there being no signs of violence on the body.
Kolomiets, 44, disappeared on 21 October 2002. His body was found on 30 October, hanging from a tree in the forest of the Belarus town of Molodechno. Police said he apparently left Ukraine for Belarus on 22 October with the intention of committing suicide. At the beginning of February 2003, the League of Ukrainian Economic Journalists and the IMI carried out an investigation in Belarus. They found no proof of violence against Kolomiets but did not rule out the possibility that the journalist came under psychological pressure that pushed him to suicide. His family and colleagues rejected the suicide theory and believed his death could be linked to his professional work, political and financial news carried by his press agency being likely to jeopardise the interests of influential figures.
Kolomiets set up the press agency Ukrainski Novyny in 1997 and owned 50% of its stock. The rest was owned by the Agency for Humanitarian Technologies, run by Valeriy Khorochkovskiy, a close associate of President Kuchma. The journalist’s widow, Ludmila Kolomiets, said publicly on 16 December 2002 that her husband had been threatened and intimidated over the winter of 2002. The entire stock of the press agency is now in the hands of Khorochkovskiy and his associates.
Prosecutor-general Sviatoslav Piskun announced on 21 October that the killers of Igor Alexandrov, beaten to death in 2001, had been arrested. According to Volodymyr Tymoshenko, head of the anti-corruption and anti-criminality department of the security services, the journalist was killed because of investigations he was working on into corruption and organised crime in the eastern Donetsk region. Those suspected of ordering the murder were local businessman Oleksandr Rybak, and his younger brother, Dmytro Rybak, both members of the criminal gang 17th Zone. The alleged hit men, who were reportedly paid 4,000 dollars, were only identified by their surnames: Onyshko and Tursunov. The investigation, which was continuing could lead to further arrests.
At a 26 September press conference, Alexandrov’s widow said she was "very sceptical" about the official statements and pointed out that it was for the courts to decide a suspect’s guilt or innocence. In February, Donetsk appeal court judge, Ivan Kortchisty, said that in the absence of evidence, Alexandrov’s murder would probably never be cleared up and that the "investigation would shortly have to be closed". On 11 July 2002, Ukraine’s Supreme Court ordered the reopening of the investigation and the parliamentary inquiry into the case was renewed.
A homeless man, Yuri Verediuk, had been arrested and charged with the murder in July 2001 but he was acquitted in May 2002 for lack of evidence. The charge sheet against Verediuk had obviously been trumped up throughout and his contradictory "confessions" obtained under duress. Verediuk died from a heart attack one month after his acquittal.
Alexandrov, who was managing editor of TOR television in Slaviansk, Donetsk, was beaten up by assailants wielding baseball bats on 3 July 2001. He died in hospital of head injuries on 7 July. In 1998, he had been sentenced to two years in prison and banned from working as a journalist for five years, on a complaint from a parliamentary deputy Olexandr Lechtchynsky, whom he had dubbed, "King of the realm of vodka of Donbass" (an eastern Ukrainian industrial zone). The deputy withdrawing his complaint closed the case in 2000. Alexandrov still sought to have the courts quash the earlier verdict, in acknowledgement of the prosecutor’s office’s responsibility for the mistake and to compensate him for moral damage.
Fourteen journalists physically attacked
Overnight on 11-12 January 2003, Gennadiy Cheglikov, editor of Slobojanka television in Chuguev, in the eastern Kharkov region, and Mykailo Kysselev, a reporter with the channel, were beaten up by unknown assailants as they returned home. Cheglikov was hospitalised with concussion and a face injury. The Chuguev prosecutor’s officer opened an investigation for "obstruction of journalistic work" under Article 171 of the criminal code. According to Kysselev, the investigation, which led nowhere, is now closed. He did not rule out the attack being linked to his work, the channel having broadcast two reports on the very day that were highly critical of the regional council.
Two unidentified assailants attacked Olexiy Ermolin of the Crimea weekly Krymskie Novosti as he returned home around midnight on 11 April. He was not robbed of money or his professional equipment. The journalist and his editor Natalia Panasenko believe the attack linked to his articles on problems linked to privatisation of land on the Crimea coast.
