Ukraine: torched journalist car, wiretapping raise press freedom concerns

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference in Kiev, Ukraine, 20 May 2020. At the press conference, Zelensky expressed his dissatisfaction with Tkatch, referring to the work of 'Schemes' as "insolence." [EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO / POOL]

A car used by the team of an investigative journalist whose reports had raised the hackles of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was burned near Kyiv, following allegations of wiretapping of the journalist’s home.

Journalist Mykhailo Tkach said on social media the car used for producing reports of ‘Schemes,’ an investigative journalist unit of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was torched in the early hours of Monday (17 July).

The news comes after Tkach found evidence of wiretapping in his home on 8 August and later filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office against law enforcement, alleging inaction of police investigators.

The car was used in producing a video report titled “Кings of the roads” which alleged that president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the head of his administration Andriy Yermak and other VIPs break traffic laws with impunity.

Tkatch also said that during the filming his team was surveilled by the Department of State Guard of Ukraine, responsible for the security of the President and other high-level governmental bodies, which the agency denied.

Zelenskiy reactеd to the news on Monday, pointing to the importance of the freedom of speech.

“Journalism can never be a reason for persecution. I will never allow any criticism of the government to lead to persecution or intimidation during my presidency,” the Ukrainian president said on Twitter.

Zelensky had previously expressed his anger with Tkatch during a press conference in May, referring to the work of ‘Schemes’ as “insolence.”

The news of the possible wiretapping of Tkach’s apartment was classified as “acts having chilling effects on media freedom” by the Council of Europe’s platform that aims to promote the protection and safety of journalists in member states.

The president of the national union of journalists, Serhiy Tomilenko, previously called for thorough investigation of the wiretapping “as it is not a trivial event, but a completely unacceptable pressure on one of the most famous investigators in Ukraine.”

Edited by Georgi Gotev

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