Media freedom situation worsens in Crimea

Media freedom situation worsens in Crimea

Media experts, groups and journalists have expressed deep concerns at the worsening media freedom situation in Crimea as tensions continue to escalate
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Checkpoints manned by pro-Russian groups are proving to be a point of conflict, especially for members of the media (AFP)

UPDATE:

Olena Maksymenko, Oles Kromplyas, and the activists and driver they were travelling with have all been released, according to reports.


Concerns continue to grow over the safety of journalists in the Crimean peninsula as reports of violations against members of the press continue to emerge.

In recent days, media have reported that Ukrainian journalists have been beaten by pro-Russian supporters, and an international television crew had its equipment seized.

Ukraine's Channel 5 television reported that its journalists were among several beaten by pro-Russian militants late Friday as they covered a confrontation at a Ukrainian air force base in Sevastopol.

The channel said journalists from the Inter and STB channels were also beaten at the base, where militants reportedly smashed through the gates with a truck before eventually leaving.

An AFP journalist later reported seeing five male journalists in hospital.  The media workers had been severely beaten, their faces covered with blood, and were being treated for head wounds.

Pro-Russian militia in Crimea have often been confrontational with Ukrainian and international journalists, whom they accuse of working for foreign powers against Moscow.

The Associated Press news agency said in a report Saturday that armed men in the Crimean capital Simferopol had seized equipment from one of its crews on Thursday.

While setting up their equipment, a group of unarmed men came and took photographs of the site and  "accused the crew of being spies.”  Later on, armed men appeared and reportedly ordered the crew to put their hands against the wall and took their equipment away.

These, and numerous other reported incidents in which members of the media have been targeted, point to a worrying trend of declining press freedom in the region, which finds itself at the centre of an increasingly heated political debate.

“...people must have unimpeded access to a plurality of sources...”

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE's) representative on media freedom, Dunja Mijatovic visited Crimea last week to learn more about the conditions facing journalists there.  During her visit she met with local journalists, and on Saturday she condemned the latest attacks on journalists.

"Extreme censorship, shutting down media outlets and press hubs and attacks and intimidation of journalists must stop immediately," she said in a statement.

"In times of crisis people must have unimpeded access to a plurality of sources, otherwise they can be subjected to the worst kind of propaganda," Mijatovic said.

She also raised concerns about the cutting of terrestrial television signals of six Ukrainian channels in Crimea, which were replaced this week with Russian broadcasts.

“It’s very worrying, the atmosphere, the conditions journalists work in, the attitude of the authorities, no rule of law,” she said, adding “it seems there is a direction the whole area is going in, and this means restricting critical, opposing voices.”

“You have journalists being attacked and harassed.  It’s happening to journalists who are not considered loyal because of the developments in Crimea,” she noted.

Mijatovic expressed her concerns over future developments in the ongoing situation, and referred to the large number of violations which have been reported since demonstrations began in December.  On February 18, Vesti reporter Vyacheslav Veremyi was dragged from his car, before being savagely beaten and shot.  He died as a result of the gunshot wound he suffered.  Media outlets have been targeted in recent weeks, with a number of Ukrainian broadcasters being cut off air and replaced by Russian broadcasters, while last week, the Center for Investigative Journalism was occupied by pro-Russian militants.

On March 10, it was reported that two journalists were kidnapped at the Crimean borderUkrainsky Tizhden’s Olena Maksymenko  disappeared with two activists from the Auto-Maidan movement when they were stopped at a checkpoint the previous afternoon.  Oleksiy Byk, a journalist from Glavkom was at the checkpoint at the time, and said that Maksymenko was wearing a badge identifying her as a journalist.  Byk was then arrested at the same checkpoint with a driver and freelance photographer Oles Kromplyas.  Byk was released after his brother came to prove that he was a Crimean resident, but Kromplyas and the driver are still missing.

Mijatovic released a statement calling for the release of the two journalists, noting: “I am extremely worried about the escalation of attacks against journalists in Crimea.  The responsibility for ensuring journalists’ safety lies with those responsible for law and order in Crimea, and they must immediately release these journalists.”

“Increasing harassment and intimidation”

Rights group Amnesty International said journalists and activists were "facing increasing harassment and intimidation in Crimea".

It called for OSCE military observers to be allowed to monitor the situation effectively and freely.  On March 8, observers were prevented from entering the peninsula for the third time in three days as warning shots were fired at their convoy as they approached a pro-Russian controlled checkpoint.

Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia director, John Dalhuisen stated: "Attempting to monitor the human rights situation in Crimea has become a near impossible task."

"Self-styled Crimean self-defence groups are harassing pro-Ukrainian protesters, journalists and human rights monitors with complete impunity," he added.

Source: Agencies, DCMF, RSF

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