On 26 May, Olexandre Pomojnitsky, editor of the weekly Delevoj Pereyaslav, was beaten up by two unidentified thugs in Kiev. He was taken to hospital with severe head injuries. The journalist linked the attack to his work. He said he had received threats the previous day after refusing to carry defamatory reports about some local election candidates. He added that Delevoj Pereyaslav had come under pressure from the health ministry following publication of a series of articles critical of the town’s maternity services. The investigation continued.
Television journalist Artem Rybakov, of Saturne in southern Mykolaiv was attacked and brutally beaten about the head by thugs near his home on 4 June. They also stole his ID papers, jewellery and his mobile. He was left with concussion. His colleagues did not rule out the possibility of the attack being linked to his work, in particular reports criticising the financial dealings of Mykolaiv boxing and football clubs.
On 24 July, Oleg Eltsov, editor of online news site Ukraina Kryminalna, was attacked by two assailants as he left his home in Kiev. He believed the attack linked to news on the Gongadze case given to him by Igor Goncharov, former officer in the criminal police and key witness in the case, who was arrested in May 2000 for his alleged involvement in several murders and who died in prison in extremely dubious circumstances on 1 August.
Journalist Sergiy Gocharenko, of the tri-weekly Zaporizhska Sich, needed hospital treatment after he was stabbed on the stairway of his apartment block in southern Zaporizhzhya on 3 September. He thought it was linked to his investigation into embezzlement of funds in the local car market. From the start of his probe, he had received threats by phone and he had anonymously offered money to halt his investigation.
Late on 23 September editor, Igor Danylenko, of the weekly Dankor, was attacked by unidentified thugs in the entrance of his apartment block in northeastern Sumy. His assailants said nothing and took nothing from him. The journalist was convinced that the attack was a direct consequence of articles in his newspaper highly critical on local political and industrial questions. Police launched an investigation and the prosecutor’s office was put onto the case by the chairman of the parliamentary committee on free expression, Mykola Tomenko.
Donetsk police chief Oleksandr Ivashchuk told a press conference on 24 September, that the assailants had been arrested of journalists Eduard Malinivsky, Sergey Kuzin and Vasyl Vasyutin. None of the journalists contested the police belief the assaults were unconnected with their work. Malinivsky of the online publication Ostriv and of Gromadskiy Radio, received several violent blows to the head from unidentified thugs as he left a Donetsk cafe late on 12 August. On 14 August, Sergey Kuzin, of the regional opposition daily Accent and the website Forum, was attacked by unknown thugs in Donetsk. He was investigating the attack a few days a few days earlier on his colleague Eduard Malinivsky. In the same town on the same day, Vasyl Vasyutin, deputy editor of the magazine Zolotoi Skif, was in turn beaten about the head by two unidentified thugs. Police and journalists suspected a link between the attacks and articles written by Malinivsky and Vasyutin regularly exposing the links between regional businessmen and top government officials.
Editor Volodymyr Moshchynsky, of political and social programmes on Kirovograd regional radio and television (TRC), was attacked on his way home in central Kirovograd on 29 September. His assailants beat him before robbing him of possession and money. While accepting that ordinary crime was the most likely cause, the journalist did not rule out a link to his work.
The regional committee for the defence of journalists’ rights and the regional branch of the Ukrainian journalists’ union wrote to Kirovograd prosecutor’s office asking for a full investigation of the assault. Three other journalists from regional radio/television and a journalist from the weekly Ukraine-Center were attacked at the beginning of the year in Kirovograd, without any link with their work being established.
Six men wearing gas masks on 3 October burst into the offices of the newspaper Moloda Galychyna, known to be close to the ruling Ukrainian Social Democratic Party (PSDU), in the western city of Lviv. They hacked at computers with axes destroying all of them and released a substance that left two people ill and needing hospital treatment. They then attempted to set fire to the offices before fleeing.
