New York, August 30, 2001—Aleksey Movsesyan, a 23-year-old cameraman with the independent television station Efir-1 in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, was assaulted on the evening of Sunday, August 26, CPJ has confirmed.
An assailant struck Movsesyan with a hard object between 11 p.m. and midnight while the journalist was walking in a park near his home with a friend. Movsesyan lost consciousness and fell to the ground; the attacker then trampled him. The journalist’s friend was not harmed in the incident, Efir-1 director Tatyana Kozhanovskaya told CPJ.
According to CPJ sources, Movsesyan was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for critical head injuries. As of today he remained in a coma.
Although local police have detained a suspect, they told the station director that their case hinges on Movsesyan’s positive identification of that suspect—even though several other people witnessed the attack. Movsesyan’s colleagues fear that because of his head injuries he will be unable to identify anyone even if he regains consciousness. Police have not released the suspect’s name.
“We are deeply concerned by this brutal attack on our colleague Aleksey Movsesyan,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We urge Ukrainian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice with all possible speed.”
According to Kozhanovskaya, the police are treating the assault as a drunken brawl. However, a doctor at the hospital told Efir-1 that the cameraman’s alcohol level was below the legal limit.
Movsesyan’s colleagues suspect the attack was linked to Movsesyan’s work. “It is difficult not to connect [the attack] with local political developments,” Kozhanovskaya told CPJ in a telephone interview. “Aleksey covered all the political clashes.”
One such clash occurred in April, when a faction of Luhansk City Council deputies forced Mayor Anatoly Yagofyorov out of office. During a City Council meeting, council deputy Vladimir Ladnyk allegedly assaulted Movsesyan and tried to take away his camera. The police opened a criminal case against Ladnyk in connection with this attack.
Television channel under attack
Recently, the Luhansk City Council, which controls Efir-1, attempted to liquidate the station. Kozhanovskaya suspects that this move came in retaliation for the station’s criticisms of municipal authorities and its refusal to support the officials who currently control the council. Efir-1 challenged the council’s actions in court, whereupon the judge halted the liquidation process pending his final ruling. Meanwhile, Efir-1’s staff has not been paid for the last several months.