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Journalists hunted down for sources, assaulted and arrested

Police searched the homes of two Ukrainian journalists and seized their equipment this month, while authorities have cracked down on other critical journalists in an escalation of press freedom violations since presidential elections in February 2010, report the Kiev-based Institute of Mass Information (IMI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Also in recent weeks, a newspaper editor and television reporter were savagely assaulted.

Seventeen TVi journalists have sent a letter to President Victor Yanukovich demanding that he put an end to interference in the media by the country's main security agency, Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The TVi journalists allege SBU has been harassing journalists in order to defend the personal and business interests of the head of the SBU, Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy. SBU "tried to declare our TV channel a foreign one and thus, to deprive us of the right to broadcast over all the territory of Ukraine," say the journalists in the letter. "We assure you, we are a Ukraine channel and we are ready to defend freedom of speech in the country where we are citizens."

The Commission for Establishing Freedom of Expression was recently dissolved by a decree that was posted on the President's website. Political authorities attempting to monopolise media outlets are a great threat to press freedom, says IMI. "We are aware that Victor Yanukovich has given no press conferences since being elected head of state."

In addition, police have been systematically intimidating and arresting journalists. Journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska was harassed for covering a demonstration outside an animal fur store in February where demonstrators threw smoke grenades and eggs with paint at the store.

In early April police raided Bilozerska's home as well as the home of photographer Olexiy Furman of the Photolenta agency in a search for information about demonstrators. Both journalists were summoned for questioning on 30 March. "Bilozerska and Furman said the police were above all looking for photos, video footage and print materials of members of the radical opposition movement 'Autonomous Resistance,'" said RSF.

On 12 April, police arrested journalist Andriy Vey, director of the "Express" newspaper, for alleged tax evasion. When several journalists went to the police to ask for an explanation for Vey's arrest, they were beaten and their cameras were broken. In recent months, the newspaper reported on the expensive "refurbishments of the Regional Prosecutor's Office while schools and other basic services remain underfunded, as well as exposing corruption among local deputies and traffic police," reports the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

"Express" newspaper has been targeted in several ways: a suspected arson attack on editor-in-chief Igor Pochynok's home, a smear campaign, the threat of criminal prosecution against Pochynok, and shots fired at the newspaper's office, reports WAN-IFRA.

Also on 12 April, television journalist Boris Braguinskiy was knocked to the ground and kicked by an unidentified assailant outside the building of the television studios for the programme "Provincial Chronicles" on Channel 9 in Dnipropetrovsk.

On 23 March, Vasyl Demyaniv, editor of the "Kolomoyskiy Visnyk" newspaper, was viciously beaten by several men. His skull was fractured and he had to undergo surgery. Colleagues from the National Union of Journalists say the assault is linked to Demyaniv's work; he has often been critical of local authorities.

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