A dozen Ukrainian journalists stood up and raised anti-censorship banners when President Viktor Yanukovich yesterday hailed his country's march to media freedom at the World Newspaper Congress in Kiev.
"Ukraine has made its way, without exaggeration, from total censorship to an open society," Mr Yanukovich told the conference as his security guards ripped banners saying "stop censorship" from protesters' hands.
Mr Yanukovich did not react to the silent protest.
Ukrainian opposition and Western rights watchdogs have accused Mr Yanukovich of cracking down on media freedom after coming to power in the former Soviet republic in early 2010. In July, three months before the October parliamentary election, tax police raided the office of TVi, a television station often critical of the government.
Although a tax-evasion case against TVi's chief executive has since been dropped, the station says local cable companies are either dropping it or moving it to more expensive packages, cutting the station's viewer base. Mr Yanukovich said the alleged lack of media freedom in his country was due to ignorance and misinformation.
After winning the February 2010 presidential election, Mr Yanukovich quickly consolidated power by forging a majority coalition in parliament and installing allies in key positions.
Last October, a local court sentenced his arch-rival – and defeated presidential contender and former Prime Minister – Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison for abuse of office after a trial criticised by the West as an example of selective justice.
Despite calls by the European Union for the release of Ms Tymoshenko, Mr Yanukovich refused to intervene and analysts say this may affect the EU judgement on the fairness of Ukraine's 28 October parliamentary poll.