On the police search of journalist Olena Bilozerska’s home

While the Head of the Public Relations Department of the Kyiv Police, Volodymyr Polishchuk says that the search of a journalist’s home on Saturday was in accordance with a court order, a lawyer stresses that the European Court of Human Rights sees such court orders as the last resort. The journalist herself says that had she been asked for the material sought, she would have handed it over.

On 27 March law enforcement officers from the Holosiyivsky District Police Station carried out a search of Olena Bilozerska’s flat. The police say that this was in connection with a protest action on 11 February where the shop “Khutro” was pelted with eggs and daubed with paint. Olena Bilozerska was present at what she explains as being an animal rights protest outside a shop selling expensive furs, and took photographs. “A criminal investigation was initiated against an 18-year-old young man under Article 296 “hooliganism”. As part of the investigation into this case the Holosiyivsky Court issued a court order to search this journalist’s home. The electronic disks documenting this offence were removed”, Mr Polishchuk explained.

Lawyer Natalya Petrova points out that according to European Court of Human Rights case law, the law enforcement agencies can resort to searches of journalists’ homes or workplace only after exhausting all other possible methods of searching for the necessary information. She cites as an example the case of Romen and Schmitt v. Luxemburg.
In the given case, Ms Bilozerska is adamant that had the police simply asked her for the photos, she would have given them. She says that at such actions she takes photographs so that the people’s faces are not visible so she would not have been concerned that they could hurt anybody.

Natalya Petrova also says that it is important “why the Ukrainian judge did not ask the police, when allowing their warrant application, whether there had been any attempt to get the pictures voluntarily handed over. The court could equally well have called in the journalist when considering the question. After all she isn’t implicated in the criminal investigation and is essentially a third person. Removing certain material in a search is a violation of her rights.”

Ms Petrova believes that the journalist is fully entitled to appeal against this warrant from the Holosiyivsky Court in an appellate court. “In her specific case that may not help. However then perhaps in Ukrainian courts certain practice will be established, and judges won’t sanction searches of journalists’ homes and offices at the first request from the police”.

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