A senior official with Ukraine’s intelligence agency has been fired after revelations that investigative journalists had been wiretapped, a source at the agency told AFP on Monday.

The move comes after several instances of intimidation of Ukrainian investigative journalists surfaced in January, leading Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to call on authorities to investigate the alleged infractions.

RSF listed three cases that took place or were exposed within a week.

In one, staff at Bihus.info, an outlet specialised in investigating corruption, discovered from a video that was posted on social media on January 16 that they had been subjected to surreptitious filming and eavesdropping for months.

Another case involved Odesa-based journalist Iryna Hryb, who reported on grain exports in the region and found a device in her car that could be used to listen to her phone calls or conversations with passengers and to track her movements.

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The third case involved Yuriy Nikolov, an investigative reporter for the anti-corruption media outlet Nashy Hroshy.

On January 14, masked individuals tried to force their way into his Kyiv apartment while at the same time threatening him with being forcibly enlisted to fight in the Ukrainian army against the Russian invasion.

On Monday, a source within Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency told AFP that “the head of the SBU state protection department, Roman Semenchenko, was fired as a result of the surveillance of Bihus Info staff”.

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The decision was taken by the head of the SBU and approved by President Volodymyr Zelensky, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Earlier on Monday, the SBU said in a statement that it had “taken appropriate personnel decisions”, but defended the surveillance because “some Bihus Info employees were clients of drug traffickers.”

In January, Bihus Info, which has called the surveillance “shameful”, said that some of its staff had consumed “illegal substances” during New Year, after recordings surfaced online. 

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