Ukrainian journalists Mykola Semena and Roman Sushchenko are facing jail following charges by the Russian authorities of separatism and espionage, respectively. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ), together with other human rights groups, are asking for these charges to be dropped immediately.
The IFJ and EFJ have joined calls from their Ukrainian affiliates, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine (IMTUU) and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), to condemn the persecution of independent media and journalists critical of the Russian authorities, especially in the Russia-annexed Crimea. Both Semena and Sushchenko are NUJU members.
On 20th January, freelance journalist and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributor, Mykola Semena, was formally indicted for “calling to action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation”. This follows an article he wrote in September 2015 opposing Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula, media reported. No trial date has yet been set. He faces five years in prison if convicted. IMTUU and NUJU both insist that these charges are fabricated.
On 24th January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), also condemned such persecution and urged the authorities in the Russian Federation to drop its charges against the journalist. His lawyer, Emil Kuberdinov, was also detained on 26th January and questioned by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on suspicion of "distributing extremist material," a colleague told media.
Mykola Semena has been under criminal investigation since April 2016 and barred by authorities from leaving the Crimea, despite the IFJ warnings about his fragile state of health. The IFJ had urged the Russian authorities to allow him to return to Kiev in order to receive urgent treatment for a spinal injury he suffered back in September 2016. The reporter also suffers from cardiac problems and risks becoming permanently disabled if he is not treated.
Furthermore, the Lefortovsky District Court of Moscow has extended pre-trial detention term for Roman Sushchenko, a journalist at the Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform, until 30th April, his lawyer reported on Twitter. Sushchenko, who is Ukrinform correspondent in France since 2010, was arrested in Moscow on 30th September during a private visit and charged with spying, which he denies.
“Roman is a respected professional journalist with a strong reputation,” said Sergiy Tomilenko, Acting Chairman of NUJU. “Hopefully widespread attention to the obvious absurdity of the ‘espionage’ case can help free him.”
“We call on the international community to join us and our affiliates in calling for the fabricated charges against these two journalists to be dropped forthwith,” said IFJ President, Philippe Leruth. “We condemn this campaign of persecution of media and journalists which prohibit them from providing independent information to their citizens and which is contrary to freedom of expression. We also ask the Russian authorities to let Semena be treated in Kiev as a matter of urgency.”
“It is not the first time we express concern over Semena's case,” added EFJ President, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård. “His persecution seems to be part of a huge Russian clampdown on independent media in Crimea. We call on Russian authorities to stop silencing journalists in Crimea.”
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The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries