Ukraine: RSF condemns arrest by Russian occupying forces of six journalists and Telegram news channel administrators in Melitopol
Six journalists and administrators of two Ukrainian Telegram channels have been accused of terrorism and detained by Russian forces in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region, in south-east Ukraine. A Russian propaganda video has finally made it possible to find them, while their families have had no news of them since the end of August. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands their immediate release.
For almost two months, the fate of six journalists and administrators of the Telegram channel of the online media Ria-Melitopol and the news channel Melitopol Tse Ukraina ("Melitopol is Ukraine") remained unknown. It was a video broadcast on 29 October by the Russian propaganda media Rossiya 1 and Vesti.ru that made it possible to locate Heorhiy Levchenko, Oleksandr Malychev, Maksym Rouptchov, Yana Souvorova, and Mark Kaliush for the first time since their arrest on 20 August in the Zaporizhzhia region of south-eastern Ukraine. Kostiantyn Zynovkin, who is also featured in the video, was arrested earlier, in May. Ahead of its broadcast, a statement issued by the Russian security forces (FSB) on 27 October congratulated itself on having "neutralised the activities of three major intelligence groups coordinated by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence", explicitly naming the two Telegram channels concerned.
"The Russian forces are once again equating journalists with 'spies' in order to intimidate those who refuse to cooperate with them in the occupied territories. We are outraged by these latest arrests and by the humiliating practice of forced public confessions, which violate article 14, on fair trials, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a signatory. We call for the immediate release of the six journalists.
Accused of “inciting the local population to spy on Russia,” the six detainees were forced to “confess’ their guilt in the video that the Russian authorities broadcast on their propaganda outlets, updating a Soviet method for use against journalists. The detainees have been charged under the Russian criminal code with “public incitement to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or terrorism propaganda.” The FSB said additional charges of “treason” and “espionage” could also soon be brought against them. In all, they could be facing between 12 and 20 years in prison. At the same time as carrying out the arrests, the Russian occupying forces obtained control of the RIA-Melitopol Telegram channel, forcing this Ukrainian media outlet to open another one.
In the occupied territories, Ukrainian journalists who refuse to cooperate with the Russian forces are systematically hunted down. At the same time, the Russian propaganda machine continues to be reinforced by means of the recruitment and training of “journalists” and the creation of its own media outlets.
Ukraine is ranked 79th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index while Russia is ranked 164th.