Not in Our Name: Journalist NGOs Should Condemn Propagandist Graham Phillips’ Torture Stunt
At a human level, it is impossible to understand somebody accosting a person maimed and blinded and telling him that he’s useless, a zombie whom nobody needs. When that individual, Briton Graham Phillips, claims to be acting as a ‘journalist’, such behaviour needs a clear response from the journalist community.
Two Ukrainian hostages were released by Kremlin-backed militants on Sept. 17, as part of a ‘two for four’ exchange. One of the two men, Volodymyr Zhemchugov was seriously injured when he stepped on a mine in September 2015, and had been held hostage by the militants ever since, despite having lost both arms and being blinded. Attempts to secure his release had constantly been thwarted by the militants who had even transferred him from hospital to a SIZO, or remand prison, claiming that he had been a saboteur.
Even if Zhemchugov had not also been beaten when shown on a pro-militant website, the very fact of his interrogation in such a state could be regarded as torture. The same applied to the conditions in SIZO, and there were very real concerns for his life (more details here).
There were a large number of Ukrainian journalists present at the exchange and OSCE representatives, and then there was Phillips.
He has been banned from Ukraine, with reason, and the fact that he keeps appearing in areas under militant control means that he is entering Ukraine illegally from Russia, where the border is under militant control.
Zhemchugov had been reunited with his wife, and was already in the mini-van when Phillips effectively accosted him, claiming to be “the most honest journalist in the world”, and calling a maimed and gravely ill man a “zombie”, whom nobody needed now that he has no arms, and much more.
The entire shameful exchange has been posted on YouTube by Phillips himself, who follows the militants in calling Zhemchugov a ‘saboteur’.
Zhemchugov clearly recognized Phillips’ voice immediately and says that he has seen his propagandist videos. He certainly tenses up, possibly. anticipating what is to come.
It would be difficult to anticipate how grossly Phillips overstepped all ethical norms. The video is distressing, but should be watched, as well as this video footage, posted by a pro-militant website, with the title “Graham Phillips said what he thought of Ukrainian journalists”. Phillips’ Russian is very bad, but he is clearly claiming that the Ukrainian journalists “are a disgrace to my profession” and “are shit”. It is they, he asserts, who lie and deceive people.
Phillips has long been notorious both for highly dishonest ‘reports’ which parrot the Kremlin’s narrative on all issues related to Ukraine, and for aggressively accosting people and asking offensive questions in atrocious Russian. He was detained in Latvia in March this year after claiming to be ‘press’ and heckling and insulting participants in a march, asking them, for example, if they were not “ashamed of propagandizing fascism”. He was eagerly reported by the Russian pro-Kremlin media, claiming to have been simply “standing and filming Nazis”. The video here makes it quite clear how many times Phillips was politely and quite legitimately asked to move back. When moved away, he shouted to “get your fucking hands off me”, although that was not shown on pro-Kremlin media.
There is no evidence of Phillips ever having worked as a journalist for any media, except those known for their pro-Kremlin position. For a person with no clear job description or post, he appears to be unhampered by any major financial concerns, and travels quite extensively. A Ukrainian publication has just posted evidence that he purchased a flat in Odesa in October 2013, which he must have done for cash.
The account given by Max Seddon of Phillips’ distortion of facts remains current now. When not travelling to politically motivated trials, like that of former Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko and shouting that the internationally recognized political prisoner was a ‘murderer’ or to political stunts in Russian-occupied Crimea, he can be found on Twitter and similar. There he actively pours out denials of human rights violations in Crimea, accusations of war crimes by Ukraine, or conspiracy theories that divert the blame from Russia for the downing on July 17, 2014 of Malaysian airliner MH17.
He has consistently tried to present himself as a truth-seeking journalist, and has claimed that Ukraine is infringing his rights as such. In fact, there is ample video footage, photos, etc. suggesting that his role in Donbas was anything but that of a journalist. Komsomolskaya Pravda, for example, reported that “a British journalist has been wounded in Donbas”, with all the photos showing Phillip in camouflage gear, without any press markings. He can in some photos even be seen learning how to use a Kalashnikov rifle.
He has now sunk even lower. Tetyana Kotyuzhynska, lawyer for Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists stresses that what Phillips subjected Zhemchugov to was effectively a form of torture.
Natalya Ligacheva, the Chief Editor of Detektor Media and a leading expert on journalist rights and standards in Ukraine, has said that they will be approaching the OSCE and media NGOs, like Reporters without Borders.
There are doubtless different tasks that Phillips is there to perform, but one advantage to pro-Kremlin sources is quite simply in being able to describe him as ‘a British journalist”. It is surely time for both UK and international journalist organizations to publicly put an end to this lie and clearly state that torture, abuse and flagrant distortions are not what journalism is about.