MOSCOW, March 4 (RIA Novosti) – International media rights advocates have sounded the alarm over harassment of reporters attempting to cover unfolding events in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, where resistance is mounting to the newly installed central government.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe press freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic said Monday she was concerned over reports that local broadcasters have been shut down and journalists attacked in full view of police.
“Silencing media is not acceptable under any circumstances, and especially not in times of crisis,” Mijatovic said in a statement.
Nerves are on edge in the heavily ethnic Russian-populated south and east of Ukraine, where protests have been sparked over fears of overtly aggressive nationalist policy-making by the interim government that has come into place since last month’s ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Troops under apparent Russian command, many of them traveling in military trucks and armored personnel carriers, have deployed widely around Crimea. President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denied that Russian troops were involved in direct security operations on the ground in the peninsula and described the numerous heavily armed men spotted around Crimea over the past as “local militia.”
Specific details on developments have been scarce, a situation seemingly compounded by working conditions for journalists.
The OSCE and the Committee to Protect Journalists cited reports as saying the Chernomorskaya television and radio channels, the largest independent broadcaster on the peninsula, were shut down Monday.
“By turning off Chernomorskaya, regional residents have been stripped of their right to choose. Now, we all must have only one, 'correct' opinion," the broadcaster's chief editor, Alexandra Kvitko, was cited as telling UNIAN news agency.
Control over Crimea has effectively been taken by local authorities sympathetic to Moscow and to the large number of Russian troops that has, according to multiple eyewitness accounts, deployed around the peninsula.
The OSCE said that on Sunday a group of around 30 men in military uniform targeted an independent press center and an investigative journalism bureau in Simferopol, the administrative center of Crimea.
Mijatovic said there had been multiple attacks on journalists by protesters at pro-Russia rallies in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said that in another incident, an unidentified person attacked the chief editor of Crimean news website 911Sevastopol and seized her camera as she was attempting to film Russian soldiers surrounding the headquarters of the Ukrainian navy in the city of Sevastopol.
CPJ coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, Nina Ognianova, said in a statement that all parties should be permitted to report safely and without fear of reprisal.
"All Ukrainian residents, regardless of ethnicity or political sympathies, are entitled to a full range of news coverage, particularly at this crucial time," she said.
Corrects to specify that troops are in Crimea are not definitively identified as belonging to Russian armed forces