Spanish journalists in ukraine: treated like criminals

Two Spanish reporters fly to Kiev to report from the embattled Donbass region. But they are not allowed to leave the airport.

Manuel angel Sastre (center) and Antonio Pampliega (right) in Syria in 2015 Photo: ap

The government and intelligence services in Ukraine don’t like to be kept in the loop. The two Spanish journalists Antonio Pampliega and Manuel angel Sastre had to learn that now. Last Thursday they arrived in Kiev on a flight from Amsterdam and were deported only twenty hours later. The two were not allowed to leave the airport building at any time. Their destination was the east of the country, where the Ukrainian army is fighting militias in the Donbass that want to break away from Kiev.

"They treated us like criminals," Sastre complains. He and his colleague Pampliega work for various media as freelancers. They specialize in conflict hotspots from Latin America to the Arab world and Ukraine. The two became known in Spain because they were kidnapped in Syria in 2015 and held for ten months.

It was not the first trip of the two to Ukraine. Back in 2014, they visited the front lines in the east, reporting from both sides of the conflict. "They probably didn’t like what we reported from the rebel side," says Sastre, explaining why they were subsequently blacklisted and banned from entering the country along with another 400 or so Europeans. After fierce protests by Spanish diplomats, they were taken off the list again by decree of the Ukrainian presidential office in 2016.

At Kiev airport, the two reporters and the Spanish consulate referred to this decision. To no avail. "They took us off one list and put us on another," Sastre said. This is because the deportation was justified by findings of the Ukrainian intelligence service.

In addition to protests by the Spanish embassy and support from the consulate, Spanish press associations and journalists’ unions also declared solidarity with Pampliega and Sastre. "Such a decision by a country that in theory is a democracy is outrageous," complained Elsa Gonzalez, president of the Federation of Journalists’ Associations of Spain. The "Platform for the Defense of Press Freedom" called on the Spanish Interior Ministry to make representations to Kiev so that such deportations are not repeated.

Censorship in the run-up?

The Association of the Press in Madrid published a communique strongly condemning Ukraine’s actions. He said that the deportation was "an attempt at censorship in advance", which was otherwise only common "in authoritarian regimes". It is important that "citizens receive truthful and independent information," he said.

Manuel angel Sastre, journalist

"They didn’t like what we reported from the rebel side"

Back in May of this year, another Spanish journalist was targeted by Kiev. The Ukrainian judiciary demanded that the European Union extradite Madrid-based photographer Julio Zamarron and 49 other activists from several European countries.

They all belonged to the "Anti-Fascist Caravan to the Donbass" – a group that for three years distributed aid supplies such as medicines and toys to the population in the war zones. Eleonora Forenza, a communist member of the European Parliament, was also a member. Photographer Zamarron documented the nine-day journey and life in the "liberated territories".

The group had first flown to Moscow to continue from there to the disputed eastern territories of Ukraine. Kiev saw this as "a violation of the Ukrainian border with criminal intentions".

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