The “Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe” (OSCE) has urged Kiev authorities to release the Russian journalists captured in eastern Ukraine, saying that intimidation and obstruction of media working in the country is “unacceptable.”
Before that, Moscow had called on the (OSCE) to take measures to free the two Russian journalists captured near the town of Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine.
Russia strongly condemns the detention of LifeNews journalists “Oleg Sidyakin” and “Marat Saichenko” by Kiev’s forces in the city of Kramatorsk, the country’s permanent representative to the OSCE, Andrey Kelin, said.
“I immediately contacted the Swiss representative to the OSCE (Switzerland is presiding over the organization in 2014) and the representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, and requested them to take immediate steps for the release of the journalists,” Kelin told Itar-Tass news agency.
The OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, has addressed the coup-imposed acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov in a letter, urging the release of the LifeNews journalists detained by Kiev forces on Sunday and thoroughly investigates the incident, Itar-Tass reports.
Mijatovic has condemned the harassment of journalists in Ukraine. On May 15-16, a host of Russian journalists from Channel One, NTV, TVC and Zvezda channels were denied entrance at the country’s border despite “all of them have been accredited by the Ukrainian authorities for covering the presidential elections.”
Earlier, Kiev acknowledged that Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko were detained by the Ukrainian military.
The last time the crew was in contact with the editorial board was at around 09:50 GMT (13:50 Moscow time), on the day of the kidnapping, when they reached a checkpoint near the town of Kramatorsk.
Several hours later, a photo (shown below) of the handcuffed journalists appeared on social networks.
In her letter, the OSCE representative urges Kiev to “stop intimidating and threatening members of the media,” stressing that journalists must be allowed to do their jobs without fearing for their security.
The political powers in Ukraine “must fully realize that obstruction of the freedom of media is unacceptable,” Mijatovic said.
The detained journalists, Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko, are being investigated on the charge of “aiding the terrorist groups,” deputy secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (SNBO), Victoria Sumar, wrote on her Facebook page.
Sumar added that there is “direct video evidence” of her claims, pointing at footage showing Ukrainian troops rudely forcing a group of handcuffed people to get down on their knees and looking through their apparent belongings.
According to RT TV Channel, the following video showed some journalistic equipment, a pile of Ukrainian hrivnyas and Russian rubles, and a MANPAD with inscriptions in Polish. The third man, shown kneeling on the ground, was not identified.
The Ukrainian Security Service said that two Russian citizens detained in the Donetsk Region, with video equipment, have been brought to Kiev for interrogation.
Meanwhile, a member of Russia’s presidential Human Rights Council negotiating with Kiev authorities, Maksim Shevchenko, said that the journalists are being accused of allegedly taking part in “violent interrogations” of ‘Alfa’ Ukrainian special service officers, and asking questions.
The news outlet’s website reported that “News Media Holding”, which owns LifeNews, has appealed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, asking him to help with the release of the journalists.
“We are concerned that during combat actions, which are led by [Ukrainian] armed forces with the participation of radicals, extremists, militants of the Right Sector and other groups, some journalists are suffering. Very often they are detained, faced with fictitious demands, which do not fit into generally recognized norms. The latter concerns two journalists from the LifeNews channel,” Lavrov said.
On May 13th, Ukrainian armed forces opened fire on the two journalists near the city of Kramatorsk, where fighting broke out between self-defense forces and Kiev’s army.
The shooting began around 1 p.m. as three members of a LifeNews crew tried to enter the village of Oktyabrskoe, following the fighting. The village is located some 20 kilometers from Kramatorsk.
“We saw that machines were gone and the shooting stopped like half-an-hour ago. We tried to enter the premises of the village to find out what happened to locals, if they needed help, and if there were wounded among them… But as we got closer to the outskirts of the village, we ran into an armored troop carrier with a Ukrainian flag on it and armed people in black uniforms. We were going in a car with ‘TV’ stickers, indicating that are press. We stuck hands out of windows, but first there came one shot and then machine gun fire.” Reporter Oleg Sidyakin told RT.
Sidyakin said he did not know where the shots were aimed – in the air or above their heads – but still decided to turn away and move to a safer location, in order to avoid provoking armed people.
“I had to make such decision because I could not put in danger the lives of a driver and a cameraman,” he said.
Reporter Sidyakin and cameraman Saichenko were performing their professional duties, covering events in southeastern Ukraine, when they “went missing,” the channel said in a statement.
The only thing Sidyakin managed to text was that “things look bad.”
After receiving the SMS message, the office immediately called Sidyakin, who accepted the call, but could not speak. He kept the phone connected, however, so that Moscow could hear that the journalists were being interrogated. A man who accompanied the LifeNews crew confirmed that the journalists were being questioned by armed men, presumably the Ukrainian military.
Sidyakin used to report for LifeNews within Russia. He covered the Volgograd terrorist acts last December. He was then sent to Ukraine to cover the political crisis in the country. He also reported from Crimea during the process of reunification with Russia.
While working in Kiev during the clashes, Sidyakin sustained a gunshot wound in the leg but never stopped his live broadcast.
Saicheko is a prominent photographer and cameraman, who has done work in Libya and Syria.
Free journalism is a necessary job in a world full of competing agendas but few parties willing to report on what is actually going on. Anyone on the spot, putting their life on the line to figure out what is going on, should not face imprisonment for doing so. Stand with the international community, and demand their freedom.