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Stop The Presses: Moscow Cracks Down On Journalists In Annexed Crimea

Crimean journalist Natalya Kokorina
Crimean journalist Natalya Kokorina

KYIV -- One year after Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, the pro-Russian de facto authorities continue to crack down on independent journalists there.

This week, agents of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Crimean capital of Simferopol raided the homes of two reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent journalism group that was forced to relocate to Kyiv after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014.

In a statement issued on March 13, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nongovernmental organization based in New York, described the raids as "repressive actions" and said journalists covering Crimea "have been harassed, attacked, detained, and had their equipment seized" over the last year.

Journalist Natalya Kokorina said the FSB searched the home of her parents, where Kokorina was registered, on March 13. At 8 a.m., Kokorina received a phone call telling her to come to the apartment immediately.

"In the morning, a man called saying he was from the...police," Kokorina told RFE/RL. "He said the doors of the apartment where I am registered and where my parents live had been sealed. My parents' telephones had been turned off."

She was subsequently detained and questioned for more than six hours before being released.

"Natasha is the author of many investigations about problems in Crimean society, corruption, thieves in power and the Russian occupation," wrote the founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting, Dmytro Gnap, on his Facebook page. "She and her colleagues have had to practically work underground on their articles."

The same day, FSB agents raided the home of the parents of journalist Anna Andriyevskaya. Andriyevskaya said she has not lived in the apartment for about 10 years and she has not been in Crimea in the last 10 months.

She wrote on her Facebook page that the FSB showed her father documents indicating that criminal charges have been filed against her in connection with stories she had that purportedly include calls to end Russia's control over Crimea.

She said her father's computer and flash drives were confiscated during the search.

Anna Andriyevskaya
Anna Andriyevskaya

Until shortly after Russia annexed Crimea, Andriyevskaya worked for the newspaper Argumenty Nedeli-Krym, but she left after the paper adopted a policy forbidding criticism of the de facto authorities or Russia. She has since worked as a contributor to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

A spokesman for Russian law enforcement agencies in Crimea said they had no comment on the raids. Local Interior Ministry spokesman Dmitry Polonsky said he had not heard of the detention of any journalists.

Kokorina's lawyer, Dzhemil Temishev, told RFE/RL that she was questioned in connection with reports published by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

"I cannot tell all the details now," he said. "So far we do not have any concrete charges in connection with the interrogation. I do not at present see any danger for Natalya."

Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's media freedom representative, issued a statement on March 13 condemning "the intimidation of independent journalists in Crimea."

"This detention is a reminder of the ongoing practice of the de facto authorities in Crimea to intimidate and persecute independent media representatives for their work," Mijatovic wrote. She added that the "repression" of journalists in Crimea is "a fundamental violation of basic human rights."

Refat Chubarov, head of the Crimean assembly, the Tatar Mejlis, who is currently in Kyiv because the de facto authorities in Crimea have banned him from the peninsula, told RFE/RL that "repression" is increasing in Crimea.

"Fear is being maintained through the repression of all layers of Crimean society -- against Crimean Tatars, against journalists, against businesspeople," Chubarov said. "Those of us here in Kyiv have to think about what we can do to help these people, to protect them and their families and the journalists who are still in Crimea. We have only one tool -- maximum publicity and appeals to international journalism and human rights organizations.

Earlier this month, the NGO Freedom House issued a report that accused the de facto authorities of "working to turn the Crimean peninsula into an information ghetto." The report notes that "challenging Crimea's status as part of Russia" in the media is a crime carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison.

All Ukrainian television broadcasts to the region have been shut down, although some channels -- "mostly entertainment channels" -- can still be viewed on cable.

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report from Prague

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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