An armed separatist orders a journalist to leave the area near the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines plane in Donetsk region. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)
An armed separatist orders a journalist to leave the area near the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines plane in Donetsk region. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Journalists missing, fixer kidnapped, press banned in eastern Ukraine

New York, July 23, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a series of recent anti-press violations in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk. In the past two days, at least two journalists have gone missing, while pro-Russia separatists abducted a fixer and briefly detained a reporter, according to news reports and press freedom and human rights groups. The moves come as the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic today banned journalists from the conflict area.

“Abductions and detentions of journalists and other violations of press freedom are happening at dizzying speed in eastern Ukraine,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on all sides in the conflict to immediately release any journalists in their custody and halt all attempts to censor, obstruct, and intimidate the media.”

On Tuesday, armed separatists in Donetsk stormed a room in a local hotel and abducted Anton Skiba, who was assisting a CNN film crew, according to news reports and the Vienna-based human rights watchdog Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Skiba’s whereabouts are unknown, reports said.

In another case also on Tuesday, separatists in Donetsk briefly detained Piotr Andrusieczko, a journalist with the Polish magazine Nowa Europa Wschodnia, according to the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute of Mass Information. Andrusieczko told IMI that he was photographing a building in Donetsk when separatists checked his ID, asked for his press accreditation, and told him they had orders to detain all foreign journalists. He said they wrote down his personal information and told him that journalists were required to have a special accreditation issued by their commander. He was released soon after, IMI said.

The press service of the Donetsk People’s Republic today in a statement on its website banned the practice of journalism in the conflict area. The ban reads: “In order to ensure personal safety for media workers, and due to the need for guaranteeing informational security for DPR’s armed forces, on July 21 [self-declared DPR] Defense Minister Igor Strelkov issued an order, in accordance to which journalists, cameramen, and photojournalists are banned from making photo, video, and audio records.”

The order also said that journalists are banned from entering the conflict area or approaching military installations and facilities.

Also today, news reports citing the Kremlin-owned broadcast outlet Russia Today said two journalists–Graham Phillips, a contributor to Russia Today, and a cameraman with the pro-Russia news website Anna News, identified only by his first name Vadim–have been missing since Tuesday, when they were near the Donetsk airport. Russia Today said the outlet had not assigned Phillips, a British national, to visit the area and told him not to go, because of the risks. Russia Today’s statement said: “Based on the messages that appeared in social media a bit later, [Phillips] decided to go there anyway, alongside another group of journalists.”

Russia Today said Phillips was in the hands of the Ukrainian army. Ukrainian authorities denied holding him, according to Russian news agencies RIA Novosti and Interfax.

The climate for press freedom in the volatile eastern Ukraine has deteriorated further following the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines plane in Donetsk region, CPJ research shows. Using attacks and detentions, separatists have deterred Ukrainian journalists from entering the region, including the plane crash area, local journalists in Ukraine told CPJ. Over the weekend, separatists briefly detained up to 10 foreign correspondents who came to the region to report on the plane crash.

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