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Ukrainian Court Rules Against News Outlet That Called Violent Far-Right Group 'Neo-Nazi'

C14 activists protest in Kyiv against the inaction of the Security Service in the investigation and detention of separatist movements in December 2016.

KYIV -- A Ukrainian court has ruled in favor of a violent far-right organization labeled a "nationalist hate group" by the U.S. State Department that claimed a news outlet damaged its reputation when it labeled it as "neo-Nazi" in a tweet last year.

The independent Hromadske TV said in a statement on August 6 that the Kyiv City Commercial Court decided that the outlet could not provide sufficient evidence to support its claim that C14, which takes its name from a 14-word phrase used by white supremacists, and whose own members have admitted to joining it because of its neo-Nazi ideology, was, in fact, a neo-Nazi organization.

The ruling orders Hromadske TV to retract its tweet and pay 3,500 hryvnyas ($136) in court fees for C14.

"The decision is incorrect and illegal, it introduces an egregious tendency that suppresses freedom of speech. We will appeal it," said Oksana Tchaikovska, an attorney for Hromadske TV.

Hromadske TV's editor in chief, Angelina Karyakina, said she was "surprised by the decision."

"Not only does it contradict judicial logic, but [it] is also a dangerous precedent for other media and for freedom of speech in general," she said.

Karyakina said that Hromadske stood by its characterization of C14 as neo-Nazi despite the ruling.

RFE/RL could not reach C14 members for comment. Hromadske TV said C14 had declined its request for comment on the ruling, but it spoke to a lawyer who represented the group at a previous court hearing.

"The position of C14 is that they are not a neo-Nazi group in their activities or in the nature of their activities," Victor Moroz was quoted by Hromadske TV as saying. "They are a nationalist group, but they are by no means neo-Nazi."

He said that Hromadske TV calling the organization neo-Nazi harmed the "business reputation" of C14.

Other media outlets, as well as human rights organizations such as the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, have also referred to C14 as neo-Nazi.

The tweet that led to the lawsuit was published by Hromadske TV's English-language account on May 4, 2018.

In the tweet, Hromadske called C14 a "neo-Nazi group" when reporting that several of its members had seized a Brazilian man who fought on the side of Russia-backed separatists against Ukrainian forces during the five-year war still raging in the country's eastern Donbas region.

The Brazilian, Rafael Lusvarghi, had been discovered earlier by RFE/RL in Kyiv.

C14, whose social-media pages show the group's use of white-supremacist symbols, has a long history of violence. Two of its members, Andriy Medvedko and Denys Polishchuk, are currently on trial in Ukraine for the high-profile 2015 murder of Ukrainian reporter Oles Buzyna. They deny the charges.

Other members of C14 have been behind several violent attacks against minority groups, including the Romany community. In some cases, they have live-streamed and posted videos and photographs of those attacks on social media.

The group's violent actions and imagery, along with its hateful posts have led to it being banned from Facebook, company officials told RFE/RL.

Nevertheless, C14 has received state funding for two years running from the Ministry of Youth and Sport to conduct "national-patriotic education" courses at summer camps for the country's youth.