Independent media, journalists obstructed in Crimea

New York, March 3, 2014–Authorities in the autonomous republic of Crimea in southern Ukraine should ensure that media outlets and independent journalists are allowed to report on the political crisis in the region without being censored or harassed, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Tension in the predominantly Russian-speaking southern and eastern Ukraine has increased since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country and was ousted by the parliament in late February, according to news reports. On Saturday, authorities in Sevastopol–the city that hosts the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea and which is administratively separate from the autonomous republic–declared their decision to disregard the interim Ukrainian government. Over the weekend, the Russian military occupied parts of the Crimean peninsula.

In the past two days in Crimea, a journalism agency has been raided, a TV broadcaster shut down, and an independent journalist assaulted and her camera seized.

“We call on all parties involved in the crisis in Ukraine to allow journalists to report safely, freely, and without fear of reprisal,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “All Ukrainian residents, regardless of ethnicity or political sympathies, are entitled to a full range of news coverage, particularly at this crucial time.”

The Center for Investigative Journalism, an agency based in Crimea’s administrative center, Simferopol, that runs investigative projects and journalist training, told CPJ that masked men stormed their building on Sunday and briefly occupied it. The building also houses other offices, including those of a local trade union and a media nonprofit organization called the Information and Press Center.

The Center for Investigative Journalism reported today that members of the regional parliament of Crimea blamed Ukrainian media for “spreading panic” and “imposing incorrect and biased information” about the events in the region. The MPs threatened to “shut off the flow of deceitful and biased information in order to save the public from negative impact,” the reports said.

Today, Crimea’s State Television and Radio Transmitting Center forced the independent popular broadcaster Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya (Black Sea TV) off the air. Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya, which has covered the political tension in the region, is one of two of the largest local broadcasters available to Crimean residents.

“Only two local channels are broadcast on the territory of the autonomous republic–Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya and Crimean state broadcaster GTRK Krym. By turning off Chernomorskaya, regional residents have been stripped of their right to choose. Now, we all must have only one, ‘correct’ opinion,” Aleksandra Kvitko, the broadcaster’s chief editor, told Ukrainian news agency UNIAN.  

In a letter addressed to Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya, which was published by Ukrainian media, S.N. Dotsenko, head of the transmitting center, said the broadcasting had been stopped because of reasons that were unrelated to his agency, but did not offer further details. CPJ’s calls to Dotsenko for comment were not immediately answered.

The broadcaster’s website has also been subjected to denial-of-service attacks, Ukrainian and independent Russian news outlets reported. DOS attacks occur when a network or servers are flooded with external requests, which slow them down. It is unclear if the website is inaccessible in Ukraine.

In an unrelated case, an unidentified individual today assaulted Tatyana Rikhtun, chief editor of the Sevastopol-based news website 911Sevastopol, and seized her camera. Rikhtun was filming Russian soldiers who had surrounded the headquarters of the Ukrainian navy in Sevastopol. News reports said that she reported the attack to regional police and asked them to investigate.