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May 15th marked a year since the moment that the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine” Kirill Vyshinsky was detained – the journalist has spent a year in a pre-trial detention center without an alternative.
On May 7th, during a regular hearing, the motion filed by Vyshinsky’s defence to change his measure of restraint was again rejected. The Podolsky court of Kiev prolonged the arrest of the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine” for 60 days – up to July 22nd.
As a reminder, the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine” Kirill Vyshinsky was detained during a search in his apartment on May 15th 2018 on suspicion of state treason (Part 1 of Article No. 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). This article does not provide an alternative measure of restraint other than detention. This article stipulates a sanction of up to 15 years of imprisonment.
Kirill Vyshinsky’s case is being continuously monitored by the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta”.
Kirill Vyshinsky transferred to the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” a letter in which he comments on the charges brought against him by the prosecutor’s office and the SBU, and he also says that this is the only opportunity he has to state a point of view on his case that is different to that of the prosecutor’s office.
We give the full text of the letter of Kirill Vyshinsky below.
“Using confusing words and distorted emphasis, three prosecutors for more than two weeks read the indictment to me in court. It reached the 34th page, there were 45 more.
My colleagues, journalists of various agencies and TV channels, during a break in the hearing, asked me to comment on the charges of the prosecutor’s office. But the escort did not allow me to answer the questions and tried to take me away from the courtroom as fast as possible. It is clear that me commenting on the charges isn’t profitable or necessary for either the Prosecutor’s Office or the SBU. The lack of a second point of view is the main law of effective propaganda, which is well known by the orderers of my criminal prosecution. Therefore only the charges and no other comments must be heard.
I consider that a second point of view is simply necessary, therefore I wrote this text in which I state my opinion on the SBU’s charges. I will comment on the basics, without plunging into details. A detailed description of the 5 examinations of the texts of our website that the SBU carried out, the circumstances of the financial activity of the enterprise that I headed – all of this is still ahead.
Thus, the main charges that were brought against me by the SBU: as the editor-in-chief of the website of RIA Novosti Ukraine I was not engaged in journalism, but conducted ‘informational special operations for the benefit of the Russian Federation’. Within the framework of this ‘non-journalistic’ activity, biased and unreliable information, as well as articles of an ‘anti-Ukrainian nature’ were published under my management on the website. There were 72, published in the spring of 2014 and in 2015 (only 5 of the 72 were published in 2016). Here is the broad outline of the main narrative of the prosecution.
If to shortly comment on the charges of the SBU and prosecutor’s office, they contain outright manipulations, lies, and absurdities. And now in more detail.
I have worked as a journalist for more than 25 years. I headed information agencies in Dnepropetrovsk and Kiev, worked for a newspaper, for a radio station, and on television. My TV reports were aired on the news of practically all the largest national channels in Ukraine. In 2006 I became a correspondent of VGTRK (the Rossiya-1 and Rossiya-24 TV channels) in Ukraine – in order to take this position I resigned as the deputy editor-in-chief of the ‘Fakty’ program on ICTV.
Having worked for more than a quarter of a century in this profession, I perfectly understood: publishing or airing unreliable information is a failure in the work of the agency and a reason for serious trouble: possible legal claims, a refutation of false information and, most often, demands for material compensation for the damage caused. To my memory, such claims have bankrupted the editorial offices of large agencies. At our agency we always carefully checked the facts that were published and fought for the 100% reliability of our materials. And we managed this – during the more than 4 years of my work at the head of the editorial office of RIA Novosti Ukraine there wasn’t a single legal claim, demand to refute stated information, or complaint about being biased. That’s why I consider the SBU’s accusation that from the first day of my work as the editor-in-chief, i.e., since March 2014, I systematically and purposefully published biased and unreliable information on the website to be unsubstantiated – there is simply no proof. And there isn’t any in the examinations of our texts that were carried out by experts of the SBU. My comment on such accusations made by the SBU is that they are unfounded and therefore false. Just a lie.
Now concerning the ‘anti-Ukrainian nature’ of 72 publications that appeared on our website in the spring of 2014, in 2015, and in 2016.
There is a strange circumstance – for three years ‘anti-Ukrainian’ materials were purposefully published on a website that is in the top 30 most visited informational resources of Ukraine – and there were no complaints about this for 4 years (until May 2018) neither from the SBU nor from the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine.
