Journalist Vladislav Yesypenko was recently sentenced to six years in prison in Russian-occupied Crimea. (Photo: Family archive via Yekaterina Yesipenko, RFE/RL)

Russian court in Crimea sentences RFE/RL journalist Vladislav Yesypenko to 6 years in prison

New York, February 17, 2022 – Russian authorities in Crimea should not contest journalist Vladislav Yesypenko’s appeal and should release him immediately and cease prosecuting members of the press for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Wednesday, February 16, a court in Simferopol, the capital of Russian-occupied Crimea, convicted Yesypenko, a correspondent with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on charges of possessing and transporting explosives, and sentenced him to six years in prison, according to media reports and a report by his employer.

Yesypenko maintained his innocence throughout the closed-door trial, and testified on Tuesday that authorities “want to discredit the work of freelance journalists who really want to show the things that really happen in Crimea,” according to those reports.

The journalist’s wife Yekaterina Yesypenko told his employer that the journalist plans to appeal the verdict. 

“Russian authorities should never have filed retaliatory charges against RFE/RL correspondent Vladislav Yesypenko, and his recent sentencing to six years in prison is totally unacceptable,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Ever since occupying Crimea in 2014, Russian authorities have harassed and jailed independent journalists and closed independent media outlets to silence reporting that did not correspond with the Kremlin’s narrative. This crackdown must stop, and authorities must not contest Yesypenko’s appeal.”

Yesypenko contributed to RFE/RL’s Crimea-focused Ukrainian-language service Krym.Realii, and was first detained in March 2021 on charges of illegally producing, repairing, or modifying firearms, as CPJ documented at the time. His work included video interviews about social and ecological issues in Crimea, including the lives of Crimean Tatars in a village without electricity, the destruction of a Crimean nature reserve, and the decaying state of training facilities for Crimean football teams.

At a court hearing in September 2021, Yesypenko said he had been subjected to electrical shocks in detention, according to news reports from the time. 

When CPJ conducted its December 2021 prison census, Russia had imprisoned at least four journalists, including Yesypenko, in occupied Crimea in retaliation for their work.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly called Yesypenko’s sentencing and conviction a “travesty,” called for his release, and said that Yesypenko did “nothing more than reporting the facts.”