RT Arabic’s news crew who arrived in Kiev to cover the upcoming May 25 Ukrainian presidential election has not been allowed into the country and is being sent back to Moscow.
RT’s correspondent Anna Knishenko and her colleagues Elderra Khaled and Konstantin Bolshakov arrived from Moscow in Kiev’s international airport Borispol on Tuesday afternoon.
“At the border control they immediately took our passports. An hour later, we – one by one – were invited to a special room for an interview,” Knishenko said on the phone. The interview has already become a routine for everyone arriving in Borispol airport.
She said three border control officials were asking them the purpose of their visit and the amount of money the journalists had with them and whether they have ever visited Ukraine before. Knishenko said she was also asked her personal opinion about the situation with Crimea – which joined Russia following the March 16 referendum – and, also about RT channel.
“They said they saw my reports,” Knishenko, who works for the Arabic team, added.
After “cross-examining” the cameraman and the assistant - which lasted altogether for about an hour - the team was allowed to collect their luggage.
Border guards gave the journalists papers in the Ukrainian language stating that they were denied entry since they could not properly explain the purpose of their visit, the RT reporter said.That is despite the journalists being accredited by the Ukrainian Central Election Commission, she added.
The RT crew was then made to leave for their departure flight, being allowed only to go a café and smoking area.
“We’re walking under convoy everywhere,” Knishenko said.
The journalists were not told when their plane would leave and not provided with any other information. Passports will only be returned to them by Aeroflot pilots.
Earlier in the day, RT contributing journalist Graham Phillips said he was detained by the National Guard at a check point in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. Since then connection with him was lost and according to the latest reports he is being to Kiev.
On Sunday, two journalists for Russian channel LifeNews were captured in eastern Ukraine by the Ukrainian National Guard. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) urged Kiev authorities to release the journalists, Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko, saying that intimidation and obstruction of media working in the country is “unacceptable.”
The organization’s representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, addressed the Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov in a letter, urging to him to thoroughly investigate the incident, Itar-Tass reported.
Speaking on Monday in Vienna, Mijatovic condemned “continued harassment of journalists covering the conflict in Ukraine.”
She noted that on 15-16 May, Russian journalists from various media, including Zvezda, NTV, Channel One and TVC channels, were denied entry to the country, the OSCE website quotes. Reportedly, all journalists were accredited by responsible Ukrainian authorities to cover the presidential election.
“Journalists must be free to do their job without fear for their safety. In times of conflict the plurality of voices and opinions are needed more than ever in order for the citizens to be informed,” Mijatovic said.
“The media freedom situation in Ukraine reflects the overall security situation, which will not improve if there is no action,” she added. “All political leaders engaged in resolving the crisis in Ukraine need to clearly understand that violations of media freedom are unacceptable.”