Kiev scales up repressions of journalists days before vote

21 May 2014, 19:29

Kiev scales up repressions of journalists days before vote

On the eve of May,25 presidential election in Ukraine the Kiev regime has scaled up its clampdown on journalists whose coverage would not meet its expectations. How bad is the media harassment campaign and how does the clampdown come with the transparency and freedom of speech?

We are discussing these and other issues with Alexander Rogers, Ukrainian political analyst and blogger, Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Division, and Alexey Kuznetsov, deputy head of RT English department.

With the voting day coming closer, the repression of journalists by Kiev junta has become openly vicious.On May, 18 Ukrainian military detained Marat Saichenko and Oleg Sidyakin, journalists with Russian online portal LifeNews. And on the 20 May a British journalist Graham Philips was detained and sent to unknown destination. Graham Philips was doing reporting for RT TV company.

Alexey Kuznetsov, deputy head of RT’s English department is giving us more details of the case:

“Graham Phillips is a stringer who’s been reporting for Russia Today for a couple of months. He was detained by, what he said, when we last spoke to him, by the people of the so-called National Guard who are loyal to the new Kiev authorities. He was detained at a checkpoint between Mariupol and Slavyansk, when he was en route to Slavyansk. And he was interrogated, as far as we know. And after a certain time we lost contact with Graham and it’s been almost 24 hours since we last spoke to him.

We don’t know where he is. We don’t know what’s being done to him. We don’t know what kind of pressure he is being subject to. We’ve tried to contact all possible authorities, both in Ukraine and in the UK. We’ve contacted the Foreign office and received a statement from them saying that they are ready to provide consular assistance to him, because he is a British citizen.

But the Kiev authorities are not cooperating with us to the full extent. We’ve not been able to get through to the Ukrainian security service and they are not answering our phone calls and they are not replying to our emails. So, the situation remains in limbo.

Why would they detain him?

I think it basically falls into this line of the campaign to harass journalists in Ukraine. I mean, this is not the first time that RT journalists or other journalists, who report something that does not make Kiev authorities happy, would be subject to harassment. We’ve seen a number of cases before when journalists would be approached and harassed either verbally or via social media.

I think it boils down to the campaign of creating the atmosphere of nervousness and tension among those journalists who are not reporting the pro-Kiev side of the story, who are reporting alternative news, who are reporting the stories that do not fall into the paradigm of the Kiev authorities, who are trying to create their sort of virtual reality.

And everything and everyone who falls out of that line is being subject to pressure, be it through the National Guard or some activists. I know some cases when foreign reporters working for the Western media have also been sort of noticed or spotted in this campaign of harassment.

So, I think that what happened to Graham is basically the same thing. I mean, we have seen on the social media some reports that there was a bonus announced for his head, as they said. Basically, they are saying that this guy should be detained and expelled from Ukraine, because he is not writing what the Kiev authorities want to see in print and in the press”.

International bodies cannot help, but acknowledge Kiev’s anti-media practices.

Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, has recently condemned the “continued harassment of journalists covering the conflict in Ukraine”.

“Journalists covering the Ukraine crisis are convenient targets of the conflicting sides,” Mijatović said. “I reiterate my call to all sides to stop intimidating and threatening members of the media and to let them do their jobs. … All political leaders engaged in resolving the crisis in Ukraine need to clearly understand that violations of media freedom are unacceptable.”

Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of the US-based Human Rights Watch, has been talking to radio VR seems to share the OSCE stance:

“I think it is important to say that it is a trend certainly on both sides. There’ve been many incidents when armed men associated with Donetsk Peoples’ Republic have kidnapped journalists. Kidnapped them, held them, beat them, I’m sure you aware of that.

In the recent weeks there has certainly been a trend where the Ukrainian Government has tried to prevent journalists affiliated with the Russian outlets from entering the country. As you know, Kiev has arrested or detained two journalists with Life News. And now Graham Phillips has disappeared, has lost contact with his office.
So, I think there is a trend. But there are interferences with the freedom of information, freedom of the media on both sides.

Have you tried to raise the issue with the Kiev authorities?

