Ukraine expels RT’s Paula Slier & Rossiya 24 journalist invited to OSCE press freedom event

Ukraine has expelled RT’s Middle East Bureau correspondent Paula Slier and Rossiya 24 news channel's Evgeny Primakov, banning them from attending a conference on freedom of speech, which was organized by the OSCE in Kiev.

The event organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is ironically aimed at strengthening media freedoms and protection of free speech in a time of conflict in Ukraine, Slier reported from the departure lounge of an international airport in Kiev.

She was stopped on Tuesday morning at the customs for a check and later told that she is barred from entering the country. The authorities said she has been banned for five years, but offered no explanation why and her deportation papers only state that a decision not to let her in was taken “by an authorized state body of Ukraine.”

“I have participated in a number of such OSCE conferences before, and they always had heated discussions largely between Ukrainian representatives and Russian representatives,” Slier said. “My participation was always to try and promote a more inclusive way of covering conflicts. The input that I was planning to give today was constructive input on how we can ensure press freedom, particularly for journalists like myself, who work in conflict zones.”

A similar story was told by Evgeny Primakov from Rossiya 24 news channel, who was also accredited to take part in the OSCE event. He was told by a Ukrainian border official that he posed a threat to the country’s national security and was banned for five years from entering Ukraine, he said. Primakov said he had planned to put forward new ways to mend the rift between media professionals in Russia and Ukraine at the OSCE conference.

“Apparently our counterparts want to stick to their confrontational agenda, invent a ‘beast snarl of the Russian imperialism’ and showcase it everywhere. And every point of view, especially a moderate one, that contradicts and questions their perception of the world is unbearable and unacceptable to them,” he suggested.

He added that the real damage from the incident is done not to Slier and himself but to the Ukrainian journalistic community.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, whose branch organized the Kiev event expressed regret about the development.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called Ukraine’s decision stunning. “Ukrainian authorities must urgently explain this decision and stop pressuring journalists. This is totally contrary to the proper functioning of a democracy,” IFJ Secretary General Anthony Bellanger told RT.

Slier and Primakov are apparently the latest journalists, who were prevented by Ukraine from doing their jobs for no other reason than having links to Russia. Dozens of Russian journalists had earlier been barred from entry or stripped of local media credentials and deported from Ukraine under a pretext of national security. The broadcasting of of Russian TV channels has been prohibited in Ukraine, with Kiev claiming to be fighting “Russian propaganda” with the blanket ban.

For some the situation is much more dire than a mere denial of entry. Kirill Vyshynsky, the head of a Russia-linked Ukrainian news agency, was arrested and accused of state treason by Ukrainian authorities last month. A dual citizen of Ukraine and Russia, his ‘treason’ apparently boils down to reporting news in a way that the government in Kiev does not like.

When Slier covered wildfires in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant expulsion zone in 2015, some local media outlets called on the national security service SBU to arrest her, branding Slier as a ‘Kremlin propagandist’ after a blogger falsely accused her of cheering rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

RT at the time decided that her life may be in danger and had to call Slier off. Previously she covered the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine including the downing of MH17 flight in July 2014.

The OSCE event, according to its own description, brings together “media professionals, government and civil society representatives, intergovernmental officers, renowned international experts and journalists to discuss the challenges they face, and suggest ways to promote freedom of expression, access to quality information and freedom of the media in Ukraine, in particular in times of the current conflict.” Its expert panels are dedicated to “ensuring media diversity and pluralism, countering disinformation and propaganda, safety of journalists, combating ‘hate speech,' and freedom of artistic expression.” Slier and Primakov both have extensive experience of reporting from conflict zones in the Middle East.

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