Fri, 07 Aug 2020

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Ukraine's authorities to investigate death threats against a local independent journalist who has written about the alleged influence of far-right groups on a fact-checking website, and ensure that she and her family are safe.

Kateryna Serhatskova was targeted in social media posts in which people posted personal information, including photographs of her son, the New York-based watchdog said in a statement on July 14.

Serhatskova, co-founder of the online media outlet Zaborona, told HRW that she had contacted a lawyer to file a police report about the threats.

"Journalists should not have to fear for their lives because of what they report," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.

Williamson called on Ukraine to 'stand up for free speech and protect' Serhatskova and others 'who are repeatedly targeted for legitimate journalism.'

On July 3, Zaborona published an article detailing alleged friendships between the leaders of far-right or neo-Nazi groups and the directors of StopFake.org, a website that aims to stop the dissemination of false information about Ukraine.

In the article, commentators and journalists -- including RFE/RL contributor Christopher Miller -- suggested that these friendships had influenced StopFake's editorial choices.

StopFake rejected the claims, saying they were part of a campaign of 'harassment and intimidation from pro-Russian media.'

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian journalist last week posted a picture of Serhatskova with her five-year-old son, published details about her personal life, and suggested that she was working for Russian intelligence services.

Responding to the post, social-media users threatened Serhatskova with death and physical violence over what they alleged was pro-Russian propaganda, and posted her address, as well as photos of her home.

The post appears to have been deleted, but the journalist continued to write insults and falsehoods about Serhatskova, who gave up her Russian citizenship to become a Ukrainian citizen in 2015.

Serhatskova said she had been subject to online harassment before, particularly for her reporting on the work of Ukraine's security services.

HRW said online harassment, threats, and the publication of personal information on the Internet of journalists or other figures perceived as pro-Russia has become 'more prominent' since Russia's forcible seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and subsequent fighting by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In 2016, the Ukrainian website Myrotvorets published the names and personal data af hundreds of journalists and others who had been accredited to work by separatist groups who are holding parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

"Little progress has been made into a criminal investigation that was opened in 2017 into the website, despite ongoing public pressure' from the United Nation's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), according to HRW.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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