Journalists attacked while covering protests in Kiev

A video report by a Euronews cameraman shows him being attacked by police during clashes in Kiev. (YouTube/Euronews)

New York, December 2, 2013–At least 51 journalists were attacked while covering protests in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and other cities over the weekend, according to news reports and local journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the attacks and calls on Ukrainian authorities to ensure that journalists are free to cover political developments.

Thousands of opposition activists and local residents took to the streets and clashed with police, calling for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and his party’s government, according to news reports. The protests started after Yanukovych reversed his decision to sign political and trade agreements with the European Union, citing economic pressure from Russia, news reports said. The agreements were intended to improve bilateral economic and political ties with the EU and effect democratic reforms.

The demonstrations peaked on Sunday when protesters broke into and barricaded themselves inside Kiev’s mayoral office, and when another group clashed with police while trying to storm the president’s office, local and international media reported.

Dozens of local and international journalists were attacked and their equipment damaged by both protesters and police while covering the protests, according to news reports and local journalists. Several reporters suffered injuries, including head wounds and broken limbs, from being hit by rocks, flash grenades, and gas pellets, and others had their reporting equipment damaged, according to a report by the Kiev-based magazine Telekritika, which closely monitors press freedom developments in Ukraine. CPJ is investigating the extent of the injuries and damage.

Several of the journalists were targeted by a riot police unit known as Berkut, which was preventing protesters from storming the presidential administration building, local journalists told CPJ. Maryana Zakusilo, of Telekritika, said that Berkut police beat journalists even though they had valid press IDs, wore vests marked “Press,” and had identified themselves as reporters.

According to Zoya Kazanzhy, a local blogger who contributes to Telekritika, at least 19 reporters were attacked by Berkut agents during the clashes in Kiev.

“We call on Ukraine’s law enforcement to allow journalists to report on the significant events unfolding in the country unobstructed, and to fulfill their obligation to protect reporters from harm,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Each incident involving journalists attacked or equipment damaged must be thoroughly investigated, and the perpetrators duly punished.”

Darya Chepak, President Yanukovych’s press secretary, condemned the use of police force against reporters, news reports said. In a statement issued today, Chepak asked Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office to swiftly investigate all the assaults against the journalists during the protests. “I demand that law enforcement officers fulfill their obligation to guarantee citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” the news website UkrInform reported Chepak as saying.