Joint Statement on the Protection of Journalists in Ukraine
March 25, 2022
As the Russian Federation’s illegal large-scale military aggression in Ukraine escalates, France, Greece, Lithuania, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America, Uruguay and the European Union call for the protection of the Ukrainian and international journalists and media workers covering the war in Ukraine. The lives and safety of journalists and media workers on the ground – both Ukrainian and international – are in grave danger. In absolute condemnation of the threats to the lives and safety of journalists resulting from the Russian Federation’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, we emphasize that all journalists and media workers are civilians under international humanitarian law and cannot be legitimate targets. Their rights must be respected and protected.
The immediate physical safety of journalists and media workers on the ground – both Ukrainian and international – is of our fundamental concern amid the increasing number of verified reports of attacks by the Russian forces against them and incessant escalation of civilian hostilities. We condemn the killing of Brent Renaud, Yevhenii Sakun, Pierre Zakrzewski, Oleksandra Kuvshynova and Oksana Baulina in Ukraine. Journalists have a critical role in providing information during a conflict, and must never be targeted. We call on the respect of international humanitarian law, to ensure that journalists and media workers are protected.
The UN Security Council, in its unanimously adopted resolution 2222 (2015), affirms that states must respect and protect journalists as civilians and confirms that media equipment and installations constitute civilian objects and shall not be the object of attack or reprisals. The free flow of independent and accurate information is indispensable in conflict situations. Work of journalists and media workers is vital in helping to keep people safe and ensure that the international community can understand the full consequences of the invasion and its horrendous bearing on human lives. The resolution 2222 also requires states to respect the professional independence and rights of journalists.
We strongly condemn all efforts to silence and constrain independent media coverage within the Russian Federation itself of the Russian invasion and the ensuing hostilities. Thousands of individuals protesting against the war are being arrested all over the Russian Federation. Journalists in the Russian Federation covering anti-war demonstrations are facing increased harassment, arrest and arbitrary detention. The Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor continues to intimidate independent media, by blocking their websites and forcing them to remove articles. The Russian regulator has also blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and other foreign outlets in Russia, under the false pretenses that they were spreading fictitious information about the war in Ukraine, thus leaving millions of people in Russia cut off from many sources of online information. This is an unacceptable and a complete violation of the public’s right to independent information.
In an attempt to further curtail the freedom of speech, bills passed by the Duma amending the Russian Criminal Code and the Code on Administrative Offences were signed into law, introducing sentences of up to 15 years in prison and creating new offences that punish the following: discrediting the Russian armed forces, calling for sanctions against Russia, and disseminating “false information” about the armed forces International journalists terminated their reporting within Russia due to concerns of the new laws being applied to ensure that systematic manipulation and disinformation efforts by the Russian-government controlled media channels cannot be challenged. Even the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, whose editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, and seven of whose journalists were murdered in the past two decades because of their reporting, has been forced to obey censorship in its coverage of the war in Ukraine.
We condemn this indefensible infringement on the freedom of expression and opinion, as well as free expression on matters of public interest. The freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice” is protected by Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These criminal offences constitute a complete contradiction of the notion that people may express themselves without obstruction.
We also condemn the widespread crackdown of independent media in Belarus, the country that permitted the military attack by the Russian Federation on Ukraine from its territory. Thirty-two journalists and media workers remain behind bars in Belarus, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
We call for unity within the international community to protect the rights and safety of journalists and media workers in Ukraine, and call for urgent humanitarian assistance for journalists and media workers in Ukraine to ensure that they can continue to conduct their work safely. We join all the concerned governments, international NGOs, and journalists organizations to do everything they can to support journalists who will be forced to flee the country, and may wish to set up reporting bases abroad.
Press freedom and free uninhibited access to information, both online and offline, will be the only way possible to verify and witness current events in Ukraine. Free, open and independent media reporting in the public interest holding power to account, while delivering access to free, verified, and impartial information, is essential in democratic processes, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.