MOSCOW (AP) — A group of Ukrainian hackers has published the names and contact information of thousands of journalists who have reported from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine, raising concerns about the safety of the journalists, including many from international media organizations.
The hackers said they had gained access to computers used by the Russia-backed separatists to register journalists working in the conflict zone and felt it was necessary to publish the list "because these journalists collaborate with fighters from terrorist organizations."
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the publication of the list, which contains 7,000 entries and data on about 4,500 journalists, including their cellphone numbers and email addresses.
"Publishing journalists' private contact details puts them at risk," Nina Ognianova, the CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in the statement. "At worst this action could be read as a thinly veiled call to target them."
Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office said Wednesday that it has opened an investigation into the publication of the hacked data, which it said had already led to some journalists being threatened.
A letter signed by about 40 Ukrainian and foreign journalists said some of those on the list had received threatening emails and phone calls, while a broader concern was that some Ukrainian politicians were now calling for them to be considered "enemies of Ukraine" and barred from working in the country.
The letter noted that the rebels had detained nearly 80 journalists in eastern Ukraine, subjecting some of them to torture, so journalists abided by the separatists' "accreditation" requirement to give themselves some measure of protection.
The Associated Press was among the many media organizations whose journalists were on the list.
"Providing news coverage is not the same as supporting any one side — quite the opposite," said John Daniszewski, AP vice president for international news. "News gatherers for legitimate news organizations are objective. They cover and share information that the public needs. Ukrainians who believe in freedom should forcefully defend the value of news coverage to tell Ukraine's story. These hackers apparently have misunderstood the role journalism plays in a free society."
The hackers posted the list on a website called Myrotvorets, or Peacekeeper, on Saturday. It attracted attention after a member of Ukraine's parliament, Anton Gerashchenko, praised the hackers in a Facebook posting on Tuesday.
Gerashchenko said the list, which also included the names of 120 people working in the separatists' propaganda department, showed that Ukraine needs to do much more to counter propaganda from Russia and "its puppets."
He called for imposing controls over television content to prevent the distribution of information that could undermine Ukraine's sovereignty or territorial integrity and on the accreditation process for foreign journalists, particularly those from Russia.
The U.S. State Department expressed concern about the hacking.
"Journalists play a critical role, particularly in countries where civil and political rights are fragile and in areas of conflict where the hazards of reporting are at their most extreme," State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. "So we are concerned."