Amid conflict, IPI urges Moscow, Kiev to support media freedom
Calls for release of detained journalists, end to restrictions
VIENNA, April 25, 2014 – Amid a sharp increase in violence against journalists in eastern Ukraine, the International Press Institute (IPI) today urged authorities in Moscow and Kiev to signal clearly that all journalists must be allowed to cover developments in the region.
“In the last two weeks alone we have registered dozens of instances of violence, harassment or intimidation directed at both foreign and domestic journalists in eastern Ukraine,” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said. “This includes not only detentions and seizures of equipment, but physical attacks, threats and, in some cases, disappearances. Journalists’ ability to move freely and cover events as they happen has been severely hampered, and the blocking or jamming of television and radio broadcasts that present ‘unwelcome’ viewpoints appears to be becoming the norm.
“We urge authorities at both the national and local levels across the region to state strongly and unequivocally that this type of conduct is unacceptable and to take real measures to hold the perpetrators accountable. We also call for the release of all journalists currently detained in connection with their work, for all journalists – Russian, Ukrainian or foreign – to be allowed to move freely and perform their jobs, and for an end to all efforts to obstruct broadcasts.”
IPI and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), yesterday welcomed news of the release of American journalist and VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky, who was detained by pro-Russian militants on Monday in the eastern city of Slaviansk in the north of the Donetsk region. But the groups noted that pro-Russian militants in the city are still holding Ukrainian journalist Irma Krat, and that journalists Serhiy Lefter and Yevgeny Gapich remain missing.
IPI and SEEMO also pointed to reports that Ukrainian authorities were holding two journalists detained in Dnepropetrovsk on Wednesday – Stepan Chirich, a Belarusian working for Russian NTV, and an as-yet-unidentified journalist holding Russian citizenship – and that two Russian journalists were later detained in Donetsk: LifeNews journalist Yulia Shustraya and cameraman Mikhail Pudovkin.
Ostrovsky, who was detained Monday at a checkpoint with four other journalists who were released shortly thereafter, told CBC News that he was initially beaten and his hands bound, but that his captors later untied him and treated him well. He said that militants manning the checkpoint had a copy of his picture and he speculated that his investigation into whether Russian nationals were operating in concert with pro-Russian militants may have been behind the detention.
Krat, who reportedly was in Slaviansk to cover a story for TV Prikhovana Pravda (Hidden Truth TV), an online TV news site that she runs, was a founding member of an all-female unit of self-defence forces involved in the protests that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power. Militants detained her Sunday on the claim that she was involved in war crimes during the anti-Yanukovych protests.
Gapich, a photojournalist working for independent Ukrainian newspaper Reporter, disappeared along with his brother Gennady on Tuesday after the journalist indicated to his wife by phone that he was in danger. Lefter, working for the Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation, has been missing since April 16. Unconfirmed reports indicated that all three may have been detained by pro-Russian militants.
Chirich and the journalist said to be accompanying him reportedly were in Ukraine to cover a visit by American evangelist Bob Larson. They were initially declared missing, but Russian media reported that Ukraine’s security service said it was holding them. RIA Novosti reported today that masked men affiliated with Ukraine’s security service took Shustraya and Pudovkin into custody and escorted them to the Russian border.
IPI and other press freedom watchdogs have registered a number of incidents involving journalists in Ukraine in recent weeks, among them:
- Ukraine-based British journalist Graham Phillips said that he was kidnapped by pro-Russian militants and threatened with execution if he did not successfully pass a drug test.
- Journalist Nikolai Ryabchenko was attacked yesterday by unidentified individuals who damaged his equipment, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović reported.
- An office of local newspaper Provintsiya (Province) in Konstantinovka was firebombed and destroyed on Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported. Sources said newspaper staff had been threatened by telephone and that last week graffiti was left on the newspaper’s office claiming it was linked with right-wing elements.
- Unidentified individuals attacked Tochka Opori magazine journalist Maxim Danilchenko on Monday while he was covering a protest in Luhansk, leaving him with several injuries. Also on Monday, pro-Russian militants in Slaviansk detained Paul Gogo and Cosimo Attanasio, and Belarusian journalist Dmitry Galko. The journalists were later released, but some reports indicated that their reporting equipment, money and personal documents were confiscated.
- Russia-based LifeNews TV channel on April 17 said that Ukrainian police detained its correspondent Kristina Babayeva as she was covering an overnight attempt by protestors to storm a military base in Maruipol, in southeast Ukraine.
- Also that day, unidentified individuals took over the television tower in Slaviansk and replaced the broadcasting of Ukrainian channels with Russian channels. Conversely, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported on April 16 that authorities in Kiev had moved to shut down the broadcasting of Russian TV channels and some 50 percent of providers throughout Ukraine have disabled broadcasting of foreign channels. That report followed Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović’s April 15 statement rejecting arguments that a need to stop propaganda justified such blocks.
- The IFJ on April 16 also reported that, as of that date, over 20 journalists and crews from around a dozen Russian news outlets had been denied entry into Ukraine.
- Mijatović, following an April 14 to 16 visit to Ukraine said that the media freedom situation had reached a very dangerous stage and that the trend, if not reversed, could contribute to the deterioration of the security situation. Mijatović reported a number of attacks on members of the media in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions, including the beating of Yevgen Polojii, editor of Panorama, and Mikhail Dugin of Polytavska Dumka-2000. She also said that cars belonging to Alexei Matsuka of Novosti Donbassa and to Odesa First City Channel were set on fire.
- The IFJ reported that masked men in the eastern city of Horlivka attacked Frederick Paxton, a British photojournalist with VICE News, on April 15 and confiscated his equipment. One day earlier, the group said, at least seven masked men reportedly raided offices shared by independent local news website Gorlovka and newspaper Kriminal Ekspress in Horlivka and detained Gorlovka chief editor Aleksandr Belinsky.
- On April 12, the IFJ reported, a pro-Russian mob in Slaviansk threatened a BBC TV crew and broke their equipment. The same group also reportedly attacked a local journalist. Additionally, the IFJ said, journalists with Ukrainian online broadcaster Hromadske TV and Russian news website Lenta were briefly detained by unidentified armed men who barred them from covering a raid on a local police station in Slaviansk.
>> For more information, contact IPI Senior Press Freedom Adviser Steven M. Ellis at +43 (1) 512 90 11 or by email.