In eastern Ukraine, newsroom burned down, telecom company halts broadcasts

New York, June 6, 2014–A local newsroom was burned down on Thursday in Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine and a telecommunication company stopped broadcasting content from six Ukrainian TV channels, citing threats, according to news reports and press freedom groups. In both cases, separatists with the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) were believed to be the perpetrators, the reports said.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists urges the self-appointed officials of the Donetsk People’s Republic to stop trying to silence the press,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Threatening journalists and news outlets and destroying a newsroom as punishment for editorial policy are criminal acts–not political statements. We call on the Ukrainian government to prosecute the perpetrators of these attacks to the full extent of the law.”

On Thursday night, assailants in the city of Torez threw Molotov cocktails at the offices of Gornyak, a local newspaper, according to the independent news website Telekritika and a local press freedom group. The offices burned down, the reports said. Gornyak Editor-in-Chief Anatoly Postnov told Telekritika that he believed the attack was connected to his paper’s coverage of regional events and to the paper’s editorial policy. He said separatists had come to the newsroom a few days prior and demanded that the paper cover their activities favorably. The journalists refused to comply and the separatists broke furniture, he said.

According to Telekritika, assailants also broke in to Gornyak‘s newsroom on May 6 and destroyed its furniture and reporting equipment over its refusal to comply with separatists’ demands to cover the referendum on independence of the region from Ukraine.

In a separate case, the Donetsk-based telecommunications company Matrix said on Thursday that it stopped broadcasting programs by Ukrainian stations Channel 5, Channel 1+1, Donbass, UBR, Pervy Natsionalny, and News 24. Matrix published a letter from separatists it received on Sunday that accused the stations of inciting ethnic and racial hatred, carrying propaganda, glorifying Nazism, and distributing false information about the Donetsk People’s Republic.

The letter also said that if Matrix failed to comply with the separatists’ demands, the Donetsk People’s Republic “would not guarantee the safety of the company’s property or its staff.” The letter did not specify which broadcasts by the stations were considered offensive.

In recent months, the climate for press freedom in Ukraine has deteriorated, with violent attacks against local and international reporters, confiscation of their reporting equipment, and obstruction of television transmissions from both sides, according to CPJ research and a local press freedom group. At least three journalists have been killed while reporting on the crisis in Ukraine. Abduction by armed separatists remains a risk for both local and foreign journalists.