Ukraine’s Western allies should put pressure on Kiev to reveal the grounds for treason charges against journalist Kirill Vyshynsky, as being a Russian citizen is no proof of guilt, Rachel Denber from Human Rights Watch told RT.
“We’re extremely concerned by what’s happened. Under no circumstances should a government be criminalizing speech and media activities groundlessly,” Denber, who is the deputy director for HRW in Europe and Central Asia, said.
Vyshynsky, the head of RIA Novosti Ukraine, a Russia-linked news agency, was detained in Kiev earlier on Wednesday. His apartment and the homes of some of his colleague as well as the agency’s offices were raided by Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) agents. Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko later said on social media that Vyshynsky was involved in a “disinformation war” against the country and is accused of treason.
“Working for RIA-Novosti or having a Russian passport are no grounds for a treason charge,” Denber said. She pointed out that treason is “an extremely serious charge that carries a hefty prison term,” urging maximum transparency from Kiev in the case of the Russian journalist.
“I hope that there’ll be adequate and commensurate pressure by Ukraine’s allies, including the EU, the G7 countries, the US, etc. and international organizations like the OSCE and various UN agencies to ensure that any investigation that is being carried out is carried out within international norms,” the HRW official said.
The watchdog also called upon Kiev to provide Vyshynsky with legal representation of his choosing, access to medical supplies he requires and the opportunity to contact his family, which has so far been unable to get in touch with the journalist.
Denber said Russian journalists and their foreign colleagues who report events in Ukraine in a way “the government doesn’t really like… are at risk of being barred from the country or expelled.”
She recalled the history of media bans, the deportation of journalists, ongoing criminal cases against members of the media, and unsolved murders of reporters in the country, saying that HRW is currently “more concerned about the freedom of press in Ukraine, say, than we were last year.”
The activist also said that Ukraine may be involved in a “propaganda war” with Russia, but expressed the belief that the best way to win it would be by “facilitating all views and by ensuring true free journalism… the way to persuade people is not by kicking out the people who don’t project your views and by arresting journalists groundlessly.”