MOSCOW, January 31 (RIA Novosti) – An international advocacy group has accused riot police in Ukraine’s capital of deliberately targeting journalists and medics while aggressively dispersing anti-government rioters.
New-York based Human Rights Watch said in a report published Friday that it documented at least 13 cases earlier this month in which journalists or medical staff were beaten, injured with stun grenades or shot with rubber bullets.
Local nongovernmental groups have reported more than 60 such cases.
Ukraine’s authorities have come under international criticism for what has sometimes been a heavy-handed treatment of radical demonstrators.
Officials have pointed to the increasing use of violence by demonstrators, who have on occasion attacked police with sticks and pelted them with Molotov cocktails.
Most injuries were reported during the violent clashes on January 19 on Hrushevskyy Street, a thoroughfare in downtown Kiev on which several key government buildings are located. Journalists and medics said they were targeted despite wearing clear marking identifying who they were.
“Police faced enormous challenges during the street fighting, but that’s no excuse for deliberately targeting reporters and medics or for not taking precautions to spare them,” said Human Rights Watch associate program director Anna Neistat.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that police using a loudspeaker ordered protesters to disperse several times on January 19, warning them that their violent actions were unlawful. Police warned that they would have no choice but to use force, the ministry said.
Human Rights Watch said attacks on reporters and medics were serious human rights violations and called on Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the incidents.
“Targeting journalists covering public protest is also incompatible with Ukraine’s human rights obligations, and specifically the requirement to respect the right to freedom of expression, including media freedom,” the group said.
More than 1,200 protesters have been injured since violent mass protests erupted late last year, the city administration has said.
Protesters in Ukraine took to the streets in November after the government backed off from signing landmark trade deals with the EU.
The movement has since transformed into a loose coalition of opposition groups seeking President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned, prompting the collapse of the government.