Some journalists on Moloda Galychyna believe the attack part of an ongoing political battle pitting Mykhailo Sendak, head of the regional council and close to the opposition party Our Ukraine and often criticised by the paper, against Sergiy Medvedchuk, head of the regional tax administration and member of the PSDU. Other journalists, close to the opposition, believed it could have been a provocation organised by the PSDU. Police said they knew the identity of the raiders and were actively hunting them. As of 1st January 2004, the investigation was still open.
Late on 27 November, unidentified assailants in Cherkassy, central Ukraine, attacked Irina Bereza, of the weekly Factor, while she was reporting on student opposition to the building of a restaurant near the National University. Her camera and film were destroyed. Police were investigating.
Police said on 3 December that they had arrested the assailants of Olexandre Levite, reporter in Odessa for the daily Fakty, saying it was an ordinary criminal matter not linked to his work. Police said two men, who had been recognised by witnesses, had confessed to beating him up when he was drunk. The journalist, who did not recognise the suspects, said he did not accept the conclusions of the police investigation and still believed the assault was directly related to his work. He had been brutally beaten on 19 November by five assailants near his home and was hospitalised with head injuries. He said his attackers had threatened to kill him if he continued to write articles critical of the mayor and crime in Odessa. On 20 November the Odessa journalists’ Guild had written to the regional governor, the mayor and the police chief, demanding a quick and rigorous investigation.
A media worker assaulted
Legal expert Olexandre Midine, working for Odessa Plus television in the southern city of Odessa was attacked late on 15 May 2003 by unidentified thugs. His editor, Nina Zaytzeva, thought he had been followed and the channel was being harassed by Odessa authorities because of its critical coverage of the region’s political and economical life.
Four journalists threatened
Editor of the bi-weekly Bukovynske Viche in Chernovtsy, western Ukraine, Vira Kytaigorodska, received a death threat from local government official Ivan Muntian on 12 February 2003 after she published an article, carried a second time on 7 February, accusing regional governor, Teofil Bauer, and associates of corruption, fraud and illegal trafficking. The article had previously appeared on 29 January in the local weekly Reporter. The journalist said that Muntian told her by telephone: "I will kill you for that article". Kytaigorodska sent a letter to the Ukraine prosecutor-general and to President Kuchma, on 14 February asking for protection which she never received nor did the prosecutor-general open any investigation. Teofil Bauer was relieved of his post in July and the journalist suffered no further harassment from the new local government.
Overnight on 27-28 March, a bottle filled with petrol was thrown against a window at the home of Volodymyr Motcharnyk, editor of the opposition weekly Chora Gora, in the southeastern Carpathian region. Police refused to launch an investigation since the device had not exploded. The journalist said the attack came after the paper carried two articles about abuse of office, particularly among staff at the local prosecutor’s office.
Threats were phoned on 17 April to Sergiy Cholokh, editor of privately-owned Radio Kontinent, highly critical of the authorities. The caller said he was Anatoly Yakovenko, of the secret services (SBU ex-KGB) and asked to meet him. The journalist wrote to the SBU head for an explanation but received no reply. Cholokh was also threatened in 2002, possibly related to the fact that he is a witness in the Gongadze case.
Shots were fired twice on 17 June against the window of the home of Vasyl Koryak, editor of the newspaper Tykhy Zhakh in Lubny, east of Kiev and former town mayor. Two Molotov cocktails were also thrown. The journalist said that attack, which caused no injuries, was linked to his work. A few days earlier he had published several defamatory articles against the governor, Yevhen Tomin, in the opposition newspaper Informational Bulletin. Koryak said two men, who said they were members of the administration in the eastern Poltaia region, had told him to stop criticising the governor. They offered him money and an administrative job but threatened him when he turned them down.
Harassment and obstruction
The Kiev commercial court on 5 February 2003, rejected a complaint by Khortytsia television in south- eastern Zaporijjia against the National Audiovisual Council (NAC). On 14 February the NAC had taken away the channel’s frequency and given it to TV 5. During legislative elections in 2002, Khortytsia had opposed the mayor, Olexandre Poliak and backed his opponent Victor Kaltsev, the channel’s owner, who lost the election.
