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Ukrainian journalists and activists face increasing attacks, arrests

Activists from women's rights group FEMEN and former AFP photographer from Russia Dmitry Kostyukov (R) look out from a window during a court session in Kiev, 28 July 2013.
Activists from women's rights group FEMEN and former AFP photographer from Russia Dmitry Kostyukov (R) look out from a window during a court session in Kiev, 28 July 2013.

REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Safety is fast becoming a coveted commodity for journalists and activists in Ukraine. Over the last month, at least five reporters have been attacked in apparent connection to their work, while scores of activists have been detained.

One of the latest victims is photojournalist Dmitry Kostyukov, who was beaten while photographing three activists affiliated with the feminist group, FEMEN, in Kiev on 27 July 2013. According to reports cited by The New York Times, approximately 15 to 20 men in plain clothes attacked Kostyukov and the activists, shortly before arresting them for “petty hooliganism” and failing to obey police orders. All four individuals were subsequently fined for their activity on 28 July.

“My head, face and back hurt, and I have some dizziness,” Kostyukov reportedly told Russian television channel Dozhd, the day after the attack.

The incident occurred less than 10 days after two other journalists were beaten at a protest in Kiev, says Freedom House. On 18 July, demonstrators gathered in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, a square in the centre of the city, to decry the recent alleged rape of a female shopkeeper by police officers. Dmitro Demishev and Andrei Kovalev – who were reporting on the demonstration for Channel 5 – were beaten by police officers, while demonstrators were ousted out of the square.

In a press release condemning the 18 July attack, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) notes that “the administration of the police should undergo re-certification in an open public process involving journalists and human rights activists.” The media freedom organisation notes that the Ukrainian police have become notorious for violence, brutality and torture against citizens and journalists.

The recent violence against journalists has not only occurred during public demonstrations. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that on 29 July, television journalist Sergei Ostapenko was attacked outside of his apartment building in Lugansk, eastern Ukraine.

Ostapenko, who suffered a broken jaw and other injuries, had been recently accused of defamation by the local police force, for a report alleging that it was part of a corruption scandal, says CPJ.

A similar incident occurred on 21 July. Oleg Bogdanov, a journalist who reports on abuses committed by Ukrainian traffic police and other law enforcement agencies, was assaulted by two unidentified men near his home in the city of Donetsk, says CPJ. The reporter was taken to hospital with a broken jaw and nose. He suspects the attack was related to his work, but did not specify any particular reports that could have provoked it.

News reports cited by CPJ state that the Bogdanov had previously been targeted. In November, Dorozhny Kontrol reported that unidentified assailants had set fire to his car and accused traffic police of being behind the attack.

The International Press Institute (IPI) has spoken out against the latest attacks in the Ukraine. In a recent press release, IPI's Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “It is of the utmost importance that these attacks be fully investigated and that the individuals responsible be held accountable. The culture of impunity surrounding such incidents in Ukraine is highly detrimental to press freedom and leads only to self-censorship and silence.”

Ukraine fell 10 places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index between 2011-2012. It is now ranked 126th out of 179 countries.

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