UPDATE: CNN Reports – A Ukrainian journalist working as a freelancer for CNN remains in detention two days after he was detained by pro-Russian separatists.
WASHINGTON, July 24, 2014 — Anton Skiba, a Ukrainian journalist who was assisting CNN in its coverage of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, was apprehended by armed men outside the Donbass Palace hotel on Tuesday. CNN announced today that pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine detained the journalist.
According to CNN, armed men approached Skiba and the network crew as they returned to the hotel from the crash site of MH17. They reportedly accused him of terrorism and of anti-separatist postings on Facebook.
Witnesses say the group then took Skiba to a car.
According to CNN, Alexandr Kalyussky, who serves as deputy prime minister of the separatist-declared Donetsk People’s Republic was among the group that arrested Skiba. CNN has attempted to obtain Skiba’s release since the incident, but a statement on the CNN website said it so far has had no success, prompting the network to publicly call for his release.
Donetsk is one of the areas in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are fighting Ukrainian forces. Separatists want independence from Ukraine and closer ties to Russia, while Kiev insists Donetsk is part of Ukraine.
Kalyussky is a powerful leader in Donetsk. He is included on the “black list” published by the European Union in early July of officials facing economic and travel sanctions because of their role in the conflict in Ukraine.
Kalyussky reportedly said that Skiba is not under arrest for terrorism, but that he was detained because he had several types of identification in different names.
U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt says Moscow is resposible and that he was “very alarmed by the fact that a fixer for CNN was abducted from his hotel (Tuesday) night by separatists in Donetsk.” Pyatt, told CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour the Kremlin was trying “to use information and fear as part of its strategy to sow chaos in Ukraine. That’s a strategy that leads to a dead end for Russia.”
The People’s Republic of Donetsk has issued a decree drastically restricting media coverage of fighting in the region. Signed by PRD “defence minister” Igor Strelkov, it encourages the arrest of journalists operating in the region.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have called for the release of Skiba.
“The climate for press freedom in the volatile eastern Ukraine has deteriorated further,” the CPJ warned. It claims that separatists have detained up to 10 foreign correspondents in the area reporting on the plane crash.
This is not the first time separatists have used detention as intimidation. Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who had gone to eastern Ukraine to assess the situation where detained by the groups which called them spies.
According to published reports, the separatists said they would release OSCE members in a prisoner exchange, which Kiev declined. A Swedish national with diabetes who was detained in that group was released a few days later. Separatists released the other members of the group unharmed after several weeks.
Skiba is the first journalist to be detained. Amnesty International reports that separatists have kidnapped hundreds of pro-Ukrainian activists in eastern Ukraine.
The arrests suggest the separatists are under increasing pressure since the downing of the Malaysian flight, and may be attempting to halt negative press.
“I strongly condemn this incident. Journalists must not become targets just for fulfilling their professional duties,” said Dunja Mijatovic, the representative for media freedom at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.