On 20 March, the Ukraine prosecutor-general launched a legal investigation against several local opposition newspapers for obstruction of presidential functions, damaging the authority of the president, insult and defamation. The newspapers Informatsyny Bulletin in eastern Kremenchug, Cherkasska Pravda and Antenna in central Cherkassy, Rivnenskiy Dialog in northeastern Rivne, Volyn in Rivne and Positsia in northeastern Sumy, some of them backing the opposition socialist party, carried articles accused President Kuchma of ordered the murder of Géorgiy Gongadze. Newspaper offices were searched and journalists questioned. Tamara Prossianyk, editor of the opposition weekly Informatsyny Bulletin was interrogated by the prosecutor’s office on 31 March. A 5 December 2002 article said that President Kuchma had ordered the killing of the journalist and that Yuri Kravchenko and Leonid Derkach, respectively former interior minister and former SBU head carried it out. Valery Vorotnyk, editor of the weekly Antenna, was also questioned by the prosecutor’s office, which seized all the November and December 2002 issues that carried articles critical of President Kuchma under Tatyana Korobova’s byline. On 17 April, Serhiy Lebid, editor of the weekly Popularna Gazeta in eastern Dnipropetrovsk was questioned by the local prosecutor’s office, after carrying articles by Korobova, from the online Grani +. On 24 April, President Kuchma said he was asking the prosecutor’s office to close all the outstanding defamation investigations but at the same time accusing the press of abusing free expression. But the prosecutor-general continued to interrogate regional journalists. On 5 May, Olena Garagouts, editor of the weekly Litsa in eastern Dnipropetrovsk, was interrogated by members of the prosecutor’s office. The following day the editorial offices were searched and three issues of the newspaper that carried Korobova articles seized. The prosecutor’s office announced on 30 May that it was dropping all charges against the media for defamation of the president.
On 2 April, the prosecutor’s court in northeastern Rivne seized the 22 November 2002 issue of the local weekly Volyn, that carried an article from researcher Maxym Strikha, headlined, "Yanukovych’s Ukraine [Viktor Yanukovych, prime minister]". Serguy Krychylsky, editor of Volyn was questioned by the prosecutor’s office on 4 April in connection with a criminal investigation launched against the newspaper. He said the order had come from the presidential administration. Volyn, which is close to the opposition, frequently carries articles critical of local authorities.
The mayor of southern Odessa on 11 April, banned the distribution of the daily Vechernie vesti on public transport. The day before the Kiev court of appeal had rejected a defamation suit against the newspaper brought by the Southern Railways which sought publication of a denial and a fine of around 15,000 euros over an article by Olena Kolyadan on problems on the Kiev to Kharkov line.
On 23 April the western Chernivtsi court sentenced the weekly Chas for defamation of Olexandre Semenko, former local official heading the fight against organised crime in the region. Chas was fined around 8,400 euros, likely according to its editor Petro Kobenko, to trigger the paper’s closure. The offending article did not mention Semenko by name.
Overnight on 14-15 May, a stone was thrown at the apartment window of Marc Agatov, of the Crimean newspaper Evpatoryskaya Nedelya. The same morning the journalist had met with an official from the Evpatoria mayor’s office, who told him to stop writing articles criticising Serguiy Kunitsin, Prime Minister of the government of the autonomous republic of Crimea.
Viktor Danilov, consultant to the parliamentary committee on freedom of expression and information and deputy to the western Rovno regional council, said on 22 May the municipal council’s decision to ban the setting up of news stands selling OHOpress group was illegal. OHOpress publishes its own weekly paper OHO, known for its stand criticising local authorities.
On 29 May, Volodymyr Boyko, of the online publication Grani + in eastern Donetsk was manhandled by tax representatives who tried to snatch his dictaphone. He had gone to do an interview at a café in the town that was undergoing a tax inspection, being carried out in an irregular fashion. Boyko laid a complaint the same day for "obstruction of journalist work" under Article 171 of the criminal code.
