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Forty-five Journalists Among Injured As Ukranian Police Attack Protestors

December 3, 2013
Protests in Kiev

Journalists were among those injured Sunday, when Ukrainian police attacked protestors who broke away from a 300,000-strong demonstration in Kiev to storm President Viktor Yanukovych’s offices after he refused to sign a free trade agreement and establish deeper political links with the European Union.

 The Huffington Post said that the rally in Kiev’s Independence Square was orderly despite the government banning protests, turned violent when thousands of protestors broke away from the main demonstration and surged towards Yanuchovich’s offices and tried to break through a police cordon with a front loader. They had also thrown rocks and other missiles. The police had used truncheons, tear gas and flash grenades to push them back Huffington Post reported.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) said that attacks on journalists had left 45 injured. Although the main assault on protestors occurred on Sunday, a smaller opposition rally on Friday was also violently dispersed. RSF noted that “most of the violence against journalists was deliberate.”
“The frequency and gravity of the attacks on journalists indicate a deliberate desire to crush freedom of information,” RSF said. “It is unacceptable that the media have again been the victims of the political unrest they were trying to cover as part of their professional duties.
“The police in particular have been guilty of targeted and disproportionate violence in blatant disregard for their obligation to protect the media. We urge the competent authorities to order the necessary investigations and to punish those responsible for the violence.”
RSF said the 45 injured, which included eight foreign journalists, comprised eight who had been hit by stun grenades and teargas canisters, 26 who had been “beaten by members of the police and the special forces who knew they were journalists” and five had been targeted by demonstrators or persons in civilian dress. Many had to be hospitalised. Index on Censorship (IoC) said that among the journalists injured from the foreign media were correspondents from Associated Press and Euronews.
Meanwhile, the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that reacted sharply to the crackdown and complained to the organisation’s head was confronted with a problem of its own – OSCE’s 2013 chairman-in-office is Ukraine’s foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara.
IoC quoted from the letter Dunja Mijatović OSCE’s representative for the freedom of the media wrote to Kozhara in which she said, “I am especially concerned that in most of the cases, the beatings were reportedly conducted by the law enforcement officers who attacked the journalists and disregarded their press identification. Violence against journalists cannot be tolerated.”
In a related development Freedom House has just published a detailed report on freedom of expression in Ukraine during its tenure as chairman of OSCE. The report’s summary said, “In spite of the generally high quality of legislation, the reality of implementation is less impressive. Citizens may freely express their views, and collect and disseminate information, but access to free and pluralistic media and to public information held by the authorities is inadequate. Journalists’ working conditions are not secure enough to work safely and remedies for violations of journalists’ rights or attacks on journalists are ineffective.”
IoC also quoted the Belorussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reprimanding Yanukovych’s government for the violence. “Being in the centre of events is a journalists’ job, but not a reason to try brutal force on them. We call on the authorities to investigate each incident of attack on our colleagues, and to ensure normal conditions for journalists’ work. Absence of reaction to the violence looks like connivance,” BAJ said.
Huffington Post said Ukraine’s opposition had denounced those who had incited the attack on the presidential offices as government-hired thugs but called on the president to resign. “‘Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration, it’s not a reaction. It’s a revolution,’ said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader,” reported Huff Post.
The violent rallies are reminiscent of the rallies of 2004 Orange Revolution when protestors occupied the streets to force fresh polls after allegations of fraud surfaced over the presidential election won by Yanukovich. The re-election soon after would bring pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power.

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