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Crimean authorities take two more broadcasters off air

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Cossacks stand guard near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol, March 6. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)

New York, March 6, 2014--Crimean authorities should immediately restore broadcasting in the region by the independent Ukraine television stations Channel 5 and Channel 1+1, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

According to local journalists in Crimea and news reports, regional authorities in the administrative center Simferopol stopped transmitting the two privately owned broadcasters' analogue signals to the peninsula today on the order of Sergei Aksenov, the recently appointed pro-Russian prime minister of the region. Earlier this week his government threatened in a statement to "shut off the flow of deceitful and biased information in order to save the public from negative impact," the independent news website Lenta reported.

A spokeswoman for Channel 5 told CPJ by phone that the station's programming is currently unavailable in Crimea and that regional authorities have not responded to Channel 5's requests for explanation. Evgeniy Garkusha of the Simferopol-based Center for Investigative Journalism told CPJ that some regional cable networks also stopped carrying programming of the two channels. Garkusha said Russian state-owned broadcasters Rossiya and Rossiya-24 are being transmitted on the airwaves of Channel 5 and Channel 1+1.

CPJ's calls to Crimea's State Television and Radio Transmitting Center for comment went unanswered.

This is the second time this week that regional authorities have moved to censor independent broadcasters in Crimea. On Monday, popular independent broadcaster Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya (Black Sea TV) had its signal removed from the air without explanation.

"We condemn this blatant censorship of Ukrainian television stations which is part of a growing pattern by Crimean authorities of restricting the flow of independent news and opinion," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "All inhabitants of the peninsula have a right to unfettered access to news. The authorities must restore transmission of Channel 5, Channel 1+1, and Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya immediately."  

Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya and Channel 1+1 have also experienced debilitating denial-of service (DOS) attacks on their websites. According to the BBC, hacking and DOS attacks between Ukrainian and Russian websites and telecommunications networks have intensified in recent weeks.

Separately today, pro-Russian protesters attacked a Channel 5 crew when the journalists approached the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the city of Sevastopol, news reports said.

According to Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Kiev-based press freedom group, journalists reporting on the stand-off between Russia and the interim Ukrainian government over the future of Crimea have faced official obstruction, intimidation, and physical attacks from pro-Russian protesters. The IMI documented 24 such incidents since mid-February.

Tension in the predominantly Russian-speaking southern and eastern Ukraine has increased since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country and was ousted by Parliament late last month. Over the weekend, the Russian military occupied parts of the Crimean peninsula. Today, the Crimean Parliament voted to become part of Russia, and scheduled a referendum on the issue for March 16, news reports said.  

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