Ukrainian news executive detained as officials pressure independent media

In the week running up to the 28 October Ukrainian parliamentary elections, MV-Holding, publisher of flagship newspaper Melitopolskije Vedomosti, was subjected to a campaign of intimidation, including the forcible detention of majority shareholder and CEO Mikhail Kumok. MDLF, has worked in Ukraine for a decade and with MV-Holding for more than nine years.

From 22 October, MV’s printing house in Mirny, near Melitopol, was under heavy surveillance, with someone dressed in civilian clothes stationed outside the gates 24 hours a day, and traffic police cars parked on the approach road. Cars entering the printing house were routinely stopped for document checks, and delivery trucks were subjected to random searches.

At about 4am on 25 October, a truck taking copies of two Crimean weekly newspapers from the printing house to the Crimea region was stopped by police as it left the premises. Although all documentation was in order, the police ordered the driver to take the truck to the police department so that they could carry out a complete search. However, Mr. Kumok told the driver to stop before arriving at the police department in Melitopol and asked that the search take place on ‘neutral territory’.

The police officers then became aggressive and called for a tow truck. They forcefully loaded MV-Holding’s vehicle onto the truck without giving reasons or showing documentation justifying such action. When asked to explain their actions, they accused the driver first of being drunk, then of violating traffic laws, and forced him into a police car. When Mr. Kumok interfered, they also aggressively forced him into a police car and detained him. A short video of Mr. Kumok being detained is available here:

The police took the MV-Holding truck to the police department, releasing it later, seemingly after failing to find anything illegal. Mr. Kumok was released and has since filed a case with the Prosecutor’s Office.

MDLF wrote to President Yanukovych to express its serious concern that the reason for the intimidation of MV-Holding may have been Melitopolskiye Vedomosti’s critical coverage.

We reminded the President that in a recent presentation at the WAN-IFRA Congress, he expressed his commitment to a free and independent press, and asked him to take a personal interest in the case and to ensure that an independent and transparent investigation is carried out so that those responsible are identified and held responsible.

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