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IMI Issues Annual Report on State of Freedom of Speech in Ukraine

December 28  – In its annual monitoring study “Freedom of Speech Barometer”, the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) identified 229 cases of violations of freedom of speech in 2020, which is 14 cases fewer than in 2019.

Of this number, 172 cases were related to physical aggression against journalists (171 in 2019), 125 cases of preventing journalists from doing their professional work (compared to 99 in 2019), 20 cases of beatings (23 cases in 2019), 19 cases of legal pressure (18 cases in 2019), and 19 cases of threats (a decrease from 37 cases in 2019).

IMI distinguishes the main trends of 2020:

The number of cases of preventing journalists from doing their professional work increased by as much as 26%, compared to 2019. The main reasons for this growth were unlawful lockdown restrictions and local elections.

Physical aggression has once again become the most common violation of freedom of speech. It accounted for 74% of all violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine. Journalists had their equipment broken, they were pushed out, attacked during live broadcasts, they suffered from severe bodily injuries, they were threatened, their property was damaged, and their cars were arsoned.

According to IMI, 62 violations of freedom of speech this year were related to lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is almost a third (27%) of the total number of violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine. These cases mainly involved the denial of access for the journalists at local government sessions, as well as attacks on journalists in markets, hairdressers and shops during the lockdown inspections.

The experts have noticed a tendency to selectively invite mass media during President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s working trips to the regions. Representatives of IMI recorded such complaints from journalists in KhersonDniproKryvyi RihKhmelnytsky, Volyn and Zaporizhzhya. The strike of Kherson journalists, which could not get accreditation to the meeting with Zelensky, was full-throated: several online publications published blank pages with no text.

Closed nature of government bodies has become one of the main trends of the year. Journalists were not allowed to the sessions of regional, city, district and settlement councils. The largest violating regions were Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Poltava and Zakarpattya. This year, local authorities have been denying access for journalists under the pretext of lockdown. At the same time, the local authorities did not provide any other access to information from the session for mass media, in particular, they did not organize any online broadcasts.

Another trend of the year was the restriction of access to public information. Journalists were refused to respond to or provide the requested information, and were billed for receiving the requested information. This was done by local governments, law enforcement agencies, central authorities, including the Office of the President.

IMI conducted its freedom of speech monthly monitoring with the support of the USAID Media Program in Ukraine (implemented by Internews) according to the following criteria: physical aggression against journalists, censorship and access to information, economic, political, legal pressure, and cybercrimes against media and journalists. IMI monthly reports include cases of violation of freedom and prevention from professional journalistic activities. The monitoring methodology can be found at this link, and more about the monitoring can be found at IMI’s online Barometer of Freedom of Speech.

More information about findings of “Freedom of Speech Barometer” here