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Ukrainian investigative outlet turns to law enforcement over surveillance case

by Martin Fornusek and The Kyiv Independent news desk January 18, 2024 6:09 PM 3 min read
Denys Bihus, the head of Bihus.info. (Andrey Krepkikh / UNDP Ukraine)
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Bihus.info's lawyers had appealed to law enforcement agencies after private calls and recordings with hidden cameras appeared online, Bihus.info announced on Jan. 18.

Relevant appeals were sent to the police, the Prosecutor General's Office, and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

The investigative outlet reported on Jan. 16 that its employees had been under surveillance for at least months after a video appeared online showing some staff members using drugs during a New Year's private party.

In today's statement on Telegram, Bihus.info said that the editorial office had been wiretapped for about a year, and unknown people installed hidden cameras in a suburban complex to surveil the team.

The investigative outlet turned to law enforcement based on the articles of violation of privacy, violation of confidentiality of correspondence or phone calls, and obstruction of journalistic activities.

"This story is a clear example of an attempt to put pressure on independent media, but we will continue to investigate and expose the schemes of officials," said the outlet.

The Prosecutor General's Office already announced that it has opened criminal proceedings under the article of violation of privacy based on an appeal from a journalist without explicitly naming the person or organization.

Freedom of speech committee examining reported surveillance of Ukrainian investigative outlet
Ukraine’s parliamentary committee on freedom of speech is investigating the reported surveillance of investigative outlet Bihus.info, committee head, lawmaker Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, told Radio Free Europe on Jan. 17.

The video, published by a dubious online news outlet Narodna Pravda, included footage from 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, where the staff members discuss purchasing drugs.

An investigation into Narodna Pravda found that the supposed news organization is likely fake, the Svidomi news outlet reported on Jan. 17.

The news about the surveillance of Bihus.Info came a day after Yurii Nikolov, a prominent journalist known for investigating defense procurement corruption scandals, said he had received a threatening visit to his home by unknown men.

Both cases sparked outrage among Ukraine's journalistic community, which condemned it as pressure against free media. President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Jan. 17 that "any pressure on journalists is unacceptable."

Zelensky said he had held a meeting with law enforcement officials with the participation of SBU chief Vasyl Maliuk. Earlier the same day, the SBU said it had begun investigating the incident with Bihus.info and opened criminal proceedings.

Ukraine's parliamentary committee on freedom of speech also began investigating the case. Yevheniia Kravchuk, the committee's chair, said that lawmakers are appealing to authorities to investigate the legality of surveilling Bihus.info and to learn whether criminal proceedings were launched in regard to Nikolov's case.

Ukraine’s prominent investigative journalist Nikolov says he faced threatening home visit
Yurii Nikolov, one of Ukraine’s prominent investigative journalists who revealed procurement wrongdoing in the Defense Ministry under its previous leadership, said on Jan. 15 that he received a visit from unidentified people threatening him.
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