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Ukraine launches criminal probe into “weaponized draft” against SBU whistleblower

A public uproar and a statement by a media watchdog group appears to have given fruit
Slivstvo weaponized draft
Surveillance camera footage revealed a man in civilian clothes instructing mobilization center employees to serve a summons to an investigative journalists in apparent retribution for his anti-corruption investigations. Photo: Slidstvo.ua
Ukraine launches criminal probe into “weaponized draft” against SBU whistleblower

Update: Head of SBU’s cybersecurity reassigned to frontline after investigative report exposes property discrepancies

Following public uproar after an apparent incident of a “revenge summons” for a whistleblower report exposing corruption in Ukraine’s Security Service, Ukrainian authorities have launched a criminal probe amid official acknowledgment that pressure on journalists is unacceptable.

On 8 April, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced they had launched criminal proceedings “on the fact of possible abuse of office and obstruction of the professional activities of journalists by employees of the SBU and the mobilization center.” The State Bureau of Investigation has been tasked with conducting the investigation.

The army summons that Slidstvo.info journalist Yevhen Shulhat received thanks to the interference of, most likely, a subordinate of the SBU chief whose illegitimate real estate Shulhat had been exposing was immediately slammed by Mediarukh (“Media Movement”), a coalition of prominent Ukrainian media outlets upholding media freedom.

Draft summons used as “punishment” for Ukrainian journalist exposing SBU official’s luxury real estate

MediaRukh demands prompt investigation of wrongdoing

The 6 April statement of the media coalition, addressed to President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Vasyl Maliuk, Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andriy Kostin, Minister of Defense of Ukraine Rustem Umerov, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Syrskyi, demands criminal proceedings against SBU and mobilization center employees over the incident with the Slidstvo.Info journalist to ensure justice and protect the rights of journalists in Ukraine.

The appeal was addressed to “President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Maliuk, Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andriy Kostin, Minister of Defense of Ukraine Rustem Umerov, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Syrskyi.

Head of SBU’s cybersecurity reassigned to frontline after investigative report exposes property discrepancies

The statement expresses serious concern over the possible abuse of power and obstruction of journalistic activity by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), as well as the use of the military as a tool to stop journalistic investigations in the case of Yevgeniy Shulhat, an investigative journalist from Slidstvo.Info.

On the evening of 1 April, Shulhat was approached by employees of the army mobilization center at a supermarket in Kyiv with the intention of serving him a summons. Surveillance camera footage revealed the employees were acting under instruction from an SBU officer who is a subordinate of the head of the Department of Counterintelligence Protection, Illia Vitiuk.

Days earlier, Slidstvo.info published an investigation into Vitiuk’s apparently illicit real estate gains.

Mediarukh notes that prior to publishing the journalistic investigation, the Slidstvo.Info team received repeated hints about the inexpediency of publishing the material investigating Vitiuk’s illicit real estate gains.

These “hints,” and the subsequent targeting of the journalist with a personal summons, are interpreted by Mediarukh as deliberate intimidation for refusing to obey these warnings, as well as a possible order carried out by the hands of military structures.”

The group also points out that the video from surveillance cameras clearly indicates illegal surveillance of the journalist by the SBU.

Such actions indicate the SBU’s attempt to use its official position to obstruct the activities of a journalist who covered facts potentially inconvenient for the SBU leadership,” the statement reads.

The Media Movement emphasizes that thousands of Ukrainian journalists are serving in the military, and dozens have already died defending the country. However, the group expresses serious concern about the use of military service as a tool to persecute journalists for their professional activities.

Illegal surveillance of a journalist by representatives of special services and the use of the military as a tool to stop journalistic investigations is an unacceptable and threatening precedent,” the statement reads.

The Mediarukh statement comes on the heels of a similar incident in February, when the SBU was caught illegally surveilling investigative journalists from the Bihus team, a media project unearthing corruption in the Ukrainian army.

The public uproar after this incident has led to the State Bureau of Investigations launching a case into the SBU’s possible wrongdoing, and President Zelenskyy promising that the head of the SBU Maliuk will disband the unit behind the surveillance. However, concrete outcomes are yet to be seen.

Officials react, prosecutor’s office launches probe

The Mediarukh appeal and overall uproar has led to a prompt reaction from Ukrainian officials.

First, SBU chief Vasyl Maliuk told a Ukrainian lawmaker “that this situation will not be ignored.”

The SBU, Ministry of Defense, and General Staff told Ukrainska Pravda that they are conducting an investigation, the results of which will be announced later. They noted that legally, SBU employees are not allowed to order mobilization center employees to give summons to journalists.

Particularly, the Ministry of Defense said it is “outraged” by the pressure on journalists and “considers it categorically unacceptable.

“Journalism is the foundation of any democratic society and an integral part of our victory over the enemy. At the same time, defending Ukraine from the enemy is the duty of every person liable for military service. It is an honor, not a tool of manipulation,” the ministry told Ukrainska Pravda.

Commander-in-chief Syrskyi also gave orders to investigate the situation.

Note: Euromaidan Press is a member of MediaRukh and a signatory of the MediaRukh statement

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