Outrage and police excuses over Berkut violence against journalist
The Head of the Kyiv Police Valery Koryak has asserted that a Channel 5 journalist grabbed police officers by the arms during the dispersal of a peaceful demonstration on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] on Thursday night.
Members of a film crew from Channel 5 were injured when Berkut riot police forcibly removed tents. They applied force against journalists Andriy Kovalyov and Oleksandr Arhat, as well as cameraman Dmytro Demishev.
There have been protests over the quite disproportionate actions of the Berkut officers against peaceful demonstrators protesting against police lawlessness and violence. Nor has outrage been heard only within Ukraine.
Freedom House issued the following statement:
Freedom House calls on the Ukrainian government to fully investigate allegations that two journalists covering a public demonstration against police brutality were beaten by the police, and to respect citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Dmitro Demishev and Andrei Kovalev from Channel 5 were beaten and approximately 10 demonstrators were detained as the special police battalion Berkut wasclearing out Maidan Nezalezhnosti, a square in the center of Kyiv. Violence against journalists appears on the rise in Ukraine as cases of attacks against journalist covering public demonstrations appear to be increasing, raising concerns about a deteriorating climate for the freedom of expression. In May 2013, two journalists were attacked by unknown persons as the police stood by. The authorities investigated the case only after the media and public protested their inaction.
Public distrust of the police in Ukraine has been inflamed in recent weeks by several cases of violent attacks by police officers, most notably the alleged cover-up of a violent gang-rape of a woman by police in Vradiyivka. The demonstrators in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine are demanding the reform of the police force and the resignation of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vitaly Zakharchenko. A recent poll suggested that less than 25% of the population trust the police. As Ukraine heads the OSCE this year and is seeking closer relations with the EU and US, its record on protecting journalists and ensuring fundamental rights should rightly be under a microscope.