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Ukraine12 December 2001

Journalist on hunger strike in a critical state

In a letter addressed on 10 December 2001 to Ukrainian president Léonid Koutchma, Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) expressed its alarm concerning Olga Kouznetsova, editor-in-chief of the Lougansk TV channel Efir-1, who has gone into a coma after 27 days on a hunger strike.

"The list of journalists who have died trying to practise their profession freely is likely to get even longer", said Robert Ménard, RSF general secretary. "We have alerted the authorities for the past few weeks as to the seriousness of the situation and the legitimate demands of the journalists on a hunger strike. We now urge you personally to intervene so that their demands are taken into account. Otherwise we will hold you responsible for the consequences of this strike on the journalists’ lives", added Mr. Ménard.

According to information gathered by RSF, Olga Kouznetsova, editor-in-chief of the Lougansk television channel Efir-I and one of the four journalists in Lougansk on a hunger strike for the past 27 days, was admitted to intensive care. She lost consciousness on 8 December 2001 at 12p.m. Her three colleagues, also on a hunger strike, Tatiana Kojanovskaja, director of the channel, Olena Popova, head of the advertising department, and Victor Ganziy, a driver, may also soon be hospitalised.

The hunger strikers demand:

-  that Efir-I be given back the broadcasting frequency officially allocated to it by the National Broadcasting Council and which was arbitrarily reallocated to another TV channel, without any decision by the Council or by the courts;

-  that the complaint lodged by the Efir-1 management, challenging the compulsory liquidation of the channel, be investigated;

-  that the administrative obstacles prohibiting the channel from using its bank account to pay its debts be lifted. The mayor of Kougansk, against whom the channel lodged a complaint, is evidently opposed to the lifting of these obstacles.

The Mass Media Institute, a Ukrainian organisation affiliated to Reporters sans frontières, has interceded in favour of Efir-1 with the Lougansk state prosecutor and the municipal council. The mayor, like the militia, pretended not to have known about the journalists’ hunger strike. The trial following the Efir-1 complaint, scheduled for 21 November - a period when the RSF mission was in Lougansk - was postponed to 19 December.

The wrestling match between the TV channel Efir-1 and the Lougansk municipality has been going on for six months. The Lougansk municipality seems to be wanting to make the channel pay for supporting former mayor M. Yagoferov. On 5 June 2001 the Lougansk mayor decided to liquidate the channel and to create another channel, with the same name and broadcast on the same frequency. In April, Olga Kouznetsova told RSF that she had been threatened by telephone while covering the forced resignation of the former mayor of Lougansk.

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