VIENNA, February 2. /TASS/. The chief editor of Ukraine’s Strana news portal, Igor Guzhva, said he had applied for political asylum in Austria and will stay in the country while his request is being processed.
"Last Friday [January 26], I requested political asylum in Austria. This week, I received the so-called ‘white card,’ which allows me to stay in Austria while my request is being processed," he told the Austria Press Agency (APA), adding that he chose the country for its respect for human rights and neutral attitude to Ukraine.
"Until recently, I assumed that I will be able to ensure my due legal protection in Ukraine. But now that the pressure on me has grown so much and courts have become so dependent, I cannot hope for a fair verdict there," APA quoted him as saying.
In an interview with Ukraine’s NewsOne channel, Guzhva said "the Ukrainian authorities will try to bring me back to the country, but this is going to be difficult."
"We have gathered an impressive package of documents on me being persecuted for political reasons. There is plenty of evidence," he said. "I plan to return to Ukraine when the period of lawlessness in the country is over. Until then, I will manage the media outlet from Austria."
The journalist added that he left Ukraine to ease political pressure on Strana. According to him, "the government will launch a real crackdown on independent media" ahead of the country’s presidential campaign to begin in less than a year.
A spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry said the Austrian authorities have no information about Guzhva’s exact whereabouts and are not authorized to disclose information about his request for political asylum.
On June 22, 2017, Guzhva was detained on suspicion of receiving a $10,000-bribe. The court later released him on bail. The journalist and his colleagues from Strana are convinced that the case was fabricated. On August 9, 2017, Ukrainian Security Service officers searched Strana’s offices and two journalists’ apartments. According to Guzhva, the searches were conducted as part of "a new trumped-up state secret case."
The Committee to Protect Journalists noted on August 15, 2017, that the Ukrainian authorities should "end their harassment of Strana, drop all charges against its Editor-in-Chief and founder Igor Guzhva and "stop fostering a hostile environment toward the press."
Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office earlier said it was ready to seek Guzhva’s extradition.