The conflict between Russia and Ukraine threw thousands of people out of their traditional lives, but it also put those who sought to report on the conflict in serious jeopardy.
Behind this political conflict, played out on the world stage, we can see the parallels between the lives of two ordinary, yet extraordinary, people, one from either side of the barricades. Each one is in prison today for exercising his freedom of speech, for expressing his views of the events in his country, for doing his best to hold those in power to account.
In recent weeks, the name Oleg Sentsov has been everyone’s news opportunity as a symbol of political repression in today’s Russia. The filmmaker, who is serving a 20 year sentence on bogus terrorism charges after a trial described by Human Rights Watch as “a political show trial,” recently announced that he would be engaging in a hunger strike in prison to demand the release of 64 Ukrainian political prisoners currently being held in Russia and Crimea. As he told his lawyer, if he died while the FIFA Football World Cup was being held in Russia, it would help bring the attention of the world to the injustices being perpetrated there.
We now hear reports from Ukraine featuring Kirill Vyshinsky, the head of RIA Novosti-Ukraine. Vyshnsky is currently detained in Kiev, arrested two months ago on charges of treason, charges he vehemently denies. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs dubbed Ukrainian authorities’ actions as “unacceptable”; the Russian Embassy in Kiev sending a note of protest to Ukraine’s Foreign Office; the OSCE expressed its concern. Just what we saw happening in Sentsov’s case. Just what we saw having no effect in Sentsov’s case.
Sentsov got 20 years in a labor camp, Vyshinsky is threatened with a 17-year sentence.
Journalists, writers and documentary filmmakers perform a vital task in society. Without them we, the people, would never know what our leaders do supposedly in our name. The need for freedom of the press to carry out this essential function is recognised around the world, and yet those who are at the front lines often seem to be putting their lives and their families at risk.
The press has been experiencing immense pressure lately when covering opinions that do not match the official state views, and it seems that neither public organisations nor any foundations are capable of protecting the journalists’ free speech in the most authoritarian countries.
Unfortunately, it is not going to happen any time soon that these countries will create the same conditions for the press that the journalists in the European Union and America have come to enjoy. And for as long as that is the case, brave people like Sentsov and Vyshinsky will continue having to put their lives and their safety at risk if the powerful are ever to be held to account.
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