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Ukraine - Call for release of journalists held in eastern Ukraine

Source: Reporters Without Borders - Thu, 24 Apr 2014 08:19 GMT
Author: Reporters Without Borders
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Update : The US journalist Simon Ostrovsky was released on the evening of 24 April.

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the fate of three news providers who are detained or missing in eastern Ukraine, part of which is becoming increasingly lawless as a result of an insurrection against the central government. The self-proclaimed "People's Republic of Donetsk" so far only controls the city of Sloviansk and administrative buildings in other cities but is trying to extend its authority.

Ukrainian photo-reporter Yevgen Gapych was last seen in Artemivsk on the evening of 22 April, while US journalist Simon Ostrovsky and Ukrainian netizen Artem Deynega – arrested on 22 and 13 April respectively – are still held in Sloviansk.

"We call on the forces controlling Sloviansk to immediately provide evidence that these journalists are still alive, and to quickly end their arbitrary detention," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. "And those holding Yevgen Gapych should say so without delay.

"These latest abductions have taken attacks on journalists to a new, intolerable level. Not only is their safety at stake but also the intimidatory signal being sent to all news providers is unacceptable. The leaders of the ‘People's Republic of Donetsk' must urgently stop this escalation. We reiterate our call to all parties to the conflict to stop taking journalists hostage, to respect their neutrality and to guarantee their protection."

Gapych spoke by telephone with his family for the last time on 22 April from Horlivka, where he was sent by Reporter, a newspaper based in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk. He was also carrying letters from several other news media stating that he was on assignment for them.

After being seen in the evening in Artemivsk, a town mid-way between Horlivka and Sloviansk, he stopped responding to calls, as did his brother, who was accompanying him. The SBU (the Ukrainian security agency) later told his wife he was being held by pro-Russian militiamen in Sloviansk. Reporters Without Borders has not been able to confirm this.

Ostrovsky, who reports for VICE News, was arrested in Sloviansk earlier on 22 April. Representatives of the local self-proclaimed authorities said he was being treated well although there was confusion about the reason for his detention. Their spokesperson, Stella Khorosheva, said he was suspected of being a spy for Right Sector, the Ukrainian ultranationalist group.

But Sloviansk's self-proclaimed mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, accused Ostrovsky of "provocative comments" and "harmful activities" while openly saying he could be used as a bargaining chip. Ponomarev also said he was troubled by the fact that Ostrovsky has dual US and Israeli citizenship. VICE News and the US State Department said they were working to get him freed as soon as possible.

Reporters Without Borders only recently learned that pro-Russian militiamen abducted Deynega, a Sloviansk-based information technology expert, on 13 April. He had installed a camera on his balcony and used it to broadcast the storming of the local SBU headquarters on YouTube.

The self-proclaimed local authorities said on 21 April that Deynega was in good health and that they would release him soon, but offered no further details and have not given evidence to support their claim that he is all right.

Sergei Lefter, a member of an observation mission sent by the NGO Open Dialogue Foundation, was also kidnapped in Sloviansk on 16 April. Since then, there has been no news of Lefter, who is a journalist by profession.

Ponomarev said on 22 April that these men would be released if it was established that they were not spies. But in an interview for the Gazeta.ru news website the next day, he said that this "hostage taking" was a response to the detention of "comrades" by the central government.

The situation of journalists in Sloviansk worsened after a shootout at the entrance to the city on the evening of 20 April. Italian journalists Paul Gogo and Cossimo Attanacio and Belarusian journalist Dmitri Galko were arrested together the next day but were released a few hours later after their equipment, documents and money had been seized.

(Photo : AFP)

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