Russian journalists barred from entering Ukraine

New York, May 23, 2014–Several Russian journalists were barred from entering Ukraine this past week, ahead of Sunday’s presidential vote, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the move and calls on Ukrainian authorities to allow all journalists to carry out their job without harassment.

“If Ukrainian authorities are looking to build a democratic state, they must stop barring the press from covering public events in the country, especially the presidential vote,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program researcher. “Openness and transparency are vital for democracy. We urge Ukraine to grant entry to all journalists, no matter their nationality or affiliation, or their newsroom’s editorial line.”

The journalists barred today from entering Ukraine included Ilya Azar, special correspondent for the Moscow-based independent broadcaster Ekho Moskvy; popular blogger Ilya Varlamov; Aleksandr Serichenko, cameraman for the Kremlin-funded broadcaster Russia Today, and his assistant Andrey Peleshok; as well as two crews of journalists affiliated with the Russian state-owned broadcaster VGTRK, according to news reports. At least three other journalists affiliated with Russia Today’s Arabic service were denied entry earlier this week, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

The climate for press freedom in Ukraine deteriorated following the annexation of Crimea in March and subsequent public support by Russia of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russian journalists, especially those working for news outlets funded or affiliated with Kremlin, have been accused of spreading lies against Ukraine and carrying propaganda.

Ukrainian authorities are still holding two Russian journalists. Oleg Sidyakin, a journalist for the pro-Kremlin news portal Life News, and Marat Saychenko, a cameraman, were detained on Sunday during a raid on armed separatists, according to news reports. Authorities subsequently said that soldiers found a weapon in the car used by the journalists and accused them of aiding terrorists by reporting on the actions of pro-Russia separatists, the reports said.

“CPJ is concerned about the ongoing detention of Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saychenko and calls on Ukraine to ensure and enforce rule of law in their case,” said CPJ’s Suleymanov. “We also call on the authorities to stop equating conflict reporting with terrorism.”

A third journalist was detained by Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday, according to news reports. British reporter Graham Phillips, who contributes to Russia Today, was released a day later.