Free speech violations decline but serious challenges remain
In December, the Institute of Mass Information's Freedom of Speech Barometer reported that, when compared to 2015, the number of freedom of expression violations declined in 2016. As of December 27th, a total of 262 freedom of speech violations were recorded in unoccupied areas of Ukraine, representing a 15% drop on the same figure for 2015. Three-hundred and ten cases had been recorded in 2015 and 995 in 2014. The majority of violations against media representatives were obstructions of journalistic activities (107 cases), followed by threats and intimidation of journalists (42 cases).
Despite this progress, there are still significant challenges to the full enjoyment of the freedom of expression in Ukraine, particularly in occupied areas of the country. On 25th January, the Parliamentarian Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution calling for action to be taken to deal with attacks on journalists and media freedom. The resolution was initiated by Ukrainian parliamentarian Volodymyr Ariev who highlighted that since January 2016, 16 journalists have been killed in Council of Europe member states. He also cited the worrying situation in the Crimean Peninsula occupied by Russia, were pro-Ukrainian activists, bloggers and human rights defenders are persecuted. The situation is also worrying in Eastern parts of Ukraine. The PACE resolution urges Russia to free Roman Sushchenko (a journalist of Ukrinform in France, accused of spying by Russian authorities in 2016) and to halt the persecution of other pro-Ukrainian Crimean journalists.
On 6th December, a Crimean Tatar from Bakhchysarai Enver Sherfiyev was convicted by a Russian Court of taking part in an ‘unauthorised rally’ and fined 15,000 roubles. According to the organisation Human Rights in Ukraine, Sherfiyev was the fourth Crimean Tatar to have been prosecuted merely for coming out onto the street on 12th May, and for questioning the presence of security services and the arrest in handcuffs of their neighbours. Observers believe that Russian authorities in Crimea are threatening pro-Ukrainian activists in order to frighten people into staying at home and not protesting. Sherfiyev’s lawyer rejected claims that there was a rally or a political meeting that day, instead asserting that:
“People gathered spontaneously, like during a fire or a road accident. There were no slogans or no demands were put. We consider this to be pressure on people. The court ruling will be appealed.”
On 15th December, more Ukrainian activists protested in front of the Russian embassy in the capital Kyiv to show their opposition to Moscow's international policy in Syria. According to Agencia EFE the protesters carried anti-Russia placards and waved Ukrainian flags. The aim of the protests was to raise awareness about Russian military intervention in Syria, and to criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia's involvement in the destruction of Aleppo.