Police search young blogger’s home for more than six hours

Reporters Without Borders condemns a police raid on the Kiev home of the young journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska (http://bilozerska.livejournal.com / http://bilozerska-eng.livejournal.com/) on 12 January, in which cameras, video cameras, computers, her mobile phone and other professional equipment were seized illegally.

The police said they carried out the search because Bilozerska was involved in disseminating a video on the Internet that showed an act of arson. But article 17 of Ukraine’s media law says “journalists may not be arrested or detained in connection with their professional activities and their equipment may not be confiscated.”

Bilozerska, whose home was searched twice last year (read more), was not allowed to call her lawyer during the search, which lasted more than six hours. Her parents were questioned by police on the morning of the search and she was questioned in the afternoon.

The police finally agreed to return Bilozerska’s mobile phone, printer and scanner, but they still have her computers, cameras and video cameras. Her lawyer, Kuzin Bilozerska Sydir, said the authorities did not intend to return them.

The search of her home was carried out as part of an investigation into an arson attack on the Kiev office of the ruling Party of the Regions on 31 December. Bilozerska, who often covers protests and unrest, received an email with a link to a YouTube video showing two men apparently throwing Molotov cocktails at the windows of building. She posted the link on her blog, while at the same time firmly condemning the attack.

“We deplore the way that Bilozerska has again been treated as a suspect when all she did was inform the public as a journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call on the Ukrainian police to respect the law and return her professional equipment to her. Their actions pose a serious threat to media freedom and seem designed to intimidate journalists and encourage them to censor themselves.”

Ukraine was ranked 131st out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, 42 places lower than in 2009. Respect for freedom of expression has declined slowly but steadily since Viktor Yanukovych’s election as president last February. Censorship has returned, especially in broadcasting, and serious conflicts of interest are threatening media diversity.

In an attempt to repair its image internationally, Ukraine yesterday nonetheless passed a law prioritizing transparency. Government officials will henceforth be required to release any unclassified document at the request of any organization or civil society group.

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