A screen shot taken on August 22, 2018, from the YouTube channel of Russian state-run TV channel Rossiya 24, of an August 17 broadcast of a false confession by Stanislav Aseyev, a Ukrainian reporter held for more than a year by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. (YouTube/Rossiya 24)

Ukrainian reporter held by Moscow-backed separatists forced to confess in Russia state TV interview

August 22, 2018 4:33 PM ET

New York, August 22, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Russian state-run TV channel Rossiya 24's broadcast of an interview with Stanislav Aseyev, a Ukrainian reporter held for more than a year by Russia-backed separatists, in which he falsely confessed to spying for Ukraine. CPJ also reiterates its call for Aseyev's immediate release.

The Rossiya 24 interview, broadcast nationally and uploaded to YouTube on August 17, marked the first appearance of Aseyev--who published under the pen name Stanislav Vasin while reporting for U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and other outlets in separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine--since he disappeared in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, in June 2017.

In the taped Rossiya 24 interview, Aseyev, looking gaunt and nervous, said that he spied for Ukrainian intelligence services, corresponding with the allegations brought against him by the authorities in the unrecognized, self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, often referred to by its Russian acronym, DNR.

The Rossiya 24 reporter conducting the interview did not provide any actual evidence aside from his criticism of Aseyev's reporting.

"Hauling a jailed journalist in front of a camera and apparently forcing him to equate his reporting with spying is an outrage," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. "We demand that Stanislav Aseyev be immediately released from the separatists' custody and returned to Ukrainian-controlled territory. Russia should use its influence to ensure that happens."

In a statement published on its website, RFE/RL described the "confession" as "highly questionable" and said that it "could signal an escalation of his case."

"We question the circumstances of this purported confession. We have no idea when it was made, or under what conditions or duress," said RFE/RL spokesperson Joanna Levison. "We continue to demand that Stanislav Aseyev be released from detention immediately."

Citing his own sources, Aseyev's friend Yegor Firsov, a former Ukrainian parliamentarian, wrote on Facebook after the Rossiya 24 interview aired that Russia-backed soldiers had "beaten" the reporter to force his confession.

Aseyev was one of only a few independent Ukrainian journalists to remain in Donetsk after Russia-backed separatists seized control of the regional capital and declared their own "people's republic" in the spring of 2014. His reporting under the pseudonym of Stanislav Vasin for RFE/RL's Ukrainian service and various Ukrainian news outlets, including the independent Ukraiynska Pravda news site, provided first-hand glimpses into life under separatist rule long after many Ukrainian and international journalists were banned from entering the DNR.

Aseyev went missing on June 2, 2017. Since then, he has been held in the former Izoliatsiya art center turned jail by the separatists in Donetsk, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

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