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Statement by “Schemes” editorial staff about obtaining access to an excessive amount of investigative journalists data through court

Pechersk District Court of Kyiv, by the decision of October 17, granted State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) temporary access to editorial communication of journalists of the “Schemes: corruption in detail” program (a joint project of RFE/RL and UA:First). It concerns the investigation “Mr. Petro Incognito” about then-president Petro Poroshenko’s secret vacation in the Maldives, which was published in January 2018 by Mykhailo Tkach and Natalka Sedletska.

Besides, SBI investigators were granted access to a wide range of in-house editorial data – work schedule of journalists, operators, and drivers, and accounting data on remuneration of their work. According to the decision, if the editorial office does not provide SBI with listed information, the court, at the request of SBI investigators, “has the right to order a search permit to find and seize listed items and documents.”

The editorial staff of “Schemes” program sees the number of threats and risks due to the decision made by the court. This decision had granted access for SBI investigators to the internal communications and documents of our journalists.

1) An excessive amount of required information.

SBI investigates the abuse of authority by Petro Poroshenko. It checks whether he and his family secretly flew on holiday to the Maldives not under their names, bypassing passport and customs control, or by providing documents with other passport information.

However, it is not clear how the time-tracking information of journalists, cameramen, and drivers of the investigative program, their salaries, their internal editorial communication, including the process of “editing” and “aligning the airplay” can help the official investigation. The editorial staff considers the demand for such a wide range of information excessive.

2) Risk of disclosure of sources

Like many other Schemes’ investigations, this material was partially prepared with the help of sources that had provided publicly relevant information at the request of journalists on condition of complete anonymity. Such intrusive interest of law enforcement officials to the process of preparing the material, including the demand for the internal editorial communication, and the further threat of raids, carry the potential risks of disclosing sources of information with the violation of Ukrainian laws and article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

3) Threat of raids

The decision directly states that if the editorial staff refuses to execute the court’s decision voluntarily and provide all this information to the investigation, the court has the right to decide the permission to search at Radio Svoboda’s office. At the same time, it is already clear the impossibility of executing the decision in full. For instance, we do not provide correspondence of journalists with editors, information regarding the editorial process of preparation of the investigation program. And it was easy to predict. Therefore, we cannot exclude that law enforcement officers deliberately came up with grounds for obtaining the right to search the editorial staff (however, their motives are not fully understood).

4) The unpredictability of actions of law enforcement officers

The nonlinearity of the behavior of SBI investigators is a matter of concern. After all, Schemes had cooperated with them in the framework of this official investigation. For example, in August, they sent the request to the editorial staff to provide official inquiries that journalists had sent during their investigation and responds to them as well. The editorial staff provided the requested documents to investigators. It is not clear why investigators needed to use the coercive instrument, namely the threat of raids, for further cooperation. We are always ready to cooperate with investigative agencies, assist them in solving investigations that were initiated by us, and help to bring those who are responsible for responding. But we are not ready to cooperate when law enforcement officers unduly and unreasonably obstruct the work of the editorial staff.

5) Impossibility to appeal

The decision of Pechersk District Court states that the decision is not the subject of the appeal. Thus, the court did not leave the opportunity for journalists to demand the review of the resolution, which, according to the opinion of the editorial staff, is excessive interference with activities of the journalistic investigations project.

What’s next?

Soon, we, along with our lawyers, will inform about what legal measures we are taking.

At the same time, we emphasize that we do not consider it possible to provide the internal editorial information to the investigation, which, obviously, has nothing to do with essentials of the criminal case, and carries potential risks of disclosing journalistic sources.

This includes criminal proceedings against representatives of both previous and present authorities, regardless of the political affiliation of the subject.