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RFE/RL Welcomes European Court Ruling On Ukrainian Journalist’s Cellphone Data

Natalia Sedletska

WASHINGTON -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) welcomed a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision ordering the Ukrainian government to “ensure that the public authorities abstain from accessing” cellphone data belonging to RFE/RL Ukrainian Service journalist Natalia Sedletska.

“The European Court’s decision is an important affirmation of the rights of journalists to confidentiality of sources and other information, and it sets limits on executive power,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. He added, “We continue to strongly support Natalia Sedletska and all our journalists as they pursue their mission courageously and professionally.”

The ECHR’s decision is an interim measure that remains in force until October 18 to give Sedletska time to prepare a full complaint, which the court has said it will consider “as a matter of priority.”

The decision came the same day a Kyiv appellate court issued its own ruling on a lower court’s approval on August 27 of a request by Ukraine’s prosecutor-general’s office to allow investigators to review all data from Sedletska's cell phone from July 2016 to November 2017. The appellate court ruled to restrict the original request to geolocation data from around the offices of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine in Kyiv, but upheld the original timeframe.

The anti-corruption bureau’s director, Artem Sytnyk, is under criminal investigation for alleged disclosure of state secrets to journalists in 2017.

In a comment to RFE/RL, Sedletska, who is the award-winning author and host of the Ukrainian investigative TV program, Schemes, said the appellate court decision is only a partial rejection of the prosecutorial overreach of the original request. The ruling affirms that “the prosecutor-general’s office demanded an excessive amount” of cellphone data, she said, but its limited scope still allows “the ex post facto tracking of journalists.”

During the period covered by the request, Schemes reported on several investigations involving senior Ukrainian officials, including Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko.

With over 11 million viewers, RFE/RL’s investigative program Schemes: Corruption in Details is an award-winning weekly program devoted to exposing high-level political corruption and abuse of public office in Ukraine. A joint production of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television (UA:Pershiy), it 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, sets a standard in the Ukrainian media market for independence, professionalism, and innovation. Its comprehensive coverage includes the award-winning reporting of its Donbas Realities and Crimea Realities websites.


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