(Kyiv) – An order from Ukrainian authorities banning the Russian independent television channel Dozhd TV (TV Rain) from broadcasting on Ukrainian cable networks violates freedom of expression and should be revoked, Human Rights Watch said today. In Russia, Dozhd TV is accessible only by streaming it over the internet since the Russian authorities orchestrated its cutoff from satellite and cable providers in 2014, as part of the Kremlin’s crackdown on independently owned television channels.

“It is profoundly disappointing to see that Ukrainian authorities are following the Kremlin’s example in silencing media they don’t like,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Media should not be used as a scapegoat in political bargaining.”

A statement on the Dozhd TV website on January 12, 2017, said that its Ukrainian cable provider, Volya, notified the station that Ukraine’s National Radio and TV Council had issued an order to stop Dozhd TV broadcasts. The council said cable providers have one month to implement the order from the date it was published. The Dozhd TV statement said a Volya representative informed the station the ban was issued because Dozhd TV had violated Ukraine’s advertising regulations.

A participant holds a flyer during a protest against the threat of closure to television station Dozhd (TV Rain) in Moscow February 8, 2014. The flyer reads "We need Dozhd".

However, in an interview with wire service Interfax-Ukraine, a member of the National Radio and TV Council stated that Dozhd TV was banned also for identifying Crimea as a part of Russia’s territory in its broadcasts. He also said that Dozhd TV correspondents had travelled to Crimea directly from Russia several times, a violation of Ukrainian law.

Russia has occupied the Crimean Peninsula since 2014. In its World Report 2017, Human Rights Watch concluded that “Russia’s actions in occupied Crimea created a human rights crisis.”

A Dozhd TV representative told Human Rights Watch that Ukraine’s National Radio and TV Council contacted the television channel and asked it to address violations of advertising regulations, which prohibit media from non-EU countries or countries that have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television from broadcasting advertisements. The Dozhd TV representative said the station had addressed this violation and notified Ukraine’s National Radio and TV Council. The representative said that Ukrainian authorities had not contacted the channel since then to either express further concerns or to offer an alternative to blocking Dozhd TV broadcasts in Ukraine.

Natalia Sindeyeva, director general of Dozhd TV, said in the January 12 statement that she “regretted that the National Council of Ukraine came to such a decision.” According to Dozhd TV, about 90 cable providers broadcast Dozhd TV in Ukraine, reaching approximately half a million households.

In early 2014, after a public outcry by several Russian lawmakers and an investigation by the state media oversight agency (Roskomnadzor), Russian cable providers stopped broadcasting Dozhd TV. In November 2016, security officials of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) arbitrarily detained two Dozhd TV journalists, deleted their footage, and banned them indefinitely from returning to the area.

In Ukraine, media freedom remains problematic. In June 2016, a presidential decree banned 17 Russian journalists, editors, and media executives from travelling to Ukraine. In September 2015, the government banned several hundred Russian individuals and legal entities from entering Ukraine for a year. Among them were 41 journalists and bloggers from several countries, including Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Germany. In May 2016, President Petro Poroshenko removed 29 people from the list of those sanctioned.

The international organizations Freedom House and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued statements urging the Ukrainian government to drop the ban against Dozhd TV. On Twitter, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s media freedom representative described the decision as “very damaging for media pluralism in Ukraine.”

“Media serves as an essential check on government power, abuses, and many other issues,” Cooper said. “Protecting media freedom will set Ukraine on the right course for further meaningful reform and human rights-based policies.”