The experts of the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) covered numerous cases of violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine in 2021. Of them, 145 cases involved physical aggression against journalists. For comparison: in 2020, IMI recorded 229 cases of violations of freedom of speech, of which 171 cases involved physical aggression. These are the annual results of the IMI’s monitoring study “Freedom of Speech Barometer.”
Main categories of violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine in 2020:
- Obstruction of lawful professional activity of journalists– 99 cases (against 125 cases in 2020 and the same 99 cases in 2019)
- Beatings and attacks involving bodily harm– 24 cases (against 20 cases in 2021, 23 cases in 2019)
- Restriction on access to public information for journalists – 18 cases (against 22 cases in 2020, 21 cases in 2019)
- Cybercrime against media and journalists – 16 cases (against 11 cases in 2020, 15 cases in 2019)
Main trends of the year
- Physical aggression against journalists remains the most common type of violation of freedom of speech in Ukraine. In 2021, as in 2020, it accounted for 74% of all violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine recorded by IMI. The main reasons for this situation are quarantine restrictions, corruption and aggressive attitude to its exposure, secrecy of the authorities at all levels, and a high level of impunity for attacks on journalists. As of December 2021, the courts passed only 10 sentences under “journalistic” articles.
- Growing censorship in Ukraine compared to 2020. Thus, according to media expert Kateryna Diachuk, IMI recorded only two publicly known cases of censorship in 2020, and already eight of them in 2021. The trend of growing censorship was recorded among both government officials and media owners.
- A declining number of obstructions in 2021 was due to a calmer political situation (local elections took place in Ukraine in 2020) and the fact that journalists worked overall online rather than offline (IMI polls show that at least a third of editorial offices worked remotely over the year because of coronavirus).
The right of journalists to the profession was most often violated by individuals, local authorities, the judiciary, the President’s Office, and law enforcement officers.
In 2021, violations of freedom of speech were recorded in all 23 regions of the country. Kyiv city and the Kyiv region traditionally took the lead in the number of violations (74 cases). The Zaporizhzhia and Odesa regions ranked second (12 cases each), followed by the Kharkiv and Poltava regions (10 cases each), the Khmelnytsky and Volyn regions (eight cases each), and the Cherkasy, Rivne, Lviv, and Mykolayiv regions (seven cases each).
Special mention should be made of the Kharkiv region, which ranked third among the regions where the rights of journalists were most violated. In 2021, the number of cases of physical aggression against journalists, as well as restrictions on access to information, and cybercrime increased in this region. In addition, the Khmelnytsky region climbed in the anti-rating of violations as the number of physical aggression cases also increased over the year. In particular, Khmelnytsky journalist and IMI regional representative Aliona Bereza was attacked.
In particular, 72 male journalists and 56 female journalists suffered an infringement of their rights.
IMI experts also recorded nine cases of damage to journalists’ property, eight cases of censorship, six cases of pressure involving legal instruments, and four cases of indirect pressure.
In January, journalists were massively and systematically denied access to the Zaporizhzhia city council sessions. Media professionals had to picket the city council building. February was “rich” in bodily harm inflicted to journalists (five people were injured). In March, representatives of the judiciary “distinguished” themselves by barring journalists from open court hearings.
Moreover, in April, local and judicial authorities denied journalists access to attend sessions, meetings of executive committees, and court hearings. In May, the anti-heroes of freedom of speech were the bodyguards of MP from Opposition Platform – For Life Viktor Medvedchuk and MP Illia Kiva. In June, judicial and local authorities, as well as individuals, violated freedom of expression. In addition, IMI recorded a very serious case, which was in fact an assassination attempt: the producer of the Chernivtsi branch of the Suspilne (UA: PBC), Public Broadcaster Maksym Voloshin, had his car brakes cut off.
July saw high-profile beatings and attacks on journalists. The cameramen of OTV TV channel Ihor Hutnik and D1 TV channel Serhiy Faizulin (Dnipro) were injured. In Kyiv, representatives of right-wing radical organisations attacked Oleksandr Kuzhelny, a journalist of the Bukvy media outlet, punched him in the face, spat at him, pushed, and threatened him. In addition, a police officer twice sprayed Roman Petushkov, correspondent of Apostrophe outlet, with tear gas in Kyiv.
In August, attacks on journalists continued: five journalists were injured during their professional activities. Three cases of the beating of media workers took place in Kyiv during protests in front of the President’s Office and on the Alley of Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. Bukvy journalist Oleksandr Kuzhelny and TSN cameraman Anton Filipp were attacked by activists, while Apostrophe journalist Roman Petushkov was attacked by the police.
In September, journalists were barred from attending court hearings and meetings of city councils.
In October, the attack on the Skhemy program journalists during an interview with Yevhen Metzher, chairman of the board of Ukreximbank JSC, right in his office, acquired an international dimension. Another high-profile case concerned an attempt to halt the screening of the “Offshore 95” film about President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, shot by Ukrainian investigative journalism agency Slidsto.Info, due to alleged repair works at the Mala Opera premises. Eventually, the municipal facility changed its decision amid the public outcry and the premiere took place.
In addition, Suspilne and Priamyi TV channels, as well as the Freedom of Speech by Savik Shuster talk show, claimed to be under pressure from the President’s Office.
In November, Alyona Bereza, IMI representative and investigative journalist, was attacked. Moreover, the State Bureau of Investigation pressured Censor.Net editor-in-chief Yuri Butusov over a released video of him firing a D-20 howitzer. The censorship cases highlight the closure of the English-language Kyiv Post newspaper, which claimed pressure from its owner Adnan Kivan, and statements by former journalists of the Dom TV channel about receiving instructions from the President’s Office and censoring the news.