Police in eastern Kharkov on 17 June seized 410 copies of the weekly Without Censorship, run by the opposition party Our Ukraine, distributed in the town underground stations.
Parliament voted a new law on 9 July allowing secret services to carry out arrests as well as searches and body searches of journalists suspecting of planning to reveal state secrets. The law needed the signature of President Kuchma to become law and on 11 August he vetoed it.
From 16 to 17 July TTV television in central Kirovograd was forced to interrupt broadcasts when bailiffs arrived to seize property from the channel. It had been fined around 49,000 euros for defamation of a former candidate for the municipal elections, a judge, Volodymyr Yaroshenko, and of the opposition party Our Ukraine representative Volodymyr Shmidt. The officers were sealed preventing the resumption of broadcasts. The TTV journalists threatened to go on hunger strike to protest against these steps but withdrew the threat when the courts decided not to seize the channel’s property. The Supreme Court quashed the newspaper’s defamation verdict.
The government decided on 22 July to put the Internet domain "ua" under the control of the Ukrainian information network centre (UNIC), run by the security services (SBU). Hostmaster, the firm that had administered this virtual space before went to the Kiev arbitrage court to protest against the decision.
On 6 September, the Cherkassy prosecutor’s office in central Ukraine, questioned the freelance journalist Valentyna Vassylechnko, as part of the investigation into a suicide attempt by a regional police chief, General Oleg Kochegarov, on 4 March. She was questioned for around five hours about articles that appeared in the weekly Antenna in April 2000. At the time she was investigating the practice of torture by police. In a letter written before his suicide attempt, the general accused the journalist of being responsible for his psychological state. The local authorities, in particular the interior ministry, had made the accusations publicly known.
Several Ukrainian and foreign journalists who went to the Cabinet of ministers on 17 September, to interview the finance minister, Mykola Azarov, on Ukrainian entry into economic union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, were locked in offices of the press centre until the minister had left. Several unions and journalists’ organisation including the Ukrainian Press Academy and the independent union of media professionals complained to the prosecutor-general’s office against the Cabinet of ministers for "blocking access to public information". The press service rejected the accusations and said they journalists had not asked for an interview.
On 7 October, Lilia Budjurova, of STB television and Agence France-Presse (AFP) was refused accreditation to cover the summit between Ukraine and the European Union on 7 and 8 October in Yalta, Crimea. She said President Kuchma’s press spokesman, Olena Gromnytzka, had the previous day stopped her asking the president a question about the building of a dam by Russian in the Kerch Strait. Budjurova believed the refusal to accredit her for the EU summit was in reprisal for having tried to put an awkward question to the president. The organisation of independent journalists in Crimea, which took the same view, protested to the president’s press service.
A man introducing himself as a tax police inspector on 10 November made a phone call to Sergiy Cholokh, editor of the privately-owned Radio Kontinent, asking him to produce documents for inspection adding that he would remember this inspection "for the rest of his life". The same day during the journalists’ forum, "For elections without censorship"", Sergiy Cholokh wrote to deputy prosecutor-general, Tetyana Kornyakova, to protest against the pressure on his media. On 30 October, he sent an open letter to President Kuchma, asking him to stop the closure of the radio. The journalist said he had it from a reliable source the management of the presidential administration had instructed the state committee for communication and tax administration to interrupt broadcasts on Radio Kontinent, which relays foreign radio programmes from Voice of America, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Polish Radio. In an interview with the Institute for Mass Information (IMI), Cholokh said: "There are three bodies trying to put pressure on me: Tax inspection, the state centre for frequencies and the security forces. The first one, obviously is going to block my organisation’s accounts, the second will cut off Radio Kontinent’s frequency. I don’t know what the security forces will do to me..." Cholokh was convinced the pressure on him was linked to his position as a witness in the Gongadze case. The journalist, who also sent a letter to the prosecutor-general at the time, Sviatoslav Piskun, received no reply. Mykola Tomenko, president of the parliamentary committee for free expression, asked for the opening of an investigation into the harassment suffered by the radio. Radio Kontinent’s licence was withdrawn on 12 April 2001 by the National Audiovisual Council. In May 2002 Radio Kontinent’s appeal was rejected and the station made a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to recover its licence.
