Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the increasingly systematic attacks on media personnel covering the tension in eastern Ukraine.
The abduction of journalists is becoming more and more frequent in and around Sloviansk, the city controlled by the pro-Russian “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” while constant attacks on media and journalists throughout the region is exacerbating an intense information war.
Reporters Without Borders appeals to all parties to immediately stop treating news providers as targets to be neutralized or controlled.
Sloviansk, no-go zone
According to IMI, a Ukrainian NGO that is a Reporters Without Borders partner, pro-Russian militiamen have arrested 19 news providers in Sloviansk since 1 April and were still holding at least two of them this morning: the netizen Artem Deynega and Yuri Leliavski, a reporter for the Ukrainian TV station ZIK (Western Information Union).
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about Serhiy Shapoval, a journalist with the Volin'Post news website, who has been unreachable since 26 April. According to his sister, he said in his last phone call that he was in Sloviansk and “could not leave for the time being.”
Novomedia journalist Ruslan Kukharchuk reported that he was arrested while photographing a column of militiamen on 27 April and was held overnight in one of the city’s police stations, while being interrogated with a bag over his head and a revolver against his temple.
Meanwhile, there has been no news since 16 April of Sergei Lefter, a journalist who was arrested near Sloviansk while acting as member of an observation mission sent by the NGO Open Dialogue Foundation.
“Designed to create a reserve of hostages and intimidate other journalists, these abductions are intolerable,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“Before our eyes, Sloviansk is turning into an increasingly unpredictable Bermuda Triangle where the safety of news providers is no longer guaranteed. Those capable of wielding any influence over the city’s self-proclaimed authorities must do everything in their power to get them to end these criminal actions at once.”
Sloviansk’s self-proclaimed city administration has been insisting that journalists request accreditation since 26 April. After their passports and press ID have been checked, their previous reporting is researched. According to RIA-Novosti, the official Russian news agency, applicants must also produce a letter of recommendation from another journalist, preferably a Russian one, who is already accredited.
Cases of European and US journalists being refused accreditation have already been reported, and several journalists have reported that this accreditation is now being demanded at the entrance to the city.
Self-proclaimed mayor Viacheslav Ponomarev is quite open about the aim of the new accreditation procedure.
“We are forced to resort to such measures because many journalists have been transmitting deliberately false and unverified information,” he told RIA Novosti. “We have all the data of the journalists and we can immediately follow what they write. If someone lies, we ask them to leave the city at once.”
Russian media journalists arrested, deported
Reporters Without Borders takes note that Stepan Chirich, a Belarusian journalist employed by Russia’s NTV, was placed under house arrest in a rented apartment on 26 April, two days after being arrested in the Dnepropetrovsk region while using glasses with an in-built video camera.
Chirich, who says he went to Ukraine to do a report on exorcism, has been charged under article 359 of the penal code with “using special technical devices that allow information to be gathered secretly.”
Reporters Without Borders calls on the judicial authorities to conduct an impartial investigation and to not punish Chirich’s use of a hidden camera disproportionately if it is established that he was not involved in any spying.
Reporters Without Borders again condemns the expulsion of many Russian journalists. The latest victims include Julia Shustraya and Mikhail Pudovkin, two journalists with the Russian TV station LifeNews, who were arrested in Donetsk on 25 April and were escorted to the Russian border by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) the same day.
In mid-April, Ukraine imposed drastic restrictions on the entry of Russian males aged between 16 and 60.
Airwaves war continues
A group of “People’s Republic of Donetsk” supporters stormed the headquarters of the regional public television service in Donetsk on 27 April and replaced its signal with that of the Russian TV station Rossya 24.
Gunmen seized control of another television transmission centre in Donetsk yesterday and disconnected the digital retransmission of the Ukrainian national TV stations and the analogue signals of two national TV stations, UT-1 and 5 Kanal.
In Kiev, activists attacked the headquarters of the Inter TV station yesterday, breaking doors and windows and releasing teargas inside the building. They initially went there to demand an end to the broadcasting of Russian TV series. They subsequently demonstrated outside ICTV headquarters with the same demand.
Reporters Without Borders deplores the fact that the parties to the conflict in Ukraine are again fighting over TV stations and TV signal retransmission installations.
Pro-Russian activists stormed the TV retransmission centre in Kramatorsk, near Sloviansk, on 18 April, terminating the transmission of Ukrainian channels and replacing them with Russian ones. This is a repetition of what took place in Crimea in March.
(Photo : AFP / Genya Savilov)