An RT journalist reporting from Ukraine, Graham Phillips, was released after almost 36 hours of detention by various Kiev security forces.
Phillips says he is feeling ‘ok’ after questioning by Ukrainian security forces and spending a night in detention.
After being arrested at a checkpoint near Mariupol on Tuesday, Phillips was transferred to Zaporozhye where he stayed the night. Ukraine's authorities did not charge him with anything, he says.
“All my work in order, no charges, no deportation, no one laid a hand on me in anger, Ukrainian authorities treated me fairly,” Phillips said .
He thanked his colleagues and his followers for all their support. “Thank you so much for all your support during this. Some moments were a little bit difficult, but I knew you guys were there supporting me and that meant the world ,” Phillips told RT.
‘Things escalated when they saw I work for RT’
The journalist explained that he was just taking photos at the checkpoint near Mariupol as he has done “dozens of times” covering the turmoil in eastern Ukraine. “I was questioning these soldiers at the checkpoint in Mariupol on what happened on that day, and I've done that a lot of times before.”
“And then they saw that I work for RT, and then things escalated after that,” Phillips explained. “It got more serious this time. They started phoning people and then I was detained. I had my things taken off of me and interrogated quite thoroughly.”
“I was with soldiers at this point at a block post and then the SBU came, this is the Ukrainian Secret Services,” Phillips told RT in his first appearance after the release.
That is where Phillips said that he knew that he wasn't going to get released. Two locals accompanying Phillips were both released soon. He in the meantime was taken away late on Monday night, around 9 pm local time, after having spent 9 hours at the military checkpoint.
The UK journalist said that he was transferred to Zaporozhye in a police van at “gun point,” where he was delivered to an army base barracks. “An SBU man made it quite clear that I was under detention,” Phillips told RT.
The Ukrainian authorities also accused him of being a spy, Phillips says. Working for Russian TV is a “black spot”, UK national says, that is why the soldiers looked at him “with particular wariness.”
“You are working for Russian TV? What is your purpose? Are you a spy?” Phillips described the kind of questions he was asked.
The RT stringer specified that he clearly understood the line of questioning by the Ukrainian authorities, as he speaks and understands Russian.
“They were alright. I mean they fed me, they looked after me, but I was held at a gun point and that was quite dramatic,” he told RT.
Earlier on Wednesday the Ukraine Security Service finished proceedings against Phillips, and said it handed him over to the consul of the British embassy in Kiev.
Phillips was detained at a checkpoint near Mariupol in eastern Ukraine on May 20. Earlier on Wednesday, RT received a statement from the country’s Defense Ministry, which confirmed that the journalist's arrest had been carried out by the National Guard. According to the ministry’s press service, Phillips was detained for “filming facilities which are forbidden from being filmed.”
US calls on Kiev to release Russian journalists… if they are ‘legitimate’
While Phillips has been released, two Russian journalists still remain in custody, arrested by Kiev authorities on Sunday. The US was quick to reiterate reports coming from Kiev officials alleging the journalists from Russia’s LifeNews channel, Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko, transported weapons.
But on Wednesday, the US State Department has seemingly softened its rhetoric, calling on Kiev to investigate the issue and release those individuals if it is proven they are members of a media organization and if they did not violate the law.
“I don’t have any new updates from what I shared yesterday about the circumstances surrounding these individuals and what they may have been carrying with them, but we would call on Ukrainian authorities to investigate these incidents, to release these people if they’re legitimate journalists and not involved in illegal activities,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, referring to Saichenko and Sidyakin.
Bombarded with questions, Psaki was also asked if she was “still not convinced,” or was “less unconvinced now” that these were legitimate journalists. Psaki said the US still has “the same concerns that we had yesterday about the circumstances around these individuals,” implying that Washington believes the two veteran Russian journalists indeed carried heavy weapons.
The State Department representative was also asked if the US is “really trying to verify any of the information that’s coming from Kiev,” or just taking it at face value.
“That’s actually not what I said yesterday, but I think I just reiterated the fact that we... call on Ukrainian authorities to investigate these incidents and to release these people if they are legitimate journalists and not involved in illegal activities,” Psaki replied, dodging the question.
Human Right Watch suspects ‘enforced disappearance’
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on earlier on Wednesday urged Kiev to “immediately explain why they detained the journalists.
“It should ensure their prompt release, or, if there are credible grounds for bringing charges against them, promptly bring them before a judge so they can be charged and released pending an investigation."
At the same time HRW demanded the Ukrainian authorities should halt “arbitrarily denying journalists from Russian news outlets, including Russian state media, access to the country,” the press release reads.
“Detaining journalists and then failing to provide information on what’s happening to them or to respect their due process rights are serious violations that have to end,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The NGO warned that failure “to provide information on the whereabouts” could constitute an “enforced disappearance.”
In the meantime the Ukrainian authorities, despite numerous calls, are not letting the OSCE special monitoring mission visit the detained journalists.
Sidyakin and Saichenko were detained on Sunday soon after they released a scandalous video, which showed a UN-marked helicopter being used by the Ukrainian army in a military operation in the rebelling eastern regions.