KYIV, Sept. 4 - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is calling for the nullification of a Ukrainian court ruling that gives authorities access to nearly 1 1/2 years of cell-phone data from an RFE/RL investigative reporter, saying the decision violates Ukraine’s own laws and Kyiv’s commitments to a free press.
The ruling stems from a criminal investigation into the alleged disclosure of state secrets to journalists in 2017 by Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.
On August 27, the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv approved a request from Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office to let investigators review all cell-phone data from a 17-month period of investigative reporter Natalia Sedletska, the host of Schemes, the award-winning anti-corruption TV program by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television.
RFE/RL spokeswoman Joanna Levison said the ruling is “inconsistent with Ukraine’s own commitments to promote and protect a free press.”
“It creates a chilling atmosphere for journalists and should be nullified,” Levison said in a September 4 statement. "That the request targets well over a year's worth of data belonging to a prominent Ukrainian investigative journalist raises deeply troubling questions about the real intent of those seeking the information."
The ruling allows the Prosecutor-General’s Office to obtain information from Sedletska’s mobile-phone service provider about all communications made to and from her phone from July 1, 2016, through November 30, 2017.
The Schemes program reported on several investigations involving senior Ukrainian officials during that period, including Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko.
Such actions also send a negative signal to other investigative journalists and, in general, erode the principles of press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources."
The Prosecutor-General’s Office would be able to access all of Sedletska's phone contacts, as well as the date, time, and duration of all calls.
It also would allow authorities to review all text messages sent and received on Sedletska’s phone during the 17-month period, as well as other data -- such as the investigative journalist’s location when she received or made each phone call.
In December 2017, during a meeting at the Prosecutor-General’s Office with her lawyer that lasted several hours, Sedletska refused to testify about her private communications with confidential sources that were part of her investigative reporting.
Sedletska cited a law in Ukraine’s Criminal Code that says “journalists cannot be questioned as witnesses” about “confidential information of a professional nature” provided by sources on the condition of anonymity.
Ukrainian lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem wrote on Facebook that the court's decision was “an example of creeping dictatorship.” (rfe/ez)