The Kiev police have stepped up their attempts to harass and intimidate journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska in connection with her coverage of a demonstration outside an animal fur store in February, in which smoke grenades and eggs with paint were thrown at the store.
When she was interrogated again on 13 April by a police inspector, he was accompanied by a man who claimed to have been one of the demonstrators. The inspector insistently encouraged the young man to state, that Bilozerska had known about the demonstration on the preparatory stage and, in fact, was a participant, not a witness.
She is now facing the possibility of being prosecuted as an accomplice in what she regards as a judicial farce being orchestrated by the authorities with the apparent aim of scaring her and reducing her to silence.
Bilozerska said she had never met her accuser before and was struck by his use of legal vocabulary when he gave his statement, which he seemed to have learned by heart. She is the only person being interrogated in connection with the demonstration. The protesters who threw the eggs and smoke grenades have not been detained or questioned, although the inspector knows their names – the young man told him.
When Bilozerska experienced the symptoms of a mild heart attack during the interrogation, the police prevented emergency medical services from treating her quickly.
These latest attempts to intimidate Bilozerska have coincided with a disturbing wave of press freedom violations in Ukraine, including arrests and physical attacks on journalists and harassment of TV stations, as a result of which two stations had to suspend broadcasting.
In intimidating move, police question two journalists, search homes, seize files
Reporters Without Borders condemns the conduct of the Kiev police in interrogating online journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska (http://bilozerska.livejournal.com) and press photographer Olexiy Furman of the Photolenta agency (www.phl.ua) and searching their homes in the past few days in a bid to obtain information about participants in protests.
Bilozerska and Furman were summoned to a police station, respectively on 30 March and in early March. They were questioned about certain demonstrations by opposition activists that they covered in February. Their interrogation came three days after police armed with search warrants searched their apartments and examined the contents of their computers.
Two DVDs with photographs were taken from Bilozerska’s apartment. Two computers system blocks, four cameras (with no film inside) and about 50 DVDs were removed from Furman’s. All of Furman’s material was later returned to him.
“We deplore the way these two journalists have been treated as suspects, not as witnesses, although they just did their job by covering a news event. The confiscation of journalists’ files is a violation of Ukrainian law. We urge the police to respect the law and to put a stop to practices of this kind, which endanger media freedom.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We demand the immediate return of Bilozerska’s DVD-ROMs. We also note that the methods employed by the police seem to have been designed in part to encourage journalists to censor themselves.”
Bilozerska and Furman said the police were above all looking for photos, video footage and print materials of members of the radical opposition movement “Autonomous Resistance”. They removed photos of demonstrators who threw eggs with paint in them and smoke grenades in a Kiev shop that sells furs on 18 February in a protest against the killing of animals. One of the protestors was arrested at the time.
Furman was himself detained for three hours on the day of the protest, along with the protestor, and his photos were examined by the police. At the same time, he was prevented from seeing his lawyer, who was waiting in the street outside.
Bilozerska’s lawyer, Sydir Kyzin, who went to her home during the 27 March search, said the confiscation of journalistic material violated article 17 of Ukraine’s media law, which says: “Journalists may not be arrested or detained because of their professional activity, nor may their material be confiscated.”
During Bilozerska’s interrogation on 30 March, the police promised to return her DVDs in the next few days. Furman’s material was all returned to him the same day after the police had copied his photos.
Bilozerska told Reporters Without Borders she took great care when covering this kind of demonstration not to photograph the faces of the participants so that no one would be compromised by the photos. Furman said he did the same. Bilozerska and Furman said they were grateful for the support she has been getting from her fellow journalists.