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Ukraine26 May 2004

Two online journalists imprisoned

Reporters Without Borders has objected to police methods in the arrests of two online journalists and cast doubt on the official reasons for their detention.

Olexandre Pomytkin, 43, known for investigating corruption within the security forces, was arrested on 23 May 2004 in Kharkiv, in the east of the country. He is accused of theft and fraud.

Kostyantyn Sydorenko, 28, was arrested on 22 May in Mukashevo, in the west, while covering the election of a city mayor for a website. Held secretly since his arrest, he was sentenced to five days in detention on 25 May for resisting the security forces.

"We do question the real reasons for their arrests," said Reporters Without Borders. "It is all the more important to look into these cases because both of them were investigating issues that are sensitive for the authorities," the international press freedom organisation added.

Pomytkin, working for the online Ukrayina kryminalna (Ukraine criminal, www.cripo.com.ua), is accused by regional police of "fraudulently taking sums of money belonging to an individual". He spent seven years behind bars between 1991 and 1998, for "embezzlement of government properties".

Police say they do not accept that Pomytkin is a journalist, because he did not provide them with any press card. They are currently interviewing witnesses and alleged accomplices as part of their investigation.

Work colleagues say that his arrest was due to the recent publication of book he had written entitled "The Ukrainian Mafia" that goes into relations between police and the criminal underworld, particularly in relation to drug-trafficking.

Ukrayina kryminalna said that the journalist had received threats when the book came out. The online publication called on Ukraine’s prosecutor-general to take personal charge of the case. His editor, Oleh Eltsov, said thugs had assaulted him twice in the last few months.

Sydorenko was arrested when he went to the police station to recover a camera that had been stolen a few days earlier. Witnesses said that a bag of explosives appeared on the ground close to him during his arrest. Police refused to comment on the case.

The journalist was covering mayoral election in Mukashevo for www.hotline.com.ua, a website that specialises in election monitoring in Ukraine. On 20 May he had filmed police moving in to dislodge activists from Pora, an organisation criticising the process of municipal elections in Mukashevo, who were installed in front of an official building in Uzhhorod, near Mukashevo.

A film of the police intervention was shown on the local M-Studio TV channel. It is also being used as evidence of ill-treatment in a Pora case against the police. The journalist was sentenced to five days detention on 25 May for resisting the security forces, after a trial that lasted just a few minutes. He told the hearing that he had done nothing to resist the police during his arrest.




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