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18.05.2017

Ukraine: Song contest glitz gives way to government censorship

by Jane Whyatt

After the fireworks came the crackdown. Kiev as host of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest showed her friendliest face to the world’s TV viewers. "Celebrate diversity" was the slogan above the main stage where Portugal's Salvador Sobral emerged as the winner.

Eurovision 900X600 Ukraine's friendly face has been replaced by a scowl as the country's regime cracks down on social media platforms and critical voices. (Photo: Andres Putting, official Eurovision website press gallery)

Just a few days later the government of President Petro Poroshenko announced that they will block Ukraine's most popular social media networks - including VKontakte, which is more popular than Facebook in the country. Among the other networks and email providers that will be barred under the presidential decree of 16 May are Yandex, RBC and Odnoklassniki.

And anti-corruption journalists and campaigners reported that they are being harrassed as they go about their daily lives.

The official reason for the online bans is that there are cyber-security fears and that Russian propaganda - in the form of fake news - has been spread through social networks. However, the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland and human rights campaigners were swift to condemn the move.

"EU should call for reversal"

Tanya Cooper, the Ukraine observer for the Human Rights Watch advocacy campaign, says in a statement on their website:

It’s an inexcusable violation of Ukrainians' right to information of their choice, and the European Union and Ukraine's other international partners should immediately call on Ukraine to reverse it."

The new ban further extends restrictions that already exist on more than one thousand individuals and almost five hundred companies and NGOs. They include some Western European journalists. But so far, most have been in Russia and the parts of east Ukraine's self-declared republic around Donetsk and Luhansk that are controlled by Russian-backed separatists, as well as in Russian-occupied Crimea.

In another development, a TV documentary, known in English as "Following the Grant Eaters", accuses anti-corruption journalists and campaigners of collecting grants from Western foundations and using them to finance their own supposedly "lavish lifestyles".

"No democratic future"

Henrik Kaufholz, Chair of the Board of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, comments:

The fight against corruption in Ukraine meets new obstacles every day. Now the corrupt businesses, politicians and bureaucrats are harrassing the two most eager forces in the fight against corruption: the media and the NGOs. The ECPMF strongly urges president Petro Poroshenko and his government to stop this. Otherwise Ukraine has no democratic future."

Oleksandra Ustinova, Executive Board member of the anti-corruption campaign AntAC, reports in their newsletter that she has been stopped and harrassed by a government offical posing as a reporter who was also captured on closed circuit television trying to enter her apartment block.





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