The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, today condemned Ukraine’s decision to place an entry ban on respected Austrian correspondent Christian Wehrschütz.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry said yesterday in a statement that Ukrainian authorities had confirmed the ban. Wehrschütz has regularly reported from Ukraine, including in areas of ongoing conflict, for the Austrian public broadcaster ORF.
Ukraine’s SBU security service has accused Wehschütz of illegal entry into the disputed Crimean peninsula – a charge Wehrschütz has disputed – as well as “anti-Ukrainian propaganda”, according to media reports. Authorities had previously denied Wehrschütz accreditation to report from the eastern part of the country where Ukraine is engaged in a bitter conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen urged Ukraine to overturn the ban.
“Ukraine should immediately reverse course and allow Christian Wehrschütz, a highly respected correspondent, to resume reporting freely from the country”, he said. “The recent harassment and now entry ban on Mr. Wehrschütz run counter to norms protecting press freedom and freedom of expression that Ukraine claims to respect.”
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl yesterday called the entry ban an “an unacceptable act of censorship”. ORF Director Alexander Wrabetz termed Ukraine’s accusations against Wehrschütz “absurd” and the ban an act of “contempt” for ORF’s public service mission.
An expert on eastern and southeastern Europe, Wehrschütz has reported for ORF in the region since 1999, based mainly in Belgrade. Since 2014, he has regularly reported from the front lines in Ukraine. That year, he was named as “Journalist of the Year” by Austria’s trade magazine for journalism for his coverage of the conflict.