In Crimea, more journalists report attacks, obstruction

New York, March 18, 2014–At least six journalists have been assaulted, detained, or obstructed from reporting in the southern Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea in the past two days, according to news reports. 

The climate of press freedom in the region has continued to erode following a referendum on Sunday in which Crimean authorities declared independence from Ukraine. The poll was declared illegal by Ukraine and Western governments. Crimean authorities today signed an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which will allow the peninsula to join Russia. Journalists covering the regional crisis since early March have been subjected to arbitrary detentions, harassment, and obstruction, according to news reports.

“The future for residents of Crimea may be uncertain, but the future for journalists working there is decidedly bleak,” Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on authorities to let the media cover the region freely and safely–and to stop using thugs to harass and obstruct journalists by proxy.”

Unidentified armed and masked men in Simeropol today attacked and beat Ibraim Umerov, a journalist for the independent Crimean online broadcaster ATR, and his cameraman, while they were live-streaming a raid on a local auto dealership, according to ATR, who spoke to CPJ, and news reports. ATR is affiliated with the Tatars, a Muslim minority. The assailants beat Umerov in the face and legs and confiscated his reporting equipment and cellphone battery, according to reports. The journalist sought medical treatment for an injured knee and facial bruises. It is unclear if the cameraman, whom ATR did not identify, was also injured. ATR is attempting to retrieve their equipment, news reports said.

At least four other local and international journalists were attacked and harassed in separate incidents on Monday.

Unidentified men wearing military uniforms and armed with knives and whips briefly detained Johan Fredriksson, reporter for the Swedish broadcaster TV4, and Jacek Machula, a cameraman for the station, a few miles outside Sevastopol, according to news reports. The authorities said the journalists were filming “military installations” and confiscated the journalists’ passports and reporting equipment, reports said. Fredriksson and Machula denied the accusations. They were able to retrieve their belongings when they were released, TV4 told CPJ on Twitter.

A group of unidentified assailants attacked and beat Dmitriy Bunetskiy, a correspondent for the local news website Segodnya, and Sergey Nikolayev, a photographer for the site, in the city of Yalta, the Simferopol-based Center for Investigative Journalism reported. The assailants knocked the journalists to the ground and kicked them in the face and chest, the report said. Segodnya reported Bunetskiy and Nikolayev suffered broken teeth and several bruises on the face and chest.