Ukraine government using thug force against media covering protests

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The screen shows a man already immobile on the ground. A euronews cameraman is filming. A policeman screams at him to stop.

Roman Kupriyanov keeps filming.

The audio track records the sounds of boots to his head, ribs and hands – and Kupriyanov’s groans and grunts. He said they knew what they were doing, and that a man trying to intervene, shouting ‘he’s media!’ was beaten even more severely. Kurpriyanov was wearing his credentials clearly.

[View the story “#euromaidan protests in Ukraine” on Storify]

The Kyiv Post English-language daily counted 40 attacks against journalists and photographers. Kyiv Post journalist Olga Rudenko told euronews the video is an example of the riot squad’s deliberate actions to destroy recording equipment, including mobile phones.

Danish freelancer Johannes Wamberg Anderson said he was hit 30 times by police with clubs, in spite of holding up his journalist’s ID card.

Kyiv Post’s Rudenko said: “I don’t think we can say this was a spontaneous initiative taken by ordinary riot police. I think it’s safe to assume that they were given a specific order to do that. I would like to believe that it’s not a plan to intimidate journalists, but the facts suggest otherwise, suggest orders from the authorities. We have not had any official statements from top commanders or people in charge at the Interior Ministry condemning these acts. Because there is a lack of strong condemnation of such acts from the government, we suggest it is a deliberate attempt to intimidate the media.”

Fidel Pavlenko, head of the euronews Ukrainian service, spoke with Kyiv correspondent Maria Korenyuk.

Fidel Pavlenko, euronews: “Maria, do the opposition and protest leaders have concrete plans of action for the immediate future, while the demos and meetings continue in central Kyiv?”

Maria Korenyuk, euronews: “The opposition leaders have been talking to the media here. Vitali Klychko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnybok presented their immediate action plans for Tuesday. In parliament, the opposition leaders have already filed a draft resolution of no confidence in the government. They hope a no confidence vote will be the first item on the parliament agenda tomorrow morning. According to Ukrainian law, the government may be sacked by order of the president or by parliament. The opposition leaders do not expect President Viktor Yanukovych to fire his cabinet, so they are hoping for the MPs’ vote of no confidence. Someone asked them about their plans if the motion doesn’t get enough votes, and they declined to elaborate; they said their demands – after the resignation of the government – include calling snap parliamentary and presidential elections.”

Pavlenko: “Were the opposition leaders taken by surprise by the scale of the protests – from tens to hundreds of thousands of people within a week?”

Korenyuk: “It is really difficult to say whether the opposition expected people to turn out in such huge numbers. A week ago on Sunday the opposition called on the supporters of European integration to come and make their feelings known. Even so, the opposition was taken by surprise to see around 100,000 people turn up. But after a brutal crack-down on the peaceful protesters by riot police on Friday night, huge numbers of people joined the protests, with estimates of between 500,000 to a million people in the streets of Kyiv. At that point, the opposition was not ready, and the leaders didn’t know how to control and lead such huge protests. The proof is that the opposition leaders were not at any of the hot-spots where clashes took place between protesters and the police. But in all their statements they still insist that they are well in control of the crowds and of the situation as a whole.”

Pavlenko: “Only a week ago the mass rallies in Kyiv and other cities were dominated by pro-European slogans. Is European integration still high on the protesters’ agenda, or are we hearing different demands now?”

Korenyuk: “We can safely say that the issues of the Association Agreement with the EU now take second place. The initial hopes for closer ties with Europe have been displaced by different slogans. The main demands now are to bring to justice those responsible for the crack-down against the peaceful protests in Independence Square on Friday night, and to get the government to resign. The proof that those demands bring people out into the streets can be seen around the government institutions in Kyiv – which the protesters are picketing. They promise they won’t be backing off any time in the near future.”

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