Russia seeks to imprison tenth Crimean journalist for 18 years
A Russian-controlled court in occupied Crimea has adjourned for the summer after a second hearing during which the indictment was read out against imprisoned Ukrainian freelance journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko. Although the charges lack the ‘’spying for Ukraine’ which he confessed to under torture, they could carry a sentence of up to 18 years. Yesypenko is the tenth civic and / or freelance journalist imprisoned by Russia, with the charges against all ten men very obviously linked with their reporting on the situation under Russian occupation.
This is the second time (after Mykola Semena) that Russia has targeted freelance journalists writing for RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii [Crimea Realities] site, one of the few sources of truthful information about events in occupied Crimea. RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has repeatedly condemned Russia’s arrest of the journalist and the video stunt in which Yesypenko was seen ‘confessing’ to supposed spying. In a statement on 15 July, Fly called the ‘trial’ a “mockery of justice” and said that “it shows the lengths to which the Kremlin is willing to go to silence independent reporting about the true situation in Crimea. Journalism is not a crime -- and Vladyslav Yesypenko is not a criminal,"
Yesypenko, who lives in mainland Ukraine with his wife and small daughter, Stefania, was on a work-related trip to Crimea when seized by FSB officers on 10 March. This was a day after he had taken part in a flower-laying ceremony at the monument to the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in Simferopol, and the companion he was with that day, Yelizaveta Pavlenko was also subjected to an 8-hour ‘search’.
Yesypenko was effectively held incommunicado after being seized and was prevented from seeing independent lawyers for around 10 days. On 18 March, a Russian-controlled Crimean TV channel broadcast a supposed ‘interview’ with Yesypenko. The journalist had obviously been beaten and gave the impression that he was reciting words expected of him. He has since confirmed that he was subjected to horrific torture, with the use of electric currents attached to his earlobes, beatings, etc. and that somebody had worked with him on learning his so-called ‘confession’ off by heart.
Given the change in the indictment, it is worth noting the obviously attack during ‘the interview’ against RFE/RL and specifically Crimea.Realities. Oleg Kriuchkov, the head of the channel and ‘interviewer’ kept manipulating Yesypenko’s words in order to present perfectly normal journalist activities as sinister ‘spying’ for Ukraine’s Security Service.
Yesypenko has since retracted all his words and has provided a detailed account of the torture used to extract the ‘confession’, as well as of the threats he received of reprisals following this.
Yesypenko formally rejected the ‘lawyer’ whom the FSB foisted on him during a ‘court hearing’ on 6 April, and he is now represented by independent and experienced lawyers. Last week, Dmitry Dinze, who earlier represented Ukrainian political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Yevhen Panov, joined the case. He has said that he expects ‘the trial’ to proceed very swiftly from the next hearing on 6 September, and promises that the defence will be actively “on the offensive”. He explains that throughout the entire ‘pre-trial investigation’ stage, FSB officers had “muffled” Yesypenko and that they would now be providing a proper response, in the form of hard-hitting questions, rejection of their arguments, etc.
The fact that the charges are so significantly reduced from Yesypenko’s videoed ‘confession’ serves as yet further confirmation that he gave it under duress. He is charged solely in connection with a grenade allegedly ‘found’ in his car after the FSB had seized him, and pinned him to the ground. His statement that the grenade was planted is backed by the fact that the grenade, supposedly lying in the car, did not have his fingerprints on it.
On the basis of this grenade, Yesypenko is charged under Article 222 of Russia’s criminal code (illegal purchase, possession, etc. of a weapon, carrying a sentence of from 5 to 12 years) and Article 223.1 (illegally preparing an explosive device (from 8 to 12 years). In total, he could face 18 years’ imprisonment over a grenade almost certainly planted in his vehicle.
Yesypenko is the tenth Ukrainian civic / freelance journalist imprisoned in occupied Crimea or Russia. The other nine men, all Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists, most from the vital Crimean Solidarity civic initiative, are also not openly charged with reporting on repression and rights abuses in occupied Crimea. The so-called ‘terrorism’ charges laid have, however, been internationally recognized and condemned as cynical attempts to crush the human rights movement and imprison those who refuse to be silenced.
In all cases, the men have either been sentenced to horrific terms of imprisonment or are facing up to 20 year sentences for reporting on armed searches, arrests and political trials under Russian occupation.
Journalism is not a crime and all these men need our voices in their defence. Please try to inform politicians and the media in your country about their cases and ask for efforts to put pressure on Russia to release them.
Marlen (Suleiman) Asanov
Russia’s worst attempt to crush the Crimean Tatar human rights movement has resulted in 25 civic activists, including five civic journalists, now ‘on trial’ and facing massive sentences. Russia has tried to minimize publicity over this appalling offensive against the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative by dividing ‘the case’ into five clones. It is vital that they do not succeed.