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Residents cross a bridge damaged during fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Pro-Russian rebels near Luhanska, eastern Ukraine, in January 2016. Separatists are holding a blogger over his critical posts. (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Separatists in east Ukraine 'sentence' blogger to 14 years in captivity

September 6, 2017 5:34 PM ET

Pro-Russia separatists in the rebel stronghold of Luhansk, east Ukraine, took Eduard Nedelyayev, a Ukrainian blogger, captive in November last year, according to local media reports. The group claims authority over a region it has named the Luhansk People's Republic (LNR).

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) told reporters that the separatists' so-called military court in Luhansk sentenced Nedelyayev on July 28, 2017, to 14 years' imprisonment for espionage and treason.

The Luhansk People's Republic claimed autonomy after holding the May 2014 "self-rule" referendum following Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March of that year, according to reports. Its rule is not recognized by the international community. The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, of which Ukraine and Russia are both member states, refers to Luhansk and other parts in the country's east as the "conflict-affected areas of Ukraine." Ukraine's central government calls it the "temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories."

Nedelyayev uses social media to write critically about the separatists' policies and governance of his home city of Luhansk. The blogger wrote under the name Edward Ned and had 1,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 900 followers on Twitter. In Facebook posts reviewed by CPJ, Nedelyayev added commentary on events in the region and posted images to counter propaganda, at a time when few journalists and bloggers were reporting, including on how access to Ukrainian media sources were being blocked. He also wrote posts and shared news reports, with comments, about salaries and pensions not being paid, how concerts by Russian pop groups attracted small audiences, claims that pro-Russia protesters were paid to attend rallies, and details about residents being unable to travel freely.

News of Nedelyayev disappearance spread on social media in November 2016, according to reports. On November 29, 2016 the Luhansk People's Republic said that it was holding him, according to the news agency Ukrinform. The group considered his posts "extremist," a spokeswoman for the group told the pro-separatist ANNA News channel.

Pro-Russia separatists are holding at least one other journalist captive, CPJ has found. Stanyslav Aseyev, who contributed to the Ukrainian service of the U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty under the pseudonym Stanyslav Vasin, is being held in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Separatists in the region accused Aseyev of espionage over his reporting.

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