Moreover – in the case papers there is a letter of the Ministry of Information Policy containing two lists of 42 websites whose activity the advisory council of the Ministry – consisting of people’s deputies, journalists, and media experts – believes has an ‘anti-Ukrainian orientation filled with destructive content’. Among them – ‘Russkaya Vesna’, ‘News Front’, and others. For many of them their viewership is less than 100,000 per month, while we have more than 1.5 million per month.
The Ministry of Information Policy’s experts noted the anti-Ukrainian activity of these ‘dwarfs’ – but the experts do not consider ours, which, according to the SBU, continued for more than 4 years, to be as such. Neither did the specific department of the SBU for all this time – it also for 4 years did not consider our activity to be anti-Ukrainian. And suddenly on the 5th year, in 2018, the department of the SBU in Crimea, which was carrying out an investigation into my case, had a breakthrough – ‘systematically, purposefully’, ‘anti-Ukrainian activity’. And all of this happened less than one year prior to the presidential election – and in addition under a chorus of voices: ‘And let’s exchange him for someone …’. I am sure that this accusation of our materials being ‘anti-Ukrainian’ is a lie designed to justify keeping me in prison for already nearly a year.
Having monotonously muttered the general charges, the prosecutors moved on to the details. These details include an assessment of the contents of those 72 texts published in the spring of 2014, in the summer of 2015, and in 2016 for ‘anti-Ukrainian purposes’. In order to understand what this is about, it is necessary to know that these texts are divided into three categories. The first one – news information, only the facts and quotes from statements and the speeches of officials, experts, widely known speakers, and analysts. The second category – the reports or analytical materials of our journalists concerning important events, processes, and problems.
News information (the first category) is the bread of journalism. And here the objectivity and reliability of what is described is most important.
The reports (the second category) and analytical material on behalf of our correspondent are a description of an event where not every reader could be present. Analytical or problem-orientated material is a certain selection of facts and understanding of phenomena and processes, and not just a set of reliable information. The editorial office bears responsibility already not only for the reliability of the facts, but also for the objectivity of analysis – I will emphasise that in more than 4 years there wasn’t a single complaint about our website in this regard.
The third category of materials – the comments of observers or authors, whose view of events carries not only an expert, but also a personal character. Such comments interest readers precisely by their subjectivity.
Very often comments on the same event by two observers possessing different views can be diametrically opposite – this especially happens in the politicised and over-polarised Ukrainian society, during the deep public and political crisis of recent years. That’s why such subjective texts were published on our website with the headings ‘Point of View’ or ‘Analytics and Comments’. They were accompanied by the obligatory note: ‘The opinion of the author may not coincide with the editorial opinion. Responsibility for the quotes, facts, and figures specified in the text belongs to the author’. Seeing such a note, the reader understands – they are dealing with a subjective assessment, often of a political nature, and not just a statement of facts. The editorial office may not share the point of view of the author, but considers that what’s more important is that the reader becomes acquainted with it – this is important for understanding the whole range of opinions that exist in society. It is precisely this that is called pluralism of views, even if the views seem to be disputable or unacceptable. This is a global practice and the ABC of journalism in a democratic society. It is possible to demand from the editorial office or the agency responsibility for the publication of doubtful facts and unverified information, but a comment on events or a phenomena is the responsibility of their author and their subjective view on reality, which is indeed interesting for the reason as a result.
Now we will return to the charges that are brought by the SBU against the texts that were published, as the investigator wrote, on a website controlled by me. They are numerous – I will remind that this concerns 72 texts, therefore here are only a few examples.
Page 11 of the indictment – I ‘under unspecified circumstances, during a pretrial investigation’, published on 30.03.2014 on the Internet resource of RIA Novosti Ukraine an article with anti-Ukrainian contents, which contained appeals to change the boundaries of the territory and state border of Ukraine in defiance of the order established by the Constitution of Ukraine; to forcefully change and overthrow the constitutional system’. Here it is about the information report ‘Crimea switched to Moscow time’. It is classical news about the fact that Crimea, after the referendum in March 2014, and in accordance with the decision of the local authorities, switched to Moscow time, moved the clocks two hours ahead, and the schedule of all means of transport on the territory of the peninsula is also changed to Moscow time.
