Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ukraine Unspun

Tuesday 5 December 2023

December 2023
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
26 27 28 29 30 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
Ukrainian journalist Natalia Sedletska (file photo)
Ukrainian journalist Natalia Sedletska (file photo)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has welcomed a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on RFE/RL investigative reporter Natalia Sedletska’s case.

The ECHR on September 18 ordered Ukraine's government to ensure that the authorities there do not access any data from Sedletska’s cell phone.

In a statement on September 19, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent called the ECHR decision "fully justified."

The ECHR’s decision "is about the rights of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources and the right of the society to get free information, without censorship," Kent said.

He called it "a clear signal that persecution of journalists and interference with their work has nothing to do with international obligations of Ukraine to protect free press, which the Ukrainian government allegedly supports."

The ECHR order is an interim measure that gives Sedletska time to prepare a full complaint against a Ukrainian court ruling allowing investigators to review data from her cell phone. It remains in effect until October 18.

The ECHR pledged to consider her appeal "as a matter of priority."

RFE/RL said it "will provide the European Court will additional information and arguments in the defense" of the journalist.

On August 27, Kyiv's Pechersk District Court approved a request from the Prosecutor-General's Office to allow investigators to review all data from Sedletska's cell phone from July 1, 2016 through November 30, 2017.

The ruling stemmed from a criminal investigation into the alleged disclosure of state secrets to journalists in 2017 by Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty spokeswoman Joanna Levison said earlier this month that the court's ruling is "inconsistent with Ukraine's own commitments to promote and protect a free press."

On September 18, a Ukrainian appeals court ruled to restrict the original request to geolocation data from around the offices of the National AntcCorruption Bureau of Ukraine in Kyiv, but upheld the original time frame.

Sedletska is the host of Schemes, an award-winning anticorruption television program by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television.

The Schemes program reported on several investigations involving senior Ukrainian officials, including Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, during the period in question.

The United States, the European Union, and international media watchdogs have expressed concern over the Ukrainian court ruling.

In a case that has drawn fire from international rights watchdogs, Ruslan Sokolovsky faces up to five years in prison for videos he posted on YouTube, including one of him playing Pokemon Go in a Yekaterinberg cathedral. (file photo)
In a case that has drawn fire from international rights watchdogs, Ruslan Sokolovsky faces up to five years in prison for videos he posted on YouTube, including one of him playing Pokemon Go in a Yekaterinberg cathedral. (file photo)

New details in the case of a Russian blogger facing trial for playing Pokemon Go in a church offers some insight for iconoclasts in Russia who want to avoid prison: Don't liken Jesus to Pokemon, mythological Japanese characters, or zombies.

The Russian newspaper RBK got its hands on an analysis by "experts" that was attached to the case against Ruslan Sokolovsky, who was arrested last year in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of impinging on the rights of religious believers and inciting hatred with YouTube videos he posted.

In one short, and at times profane, video, Sokolovsky is shown playing Pokemon Go in a Russian Orthodox Church in defiance of a warning made on state television that the game's enthusiasts risk a fine or prison for trying to catch "Pokemons" at religious sites or near Russia's borders.

In a case that has drawn fire from international rights watchdogs, Sokolovsky now faces up to five years in prison on 17 different counts for videos he posted from May 2013 to September 2016, RBK reported on February 16.

According to RBK, a key pillar of the prosecution's case against Sokolovsky is an analysis of the YouTube videos produced by "experts" from the Ural State Pedagogical University, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper.

The authors concluded in the study that Sokolovsky's videos, among other things, negatively portrayed Christianity and Islam.

The blogger, who has more than 300,000 followers on YouTube, "denied the existence of God, of the founders of Christianity and Islam, ridiculed important religious precepts and ceremonies of Islam," RBK cited the analysis as saying.

It also said that Sokolovsky likened Jesus Christ not only to Pokemon, but also to protagonists of "Japanese mythology" and "the living dead -- zombies," RBK reported.

Free-Speech Concerns

The Russian Orthodox Church's influence on politics and society has steadily grown during President Vladimir Putin's 17 years in power. During his third term, most notably, he has stressed the importance of family values and touted the church as a central part of Russian identity.

Sokolovsky has been charged under a controversial 2013 law making it a crime to "insult the religious convictions or feelings of citizens." Critics of the legislation say it infringes on free speech and is incompatible with the officially secular Russian state.

He has also been charged under a law that criminalizes the "incitement of hatred" based on gender, race, ethnicity, language, ancestry, or religious persuasion.

Sokolovsky's lawyer, Aleksei Bushmakov, is seeking to have the analysis by the university "experts" tossed out of the case, saying the conclusions in the document were "outside of the expertise" of the authors, RBK reported.

Load more