New York, May 15, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern over the Ukraine Security Service’s (SBU) search of the Kiev office of the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti and detention of the office director, Kirill Vyshynsky.
The Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko as saying that the media activities of the news agency and Vyshynsky are anti-Ukrainian and amount to “state treason.” Lutsenko added that the Ukrainian investigation into those activities “has evidence of carrying out well-paid anti-Ukrainian attacks” by RIA Novosti-Ukraine. However, Lutsenko did not elaborate on the alleged evidence.
The SBU claimed in an official statement that in the spring of 2014, Vyshynsky traveled to Crimea, where he personally took part in “propaganda campaigns aimed at supporting annexation and joining the peninsula to the Russian Federation” while working for the state-run RT news outlet, formerly Russia Today. For his work “in favor of the aggressor country in May 2014,” the SBU alleged, Vyshynsky was awarded a medal by a private decree of the president of the Russia.
CPJ was unable to determine Vyshynsky’s whereabouts or whether he had been formally charged. The SBU did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request sent via email for more information on the case.
Vyshynsky’s colleagues at RIA Novosti-Ukraine said he was detained today near his home in Kiev, according to a report by the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). SBU spokesperson Olena Hitlyanska wrote on her Facebook page that the journalist was detained, but gave no further details.
“We call on Ukrainian authorities to disclose the charges and evidence they have against Vyshynsky or release him without delay,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We also call on Ukrainian authorities to stop harassing and obstructing Russian media operating in Ukraine. The criminalization of alternative news and views has no place in a democratic Ukraine.”
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which condemned the SBU raid and Vyshynsky’s detention, Vyshynsky is a Ukrainian citizen with a Russian passport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called the SBU’s actions against RIA Novosti-Ukraine and Vyshynsky “disgraceful and scandalous,” (RFE/RL) reported.
Ukraine’s actions against RIA Novosti-Ukraine and Vyshynsky come amid tensions between Kiev and Moscow over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support of an armed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine that has claimed over 10,300 lives, according to the United Nations.
The Ukrainian government has intensified its attempts to weaken Russia’s influence on its population through the Russian state media, which Kiev claims Moscow uses to stir up anti-Ukrainian sentiment and foment hostilities. Kiev has banned multiple Russian television news channels since 2014, accusing them of disseminating propaganda, and it has deported several journalists, according to CPJ research.