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Poroshenko Urges Media Not To Publish ‘Negative Articles’ About Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv on June 5.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv on June 5.

President Petro Poroshenko has urged journalists not to publish "negative articles" about Ukraine while condemning the leak of personal data about thousands of reporters that has triggered international concerns about press freedoms in the country.

In a wide-ranging news conference in Kyiv on June 3, Poroshenko condemned the website Myrotvorets for publishing the data about more than 4,000 journalists that it said were illegally accredited by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

But he added that "unfortunately, I have the information that some of these journalists have prepared negative comments or negative articles about Ukraine."

"I kindly ask you: please, do not do that," Poroshenko said.

His comments come amid mounting criticism of the treatment of news media in Ukraine.

A day earlier, ambassadors to Ukraine from the Group of Seven (G7) countries voiced concern about the Myrotvorets leak, saying it violates "the spirit and the letter of Ukrainian law" on personal data, as well as Kyiv’s "international commitments."

"We acknowledge the investigations launched by the Government of Ukraine on this matter and hope the results will be shared with the public," the G7 ambassadors said, adding that they are "particularly concerned that threats are being made against individuals as a result" of the leak.

Myrotvorets, which claims to target those it considers enemies of the Ukrainian state under the country's constitution, said they felt it was necessary to publish the list "because these journalists collaborate with fighters from terrorist organizations."

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, subsequently published the list on his public page.

The G7 ambassadors said that the characterization of all listed journalists as "collaborators with terrorists" endangers the personal security of those affected and Ukraine’s hard-won media freedom.

Poroshenko went out of his way to distinguish some Russian journalists whose contact information was revealed by the website from others who were targeted in the leak.

"If you are talking about Russian journalists, some of them [have been] making criminal things," he said in an apparent reference to Russia media outlets backing the Kremlin's messaging in the conflict.

Kyiv's efforts to restrict journalists it considers instruments of Russian propaganda have drawn fire from rights watchdogs as well.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week criticized Poroshenko's May 27 decree banning 17 Russian journalists and media executives from entering Ukraine through the end of 2017.

"Ukraine is legitimately concerned about the effects of Russian propaganda, but cracking down on media freedom is a misguided, inappropriate response to whatever disagreement the Ukrainian government may have with Russia’s media coverage about Ukraine," HRW researcher Tanya Cooper said.

Panama Papers

Addressing journalists at the June 3 press conference, Poroshenko also defended himself in the massive leak of records on offshore accounts known as the Panama Papers.

Poroshenko has previously said that an offshore holding company revealed in the Panama Papers was set up for his candy business as a necessary step to put his assets into a blind trust when he became president in 2014.

Commentators say the leaks have raised suspicion that such offshore entities were set up to avoid taxes.

"I want to underline that the information about accounts being opened and money being transferred -- which has dominated the media coverage -- is not true," Poroshenko told the news conference.

He added that "every kopiyka has been and will be taxed because the [financial] structure was set up with a single goal: to transfer [Poroshenko's former possessions] to the ownership of the trust.

"A sale of assets has not been planned to be conducted and will not be conducted in [a tax haven]," Poroshenko said. "It will be done from Ukraine and the taxes will be paid in Ukraine."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and AP

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