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Armed oil company guards unlawfully detain television journalists documenting ecological damage

(GDF/IFEX) - On 14 May 2008, reporters for the news programme of a Chelyabinsk-based state television company and Channel ATV-12 were filming for a report on ecological problems near an oil pipeline in the Asha District, where a waste dump on oil-polluted snow had melted into a vast marsh, when they were approached and taken into custody by armed men, apparently security guards of the oil-transporting company UralSibNefteprovod.

News director Natalya Loshkaryova managed to get into a car to drive to the nearest police station for help; the rest of the crew were detained. One of them, journalist Olga Zadvornykh, told an on-line news source: "They said we were inside a specially guarded sanitary area, although we had not seen any warning signs or fence. Pointing their sub-machine guns at us, they forced us to follow them."

According to Zadvornykh, the journalists spent over an hour in captivity before the chief security guard abruptly told them: "Beat it, and fast!" They were released because Loshkaryova had reported their unlawful detention to the district police, and a group of policemen had been sent to check the facts.

"It will be a sensational report," Zadvornykh said. "We did find an oil marsh nearly half a mile long in which several cows had drowned shortly before. Their hapless owners tell the story with lots of feeling and in minute detail."

The arbitrary and unlawful detention of reporters at gunpoint to prevent them from performing their duties is a blatant violation of media freedom.

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