Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is worried about the arrest of Kyrylo Vychynski, a Ukrainian journalist who heads RIA Novosti Ukraine, the Ukrainian branch of the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. He has been charged with high treason.
Vyshinsky was formally placed in pre-trial detention yesterday following his arrest in Kiev on 15 May, when the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) searched his office and his home. Accused of “subversion by means of information,” he has been transferred to the southeastern city of Kherson, where the Crimea in exile prosecutor’s office is based.
“The charge of high treason and pre-trial detention are extremely serious measures,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The authorities must either precisely explain how the alleged actions constituted high treason or release Kirill Vyshinsky without delay.”
Bihr added: “No one can ignore the destructive scope of propaganda in Ukraine in recent years, but Ukrainian and international law must be respected in the course of combatting propaganda.”
According to an SBU communiqué, Vyshinsky participated in “propaganda actions” in support of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. As evidence against him, the SBU has produced three screen captures of opinion pieces written by other people and published on the website of his media.
The authorities also claim to have established that RIA Novosti Ukraine, which was registered as an autonomous entity in order to circumvent the sanctions that Ukraine placed on Russian state media, is in fact financed by Moscow. According to photos circulated by the SBU, Vyshinsky also allegedly received two Russian medals and Russian citizenship.
Ukraine is not officially at war with Russia, but Ukrainian legislation refers to Russia as an “aggressor state” because of its annexation of Crimea and its support for eastern Ukraine’s separatists. Vyshinsky was arrested a few hours before a bridge linking Russia to Crimea was inaugurated with much fanfare.
Vasily Muravitsky, a Ukrainian journalist working for Russian media held since August 2017, is also charged with high treason. Separatists in Donetsk have meanwhile been holding Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Stanislav Aseyev since June 2017 for allegedly spying on behalf of Ukraine. And the Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko has been held on a spying charge in Russia since 2016
Ukraine is ranked 101st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Russia is ranked 148th.