Journalists assaulted amid protests in Ukraine

New York, January 22, 2014–Dozens of journalists were attacked, and their equipment damaged, while reporting on anti-government protests that began over the weekend in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, according to local and international news reports. The protests come as the government has approved new legislation imposing restrictions on the media.

Thousands of Ukrainian citizens gathered in the central Maidan square in Kiev to protest against draconian bills that, among other measures, ban public protests, criminalize libel, and curb free speech on the Internet. The legal amendments also require civic groups that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents” and mandates that all news outlets must seek state registration. The bills were rushed through parliament in two days, and President Viktor Yanukovych signed them on Friday, news reports said.

The protests turned violent on Sunday after individuals in the crowd attacked police with stones and Molotov cocktails. In the ensuing violence, at least 42 local and international reporters were attacked, in most cases by stun grenades and rubber bullets, according to the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute of Mass Information. Some of the journalists reported being shot in the eye or leg, and some said they had been beaten. Most of the journalists named officers of the Ukrainian riot police unit Berkut as the assailants.

At least two journalists with the Ukrainian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said that police ignored their “Press” vests and cards, briefly detained them, and beat them with fists and batons.

“Journalists in Ukraine are under attack in the street and in Parliament,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We deplore the assaults on reporters covering the protests in Kiev and call on the security forces to respect the right of journalists to work in safety. We also urge the government to repeal the laws, which give Ukraine some of the most repressive media legislation in Europe.”

At least five protesters have been killed and hundreds wounded amid the clashes, regional and international press reported.

It is the second wave of assaults on the press since protests began in Kiev in November in connection with Yanukovych’s decision to reverse Ukraine’s course toward integration into the European Union. In early December, at least 51 journalists were targeted and beaten by the riot police. Facing domestic and international outcry, authorities announced in December that they had opened investigation into the attacks. No progress has been reported.