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Ukraine29 November 2004

Opposition journalist beaten up

Reporters Without Borders today called for a rapid investigation into a violent attack on opposition journalist Hennadi Rybchenkov of the weekly Ukraina Tsentr on 25 November in the central city of Kirovograd by thugs who told him he should be writing articles in support of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the official winner of the 21 November presidential election run-off.

"This attack was clearly motivated by Hennadi Rybchenkov’s work as a journalist," the press freedom organisation said in a letter to interior minister Mykola Bilokon. "We demand a rapid and thorough investigation leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible."

Reporters Without Borders said there were an "extremely high" number of serious physical attacks on journalists every year in Ukraine. "The systematic impunity enjoyed by those responsible could become very dangerous for the entire press in the present political context," it warned.

The attack on Rybchenkov occurred when he returned home after covering a demonstration in support of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko for his newspaper. Two men waiting outside his home shouted out his name and said: "Now you are going to write for Viktor Yanukovych." They then beat him up and took his mobile phone.

He managed to get inside his home before losing consciousness. He was hospitalized yesterday with cranial traumatism and many other injuries. An official investigation has been opened, but the police are not focusing on the political motives, Ukraina Tsentr editor Yuri Ilyuchek said.

Rybchenkov has written many reports about electoral fraud in the Kirovograd area. In particular, he was very critical of the central electoral commission’s decision to annul the first-round results in a Kirovograd district where Yushchenko won.

Along with his colleague Oksana Hutsalyuk and Ruslan Khudoyarov of the local news agency Komivoyager, Rybchenkov was previously attacked by thugs in the city’s central park a few days before the second round.

Alexandre Danutsa, the news director of TV-Stymul and presenter of its news bulletin, was also violently attacked in Kirovograd on 18 November.

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