A court in Kyiv ruled in favor of a Ukrainian far-right nationalist group, C14, in its defamation suit against the internet TV station Hromadske.TV after the outlet published a tweet referring to C14 as a “neo-Nazi” group.
The judge accepted C14’s claim that the tweet caused reputational damage and ordered Hromadske to retract the statement and pay a fine.
The August 6 decision caused outrage among Ukraine’s human rights activists and journalists – and rightly so.
C14 members have openly expressed neo-Nazi views and attacked women’s rights activists, LGBTI activists, and Roma families. In the spring of 2018, members attacked a Roma camp in Kyiv, burned down tents, and chased out its residents, including women and children.
The group, which has openly promoted hatred and racial discrimination, was not shy about its members’ actions: the group took responsibility for the attack and their leader promised more in the future.
Protection of freedom of expression has been steadily deteriorating in Ukraine just as violence by far-right groups like C14 has increased. Ukraine’s activists and journalists have repeatedly urged the government to adopt a “zero-tolerance” stance towards violence, threats, and intimidation from these groups. Instead, Ukraine’s authorities have focused on introducing restrictions on freedom of expression that they justify by citing the ongoing armed conflict and the need to counter Russian propaganda.
Ukraine has every right to stand up to Russia’s military actions, but when the government makes unjustifiable curbs on freedom of expression in the name of national security and radical nationalist groups are allowed to continue committing hate violence with impunity, those groups only become further emboldened.
It emboldens C14 in particular, as the group also hunts down Russia-backed “separatists” fighting in eastern Ukraine and reportedly receives government funding to carry out “national-patriotic education projects.”
As the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) media freedom representative was quick to point out, the court ruling harms freedom of expression and might have a “dissuading effect on journalistic work”.
Hromadske’s editors and lawyers challenged the court’s decision as illegal and said that the station will appeal. The question is, while this ruling stands, can the Ukrainian press do its job and continue reporting on violence by radical far-right groups, without calling them out for what they are?