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Russian rights body seeks Europe’s help in release of RIA Novosti journalist arrested in Ukraine

Russian rights body seeks Europe’s help in release of RIA Novosti journalist arrested in Ukraine
Treason charges brought by Ukrainian authorities against journalist Kirill Vyshynsky are ungrounded and should be lifted, the Russian human rights council said in a message to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

In a statement on Monday, Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights said that it had made a request to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic to intervene in the situation.

In a letter, the Russian rights activists wrote that they considered the charges brought against Vyshynsky and his colleagues as “not based on objective grounds”. They added that the arrest of the journalist and pressure applied on his colleagues and family caused extreme concern. “We appeal to you, Mrs. Mijatovic, to personally bring the situation under your control”, they concluded.

READ MORE: Russian passport no grounds for treason charges’ – HRW slams journalist’s arrest in Ukraine

Vyshynsky, who heads the Kiev bureau of Russian news agency RIA Novosti, was detained in Kiev last week and put in pre-trial detention on charges of high treason. Ukrainian investigators claim that the man had been allegedly helping “a foreign state help in carrying out its activities in Ukraine,” the crime can carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Agents of Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) raided the reporter’s apartment and reported discovering some cash and Russian state decorations that they apparently plan to use as evidence in future trial. SBU also summoned about 40 people who work for RIA Novosti’s Kiev bureau for interrogation. Last week a Ukrainian court refused Vyshynsky bail and put him in pre-trial custody for 60 days.

Vladimir Putin criticized the crackdown on the news agency and its head during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday. “They are accusing him of state treason for what he did publicly while acting in accordance with his professional duties. I can’t recall any similar case in a long time,” Putin said.  

After the meeting Merkel promised to discuss the journalist’s detention with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

International human rights groups and a number of  journalists criticized the arrest of Vyshinsky, with RT’s Editor-In-Chief Margarita Simonyan calling the move “a wild witch-hunt on journalists” for merely doing their job.

Rachel Denber from Human Rights Watch told RT that Ukraine’s Western allies should put pressure on Kiev to reveal the grounds for treason charges against Vyshynsky. “We’re extremely concerned by what’s happened. Under no circumstances should a government be criminalizing speech and media activities groundlessly,” Denber, who is the deputy director for HRW in Europe and Central Asia, said.

“The authorities must either precisely explain how the alleged actions constituted high treason or release Kirill Vyshinsky without delay,” Johann Bihr, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said.

In the meantime the wife of Kirill Vyshynsky, Irina Vyshynskaya talked to Ruptly in Kiev, saying that she wasn’t officially informed of the arrest by any of the Ukrainian agencies. “I don’t understand the accusations against my husband – because I can’t understand how treason and journalism can be mixed together,” Vyshynskaya concluded.

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