KIEV, Ukraine – Ukrainian reporters on Wednesday disrupted a government session chaired by the prime minister, suggesting his family members could be the next victims of official inaction after police in Kiev stood by while pro-government activists attacked two journalists covering an opposition protest.
About 10 journalists covering the session turned their backs on Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to display identical posters attached to their shirts. The posters read "Today the Journalist. Tomorrow your wife, sister, daughter. Act!"
Azarov fired back, mocking the journalists and ordering them stripped of their accreditation.
"What kind of concert is this?" he asked. "If these are journalists, let them be denied accreditation with the Cabinet of Ministers. Write down all of their names and strip them of accreditation."
Ukrainian journalists have held a series of protests following the beating of two journalists on Saturday. Television footage showed several policemen ignoring pleas by television journalist Olha Snitsarchuk and her husband, Vladislav Sodel, a photographer with a daily newspaper, to intervene as they were being threatened and then beaten by a group of pro-government activists. The beating stopped only after riot police intervened and pushed the attackers away. Snitsarchuk suffered a bruised lip.
Police, however, allowed the assailants to flee, and the authorities initially refused to open an investigation. After a public backlash and angry protests, the main suspect, Vadim Titushko, an athlete from a town outside Kiev, was detained and charged with hooliganism and hampering journalistic work.
The pro-presidential Party of Regions, of which Azarov is a leader, and Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko denied that party activists were involved in the fight, even though television footage and photographs showed the suspects among the attendants and organizers of a counter-rally held by the Regions nearby.
Media freedoms have waned since President Viktor Yanukovych came to power three years ago, according to press watchdogs and experts. Television channels, the main source of information for Ukrainians, have been taken over by government-friendly tycoons, leading to censorship and self-censorship. To counter that, top Ukrainian journalists have staged protests, which included wearing face masks during a press conference by Yanukovych or breaking into his residence outside Kiev to expose alleged corruption.