KYIV -- A Ukrainian investigative journalism group has launched an appeal of a lower court ruling that has raised concerns over press freedom by granting the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) wide-ranging access to the group's internal communications and documents.
The appeal by the group, Skhemy (Schemes), was filed on October 24 by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, which in partnership with UA:Pershy television, runs the project.
Vira Krat, the group’s lawyer, said the Kyiv Appellate Court will hear the case at 9:30 a.m. local time on October 25, although the lower court’s ruling said the decision could not be appealed.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said that "any attempt by authorities to compromise journalists’ communications and records is deeply disturbing."
"We stand by the work of our team at Schemes, which operates according to the highest journalistic standards, and we will fight to protect their rights as journalists to report the truth, however uncomfortable that may be for those in positions of power," he added.
Based on the October 17 Kyiv Pechersk district court ruling, the DBR has permission to learn the work schedules and itineraries of the editorial staff, its camera operators and drivers, their salaries, and internal communications, including the process of making corrections and edits as well as how decisions are made on what to show on their investigative programs.
The ruling relates to a DBR criminal investigation of whether former President Petro Poroshenko used "deliberately forged documents" and illegally crossed international borders when he and an unspecified number of people vacationed in the Maldives on January 1-8, 2018, which was the subject of a Skhemy investigation.
The journalism group aired its investigation on January 18, 2018 and in the program it hypothesized that Poroshenko may have used forged documents when travelling.
At a February 28, 2018 news conference, Poroshenko said he crossed the border using his name, "with my own passport that was properly registered with the border guards."
After Skhemy's protest note was published, the DBR said all the information that it "requires from Radio Liberty will relate exclusively to the program Skhemy: Corruption In Details."
Skhemy chief editor Natalia Sedletska said the group has already given investigators responses to their official inquiries that were related to the report on Poroshenko.
She added that the group will not comply with the court ruling with regard to providing internal documentation and correspondence that could potentially compromise its editorial sources.
Skhemy (Schemes), a joint project of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and UA:Pershy television, issued a note of protest on October 23 saying the DBR had been granted inordinate powers that "unjustifiably interfere in the editorial department's work."
The group questioned why detectives require the information and how knowing salary amounts and how decisions are made at the group can assist in their investigation.
According to the court ruling, the DBR can use a separate court order to search the premises of Skhemy if the group doesn't voluntarily provide investigators with requested information.