KIEV, Ukraine -- Reporters Without Borders condemns the conduct of the Kiev police in interrogating online journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska and press photographer Olexiy Furman of the Photolenta agency and searching their homes in the past few days in a bid to obtain information about participants in protests.
Bilozerska and Furman were summoned to a police station, respectively on 30 March and in early March. They were questioned about certain demonstrations by opposition activists that they covered in February. Their interrogation came three days after police armed with search warrants searched their apartments and examined the contents of their computers.
Two DVDs with photographs were taken from Bilozerska's apartment. Two computers system blocks, four cameras (with no film inside) and about 50 DVDs were removed from Furman's. All of Furman's material was later returned to him.
“We deplore the way these two journalists have been treated as suspects, not as witnesses, although they just did their job by covering a news event. The confiscation of journalists' files is a violation of Ukrainian law. We urge the police to respect the law and to put a stop to practices of this kind, which endanger media freedom.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We demand the immediate return of Bilozerska's DVD-ROMs. We also note that the methods employed by the police seem to have been designed in part to encourage journalists to censor themselves.”
Bilozerska and Furman said the police were above all looking for photos, video footage and print materials of members of the radical opposition movement “Autonomous Resistance”.
They removed photos of demonstrators who threw eggs with paint in them and smoke grenades in a Kiev shop that sells furs on 18 February in a protest against the killing of animals. One of the protestors was arrested at the time.
Furman was himself detained for three hours on the day of the protest, along with the protestor, and his photos were examined by the police. At the same time, he was prevented from seeing his lawyer, who was waiting in the street outside.
Bilozerska's lawyer, Sydir Kyzin, who went to her home during the 27 March search, said the confiscation of journalistic material violated article 17 of Ukraine's media law, which says: “Journalists may not be arrested or detained because of their professional activity, nor may their material be confiscated.”
During Bilozerska's interrogation on 30 March, the police promised to return her DVDs in the next few days. Furman's material was all returned to him the same day after the police had copied his photos.
Bilozerska told Reporters Without Borders she took great care when covering this kind of demonstration not to photograph the faces of the participants so that no one would be compromised by the photos. Furman said he did the same. Bilozerska and Furman said they were grateful for the support she has been getting from her fellow journalists.