The US-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said on Tuesday it was “outraged” after a Ukrainian court’s decision to allow the public prosecutor’s office access to the phone records of one of its journalists.
“The court’s decision is inconsistent with Ukraine’s own commitments to promote and protect a free press” and should be “nullified”, said RFE/RL, which is funded by the US Congress, on its website.
“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,” said spokeswoman RFE/RL, Joanna Levison.
According to the media, a court in Kyiv authorised the prosecutor’s office in late August to access the list of calls and text messages sent and received over 17 months by Natalia Sedletska, journalist and editor-in-chief of the “Skhemy” television program (“scheming” in Ukrainian).
The court also authorised the prosecution to obtain information from its operator on the geo-location of the journalist during the period of July 2016 to November 2017, RFE/RL said.
The decision, which cannot be appealed, is related to an investigation against the director of the Ukrainian anti-corruption office (NABU), suspected of disclosing state secrets, said the prosecutor’s office. Ms. Sedletska is a witness in this case.
In a joint statement, dozens of Ukrainian and Western journalists denounced “an extremely dangerous precedent”.
“It is a blatant attempt to make the media professional violate ethical standards obliging her to keep her information sources confidential,” said the Ukrainian branch of the NGO Transparency International in a statement.
“Skhemy”, a weekly program produced by RFE/RL since 2014 and broadcast by Ukrainian public television, investigates cases of corruption and abuse of power in the upper echelons of Ukrainian society. President Petro Poroshenko and Attorney General Yuriy Lutsenko have been among the high profile targets of program.
Ukraine ranks 101st out of 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).