KYIV -- Ukrainian police have launched a probe against Andriy Portnov, a former deputy head of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych's administration, who is accused of obstructing the professional activities of RFE/RL journalists.
Maksym Tsutskiridze, the deputy chief of the National Police, told RFE/RL on November 7 that the probe was initiated the day before under two articles of the Criminal Code -- "obstruction of the legitimate professional activity of journalists" and "threats or violence against a journalist."
Portnov responded on his Telegram messenger channel, saying that he would file a "symmetrical" police report on RFE/RL for the same offenses -- since October 30, he has claimed to be in the employ of 112 Ukraine television and maintains that he enjoys the same level of journalistic protection.
Portnov has released the personal data of several members of the investigative journalism group Skhemy (Schemes), a joint project run by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and UA:Pershy television, which was looking into his relations and dealings with current officials in the Ukrainian government.
The release by the former lawmaker and deputy head of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych's administration included registration data on 16 vehicles used by editorial and staff members of Schemes.
Coming in batches, the first release on October 31 included the passport data, home address, name, and date of birth of a driver contracted to Skhemy.
Portnov's Telegram posts have also threatened the journalists with physical harm by inviting anyone who comes across these vehicles to "give a stiff rebuff" to the drivers.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has condemned Portnov's actions, calling them "unacceptable," and has urged Ukrainian authorities to "hold accountable those who commit actions that undermine the public's belief in Ukraine's commitment to freedom of expression."
On November 6, Mykhaylo Tkach, a reporter for Skhemy, challenged lawmakers and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's government in a speech to a parliamentary committee "to do their job" and ensure a free press amid Portnov's campaign against Schemes' editorial staff.
On November 4, Mediarukh, a coalition of Ukrainian media-development and press-freedom groups called on the government and law enforcement authorities to prosecute Portnov.
Portnov initially fled to Russia along with Yanukovych and other high-level officials in the wake of the 2014 pro-democracy Euromaidan movement.
He returned after this year's presidential election.