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The Ukrainian government has forced the privately owned Radio Continent off the air by seizing its transmission equipment, sealing its offices, and briefly detaining three people. The shutdown came four days after the station began transmitting programs of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which are international broadcasters financed by the U.S. government. Radio Continent had also been transmitting programs of other international broadcasters, including the Voice of America, British Broadcasting Corporation, and Deutsche Welle.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the Ukrainian government’s action is an “assault on democracy”:

“It is very serious in an election year in Ukraine, when the need for news from many sources is at its greatest. The shutdown of Radio Continent, which had agreed to broadcast Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, comes several weeks after Radio Dovira terminated its broadcast of those stations.”

Mr. Boucher called on the Ukrainian leadership to allow Radio Continent to resume broadcasting and to refrain from “erecting further obstacles” to the rebroadcast of international radio programs:

“Ukrainian authorities must cease their ongoing campaign against independent media, which directly contradicts Ukraine’s stated desire to democratize and to move closer to Euro-Atlantic institutions.”

Meanwhile, Heorhiy Chechyk, the head of another Ukrainian radio station, recently died in a car crash. He was reportedly on his way to discuss an agreement with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. The full circumstances of his death are not known, but concerns have been raised because of the history of murder and disappearances of journalists and others in Ukraine. Clearly, a full investigation into the case is essential. Ukraine’s next presidential election is scheduled for October. The last one, in 1999, was seriously flawed. The lack of free and fair elections in Ukraine is part of a pattern of human rights abuses that includes restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and the press.

Commenting on the Ukrainian government’s shutdown of Radio Continent, Thomas Dine, president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, said, “one can reasonably ask, who’s next?”