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Ukraine: Restrictive measures against prominent television journalist and human rights defender Mr Mikola Knyazhitski and independent television channel TVi
Independent television channel Tvi and its head, Mr Mikola Knyazhitski, have been facing increasingly restrictive measures in recent weeks.
Mikola Knyazhitski, a prominent television journalist, was charged for the second time in the space of less than three weeks in connection with alleged tax evasion on 3 July 2012, and tax police seized documents from the office of independent television channel Tvi on 12 July.
TVi was launched in March 2008, and was considered one of two independent channels in mid-2010, and the only independent channel in Ukraine since July 2011. Mikola Knyazhitski, the head of the station and a prominent television journalist, and his colleagues believe that the criminal charges and seizure of documents are the latest in a series of restrictive measures taken against the company since 2010.
On 12 July 2012, four tax police officers arrived unannounced at the office of the television company TVi in Kiev, demanding that all of the company's financial and business documents for the period of 2008-2012 be handed over. The tax police officers presented a copy of the court ruling of Shevchenkivski District Court of Kiev handed down on 9 July 2012, which Tvi had not been informed of. The ruling authorised the seizure of all primary financial, business and accounting records pertaining to a tax credit granted by the authorities to the Teleradiosvit company, the broadcast license holder for TVi, in return for VAT returns owed to the company. These documents were seized in spite of the fact that copies of each of the documents had been provided to the authorities during a recent tax audit.
On 14 June 2012, the tax authorities issued a decision opening a criminal case against the head of the TV station Mikola Knyazhitski, who is responsible for the accounts and financial management of the station, on the basis of Article 212, part 3 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine for “large scale tax evasion”, after an extraordinary tax audit was carried out in May 2012. Mikola Knyazhitski appealed the tax authorities' decision, and on 25 June 2012, the Administrative Court of 1st instance of Kiev ruled that the accusations of tax evasion made by the tax police were groundless and therefore overturned the decision.
However, the authorities seem intent on ignoring the decision of the court to dismiss the case and although they have not yet lodged any appeal. On 3 July, the tax police issued a decision reiterating the fact that a criminal case had been opened against Mikola Knyazhitski on 14 June and affirmed that it remained open. This decision disregarded the court ruling and did not include any new information, instead repeating the original grounds given for opening the case. The tax police actions also contradict Article 56.22 of the Tax Code, which says that if the taxpayer challenges the decision of the tax authorities in court, the taxpayer cannot be prosecuted until the issue is fully resolved in the court.
The pressure on TVi started in 2010, when surveillance of the station's staff, allegedly by the National Security Service, was reported by the television station head. Furthermore, the station's application to renew its broadcast license was refused, as was its application to obtain a license for digital airing. The group of prominent journalists working for the television station provide the public of Ukraine not only with objective news, but also make investigative journalism programmes, covering, inter alia, cases of corruption, Government tenders and conditions in preliminary detention centres. The staff of the channel believe that the current attack on them is an attempt to silence them in advance of the parliamentary elections to be held in October 2012.
Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned about the restrictive measures being taken against Mikola Knyazhitski and TVi, and believes that they are solely motivated by the attempts of TVi to provide the Ukrainian public with an independent source of news on human rights and other issues.