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End harassment of TVi, say rights groups

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 19 July 2012 - We, the undersigned organisations, call on the Ukrainian authorities to stop the continued harassment of TVi, the country's only independent television channel. We also call on them to ensure that media freedom and freedom of expression are respected in Ukraine.

On Thursday 12 July, tax officials raided the office of TVi in Kiev as part of a criminal investigation into the television channel's head, Mykola Kniazhytsky, for large-scale tax evasion. The raid obstructed the work of the channel, interrupting scheduled programmes. We consider the tax officials' actions to be disproportionate and in actions violation of TVi's right to freedom of expression.

Although the charges brought against Kniazhytsky do not carry the sanction of imprisonment, the tax authorities requested his medical records, something which they would only have needed if his arrest was imminent. This request should therefore be viewed as additional harassment of TVi's head, who fears that he could be charged with a criminal offence that could lead to a prison sentence.

This is the latest incident in a long string of incidents harassing TVi.

  • In April 2012 TVi fought the tax authorities on another issue, that time concerning the channel's official address.

  • In 2011, TVi, the only national broadcaster not to be directly or indirectly controlled by the government, was denied a broadcasting license as part of Ukraine's digital switchover in 2015. TVi's often critical coverage of the authorities, and of President Viktor Yanukovych in particular, is thought to be the reason why the channel was denied the licence.

  • While the authorities have a legitimate responibility to investigate everyone for tax crimes, this should not be applied selectively. the ongoing focus on TVi, and on Mikhail Kniazhytski in particular, raises serious questions about the actions of the Ukrainian tax authorities.

We remind the Ukrainian authorities that Ukraine has made commitments in the Council of Europe and the OSCE to protect freedom of the press.

We call on the authorities to:
  • Stop the harassment of TVi, and specifically its head Mykola Kniazhytsky

  • Carry out an independent and impartial parliamentary investigation into the tax officials' raid at the TVi premises

  • Recompense TVi for the temporary interruption of its broadcasting on 12 July

  • Refrain from any action which might have a chilling effect on media freedom in Ukraine.

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