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Crimean journalist faces trial on separatism charges

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), head of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov (left), and then-Sevastopol Acting Governor Dmitry Ovsyannikov, take part in a video conference in Moscow, December 27, 2016. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

New York, February 16, 2017--Authorities in Crimea should immediately drop all charges against Mykola (Nikolai) Semena and allow the journalist to work unobstructed, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A preliminary hearing in Semena's trial on charges of separatism is scheduled for tomorrow, according to his employer.

Semena, a contributor to Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities), the local service of the U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), faces up to five years in prison on charges of making "calls to action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation," in connection with an article he wrote in 2015, according to his employer. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

"Criticizing authorities is not a crime," CPJ's Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Security services should stop harassing journalists in Crimea, and should drop all charges against Mykola (Nikolai) Semena."

The Zheleznodorozhny District Court in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, is expected to begin hearing the journalist's case tomorrow, RFE/RL reported. Semena has been subject to a travel ban since Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers briefly detained him in April 2016, following a raid of his home. The journalist suffers from heart problems, but officials in Simferopol have denied his appeals to be allowed to travel to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, for surgery, according to the news website Detector.

In a September 2016 statement, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent called the case against Semena "part of a concerted effort by Russian and Russian-backed authorities to obstruct RFE/RL's journalistic mission to provide an independent press to residents of Crimea." The previous month, RFE/RL reported that internet users in some parts of Crimea were unable to access Krym.Realii's website.

In a January 24 statement regarding the deterioration of media freedom and journalists' safety in conflict zones in Ukraine, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic demanded that all accusations against Semena be dropped.

Crimean journalists exiled in Kiev in July 2015 told CPJ that harassment and politicized prosecutions have effectively silenced critical reporting or commentary in the region.

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