News

July 24, 2014 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Journalists banned from covering fighting in Donetsk region


Check our Ukraine news feed for updates on Anton Skiba, Graham Phillips and Yuri Lelyavski

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Rebel decree is fuelling arbitrary arrests of reporters

Reporters Without Borders condemns a decree by the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk drastically restricting media coverage of fighting in the region. Signed on 21 July by PRD “defence minister” Igor Strelkov and released yesterday, it is fuelling arbitrary arrests of journalists operating in the region.

Citing the need to protect the “safety of media workers” and the “information security” of the PRD’s “armed forces,” the decree bans “journalists, cameramen and photoreporters” from “being in combat zones or near military installations” during armed operations. It also bans filming, photographing and audio recording in these areas.

“Journalistic coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine is essential for the public to be able to have access to information,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“The need to protect journalists cannot justify imposing absolute censorship on military operations. The decree’s vague wording suggests that it will be applied selectively and that there will be more arrests with the sole aim of increasing the PRD’s control of the media.”

Arbitrary arrests and disappearances of journalists are on the rise again in eastern Ukraine. Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the increase and appeals again to all parties to allow the media to work without obstruction and to release all detained journalists.

Anton Skiba, a freelance journalist and fixer for CNN, was kidnapped by a rebel militia in Donetsk on the evening of 22 July. He was handcuffed and taken to the local headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which is now controlled by the separatists. According to the latest reports, he is still there.

Piotr Andrusieczko, a Polish journalist with the magazine Nowa Europa Wschodnia, was briefly detained by the PRD’s security services while photographing Donetsk railway station earlier on 22 July. While questioning him, the rebels said they had orders to arrest all foreign journalists. They asked him to obtain a special accreditation from their commander if he wanted to continue working.

Around ten foreign journalists were arrested outside the Donetsk morgue on 19 and 20 July as part of their coverage of the MH17 crash.

British freelance journalist and blogger Graham Phillips disappeared on the evening of 22 July while covering fierce fighting near Donetsk airport. Russia Today, the Russian pro-government TV station for which he often works, said it advised him not to go there because of the level of risk.

The Russian foreign ministry said Phillips was abducted by the Ukrainian National Guard. This was denied by Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council. It said it had no information about Phillips, who was previously detained by the Ukrainian army on 21 May and released the next day.

Reporters Without Borders is also without news of Yuri Lelyavski, a Ukrainian journalist working for ZIK television whose last known whereabouts was near Luhansk.

A colleague, Vlad Yakushev, said he got an SMS from Lelyavski at around 10:30 p.m. yesterday saying he had been detained and was being taken “to Perevalsk, to (the Cossack chief) Kozytsin”. Lelyavski was previous held hostage by rebels in Sloviansk for two weeks in April.

As well as its Ukraine press releases, Reporters Without Borders has a dedicated news feed about freedom of information violations in Ukraine.

(Photo: AFP photo / Alexander Khudoteply)