International NGOs demand a proper investigation into attack on Oleksandr Vlashchenko
Ukrainian Reporter Shot in Head
IPI Calls on Authorities to Bring Assailant to Justice
The International Press Institute (IPI) today urged Ukrainian authorities to determine who shot a local reporter in the head this week, leaving him in critical condition, and to bring the assailant to justice.
The website novosti-N.mk.ua reported that the journalist, Oleksandr Vlaschenko, who also reports for the Nash Gorod Nikolaev newspaper, was attacked Sunday night in a bus terminal in the city of Mykolayiv, approximately 130 kilometres northeast of Odessa.
Local media said the assailant took Vlaschenko’s bag, which contained a Nikon camera and two mobile phones, but not the approximately 30 euros in local currency the journalist was carrying.
Vlaschenko was taken to a hospital where doctors opted not to remove the bullet from his brain for fear of causing further damage. Novosti-N.mk.ua said that Vlaschenko was unable to recall details about the attack. However, the website reported that doctors said the journalist’s condition had improved since his admission to the hospital.
The website also said the case had been turned over to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, which has initiated an investigation.
The attack could not immediately be connected to Vlaschenko’s work. However Nash Gorod Nikolaev editor-in-chief Anatolii Onofriychuk told the Institute for Media Information (IMI) in Kiev: “Recently Vlashenko has been writing articles about corruption involving local authorities, so it is probably connected to his journalistic activities.”
IPI Press Freedom & Communications Manager Anthony Mills said: “We are happy that Mr. Vlaschenko survived this brutal attack and our thoughts are with him as he strives to recover. However, this incident serves to highlight the continuing danger that journalists in Ukraine face. We call on the Interior Ministry to conduct a swift, thorough and transparent investigation into this crime and to bring those responsible to justice.”
Vlaschenko’s shooting is the latest in a series of negative developments impacting media freedom in the former Soviet-bloc nation this week.
IMI reported that Parliament on Monday approved a draft law amending the existing law on the “protection of public morals" that would restrict broadcast of television and radio programs containing "elements of violence or cruelty, depictions of dead bodies, badly injured people, scenes including blood which may cause fear or terror, encourage mutilation, suicide, or acts of vandalism, or any positive representation of violence.” The organisation said that a violation could lead to the cancellation of a broadcaster’s license and it voiced concerns that vagueness in the bill’s wording could lead to increased pressure on independent media.
It said the bill names the National Commission of Ukraine on the Protection of Public Morals as the body responsible for enforcing state policy on public morality and that the bill would require Internet providers to take immediate measures to restrict access to electronic information the commission defines as “erotic”. IMI said Ukrainian authorities have not publicly reacted to calls for President Viktor Yanukovych to veto the bill.
IMI also reported that Parliament refused to amend a law on court fees adopted last July that would reduce fees for compensation of moral damage claims, opening the door for millions of dollars in potential claims against the media. Also this week, Human Rights Watch called on Parliament to reject a bill that would prohibit providing information about homosexuality to anyone living in Ukraine.
The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate, supports this statement.
By: Steven M. Ellis, Press Freedom Adviser
INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER BEING SHOT IN HEAD
Reporters Without Borders is shocked to learn that Oleksander Vlaschenko, an investigative reporter for the local newspaper Nashe Misto, was shot in the head by unidentified attackers while returning to his home in the southern city of Mykolayiv on the night of 16 October and is now in a critical condition in hospital with a bullet in his brain.
“We voice our support for Vlaschenko, his family and colleagues and we welcome the fact that the attack’s possible link to his work is now one of the hypotheses being considered by the police, ” Reporters Without Borders said. This possibility must be given serious consideration. It should be the subject of a full and impartial investigation.”
Vlaschenko was attacked shortly before midnight by assailants who shot him once in the head and took his two mobile phones and camera before making off. They left the 300 grivnas (30 euros) he had in his pocket. As that is a relatively large sum in this part of Ukraine, their failure to take it suggests that robbery, the theory initially preferred by the police, was not the motive.
Vlaschenko is often critical of the local authorities in his reporting and has covered highly sensitive subjects involving corruption and organized crime. His latest stories were about possible embezzlement of the proceeds from the sale of land by local government officials.
Nashe Misto editor Anatoliy Astafiychuk told Reporters Without Borders: “We cannot rule out the possibility that robbery was the sole motive, but it could also have been connected to his work. He covers extremely sensitive subjects and many people might have wanted revenge. He was beaten up three years ago, suffering concussion (...) Death threats have been made against him in comments posted online under his articles.”
He was also one of four journalists who were beaten up by representatives of the tax inspection department last May (see picture). “Journalists are often attacked and beaten in the Mykolayiv region but this would be the first time that a journalist has been shot in connection with his work, ” Astafiychuk added.
Vlaschenko is no longer in a coma but he is suffering from amnesia and doctors still regard his condition as very critical. They have not yet tried to remove the bullet from his brain because it is lodged so deep (8 cm).
The police are currently looking for witnesses of the attack, which has been registered as a violation of article 187 of the criminal code (“robbery by an organized group or robbery in which serious injuries are inflicted”).
Physical attacks on journalists are a major problem in Ukraine, where media freedom has deteriorated sharply during the past 18 months or so after a promising spell. Ukraine is ranked 131st out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom organisation press freedom index.
(Picture: Vlaschenko was beaten up last May)