Ukraine - Freedom of information in dire state in Crimea

by Reporters Without Borders | Reporters Without Borders
Friday, 7 March 2014 10:30 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the increasingly oppressive climate of censorship in Crimea, where news media have been closed, media premises are being surrounded and journalists have been harassed and threatened.

"The media are being subjected to completely arbitrary actions and decisions," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. "At a time when the entire world is following events in Crimea, those who control the region have duty to allow local and foreign journalists to do their job. The obstruction and censorship taking place under their authority is unacceptable."

The signals of the Ukrainian TV stations 1+1 and 5 Kanal were cut suddenly yesterday in Crimea. At the same time, the Russia TV station Rossiya 24 began being broadcast instead of the local station Chernomorka, whose signal has been cut since 3 March. The Kyiv Post said this was the work of armed men who took over the radio and TV transmitting centre in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, in the morning.

Several dozen men in armed dress but without firearms blocked the entrance to the local state-owned TV station GTRK Krym in Simferopol yesterday. The head of the TV station, Stepan Gulevaty, said that, without giving any explanation, they were preventing anyone from leaving and allowing only the station's employees to enter.

There has been no let-up in cases of journalists being attacked or threatened in Crimea. On 5 March, Russian soldiers with no insignia outside the Belbek military base aimed their guns at Olga Ivshina of the BBC's Russian service and other journalists.

They searched the journalists and accused them of being British spies before releasing them. An officer told Ivshina that the western media were biased and that she should avoid provocations. He then told her not to come back.

Reporters with 1+1 and Al-Jazeera were briefly detained on 4 March when they tried to leave a military base at Yevpatoria that was also surrounded. It was only after showing their videos and their press IDs that they were allowed to leave. Individuals continued to escort them for a long time to ensure that they did not film.

Two reporters with the German newspaper Bild and the Ukrainian journalist Volodymyr Ilchenko were harassed and threatened yesterday in Simferopol by a group of youths who shouted at them, "Occupiers, get out of Crimea!" Their assailants tried to grab one of their laptops and then pursued them.

Argumenty Tizhnia - Krym reporter Stanislav Yurchenko was threatened on 5 March in Simferopol by members of a "self-defence militia" while trying to cover the use of force to disperse a demonstration by "women against the war." His assailants twisted his arm, tried to break his camera and threatened him with serious reprisals if he kept any images of the event.

Yevgeny Fedorov, a parliamentary representative of the ruling United Russia party, announced yesterday in Moscow that he intended to present a bill that would permit the arrest of media executives or editors who disseminate "mendacious anti-Russian information" or "provide news coverage in support of anti-Russian extremists or separatists." The proposed law would also affect media coverage of events taking place outside Russia, he said.

In Kiev, the cable TV and Internet service provider Lanet stopped carrying the signals of three Russian TV stations – Pervy Kanal, RTR-Planeta and NTV Mir – on 4 March on the grounds that they were "broadcasting aggressive propaganda, calling for war and spreading hate."

The day before this move, Nikolai Tomenko, the president of the parliamentary commission on freedom of expression and information, had asked the intelligence services to determine whether these TV stations were violating Ukrainian law.

Read our previous statement on the situation in Crimea.

(Photo: Genya Savilov / AFP)