KYIV, March 11 - Austrian reporter Christian Wehrschuetz said he feared being attacked by Ukrainian nationalists over reporting critical of the government in Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian Security Service. Now they're using a one-year entry ban to keep him out of the country, RFE/RL reported.
In citing Wehrschuetz's own purported concerns, the counterintelligence and counterterror agency appears to be contradicting the initial reason for the ban given to Austrian authorities: that he had violated Ukrainian law when his camera crew crossed the Kerch Strait via the Russian-built bridge connecting Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula. That legislation allows for bans of up to three years for those who violate it.
It also appears to skirt a dispute over whether or not Wehrscheutz actually broke the entry law, which is aimed at undermining Moscow's de facto control over the seized peninsula, since he said he stayed behind while other members of the crew crossed the bridge.
The ban sparked outrage from Vienna, which has summoned Ukraine's ambassador, and prompted calls from international media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)'s office for press freedom to reverse the decision.
The dispute over Wehrscheutz's actions have raised tensions between Kyiv and Vienna despite Austrian officials' efforts to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia throughout a five-year conflict that has pitted Ukrainian forces against Russia-backed separatists, killing around 13,000 people and leaving at least 30,000 more injured.
Reuters quoted Wehrschuetz as saying on ORF radio on March 8 that he would challenge the ban "by all legal means."
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) took that rejection a step further with the entry ban against Wehrschuetz, writing in a March 9 post on Facebook that it had done so "to ensure the safety of the journalist." It said nothing of the alleged violation of Ukrainian border law in Crimea.
Trouble for Wehrschuetz, an award-winning reporter and former editor of the Austrian Freedom Party's weekly who has spent years as the Kyiv bureau chief for Austria's national broadcaster, ORF, began on February 7, when he reported being denied permission by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to report in the conflict zone in the country's east, citing a statement from Ukrainian Ambassador to Austria Oleksandr Shcherba.
Austria has now summoned Shcherba over the decision to ban him, calling it an act of censorship, according to Reuters. Shcherba was expected to meet with Austrian officials on March 11, Reuters added.
Wehrschuetz has denied ever setting foot on the Russian bridge, saying that when he reported from the area in July his crew crossed it but he did not. (rfe/ez)