Journalists, editors detained in Crimea, eastern Ukraine

New York, June 2, 2014–At least five journalists in Crimea and mainland Ukraine were detained today, two of whom were still being held, by Russian authorities and pro-Russia separatists, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detentions and urges all sides of the crisis in Ukraine to allow journalists to do their job without fear of reprisal. 

In Crimea, a southern Ukrainian region that was annexed by Russia in March, regional authorities beat and detained Sergey Mokrushin, journalist with the Simferopol-based Center for Investigative Reporting, and his colleague, producer Vladlen Melnikov, outside the center’s offices, regional media reported. Authorities accused the two of insulting Russian government officials, according to news reports. They are being held at the Centralny district police station in Simferopol.

Also today, in the eastern city of Donetsk, a group of armed men in camouflage uniforms raided the offices of regional newspapers Donbass and Vecherny Donetsk, local and international press reports said. The two offices were in the same building. The assailants prevented the staff from leaving the office or using phones and detained three editors, taking them to an unknown location, the reports said.

Aleksandr Brizh, chief editor of Donbass and head of the regional branch for Ukrainian Union of Journalists; his deputy at the paper, Andrei Krivtsun; and Leonid Lapa, chief editor of Vecherny Donetsk, were released a few hours later. The captors accused them of incorrect reporting and demanded that they change the papers’ editorial policy, according to the independent news agency UkrInform which cited a statement by Lapa.

Krivtsun told the local news website Ostrov that both newspapers were discussing the separatists’ demands and were considering shutting down the outlets for fear of future retaliation.

“We call on authorities in Crimea to release Sergey Mokrushin and Vladlen Melnikov immediately,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia research associate. “All parties involved in the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea should respect the right of the media to report news independently and without fear of retribution.”

In a separate case, transmissions of four Ukrainian TV channels–ICTV, STB, Inter, and Irta–were shut down in the eastern city of Lugansk on Friday, the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute of Mass Information reported.

The Ukrainian independent news website Telekritika, citing a manager of the Lugansk-based channel Irta, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, reported that the channel was forced to shut down after separatists entered the premises with automatic weapons. In a press conference, Valery Bolotov, head of the self-proclaimed Lugansk Peoples’ Republic, accused the channel of carrying pro-Ukraine propaganda, according to the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

“We call for the immediate restoration of broadcasting by ICTV, STB, Inter, and Irta TV stations,” CPJ’s Suleymanov said. “People of the region deserve access to a plurality of news accounts and opinion at this critical time.”

This is not the first time Irta has been targeted by armed separatists since the crisis in Ukraine began, CPJ research shows. In early April, unidentified masked men attempted to storm Irta’s newsroom but were prevented after a scuffle with the broadcaster’s security agents, reports said.

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 IMI reports. 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.