Internet censorship in the Ukraine

By EDRi · April 23, 2003

During a meeting of the Freedom of Speech Committee of the Parliament and
Council of Europe on 18 April, Privacy Ukraine presented a report on
Internet censorship in Ukraine. Though the Ukrainian parliament has
organised several hearings on censorship, and earlier this month even
adopted legislation clarifying the term ‘censorship’, the overall
perspective is bleak.

Freedom of speech is one of the most vulnerable freedoms in Ukraine. The
list of annual illegal actions against journalists in Ukraine (the so
called ‘Freedom of Speech Barometer’) is long. Traditional media such as TV
and broadcasting in most cases depend on the official pro-presidential
propaganda. The official position of the President Kuchma and his entourage
with regard to Internet on the whole and e-media in particular deletes any
hope for progress in the field until the collapse of the regime.

The report describes 3 censorship incidents in detail.

On 27 June 2001 the private apartment of Mr. Yeltsov, the editor-in-chief
of e-media ‘Ukraina Kriminalna’ (Criminal Ukraine), was seized by SBU. The
criminal proceedings were instituted because of the on-line publication of
secret documents and an article titled ‘From the Life of Derkatch’s Family’
about the activity of former chief of SBU Leonid Derkatch and his son, a
member of Ukrainian Parliament, describing their business relations with
Ukraine’s oligarchy.

On 19 February 2002 the premises of the on-line political newspaper ‘Obkom’
were searched by tax administration officials even though they only had a
warrant to search a bank situated on the floor below. The officials seized
computer equipment and archives. Although the tax authority later said the
search had been done ‘by accident’, the computers were never returned. The
on-line version of the edition recommenced nearly a year after the
incident, on January 8, 2003. The complaints issued by ‘Obkom’ were
considered by the court, but Kyiv City Regional Prosecutor Office refused
to initiate criminal proceedings against officials due to the ‘lack of
legal grounds’.

On 24 October 2002 the editorial premises of the on-line newspaper
‘Antiterror’ of the Regional Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
in Lviv City were searched and computers seized by policemen. On-line
publication of the text of the indictment against President Kuchma issued
by the judge of the Kyiv Appeal Court was the reason for these measures.
The contracts with all editorial staff of this on-line medium were
terminated in a few days.

Electronic mass-media: the last bulwark of democracy in Ukraine?

Freedom of Speech Barometer (English and Ukrainian)

(Contribution by Andriy Pazyuk, Privacy Ukraine)