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Ukraine16 October 2002

Defender of press freedom hit during protest against President Kuchma, US journalist attacked

Reporters Without Borders today condemned an assault against International Press Institute representative Oleg Zavada during a protest against President Leonid Kuchma in Kiev on 12 October and an assailant’s attempt on 13 October to snatch a handbag from Washington Times correspondent Natalia Feduschak containing notes of a key interview about Ukraine’s sale of arms to Iraq.

"We firmly condemn these acts of violence against journalists who were just doing their work, and we call on you to ensure that the police investigations actively consider the possibility that these attacks were related to their professional activity," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Interior Minister Yuriy Smirnov.

Formerly a reporter with the national television station UT-1 and now a resident of Canada and representative of the International Press Institute, Zavada was hit by plain-clothes policemen while covering the opposition demonstration for the IPI on 12 October. The protesters were staging a mock trial of President Kuchma to coincide with the arrival of a team of international experts to investigate accusations of arms sales to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions. Zavada was hospitalised with concussion following the incident but is now out of danger. The authorities are investigating an act of "hooliganism" but not one of obstructing a journalist in his work.

The attempt to rob Feduschak’s handbag took place on the evening of 13 October in the stairwell of the apartment building where she was staying. The handbag contained a tape-recording and notes of an interview she had carried out just two hours earlier on Ukraine’s arms sales to Iraq. The assailant finally fled empty-handed when neighbours came out on to the landing. The police declined to come to the apartment building.

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