Journalist kidnappings, many questions

On Aug. 6, Sergey Belous appeared on a press conference with the Ukrainian police, but no one has had direct contact with him, not me, not his newspaper Pečat nor his mother except for a short message on VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, this morning.

The campaign to release Sergey, Roman and Sergey will continue.

The campaign to release Sergey Belous, Roman Gnatyuk and Sergey Boyko will continue.

Until Sergey is safely back in Belgrade and we have more answers to important questions, the campaign for the release of the three journalists will continue. We do not know if Sergey was the person who sent the message to his mother or if someone in the Ukrainian security service sent it.

Therefore, I want Sergey to contact me from his @ya.ru email address and tell me what is his favorite drink when he visits me in Belgrade. This is something only Sergey would know, not the Ukrainian security service.

Since my first story Sergey Belous missing in Donetsk, sign the petition published on Aug. 4, there has been a lot of development, some good news, but also some very difficult questions.

According to the TV station 112.ua, Ukrainian police opened criminal proceedings for the kidnapping of Ukrainian journalists Sergey Belous, Roman Gnatyuk and Sergey Boyko according to article 146 in the Ukrainian penal code about unlawful imprisonment.

Today, Stephen Karganović of the Srebrenica Historical Project wrote a press release. While Karganović asks many good questions, the language of this press release is very inflamed, and he is reaching conclusions without proper sources, at least not sources that can be publically confirmed.

Roman Gnatyuk also gave an interview to his TV station, and comparing what Sergey and Roman actually said to what Karganović  writes in his press release we can get closer to the truth about what happened to the three journalists, but as of now, there are many more questions than definite answers.

Both Sergey and Roman tells approximately the same story. They were apprehended by uniformed men on Aug. 1 and moved to different locations in Eastern Ukraine until they stayed in the same place from Aug. 3 until they were stripped of all their clothes and left at the side of the road close to the city of Dnipropetrovsk early in the morning of Aug. 6.

It is very far from Dnepropetrovsk to Kiev.

It is very far from Dnepropetrovsk to Kiev.

On the other hand, in his press release, Karganović writes that Sergey was brought to Kiev for interrogation on Aug. 5, but neither Sergey nor Roman says anything about Kiev in their statements. Furthermore, the distance between Dnipropetrovsk and Kiev is very long, 471 kilometers by road or over six hours in a car.

Information about interrogation in Kiev could be true or not true, but it is strange that neither Sergey nor Roman spoke about that. However, the question of Kiev is also raised by Sergey’s newspaper Pečat.

In his press release, Karganović writes that “clear propaganda messages from the press conference that Belous and his colleagues were kidnapped by bandits within the power of self-defense Donetsk National Republic,” but there is nothing from the police at the press conference giving the blame to one of the sides in the conflict.

However, when Sergey was asked by the journalists, he said that Ukrainian, not Russian forces was responsible for the kidnapping. He declined to give further details, but those will be clear when Sergey is safely back in Belgrade.

Karganović also claims that Sergey “confirmed the official story, with frequent interventions from uniformed members of the police who was sitting next to him and corrected and amended his statement.

However, there was no indication in the video that anyone corrected or amended Sergey’s story while he was sitting there. Of course, he could have been coerced into telling a certain story before the press conference, but there was no interruptions from police when Sergey said that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the kidnapping.

Still, Karganović is correct when he writes that the Ukrainian government is not happy about Sergey’s presence in Ukraine. Previously, Sergey has done some excellent investigative reporting about the Maidan snipers and that the Right Sector is a threat to Ukraine.

Because of this reporting, Sergey told me that he was contacted by the Third Secretary at the Ukrainian embassy in Belgrade to warn him that the new Ukrainian authorities were watching his activities closely. This third secretary is a sympathizer/ member of the extremist and neo-fascist movement Right Sector.

Furthermore, there are clear indications that the Ukrainian government was aware of the kidnapping from the beginning. On Monday, I contacted a centrally places source in Washington DC, and after a few hours, this source told me that he had heard from Ukrainian authorities that Sergey would be released very soon.

So, when Ukrainian authorities get the chance to play saints and promising the criminal prosecution of the kidnapping, they are not very credible. With several negative stories about captured journalists, the Ukrainians did not want another negative spin.

International pressure has had a good effect in this case, and the petition campaign is effective. In addition to the campaign, I have contacted the Norwegian Embassy in Kiev, the Ukrainian Embassy in Oslo, the Norwegian Union of Journalists, the Committee to Protect JournalistsHuman Rights Watch and others.

Finally, we have not heard what happened to the third journalist, Sergey Boyko. The Ukrainian government is responsible for any harm that might happen to the three journalists.

I cannot wait to offer Sergey his favorite drink when he returns to Belgrade 🙂