A former high-level Ukrainian official accused by press-freedom groups of threatening journalists has followed through on his threats to disclose personal data on members of the investigative journalism group Schemes (Skhemy), a joint project run by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and UA:Pershy television.
Between October 31 and November 5, Andriy Portnov, a former lawmaker and deputy head of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration, released registration data on 16 vehicles used by editorial and staff members of Schemes on his Telegram messaging channel.
His action was apparently prompted by a Scheme investigation into him and his relations with officials currently in the Ukrainian government.
In his November 5 message, Portnov invited anyone who comes across these vehicles to “give a stiff rebuff” to the drivers after having suggested on October 31 that the driver whose personal data he disclosed was also under surveillance and could be exposed to physical harm.
He stated it was in retaliation to Schemes publishing information about his initial disclosure of personal data. In response, Portnov threatened to publicly disclose additional personal data of RFE/RL Ukrainian Service journalists and support staff, a threat upon which he followed through.
However, he defended his actions as part of a journalistic assignment for the 112 Ukraine television channel.
“Since October 30, I have been working as a journalist on channel 112 and identifying illegal actions in tracking people is now my editorial task,” he wrote, adding that “whoever interferes" with his actions will be prosecuted for obstructing journalistic activities.
Portnov also published on Telegram an editorial assignment apparently signed by the general producer of the 112 Ukraine television channel, Artem Marchevsky.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has condemned Portnov’s actions.
"It is unacceptable and, it also seems, unlawful for anyone in Ukraine to disclose personal information, threaten physical harm, or otherwise put pressure on journalists because of their professional activities," Fly said in a statement on November 2.
Fly also urged the 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 4, Mediarukh, a coalition of Ukrainian media development and press freedom groups as well as civic activists called on the government and law enforcement authorities to prosecute Portnov.
“We urge the Ukrainian authorities and law enforcement agencies to hold Andriy Portnov accountable and ensure the safety of journalists and employees who are under pressure as a result of their professional journalistic activity,” reads the Mediakrukh statement.
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.
The alleged editorial assignment from the 112 TV channel that Portnov published on November 5 says that “Andrei Portnov, a special correspondent, is entrusted with investigating and informing the public about persons committing illegal operational-technical activities.”
Channel 112 was purchased last year by Taras Kozak, who is a close ally of controversial Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk. Medvedchuk has told RFE/RL he enjoys a close friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of his daughter.
In October 2018, Ukrainian lawmakers adopted a resolution proposing the National Security and Defense Council impose sanctions on the owners of 112 Ukraine.
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