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Two more victims of information war in Ukraine

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 8 August 2017.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Vasily Muravitsky, a journalist working for Russian media who is being held by the Ukrainian authorities, and Eduard Nedeliayev, a blogger who has been sentenced to 14 years in prison by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern city Lugansk.

The most recent of the information war's two latest victims is Muravitsky, who was placed in pre-trial detention in Zhytomyr, 150 km west of Kiev, on 3 August on charges of high treason, endangering Ukraine's territorial integrity, inciting hatred and supporting the activities of terrorist organizations.

Held for working for Russian media?

The more detailed allegations made against Muravitsky by the authorities nonetheless indicate that he was arrested above all for working for Russian state media.

The prosecutor's office and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) have accused him of being an “information mercenary,” of carrying out “subversive activities against Ukraine for the benefit of a foreign state” and most specifically of “creating and posting content online with elements aimed at manipulating opinion psychologically and inciting hate.”

The evidence against him includes a contract linking him to the Russian state media group Rossya Segodnya. He is being held under a two-month pre-trial detention order that excludes release on bail. Aged 32, he is facing a possible 15-year jail sentence.

“We are all aware of propaganda's destructive effects and its role in the tragic turn that events have taken in Ukraine, but the mere fact of working for a media outlet or expressing unwelcome opinions must not be criminalized,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“Inciting hatred or violence must obviously be combatted, but on the basis of specific evidence and respecting international law. From the evidence so far produced, Vasily Muravitsky's detention appears to be neither necessary nor proportionate. We call for his immediate release.”

According to article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ukraine has ratified, any restrictions on freedom of expression must be strictly legal, necessary and proportionate.

The Johannesburg Principles specify that, if authorities want to restrict freedom of expression on national security grounds, they must be able to establish a direct link between the offending comments and potential violent actions.

Blogger sentenced by separatists

Nedeliayev was meanwhile sentenced to 14 years in prison in eastern Ukraine's “Lugansk People's Republic” (LNR) on 28 July, eight months after his arrest. Blogging as “Edward Ned,” he used to comment on daily life in Lugansk, a city controlled by separatists for the past three years.

The LNR's self-proclaimed authorities accused him of “defaming citizens,” “inciting hatred of the Russian nation” and “endangering national security by providing data to foreign agents.”

Eastern Ukraine's separatist jails are currently also holding Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty correspondent Stanislav Asayev, who went missing on 2 June. The Donetsk People's Republic acknowledged a month later that it was holding him on a spying charge.

The separatist regions are no-go areas that have become news and information “black holes.” Critical journalists have to operate clandestinely and few foreign observers are admitted. Crimea has also been purged of its critical journalists and media since annexation by Russia in 2014.

Ukraine is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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