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RFE/RL Affiliate Raided, Transmitters Confiscated

(Prague, Czech Republic--March 3, 2004) Ukrainian authorities today raided the offices of RFE/RL's affiliate partner in Kyiv, Radio "Kontynent," confiscating the FM broadcaster's transmission equipment, sealing the office and detaining three people, including the station's chief engineer. The seizure was carried out on the basis of an order issued to local law enforcement officials by the Ukrainian State Center of Radio Frequencies (in Ukrainian, "Ukrchastnotnaglyad"). The three detained individuals were later released.

RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine condemned the attack on "Radio Kontynent," saying: "We at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are angry and outraged by this blatant act in suppressing factual news and information from a variety of high-quality journalists. Ukraine's name and its people are badly damaged; the first freedom -- free expression -- is harmed. In fact, after what happened today to Radio Kontynent, one can reasonably ask, 'Who's next?'"

"Kontynent," which also broadcasts programs by Voice of America, BBC and Deutsche Welle on 100.9FM, added two hours of RFE/RL Ukrainian Service programming to its schedule on February 27. This latest act again eliminates RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service from the FM airwaves in the Ukrainian capital.

RFE/RL Ukrainian programs were abruptly taken off the air on February 17 in Kyiv and cities across Ukraine, as the Ukrainian FM Radio Dovira network carried out its threat to end its five-year affiliate relationship with RFE/RL. At the time, Dine called the Dovira move "a deeply disturbing political development and serious setback to freedom of expression in Ukraine."

In light of today's events, senior officials at RFE/RL are expressing serious concerns about the evolving pattern of pressure applied by Ukrainian authorities on independent media and freedom of speech as such. Many RFE/RL affiliates have expressed concern that the penalty for carrying Ukrainian Service programs on their airwaves may be to share the fate of "Radio Kontynent".

Dine also expressed remorse on learning of the death of Heorhiy Chechyk, General Director of the Poltava Radio and Television Company "UTA" that owns FM broadcaster "Radio Poltava Plus". Chechyk died in an automobile accident today, while on his way to Kyiv for a meeting with RFE/RL officials to discuss affiliation opportunities.

RFE/RL is supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that runs all U.S. international, nonmilitary broadcasting, including the Voice of America.