On 12 November, the printers Donechyna in eastern Donetsk refused to print an issue of the weekly Ostriv. It carried an article by Volodymyr Boyko, headlined "In the country where the prosecutors are not afraid" about the activities of former Donetsk prosecutor Gennadiy Vasyliev, and at the time deputy parliamentary spokesman and candidate to the post of prosecutor-general of Ukraine. According to the editor, Yevgen Talyshev, a manager at the printers had told him the day before that it planned to end its contract with the newspaper but adding that work would continued normally until Ostriv received official notice of this decision.
The Lviv court on 20 November rejected a complaint laid on 9 September by the management of the daily Lvivska Gazeta against the chairman of the regional tax administration, Sergiy Medvedchuk, and against the administration for "harming the newspaper’s reputation" and moral damages. The paper’s founder, Yaroslav Rushchytsyn, and editor Oleg Onysko said they had come under financial pressure after carrying articles condemning corruption within the tax administration and pressure it exerted on businessmen who were not close to the presidential administration and the ruling party. They said Medvedchuk revealed confidential financial and commercial information about the paper during a press conference at the beginning of September. The chairman of the regional tax administration had obtained this information during a tax inspection from 6 June to 23 July. In contravention of the law, the financial brigade had gone to the newspaper’s commercial partners without legal authority for tax fraud or for threatening an inspector. According to Onysko, the tax administration also told newspaper sellers in the streets of Lviv to stop selling Lvivska Gazeta. On 17 September, the regional tax administration in Lviv complained of tax fraud against Yaroslav Rushchytsyn, managing director of the company Trottola and founder of Lvivska Gazeta.
Journalists on Moriak (weekly until August and then monthly) were forced to leave the editorial premises in southern Odessa on 25 November under pressure from the maritime transport union, founder of the newspaper, and after police intervention on the basis that that lease was up for renewal. On 31 March, the president of the maritime transport union, Mykhailo Kireev, who felt that the paper’s articles were damaging relations between the union and the transport ministry, demanded that the editor, Evgen Kravets, leave his job. Faced with his refusal to quit, the union threatened to suspend financial backing and to bring about the closure of the newspaper. The court accepted on 18 August that the steps taken against Kravets and against the newspaper were abusive, but this ruling made no difference. Kravets, who had laid a complaint against the union, went on hunger strike from 1 to 17 December to protest against the courts’ inertia.
On 28 November the first hearing was held in the trial pitting the head of the regional customs service, Taras Kozak, against the daily Lvivska Gazeta. Kozak had complained against the newspaper for publishing an article on 16 October taken from the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, headlined, "Tax on the opposition", that appeared the day before. The Polish articles said: "Today the tax administration of the Lviv region is headed by three people. The most important is Sergiy Medvedchuk - brother of the head of presidential administration, Victor Medvedchuk. Family connections explain a lot. The brothers help one another (...) The number two is Myroslav Khomyak, deputy tax administration chief and chief of the institution. The number three is Taras Kozak, who heads the customs." The article also said that Kozak had pulled out his service revolver in a Lviv restaurant when he was drunk. Kozak, a member of the ruling social democratic party (PSDU) and former deputy to Sergiy Medvedchuk, demanded around 13,000 euros in damages. The law on the written press specifies that "newspapers and journalists are not responsible for the publication of articles taken from other newspapers if it is with their reference". The offending article was published in Lvivska Gazeta on a special page with the logo of the Polish daily. On 17 December, the Lychankivsky court found in favour of the complainant and sentenced the daily to publish a correction on the newspaper’s front page on 23 December. The newspaper’s management said it would appeal.