It is funny that you’re asking, Catherine, because every time I try to pick up the phone to call the SBU, I get a call from another journalist. But, yes, I’m trying. What I would like to do, when I can get off the phone, is to call the SBU to try to get information about the fate of Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko.

As far as I know, during the election most international observers are making a point that freedom of press would be guaranteed. Does it seem to be the case in Ukraine?

…Obviously, we are concerned that Ukraine has decided to cut off RT and Russia 24, and Channel 1. That is unfortunate and it has an effect on media pluralism. So, first, it is unfortunate and it decreases pluralism that those channels have been kicked off the broadcast wave.

And second, you really have to hope that the Ukrainian authorities are ensuring that there is still a pluralism of views. From what I have heard from people who are in Ukraine and when I was in Ukraine, if I switched on the television, I did see news programs that show different views, even if they are not showing RT or Channel 1.

But, also, I have to say that there have been a number of cases that were obviously very alarming and were brutal, and were a terrible interference in the freedom of information and media freedom. For example, the case that always comes to my mind is the case that happened back in March, when those deputies from Svoboda party just broke into the office of Channel 1 in Kiev and tried to force the general director into resigning. And they videotaped it. That’s the case that we flagged many times as a horrible interference with the freedom of media”.

And here is the first-hand account from Alexander Rogers, Ukrainian blogger, journalist and political analyst:
“I think the freedom of speech in Ukraine is destroyed now. Hundreds of journalists have been arrested or repressed, or intimidated by the Right Sector organization or other ultra right organizations. My information is that about 200 journalists in Ukraine have been repressed by the new Government.

I myself received threats. Yesterday a police officer came to my parents and searched my house for finding a gun. But I don’t have a gun. They tried to fabricate some case about me.

If you watch the Ukrainian news, they all give only one point view, only which is pro-Government. Opposition in our country doesn’t exist anymore and doesn’t have a right of voice, to be present in the press and mass media, and in the Parliament too. The Communist faction which had its own opinion was ousted from the Parliament”.

So, with the violations only too obvious, is there a chance that the Western capitals are going to question the practices of those they brought to power in Ukraine?

Alexey Kuznetsov, deputy head of RT’sEnglish department is giving us more details of the case:
I really believe that this is all a well-coordinated campaign to muzzle the journalists who are not telling something that the Kiev authorities like, which brings into question a bigger picture of to what extent the Kiev authorities are determined to build a new democracy in their country, because democracy presupposes plurality of opinions. It presupposes that journalists are free to do their job and free to report what they see.

Western democracies have always been particularly keen to discuss the freedom of the press, the freedom of speech in budding democracies, especially at the times of voting, or during election campaigns. Now, we know that Kiev is moving towards the 25th of May, do you think that the Western countries would pay due attention to those unpleasant – let’s put it that way – facts?

No, I don’t think so at all. On the contrary, I think that what we are dealing with here is a classic example of double standards. You know, the Western countries and the US, and the UK in particular are very good at doing the lip service when they talk about the need for journalists to be free, the need for journalists to be able to report news stories and stuff like that.

But when it comes down to a specific situation, they somehow miraculously turn a blind eye to the irregularities that occur with some journalists, who report something that either the Western authorities or Kiev authorities do not like.

So, they pretend as if this is not happening at all. And I don’t think that it will change any time soon, at least it is not going to change before the May 25thelections, because the West has been sort of signaling consistently that the Western community is ready to recognize these elections. So, there is no way that they are going to say that – look at what is happening in eastern Ukraine where journalists are detained and they are denied the right to do their work, and perform their professional functions.

It is also amazing to see how the Western mass media and Western politicians ride their favourite hobbyhorse and use this mantra about the freedom of speech, about the society that needs to stay informed, the press freedom and stuff like this. They are very good at using these examples and citing these cases, when it comes down to criticizing and pressurizing countries like Iran and China, and other countries around the world.

But in the case of Kiev and the Kiev authorities, this is somehow miraculously forgotten. The Americans are pretending that this is not happening and they are basically trying to ignore the situation, forgetting about their mantra, forgetting about their commitments to the freedom of speech”.

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