Ukrainian journalist detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage

New York, October 4, 2016 – Russian authorities should immediately release Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Sushchenko, a Paris-based correspondent for Ukraine’s state news agency, Ukrinform, is being held on accusations of espionage.

Russian security officers detained Sushchenko on September 30 in Moscow upon his arrival from Paris, the Russian weekly Argumenty i fakty reported on its website. He had travelled to Russia on vacation and planned to visit relatives there, according to his employer. His arrest was not disclosed until the Public Monitoring Commission, a Russian human rights group, spotted him on an October 2 visit to the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow, according to Ukraine’s Channel 24 TV. Sushchenko was not allowed to see his lawyer, Mark Feygin, until today, when the two met for 15 minutes, the news website Ukrainska Pravda reported. According to media reports, the Ukrainian consul had not been permitted to meet with the journalist as of late this afternoon, Moscow time.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)’s press service yesterday said that Sushchenko was a Ukrainian Defense Ministry intelligence officer and was in Russia “to collect classified information on the activities of the Russian military and national guard” that “could hurt Russia’s defense capabilities if leaked abroad.” The FSB said it had initiated a criminal case against him under article 276 of the Criminal Code, for espionage, and that an investigation was underway.

Moscow’s Lefortovo district court announced it had ordered Sushchenko be held in preliminary detention for two months, the U.S.-government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported yesterday.

“If Russian authorities have a shred of evidence to support their claim that Roman Sushckenko is a spy, or anything but a journalist on holiday, let them produce it publicly and without delay,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator. “We call on Russia to release Sushchenko and to cease punishing Ukrainian journalists for tensions between the governments of Russia and Ukraine.”

Ukrainian Defense Intelligence denied the FSB’s accusations and said that the “FSB information does not correspond to the facts,” the news website Vector News reported yesterday.

Ukrinform also dismissed the accusations of espionage as false and called the arrest a “planned provocation.” The agency called Sushchenko, “a journalist with many years of impeccable professional reputation.” According to the journalist’s colleagues, Sushchenko, who has worked as Ukrinform’s Paris correspondent since 2010, covered French events, such as local elections, official meetings related to Ukraine and the European Union, and interviewed Ukrainian officials visiting Paris.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, today told the news website Ukrainska Pravda on Twitter that she had asked Russian authorities for more information and had requested Sushchenko’s release.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who is in Strasbourg this week, will discuss the journalist’s case at the Council of Europe, the ministry spokesperson said. In a separate statement reported by Ukrinform yesterday, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called Sushchenko’s arrest “another step in the purposeful policy of the Russian Federation to use Ukrainians, who are in the hands of the authorities, as political hostages in its hybrid aggression against our country.”