CPJ Calls on Zelenskyy to Investigate Crimes Against Journalists, Aid Release of Sushchenko and Aseev
18 June, 2019

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization based in the U.S., has called on the Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy to ensure that crimes against journalists are investigated and the Ukrainian journalists who are detained in Ukraine and elsewhere are released.

This emerged from a letter written by the organization's executive director Joel Simon and addressed at the president. The letter was published on The Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) website.

Simon highlighted that a number of Ukrainian journalists have recently faced "reprisal attacks for their reporting" in Ukraine, which, according to the director, marks a "deterioration of press freedom" in the country. He specifically drew attention to the murder of Pavel Sheremet, the Belarusian-Ukrainian journalist who lost his life in a car bombing in central Kyiv nearly three years ago.

READ MORE: ‘Who Killed Pavel Sheremet’: Hromadske Investigation

"There was no progress in the investigation under the [ex-President Petro] Poroshenko administration, and authorities limited the public's access both to the information on the probe and to the investigators," Simon's letter reads. "We ask that you ensure a swift and thorough investigation into Sheremet's murder and bring those responsible to justice."

READ MORE: Why Has There Been No Progress in Sheremet’s Murder Case?​

The letter also calls on Zelenskyy to "immediately and unconditionally release" Kyrylo Vyshynsky, formerly a Ukrainian journalist and editor-in-chief of Russia's RIA News agency department in Ukraine. Vyshynsky is accused by Ukraine's Security Service of treason. According to the Ukrainian prosecution, he wrote 72 articles of "anti-Ukrainian nature."  He was detained and placed in custody in May 2018. During the searches at Vyshynsky's home and office, a Russian passport, as well as awards presented to the journalist by Russian state for his service to the country, were detected. Since then, on June 1, 2018, Vyshynsky admitted to having a Russian passport (dual citizenship is forbidden by the Ukrainian law) and renounced his Ukrainian citizenship.

Another two cases CPJ's Simon's letter mentions are of two Ukrainians – journalists Roman Sushchenko and Stanislav Aseev. Sushchenko, a Paris-based correspondent for the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform, was arrested in Moscow in September 2016. The Russian security service claim that Sushchenko was working with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, passing on information about the Russian military and National Guard. On June 4, the Ukrainian journalist was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment in a maximum security prison in Russia.

READ MORE: Ukrainian Journalist Sentenced to 12 Years’ Imprisonment in Russia

Aseev's destiny is less public – it is believed that he, a blogger and a journalist with the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Ukrainian service, was detained somewhere in occupied Donbas in 2017. Separatists confirmed to Ukraine’s representative in the Tripartite Contact Group in Minsk Iryna Herashchanko that they held Sushchenko captive. On January 10, 2018, Igor Kozlovsky, a professor of religious studies who was freed from Donbas captivity in the 2017 prisoner exchange, told Hromadske that Aseev is held  at the old Izolyatsia factory in separatist-occupied Donetsk.

READ MORE: Journalist Stanislav Aseev Imprisoned in Donetsk Factory

CPJ said they are "concerned about [Aseev's] safety and well-being" and asked Zelenskyy to use the authority of his administration to secure the journalist's release.

Lastly, Simon highlighted that Ukraine is in a position to "set a regional example for freedom of the press."

READ MORE: Upholding Free Speech In The Fake News Era

"We implore you to resolve cases of impunity, such as Pavel Sheremet; to protect the space for critical and independent journalism by ensuring that international and domestic reporters including journalists in the country's east and in Crimea can work freely and safely, with the full protection of the state," Simon wrote to Zelenskyy adding that he's looking forward to the president's response.

/By Maria Romanenko