Armed men stand at checkpoint on highway connecting Crimea to Ukraine
Concern was mounting Saturday over the safety of journalists in Crimea after reports that Ukrainian reporters were beaten by pro-Russian militants and an international television crew had its equipment seized.
Ukraine's Channel 5 television reported that its journalists
were among several beaten by pro-Russian militants late Friday as they covered a confrontation at a Ukrainian air force base in Sevastopol.
The channel said journalists from the Inter and STB channels were also beaten at the base, where the militants reportedly smashed through the gates with a truck but eventually left.
An AFP reporter later saw five male journalists in hospital who had been severely beaten, their faces covered with blood, and who were being treated for head wounds.
Pro-Russian militia in Crimea have often been confrontational with Ukrainian and international journalists, whom they accuse of working for foreign powers against Moscow.
The Associated Press news agency said in a report Saturday that armed men in the Crimean capital Simferopol had seized equipment from one of its crews on Thursday.
It said the crew had been setting up a live camera position above a restaurant when they were approached by unarmed men who took photos of their equipment and "accused the crew of being spies".
Armed men later showed up, ordered the crew to put their hands against the wall and took their equipment away, the agency said.
Other reports have emerged of journalists being attacked, including an incident that reportedly took place outside parliament in Simferopol on Thursday.
'Increasing harassment and intimidation'
Closed-circuit video footage, posted on YouTube and first aired by a Ukrainian channel, showed a masked paramilitary running toward a Bulgarian journalist, throwing him to the ground and holding a pistol to his head.
Rights group Amnesty International said journalists and activists were "facing increasing harassment and intimidation in Crimea".
It called for military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be allowed in to monitor the situation.
The monitors were unable to enter the peninsula for the third time in three days on Saturday, with warning shots fired as the convoy including their buses approached a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian forces.
"Attempting to monitor the human rights situation in Crimea has become a near impossible task," John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement.
"Self-styled Crimean self-defence groups are harassing pro-Ukrainian protesters, journalists and human rights monitors with complete impunity," he said.
The OSCE's media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic, who visited Crimea this week and met with local journalists here, on Saturday condemned the latest attacks on journalists.
"Extreme censorship, shutting down media outlets and press hubs and attacks and intimidation of journalists must stop immediately," she said in a statement.
She also raised concerns about the cutting of terrestrial television signals o six Ukrainian channels in Crimea, which were replaced this week with Russian broadcasts.
"In times of crisis people must have unimpeded access to a plurality of sources, otherwise they can be subjected to the worst kind of propaganda," Mijatovic said.