WASHINGTON -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is outraged at a Ukrainian court's approval of the prosecutor-general’s request for the cellphone data of an RFE/RL Ukrainian Service reporter spanning a period of 17 months, calling the ruling excessive and in flagrant violation of international standards.
“The court’s decision 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,” said company spokesperson Joanna Levison.
"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," she said.
The request, approved by a Ukrainian court on August 27, permits investigators to obtain information from mobile service providers about calls to and from RFE/RL journalist Natalia Sedletska, author and host of the acclaimed anti-corruption TV program Schemes: Corruption in Details. The information includes phone numbers; the date, time, duration and geolocation of calls; sent and received text messages and photos, and other data.
The prosecutor-general’s office has said the information is part of a criminal investigation into the alleged disclosure of state secrets by Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk during a meeting with journalists last year. Sedletska, along with other journalists, is a witness in the case.
During the period covered by the request (July 2016 to November 2017), Schemes reported on several investigations involving senior Ukrainian officials, including the prosecutor-general, Yuriy Lutsenko.
RFE/RL is preparing a complaint to the prosecutor-general’s office claiming the request exceeds legal limits and intrudes into the private life and protected information of a journalist. It will also appeal to the Supreme Justice Council that oversees the country’s courts that the court ruling does not correspond to the needs of the investigation and is unsubstantiated.
With over 11 million viewers, RFE/RL’s investigative program Schemes: Corruption in Details is an award-winning weekly program that has been devoted to exposing high-level political corruption and abuse of power in Ukrainian society since 2014. A joint production of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television (UA:Pershiy), Schemes also airs on the private Ukrainian Channel 24, independent channel Hromadske TV, and on Facebook and YouTube.
RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with a monthly average of over 4 million visits to its website in 2017, sets a standard in the Ukrainian media market for independence, professionalism, and innovation. In addition to Schemes, it provides Ukrainian-speaking audiences with important reporting on developments in Ukraine, Europe and the EU, and accurate coverage of eastern Ukraine and Crimea on its award-winning Donbas Realities and Crimea Realities websites.