Condemnation for brutal attacks on over 50 journalists in Ukraine

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
His Excellency Vadym Prystaiko Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Canada Embassy of Ukraine in Canada 310 Somerset Street West Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0J9 Dear Ambassador, I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world. CJFE adds its voice to the Institute of Mass Information and the undersigned members of IFEX—the global network defending freedom of expression, in strongly condemning the recent attacks on journalists and others during public demonstrations in Kyiv, Ukraine against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to back out of the trade agreements with the European Union. During mass demonstrations over several days from 29 November to 1 December 2013, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), IFEX's member in Ukraine, reports that 51 local and foreign journalists were severely beaten or suffered injuries from noise grenades, flying rocks or teargas. According to IMI's analysis of the situation, it seems clear that many journalists were beaten deliberately by police, and journalists showing their IDs or clearly marked as press were not immune from attack. On 1 December, there was an attack on the Ukraine Writers Union, where protestors had taken shelter from the violence, and at least one writer was reportedly injured trying to protect the protestors. As protests continued to mount, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators calling for the president's resignation, police raided three opposition media outlets on 9 December and took their computers and servers, thus preventing them from publishing. Interior Minister Vitaliy Zaharchenko reportedly said that those who publicly claim the innocence of demonstrators who were detained by the police may face charges under Article 378 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine which prohibits “interference into the activities of the court.” This statement appears to threaten the right of individuals to freely and peacefully express their opinions about the protests and the conduct of the security forces. We urge Ukrainian authorities to respond by taking concrete steps to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice and stop restricting freedom of expression and assembly. As such, we call on the Ukrainian government:
  • • To identify and punish those guilty of beating journalists, photographers and operators, who covered public actions in Ukraine from 29 November to 1 December.
  • • To ensure that no unlawful restrictions on the right to freedom of expression relating to the demonstrations are imposed.
  • • To introduce visible individual numbers on helmets of the soldiers in the special riot unit known as Berkut, which will make it possible to identify them clearly, and will help to eliminate impunity for their abuse of power.
  • • To demand the immediate resignation of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zaharchenko, who is responsible for the actions of the Berkut unit.
We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply. Yours sincerely, Arnold Amber, CJFE President Institute of Mass Information Active Watch – Media Monitoring Agency Afghanistan Journalists Center Africa Freedom of Information Centre Albanian Media Institute Arabic Network for Human Rights Information ARTICLE 19 Association of Caribbean Media Workers Bahrain Center for Human Rights Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Cartoonists Rights Network International Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia Electronic Frontier Foundation Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP Freedom Forum Globe International Center Independent Journalism Center - Moldova Index on Censorship Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information International Press Institute International Publishers Association Journaliste en danger Journalists' Trade Union Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Media Foundation for West Africa Media Rights Agenda Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA Pacific Islands News Association Pakistan Press Foundation Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA PEN American Center PEN Canada Public Association "Journalists" Reporters Without Borders Southeast Asian Press Alliance World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers World Press Freedom Committee Cc: Mr. Troy Lulashnyk, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs

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