New York, May 17, 2017--Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko should immediately reverse his order obstructing at least 19 Russian media companies, four popular Russian websites, and banning at least 13 journalists from entering the country for a year, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The decree, published on the Ukrainian presidency's website on May 15, would restrict the broadcasters' and websites' access to telecommunications services for three years and freezes their assets in Ukraine.
In total, the order--signed as part of expanded Ukrainian sanctions in response to Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula--applies to 468 companies and 1,228 individuals. The decree "restricts or suspends" the access of Russia's official RIA Novosti news agency, broadcasters Channel One, VGTRK, Zvezda, TNT, Ren TV, TV-Center, NTV-Plus, RT, and RBC, among others, the popular Russian social networking sites Odnoklassniki and VK, and the ubiquitous search engine Yandex, to Ukrainian telecommunications networks. The order made no explicit mention of efforts to prevent cross-border broadcasts of the Russian television stations from reaching viewers in neighboring Ukraine. Many, but not all, of the affected media organizations have a strong pro-Kremlin editorial slant.
"Attempts to ban Russian media in Ukraine are antidemocratic, are likely to be ineffective, and could easily backfire by making the government appear afraid of allowing citizens to make up their own minds," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "We call on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to reverse this misguided order and to cease interfering with Ukrainian citizens' right to receive information and opinion from a range of sources."
Additionally, the decree bans the following journalists from entering Ukraine: Aleksey Yefimov, of Russia's Channel One; Dmitry Kiselyov, of the Russian broadcaster RT; Aleksei Pimanov, of the Russian broadcaster Zvezda TV; Aleksandr Potapov, of Russia's Izvestiya newspaper; Vladislav Fronin, of the Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta; Aleksei Sharavskiy, of the Vzglyad.ru media company; Valery Fadeyev, the editor of the Russian magazine Ekspert; Maksim Beryozin, a correspondent for the Russian broadcaster NTV; Olena Berezovskaya, a journalist for Ukraina.ru and RT; Magdalena Tasheva, a Bulgarian politician and journalist; David Berezicki, who writes for the right-wing Polish blog Novorossiya; Hudziec Dawid, also from Novorossiya; and Vladimir Bukarskiy, a Moldovan blogger.
Commenting on the expanded sanctions, which were based on April 28, 2017, recommendations of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Poroshenko wrote on Facebook that Kiev continues "putting pressure on Russia, to force them to start negotiations, implement the Minsk [peace agreements, aimed at ending fighting in eastern Ukraine], and to withdraw their forces from Ukraine."
The country's state telecommunications company, Ukrtelecom, announced yesterday that it had started implementing the decree, adding that it might take a week to comply, the Ukrainian branch of Russia's Interfax news agency reported. Following the decree, many internet users in Ukraine and Russia expressed doubts that the ban could be implemented. Some media outlets posted instructions on how to circumvent attempts at censorship.
Following Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and continued fighting between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian security forces in eastern Ukraine, Kiev has banned several Russian media outlets and journalists reporting from those regions, CPJ has reported. Pro-Russia authorities in Crimea shut down several Ukrainian television and radio broadcasts and replaced them with Russian broadcasters following the annexation, CPJ reported at the time.