Ukrainian journalist in custody on anti-state charges

New York, August 25, 2017–Ukrainian authorities should immediately release freelance journalist Vasily Muravitsky and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Muravitsky, a reporter and columnist based in Zhytomyr, has been detained since August 1 on anti-state charges brought by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), according to news reports.

SBU agents arrested Muravitsky on charges of state treason, infringement of territorial integrity of Ukraine, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations, according to a Facebook statement posted by the general prosecutor’s press secretary.

The SBU, in an August 2 statement, accused the journalist of preparing and distributing “anti-Ukraine materials” on six news websites “administered from Russia and the temporarily-occupied territories” of Ukraine, and acting as an “information mercenary” working on orders from Moscow. The statement cited Muravitsky’s contract with the Russian state news agency Rossiya Segodnya.

Muravitsky denied the charges against him in an interview with the independent Ukrainian website Strana. In the interview, given while in custody, Muravitsky said his contract with Rossiya Segodnya was a standard one used by “hundreds of journalists around the world,” and that he has not been presented with evidence to justify the accusation that his articles constitute state treason.

If convicted, Muravitsky, who reports on politics, the annexation of Crimea, and the fighting in Donbass, faces up to 15 years in prison.

“We call on Ukrainian authorities to immediately release Vasily Muravitsky and drop all charges against him,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Ukrainian leaders must stop dividing journalists into patriotic and unpatriotic, and instead reiterate the critical role of journalists in a democratic society to hold public officials accountable.”

On August 11, the SBU published on Facebook a list of articles by Muravitsky that allegedly were proof that the journalist “acted precisely in the interests of the aggressor state.” Many of the links to the articles were broken when CPJ checked them.

Sergiy Tomilenko, the head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, told CPJ on August 22 that authorities have not provided any evidence of Muravitsky’s guilt. Ukraine has been cracking down on critics and media outlets considered anti-patriotic, CPJ has found. The independent news website, Strana, which interviewed Muravitsky, has also come under SBU harassment.