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29 Dec, 2021 13:43

Ukraine’s Zelensky continues crackdown on critical media

Kiev has imposed sanctions on three companies that run TV channels which don't support the current government
Ukraine’s Zelensky continues crackdown on critical media

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky has continued his crackdown against dissent in the media by imposing a new set of restrictive measures against three companies that own opposition-aligned TV channels, it emerged on Tuesday.

The sanctions take aim at channels UkrLive and First Independent, both of which are believed by the Ukrainian authorities to be owned by Taras Kozak, an MP for the country’s largest opposition party, Opposition Platform – For Life.

The measures also hit the Novosti media holding company, the owner of channels 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK. These stations were taken off air in February this year, having been blacklisted by Zelensky. All three channels are also owned by Kozak, who dubbed the move “an act of blatant censorship.” The president explained his decision by suggesting that Kiev was fighting “propaganda,” and linked the channels to Russia.

Kozak is thought by many to be the right-hand man of politician Viktor Medvedchuk, the chairman of the political council of Opposition Platform – For Life. Medvedchuk is considered an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the party has consistently called for closer links with Moscow. Medvedchuk is currently under house arrest, accused of treason and the attempted looting of national resources.

The new sanctions on the holding companies include the blocking of assets, restrictions on trade operations, and the canceling of licenses. In a joint statement published on Tuesday night, UkrLive and First Independent slammed them as “illegal,” and accused the National Security and Defense Council of running a “dictatorship” where there is a “de facto ban on opposition activities.”

“The Ukrainian authorities have once again proved that they see free media as their main enemy and will act by any means to suppress freedom of speech in Ukraine,” the statement said. “We regard today’s events as another attempt by the Ukrainian authorities to suppress any alternative opinion about the situation in Ukraine and to use the repressive machine to fight against independent media.”

In the past year, Zelensky has also placed restrictions on the opposition-leaning websites Strana.ua and Shariy.net.

Almost all news outlets in Ukraine are bankrolled by wealthy individuals such as Kozak. Zelensky himself came to power in 2019 with support from the 1+1 Media Group, owned by Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire oligarch and former regional governor.