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
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