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One journalist killed, 27 others injured as Ukrainian protests ignite

Anti-government protesters stand behind burning barricades in Kiev's Independence Square, 19 February 2014.
Anti-government protesters stand behind burning barricades in Kiev's Independence Square, 19 February 2014.

REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

At least 27 journalists have been injured and one reporter has been killed since 18 February, as clashes between protestors and police escalate in Ukraine.

Vyacheslav Veremyi, a 33-year-old correspondent for Vesti newspaper, died early this morning following an attack by unidentified assailants on 18 February as he was leaving Independence Square. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Veremyi and his colleague Aleksei Lymarenko were dragged out of a taxi by masked men and violently beaten, before Veremyi was shot in the chest.

"We condemn the brutal killing of Vyacheslav Veremyi, which underscores the risks journalists are facing in Ukraine," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "The authorities must hold his killers to account. Failure to do so will only embolden those groups that are reportedly already intimidating journalists covering the protests."

Veremyi's death is a tragic outcome of the social unrest that has overtaken Ukraine since November 2013, when citizens began demonstrating against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision not to sign a series of trade agreements with the European Union.

Discontent grew even stronger in January 2014, when Yanukovych approved a law that essentially criminalised public protest and placed heavy restrictions on journalists and news sites. While the law was repealed shortly thereafter, violence has continued to permeate the ongoing demonstrations.

According to BBC News, approximately 26 people have died in the past few days, including 14 protestors, ten police officers and Veremyi, the journalist.

The Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a press-freedom group based in Kiev, has condemned the violence, warning that "… the authorities are ready to drown Ukraine in blood, apply firearms and military equipment."

In a statement issued on 19 February, the organisation calls on the international community and foreign reporters to help.

"We also ask you to repeatedly raise the issue of introduction of sanctions against Ukrainian officials, as human lives depend on it – literally…We ask you to inform your audiences about offshore bank accounts and companies of corrupt Ukrainian officials, which can leverage them to withdraw their support to the militant regime of Yanukovych, who launched terror against the people he swore to serve."

Several press freedom organisations have already spoken out.

In a sharply worded statement, the International Partnership Mission on safety and protection of journalists and press freedom in Ukraine, currently in Kiev, has publicly condemned the violence against journalists. A coalition of representatives from media freedom organisations, the International Partnership Mission is calling on the Ukrainian authorities "to allow an immediate, independent, and transparent investigation and to bring those responsible to justice."

The International Partnership Mission on safety and protection of journalists and press freedom in Ukraine includes representatives of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine (IMTU), the Ukrainian Association of Press Publishers, the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ/IFJ), International Media Support (IMS), Open Society Foundation, WAN/IFRA, Article19, Reporters Without Borders and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Its 19-20 February 2014 visit to Kiev aims to gather first-hand information about current press freedom violations in Ukraine, to show solidarity with journalists at risk, and to coordinate further responses.

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