(Donetsk) – Ukrainian authorities should immediately release a journalist apparently forcibly disappeared since May 10, 2014 by government military forces in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Human Rights Watch said today. Since the arrest of Artyom Larionov, a videographer from Donetsk working for anti-Kiev forces, the government has provided no information as to his fate or whereabouts.
The authorities should immediately allow Larionov access to a lawyer and family members, bring him before a judge and release him or charge him with a credible offense, Human Rights Watch said.
“The authorities urgently need to say where Artyom Larionov is being held and why they’re holding him,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nothing justifies an enforced disappearance, including having views the government doesn’t like. The European Union and concerned governments should be publicly raising this case.”
Alleged Ukrainian military forces took Larionov into custody on May 10 at about 7 p.m. at an official roadblock between the towns of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, which was witnessed by two of his friends. The friends had earlier arranged with Larionov to pick him up near the checkpoint to drive him home to Donetsk. They were waiting for him when Larionov called from the taxi that was taking him to meeting spot. Over the phone they heard sounds of commotion and shouting and suspected that Larionov was having problems at the roadblock. The friends drove to the roadblock where they said they saw Larionov surrounded by several armed Ukrainian soldiers in fatigues. One serviceman was holding Larionov’s press card identifying him as a journalist for the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR). The officials searched the two friends and their vehicle and ordered them at gunpoint to leave immediately. They drove away.
Larionov worked for a live-streaming television project of the DPR, filming the activities of anti-Kiev forces in the region. Larionov’s mother, Taisiya Larionova, told Human Rights Watch that on May 2 Larionov left Donetsk for a work trip to Sloviansk. She expected him to return to Donetsk in the evening of May 10, as he was planning to vote at the May 11 referendum on the status of the DPR. Larionov’s family learned about his arrest from a Lifenews television program on the evening of May 10, which was confirmed the next day by a first-hand account from one of the friends.
Larionova told Human Rights Watch that her son had left his identification card and some personal belongings in the taxi. Several days later she retrieved them from the taxi driver in Sloviansk, who provided a similar account of her son’s detention. On May 16, she filed a missing persons report in Donetsk and the police opened an official inquiry. She also petitioned the DPR administration to help rescue her son. She contacted the police twice the following week but the investigation has not yielded any tangible results.
Since Larionov’s enforced disappearance, his family has noticed activity on his various social media accounts, which can be accessed through his cell phone without a password. The family reported this apparent use of his cell phone to the police so that they would trace the phone.
“We know Artyom was taken away by the servicemen, they must be holding him somewhere,” Larionova told Human Rights Watch. “He was not involved in fighting. He was just doing his job as a journalist. It has been two weeks and I don’t know what to think. We’re all praying he’s still alive. I want my son to come home.”
Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ukraine is a party, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), since late November 2013 when the unrest in Ukraine began, there have been nearly 300 reported cases of violence against journalists, including murder, physical assaults, kidnappings, threats, intimidation, detention, imprisonment, and damage and confiscation of equipment. Ukrainian authorities have been implicated in some of these cases.Just days before the May 25 presidential election, Ukrainian military and security services detained three journalists with Russian news services; all three were eventually released after an international outcry.
“The Larionov case appears to be part of a dangerous emerging pattern of enforced disappearances against journalists in Ukraine,” Williamson said. “This cases follows on three others in which journalists were detained and the authorities failed to provide any information as to their fate and whereabouts.”