Besides this, the circumstances of the transition to a new time and the background of events that led to it are described in the text. In terms of Russian grammar in the text ‘Crimea switched to Moscow time’ – there are no calls to commit anything! Only information and facts. But for the SBU and the Prosecutor’s Office this publication is a manifestation of ‘anti-Ukrainian activity’. According to such logic, any information report or any news from Barcelona about a meeting of Catalans demanding separation is an appeal to overthrow the constitutional system in Spain! Absurd? Of course! A lie? Of course! But in my indictment such an absurd lie becomes a reality.
One more example – pages 14 and 15. The Prosecutor’s Office and the SBU claim that, ‘continuing to realise a criminal plan’ and ‘under circumstances unspecified by the pretrial investigation’, I published on our website the article ‘history of Ukrainian referenda’, in which the author allegedly ‘justifies holding a local referendum in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and them!!! Separation from Ukraine’ [the original formulation in which the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is for some reason used in plural …]. Such a publication ‘is a manifestation of subversive activities … against Ukraine’.
Here it is about an article of the political scientist and expert in the field of law Yury Gorodnenko that was published on RIA Novosti Ukraine under the heading ‘Point of View’ on March 15th 2014 with the note ‘The opinion of the author may not coincide with the editorial opinion. Responsibility for the quotes, facts, and figures specified in the text belongs to the author’.
In this article the author investigates the history of holding local referenda in Ukraine and states his point of view concerning the referendum in Crimea. The reader, like the editorial office, can agree or not agree with the opinion of the author, but the reader has the right know about the existence of such an opinion – the editorial office gives the reader such a right. At the same time clearly specifying that within the framework of world journalistic practice this article is the personal opinion of its author, and not of the editorial office. But for the SBU and Prosecutor’s Office such an observance of the right to freedom of speech, opinion, and assessment is a ‘manifestation of subversive activities’. Absurd? Without any doubt! And there are a lot of such things in the indictment – complaints about articles under the heading ‘Point of View’ with the note ‘The editorial opinion may not coincide with the opinion of the author’!
And one more, the last example in this text of the absurdity of the accusations made against me. On our website in 2015 and 2016 there were materials about the lives of ordinary people in the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR, in the combat zone. Here are the titles of only some of them: ‘Residents of the Lugansk Region: We ask the military: leave …’, ‘Donbass in blockade – beneficial for neither ours nor yours’, ‘Not possible to travel either by transport or by feet. Transport blockade of Donbass and roads under shelling’.
These stories describe how the ordinary residents of Donbass lived in 2015 and 2016, they are an honest, direct, and truthful description about their difficulties, troubles, and realities of life. There were both reports and just news. Against the background of this topic we also wrote about the economic and social situation in the country. What was written by the Prosecutor’s Office concerning this? Page 20 –’the aforementioned articles, according to their contents, irrespective of whether they, separately taken (!!!), contain accurate or inaccurate information, are components of a frame of reference …’ and ‘articles with an anti-Ukrainian orientation’. After such an indictment, I, as teenagers say today, was simply ‘blown away’. On page 5 of this document I am accused of neglecting and not performing the duty ‘to submit objective and reliable information for publication’ (i.e., to write the truth), and already on the 21st they wrote that it is not important if the articles on our website contain accurate or inaccurate information, what’s important is that they have an ‘anti-Ukrainian orientation’.
And this is only because in these and other texts of ours there are affirmations that the ‘Ukrainian authorities led by P. Poroshenko are corrupt, oligarchic, cruel, indifferent to their own people, and cynical …’ (page 20). And these are also articles of an ‘anti-Ukrainian nature’ and a ‘manifestation of subversive activities’. Absurd? Yes, but very dangerous – I am sure that today the Prosecutor’s Office and the SBU, with their formulation ‘irrespective of whether they contain accurate or inaccurate information’, can complain about tens of journalistic materials in the Ukrainian media that also write that the ‘Ukrainian authorities led by P. Poroshenko are corrupt, oligarchic, cruel, indifferent to their own people …’ (page 20 of the indictment). And with such formulations in indictments, dozens of my colleagues can find themselves in my place – I have been sat in prison for nearly a year. As is said: heaven forbid, but if it is possible to jail one journalist with such a set of absurd charges, then why should the others feel safe?!”
Editor-in-Chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine”
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