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Why Did Kyiv Banish a Prominent Austrian Journalist?

ORF’s Christian Wehrschuetz may have angered officials with his critical reporting.

12 March 2019

The reasons behind Ukraine’s decision to hand Austrian journalist Christian Wehrschuetz (pictured) a one-year entry ban are getting more convoluted.

 

Initially, Ukraine told Austrian authorities that Wehrschuetz, the Kyiv bureau chief for Austrian public broadcaster ORF, was barred because his camera crew crossed the Kerch Strait bridge linking Russia to Russian-controlled Ukraine in violation of Ukrainian law. Wehrschuetz said he never set foot on the bridge while his crew filmed the segment last July, RFE/RL reports.

 

Then, on 9 March, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said the ban was justified by the need to ensure Wehrschuetz’s safety, citing his concerns about “threats to his life in Ukraine,” the Kyiv Post wrote.

 

The SBU said Wehrschuetz feared attacks from Ukrainian nationalists angry about his critical reporting on the government, RFE says.

 

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl last week called the decision “an unacceptable act of censorship.” Wehrschuetz vowed to contest the ban, Reuters reported.

 

After being called on the carpet by the Austrian Foreign Ministry, Ukraine’s ambassador to Vienna denied the ban had anything to do with freedom of speech.

 

Ambassador Oleksandr Scherba said a delegation of Austrian journalists, some known for anti-Ukrainian views, was permitted to enter the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine recently. Those journalists “simply have an elementary respect for Ukraine and its legislation,” while Wehrschuetz didn’t abide by Ukrainian law “and was punished very mildly,” he told Evropeyskaya Pravda, Interfax-Ukraine writes today.

 

 

  • “Wehrschuetz is a household name in Austria, known for his often disheveled appearance as well as his reports from the former Yugoslavia,” Reuters writes.

 

  • In 2011, Wehrschuetz sought to become the general director of ORF with the support of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party.

 

  • The first deputy chair of the Ukrainian parliament's committee on freedom of speech and information policy, Olga Chervakova, accused Wehrschuetz of pro-Moscow sympathies and claimed he “widely uses Russian propaganda memes,” but provided no examples, RFE writes.
Compiled by Rose Joy Smith
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