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Freedom of speech committee examining reported surveillance of Ukrainian investigative outlet

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk January 17, 2024 2:21 PM 2 min read
MP of the Holos Party Yaroslav Yurchyshyn speaks during a regular sitting of the Ukrainian parliament on Sept. 16, 2020 (Hennadii Minchenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
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Ukraine's parliamentary committee on freedom of speech is investigating the reported surveillance of investigative outlet Bihus.Info, the head of the committee, lawmaker Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, told Radio Free Europe on Jan. 17.

Bihus.info announced on Jan. 16 that its employees had been under surveillance for months after a video appeared online allegedly showing some staff members of the outlet using drugs during a New Year's private party.

The video includes footage of a well-placed, hidden camera inside a building where the party took place, as well as video recordings taken from the street and tapped phone calls, apparently documenting the purchase of the drugs.

The committee will request an explanation from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) to find out who was behind the surveillance since their permission is needed for phone calls to be recorded.

Yurchyshyn said that it was "definitely" a case of obstruction and pressure against journalists.

The MP noted that while the alleged drug use was a crime, "proving the violation of the law must also be within the framework of the law."

The SBU also said on Jan. 17 that it was investigating the matter and that criminal proceedings had been opened.

The "transparent and unimpeded work of independent and professional media is an important condition for the development of Ukraine as a democratic state," the SBU said.

Denys Bihus, the head of the outlet, addressed the incident on YouTube, saying that the employees in question were not journalists, as the description under the video claimed, but cameramen.

The staff members recorded on the video have been fired, Bihus noted. The message under the YouTube video also said that everyone who works with Bihus.Info will have to undergo drug tests.

The news came only a day after Yurii Nikolov, a prominent journalist known for his investigation into defense procurement corruption scandals, said he had received a threatening visit to his home by unknown men.

The committee will hold a meeting to discuss both the Bihus.info case and that of Nikolov, Yurchyshyn said.

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