Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
In exactly two weeks it will be two years since the beginning of the “Strana“ Internet newspaper’s work.
Probably, it won’t surprise you if we will say that all this time we’ve felt special attention to ourselves from your side. And also from the side of officials and law enforcement structures under your control.
Of course, we would like this attention to be expressed via a civilised reaction to our publications, by initiating criminal proceedings after our investigations into corruption, by dialogue of research into solving the problems in the life of the country that were raised by our site.
But you chose other way. A way of unprecedented pressure being put on our Internet newspaper that doesn’t have any analogs in the history of Ukraine.
On your order 5 criminal cases were already fabricated against the editor-in-chief of “Strana” , and he himself was thrown into prison for several days. Illegal searches at our publication take place in the apartments of our journalists. We constantly receive threats of physical violence from groups and persons under your control, and our requests to law enforcement agencies for protection remain without answer.
Your aim is to intimidate us, having forced us to change the editorial policy. And if you don’t manage to do this, then to eliminate us, to hunt us and to throw the leaders of the newspaper in prison.
But we want to say that you won’t succeeded to do this.
You can initiate another dozen criminal cases against us. You can put pressure on various publications, on their journalists and owners, to block the airwaves, but you should understand that there will always be a percent of “other” media that isn’t afraid of neither you nor your methods of fighting against journalists.
In two and a half years we learned to live and work in conditions of total pressure coming from you. Also, thanks to the attacks organised by power structures under your control, all the country learned about us, and we gained leading positions among internet media.
You surveyed us, you wiretapped us, you fabricated cases against us using the hands of political satellites like Lyashko, you tried to discredit us, but we stood firm and became strong.
We understand that slightly more than a year is left before elections, and you won’t stop before anything to close the mouths of those journalists who had the courage to criticise you.
It is very important for you to win elections.
You are preparing yourself.
And we are preparing ourselves too.
We prepare ourselves to continue our work in the most difficult, pre-election, time.
That’s why we took a number of actions.
We protected our site from possible blocking.
We worked out a scheme of work of journalists out of office, should there be new attacks and searches.
And the most important thing – we removed from the firing line the editor-in-chief of our publication Igor Guzhva, who you swamped with criminal cases, as you did with yourself with your offshores.
We want to report that Igor Guzhva left for Vienna and asked for political asylum there from the authorities of the Republic of Austria, in accordance with the accepted procedure. We will emphasise that Igor Guzhva left for Austria after the time period of his measure of restraint determined by court expired, and he acquired the legal right to leave Ukraine.
Igor Guzhva remains the editor-in-chief of the publication and continues to lead “Strana” from abroad. Our website will work in the previous format, increasing its pace and actively developing itself.
All these measures make us ready for any succession of events. Nothing and nobody will prevent us from working, as before, honestly for our readers, telling the truth about the situation in the country.
The editorial office of the “Strana” Internet newspaper
Later, Igor Guzhva answered 5 main issues with his decision to leave Ukraine:
As you already know from the statement of the “Strana” publication, I appealed to the authorities of the Republic of Austria about granting political asylum. Many questions arrived, so here I will answer the most important of them.
1. Why did I ask for political asylum?
Literally since the first day of the existence of the “Strana” Internet newspaper we have been subjected to unprecedented pressure from the authorities. 5 criminal cases were initiated against me personally, and this is not the limit. Also, other journalists from our publication are subjected to persecution.
For a long time we had hope that the obvious falsification of cases and also the negative publicity would leave a chance for us to defend our rights within the framework of the Ukrainian judicial system. Moreover, the situation surrounding our publication and freedom of speech in Ukraine causes concern in international human rights organisations, about which they made multiple statements.
However, since the new year this hope has vanished. The mass disbandment of courts that is carried out by the President placed each judge on a hook and sharply reduced the already small opportunities of the judicial system to resist pressure.
When I left the country, I still didn’t have clear intentions to seek political asylum. However, already after some time after departure, the information that arrived from Ukraine unambiguously indicated the extreme gravity of the situation.
According to the available information, judges have already been instructed to pronounce convictions in all processes against me, including on the completely trumped-up case of extortion. They were instructed to hand out seven years of prison (like Yulia Tymoshenko).
In addition, the SBU and Prosecutor’s Office received instructions to intensify the fabrication of other cases against me.
And this is not to mention the constant threats of physical violence that were received both by me personally and journalists from our publication. Concerning these facts we appealed to law enforcement bodies with the demand to intiate criminal proceedings, but no reaction was forthcoming. The latest message with the threat of murder came to me literally over the past weekend.
In other words, on the territory of Ukraine I can’t count on an honest trial, the protection of rights and freedoms, nor on the protection of my life.
Besides this, and more importantly, by manipulating criminal cases and threatening prison, the authorities would receive a lever of pressure on me with the purpose of changing the editorial policy of “Strana”.
After my departure from Ukraine and the request for political asylum, this major lever of pressure can’t be used any more.
This, in fact, is the main motive of my decision. I have the opportunity to further pursue an independent editorial policy at “Strana”, without being afraid of new arrests and other forms of punishments.
2. How did I leave Ukraine?
I left absolutely legally. On January 6th the measure of restraint in the form of restriction on departure from Kiev expired. After that, I freely left the country.
3. Why Austria?
The Republic of Austria is known for its respect for human rights and freedoms. In addition, it is a neutral country that isn’t in any military-political bloc. This is important for me from the point of view of having the opportunity to continue to work as the head of an independent Ukrainian media agency. Lastly, the well-known lawyer Andrey Portnov is now in Vienna, together with who we also worked out a strategy for receiving political asylum.
4. Why did we decide that Petro Poroshenko is behind the fabrication of criminal cases?
Actually it’s not only him. For example, the tax cases against me were fabricated with the assistance of the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Turchynov and his helper – the head of the tax police Bilan. The case of extortion was fabricated, as is known, by the hands of Lyashko and his people. But the President Petro Poroshenko gave a direct starting signal for all these actions. Without his “grace”, none of these cases would move.
5. How will the “Strana” Internet newspaper function in the future?
The publication will work like before. I will continue to remain the editor-in-chief. We already worked out a remote access regime via which I can control processes at a distance. Moreover, we plan to further develop our project, about which I will report a bit later. Last year, despite the pressure of the authorities, we succeeded to be among the leaders among Ukrainian internet mass-media. This year we will only increase the pace. We have a very strong team and very strong motivation.
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