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Hackers reveal details of reporters accredited with Ukraine rebels

May 11, 2016

Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday launched a criminal probe into pro-Kiev hackers who revealed details of thousands of reporters accredited with the self-declared authorities of the separatist east in order to cover the war.

The list includes journalists from Agence France-Presse and other global media organisations as well as Ukrainian and Russian outlets.

The hackers said on their website they were publishing the emails and phone numbers of the various media members “because these reporters cooperate with the rebels of a terrorist organisation”.

Ukraine identifies the insurgents as “terrorists” who receive direct backing from the Russian armed forces — a charge Moscow denies.

Journalists who entered the war zone needed to receive special permits from the separatist authorities in order to work in the territory the rebels have controlled since the start of the conflict in April 2014.

A letter co-signed by reporters from The New York Times as well as The Economist and a Ukrainian representative of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media rights organisation said the security breach put their lives at risk.

“After being charged with ‘working for terrorists’ and having their personal data, telephone numbers and emails disclosed, these reporters began receiving threatening phone calls and letters,” said the letter published on the hromadske.tv news site.

“And some Ukrainian politicians have already called on branding these reporters as ‘enemies of Ukraine’ and shutting down their ability to work.”

The statement featured the names of 24 reporters as well as the RSF representative.

The Kiev prosecutor’s office said it had launched a criminal inquiry into the data leak.

The deputy head of Ukraine’s information policy ministry separately told AFP that she had been asking the hackers to shut down their site for two days without any success.

“There will be no sanctions applied against reporters on this list. They did not break any laws,” Tetyana Popova said in a telephone interview.

She added that the website on which the data was published was not associated with the Ukrainian authorities.

The chief representative for media freedoms from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — the Cold-war era group responsible for monitoring a frail truce in the east — also expressed concern about the reporters’ safety.

“This is a very alarming development which could further endanger the safety situation for journalists,” Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement.

“Journalists report on issues of public interest and they should not be harassed for doing their job.”

The rebel revolt has claimed the lives of more than 9,300 people and plunged Moscow’s relations with the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

os-zak/jm

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.