Thursday, January 21, 2016

Detention of journalists sends Ukrainian colonel to detention for two days (but no criminal prosecution)

A Ukrainian civilian court has ordered a Security Service colonel detained for two days for illegally detaining a television camera crew, according to this account. It almost sounds like a case of "an eye for an eye." Details from the Kyiv Post:
SBU Colonel Yuriy Bondarev was sentenced to two days’ military detention over the incident, which has riled concerns of press freedom in Ukraine.
The court found that Bondarev was one of four officers who participated in the unlawful detention of the television crew.
The SBU had argued that there was no way for them to tell whether the reporters were in fact journalists or terrorists. The television crew, part of Radio Svoboda's investigative "Schemes" program, were filming the luxury cars of SBU employees when they were detained.
In sentencing Bondarev on Jan. 19, the judge found that there was no way the SBU officers could have mistaken the journalists for terrorists, according to a Facebook post from Mikhail Tkach, one of the detained journalists. 
On Dec. 31, the SBU military prosecutor closed a parallel criminal investigation into the matter, provoking an outcry among press freedom advocates. 
Radio Svoboda is pushing for the criminal case to be reinstated. Until then, Bondarev's only punishment will have come in the form of today's administrative judgment - essentially an internal disciplinary measure used by Ukrainian law enforcement. 
Though the penalty of two days’ time-out in a non-criminal case may seem very minor, journalists and press advocates alike hailed the decision as a partial victory for the rights of journalists in Ukraine. 
"A colonel is going to jail for two days for giving order to illegally detain our journalists," Katya Gorchinskaya, said the managing editor for Radio Liberty's Ukraine Service and former Kyiv Post deputy chief editor.
"This is a precedent, and we hope that this ruling will strengthen our position and chances for renewal of criminal case against the SBU," Gorchinskaya added.
In a comment on a post from Radio Svoboda journalist Mikhail Tkach celebrating the verdict, military prosecutor Anatoliy Matius defended his decision to halt the criminal case against the SBU officers.
"The decision to close criminal proceedings was made by investigators in a lawful manner on the basis of all (without exception) materials in the case," wrote Matius, "taking into account the circumstances of protecton of government sites during an exceptional period in the country, as proclaimed by the People's Deputies of the Verkhovna Rada."
It does seem interesting that the matter would be resolved in a civilian court, and that that court could adjudicate what is in essence an administrative sanction that sounds like nonjudicial punishment of a kind usually associated with the power of a commander. 

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