Journalists in Ukraine are being targeted as they continue to face “unprecedented dangers” in carrying out their duties during the Russian invasion, top independent rights experts from the United Nations said on Wednesday.
UN-appointed independent rights experts, including the organization’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said that there were several accounts of journalists being “targeted, tortured, kidnapped, attacked and killed, or refused safe passage” from Ukrainian cities that are under Russian siege.
According to the UN’s latest data, seven journalists were confirmed to have been killed in the country since the inception of the Russian invasion on February 24, in what Moscow deems “a special military operation.”
The last time this many media professionals lost their lives reporting in Ukraine was back in 2014 during Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The rights experts added that the Ukraine war has made it easier for Russia by the “silencing of critical voices… over a prolonged period of time,” in reference to the way in which Russia has censored social media platforms and news websites that are against Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as well as disrupting foreign media services.
Moscow has also been “labeling” independent media as “foreign agents,” in a move that the rights experts deemed “equally concerning,” as they also denounced Russian legislation which threatens 15-year prison sentences to journalists “for spreading ‘fake information about the war in Ukraine’” or for even “mentioning the word ‘war’” in their reports of the invasion.
“We deplore the systematic crackdown on political opponents, independent journalists and the media, human rights activists, protesters and many others opposing the Russian government’s actions,” the UN experts added in their statement. “All these measures amount to the creation of a state monopoly on information in blatant violation of Russia’s international obligations.”
They also expressed their concern about how Russia has been using “propaganda for war” against Ukraine, by spreading “disinformation” about the country in Russian state-owned media.
“Promoting access to diverse and verifiable information, including ensuring access to free, independent and pluralistic media, is a more effective response to disinformation,” they said.
They continued, “We call on the Russian government to fully implement its international human rights obligations, including by respecting, promoting and protecting the freedom to seek, receive and impart information regardless of frontiers, and by ensuring a safe working environment for independent media, journalists and civil society actors.”