The alleged kidnapping of Russian journalist Andrey Stenin by Ukrainian govt forces has prompted an HRW representative in Russia to dub Ukraine a “snare for journalists,” as the NGO seeks an explanation from Kiev on Stenin’s disappearance.
“If the missing correspondent was in fact detained by Ukrainian forces or pro-governmental armed groups, the Ukrainian authorities should immediately explain the reasons behind his detention and either ensure prompt release, or, if there are credible grounds for bringing charges against him, bring him before a judge so he can be charged and released pending an investigation,” Russia Program Director at Human Right Watch Tatyana Lokshina told the RIA Novosti news agency.
She has called the country a “snare” for journalists, Russian and foreign alike.
According to Lokshina, failure to abide by these principles, and “to provide information on the whereabouts and fate of anyone deprived of their liberty by agents of the state, or those acting with its acquiescence, may constitute an enforced disappearance.”
The 33-year-old journalist is an experienced war photo-correspondent. In the past several months he has covered events in the cities of Donetsk, Slavyansk and other areas in eastern Ukraine.
Stenin, who has been out of touch with his colleagues since August 5, was later thought to have been kidnapped, when a reliable source contacted RIA Novosti on Friday, telling the agency that the journalist is being held by Ukraine’s security services (SBU) in southern Ukraine’s Zaporozhia region. The SBU has denied the allegations.
On Thursday, sources at the headquarters of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk (DPR), told the news agency that Stenin might have gone to Shakhtersk city with the militia’s press corps.
However, there was no communication with the city in the Donetsk region and it was impossible to contact the local self-defense press service for confirmation.
Shakhtersk, along with several nearby towns, has lately been in at epicenter of the bloody confrontation and the infrastructure of the city has largely been ruined.
Meanwhile, the Russian embassy launched an investigation, just as OSCE officials from the office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media are also looking into the reports. They have long viewed the media situation in eastern Ukraine as precarious. Since the conflict took on new dimensions in mid-April, the organization has registered no less than a dozen media freedom violations.
Russia’s Public Chamber is planning to apply to the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and international rights groups over the issue to seek efficient protection for journalists in the conflict zone.
“We demand that Ukrainian authorities immediately inform as to [Stenin’s] fate,” said Dmitry Biryukov, the head of the Chamber’s commission on mass media development.
Journalists, he said, are not participants in the conflict. “However, in practice we see that their rights in southeastern Ukraine apparently exist only on paper,” he added.
The head of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, has described the situation as that of “lawlessness.”
“Unfortunately, attacks on journalists continue despite all the efforts of rights activists and international media organizations. This is… absolutely outrageous,” he said.
Another council member, Elena Masyuk, is confident that journalists should never be used as instruments in a war. “I believe that journalists should be outside of wars,” Masyuk, a journalist herself, said.
The chair of the Union of Russian Journalists, Vsevolod Bogdanov believes that the seizure of journalists in Ukraine is a sign that Kiev “has things to conceal” from society.
Pavel Gusev, who heads the Moscow Union of Journalists, described the Stenin incident as “a provocation against Russia and Russian media.” The internet has likewise not been silent. Twitter hashtags asking the kidnappers to #freeAndrew have popped up in both Russian and English. Below are some, starting with the formal appeal by Rossiya Segodnya.
— РИА Новости (@rianru) August 9, 2014
— Andreas Lucius (@LuciusMyBoy) August 9, 2014
— Magallánico (@eljanovega) August 9, 2014
The incident follows on the heels of a series of media violations, murder and kidnappings that pose a constant threat to the journalistic profession in eastern Ukraine.
Among the latest incidents is the death of a Russian Channel 1 cameraman in the east. Just before that, a crew of a reporter and cameraman from the VGTRK news network were killed during heavy mortar shelling of a small settlement.
Two weeks ago a British correspondent, who'd been occasionally working for RT, was also detained. He says he was beaten and tortured for three days before being deported.
An Italian journalist was also among those who paid the ultimate price – he was blown up in the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk during a mortar attack, as he was covering the ongoing conflict ahead of the presidential elections.