VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria on Friday summoned the Ukrainian ambassador over his country’s decision to bar the Kiev bureau chief for the Austrian national broadcaster ORF, calling the move an act of censorship.
Ukraine told Austria that it would deny entry to veteran ORF reporter Christian Wehrschuetz, who is currently out of the country, calling him a “threat to national security”, an Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Wehrschuetz says Kiev accuses him of crossing the bridge Russia has built between the Crimean Peninsula, which Russian forces seized from Ukraine in 2014, and the rest of Russia. He denies the accusation, saying that when he reported on the bridge in July his crew crossed it but he did not.
“The travel ban imposed on...Wehrschuetz in Ukraine is an unacceptable act of censorship,” Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who danced with Russian President Vladimir Putin at her wedding last year, said on Twitter on Thursday.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday the Ukrainian ambassador had been summoned and would meet the ministry’s secretary general on Monday. Kneissl will be in Moscow that day to meet her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Wehrschuetz, 57, said on ORF radio on Friday that he would challenge the decision “by all legal means”.
Neutral Austria says it aims to maintain good relations with both Russia and the West.
Wehrschuetz is a household name in Austria, known for his often dishevelled appearance as well as his reports from the former Yugoslavia, where he has been a correspondent since 1999 and he continues to work.
Ukrainian officials in Kiev were not immediately available for comment on Friday, a public holiday. Ukraine’s ambassador to Austria, Olexander Scherba, told ORF he had only been informed of the ban on Wehrschuetz “unofficially”.
But he said that whether Wehrschuetz crossed the bridge himself or merely instructed his crew to do so, a crime had been committed under Ukrainian law.
ORF and the International Press Institute, a Vienna-based media rights group, expressed support for Wehrschuetz. IPI urged Ukraine to reverse course immediately and re-admit Wehrschuetz to report freely from the country.
Reporting by Francois Murphy with additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Editing by Mark Heinrich