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Georgian journalist barred from entering Ukraine

(IMI/IFEX) - On February 5, 2010, Ukraine denied entry to Zurab Khvistani, a Georgian journalist working for Imedi TV, according to Interfax news agency. On February 7, after the consul of Georgia interfered, the journalist was set free and allowed to enter Ukraine. IMI believes this was a danger for press freedom.

"He was not detained, he was denied entry to Ukraine due to a prohibiting decree issued by the law enforcement body valid until July 31, 2010," the press officer of the State border guard service of Ukraine stated.

The journalist from Georgia arrived on February 5 at 9:50 a.m. on a Tbilisi-Kyiv flight.

Imedi TV was informed that its journalist, Zurab Khvistani, who came to cover the second round of presidential elections on February 7, had been detained in Kyiv on February 5. Speaking by phone on an Imedi TV live broadcast, Khvistani said that he was not informed of the reasons for his detention, only that he was banned from entering Ukraine, and then placed in a cell. Meanwhile, his colleague, an Imedi cameraman, was allowed to enter Ukraine. During the first round of presidential elections, Khvistani was reporting from Donetsk (eastern part of Ukraine), where he was severely beaten by unknown persons.

On February 7, the ban was withdrawn, as the consul of Georgia, Teymuraz Nishnianidze, tried resolving the issue. "This morning, the border service officers explained to me that the ban had been issued by the SBU. In fact, the SBU confirmed it. I was told by them we should write a letter and they would examine it. I sent them the letter and 30 minutes (by 4 p.m.) ago, the SBU informed me in a verbal communication that they withdrew the ban and sent it to the State border guard service. I spoke to border officers and I am going to Borispil to get him free," he said.

IMI lawyer Roman Golovenko estimated this was a threat to press freedom, as the authorities did not allow Imedi TV reporter Zurab Khvistani to exercise his profession as a journalist.

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