Attack on INTER Channel Raises Serious Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Ukraine

Attack on INTER Channel Raises Serious Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Ukraine

5 September 2016 | 12:04

To representatives of international organizations
and to Ambassadors of foreign states accredited in Ukraine

Attack on INTER Channel Raises Serious Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Ukraine
 
KYIV—At approximately 16:30 on Sunday (September 4th), the national television station INTER came under a heavy attack from so-called “patriots” wearing military uniforms. The attackers set fire to the building, destroyed equipment, and trapped employees in the smoke-filled premises, leading to multiple injuries.
 
According to eyewitnesses, there were at least 15-20 attackers who set fire both to tires outside the building, and also entered the building with the aim of destroying broadcast equipment. The evening news program which INTER staff were preparing to air exposed massive corruption in the trafficking of precious stones in Western Ukraine, which some journalists speculated might be related to the attack’s timing. Police were conspicuously absent the immediate area surrounding the building at the time of the attack.
 
The first non-INTER news source to arrive on the scene was from Espresso TV, an outlet owned in part by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. According the witnesses on the scene, the Espresso team arrived within minutes – a feat that would have proven difficult without advance notification of the attack.
 
Multiple INTER staff were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. One female employee suffered a broken leg trying to escape, and others fled to the building’s roof because the front doors were blocked by attackers. Footage taken by INTER staff during the attack showed perpetrators parading about the front of the building, taunting the besieged news crews inside and calling them traitors. The impunity the attackers demonstrated at the scene strongly suggests some form of official protection for their actions against the independent media outlet.
 
This was not the first attack on INTER in the last twelve months, but it was the most brazen and the most violent. The move coincides with a recent escalation in efforts to consolidate media holdings in Ukraine among government loyalists. The station continues to broadcast despite the attack, and while traumatized, the news and production crews are showing signs of strong morale.
 
Advocates for free and independent media in Ukraine await condemnation of this violent attack by the international community.

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