Crimean court sentences Russian-Ukrainian journalist to six years in prison
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the travesty of justice in Russian-annexed Crimea in which a journalist originally said to have spied for Ukraine was sentenced to six years in prison on an explosives charge yesterday at the end of a sham trial behind closed doors in the municipal courthouse in Simferopol, Crimea’s second largest city.
Vladislav Yesypenko, a reporter with Ukrainian and Russian dual nationality who covered Crimea for Krym.Realii, the local branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was fined 110,000 roubles (1,200 euros) as well as receiving a six-year jail term. The prosecutor had requested an 11-year sentence when the trial began the day before.
Yesypenko was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives” under Russian law, which has been in effect in this Ukrainian territory since its annexation in 2014. When arrested on 10 March 2021, he was accused of “gathering information” for the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and having an “improvised explosive device” in his car.
He said he was tortured for two days before being taken to the detention centre where he has been held ever since. His wife, Yekaterina Yesypenko, said he would appeal against his conviction.
“What with torture, a forced confession and now this conviction on a trumped-up charge – Russian justice stops at nothing in order to maintain its grip on the news media in the Crimean peninsula and prevent journalists from working freely,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We call for Vladislav Yesypenko’s immediate release and for the Russian judicial system to hear his appeal quickly. His arbitrary detention has gone on for too long.”
This case clearly has significant political connotations in the eyes of the Russian authorities. It was under threat of death that Yesypenko was forced to confess to spying for the Ukrainian intelligence services, as RSF reported in March 2021, and the denial of justice in this case is particularly flagrant.
He has always denied the charges, and denied any knowledge of the grenade allegedly found in his car. A forensic analysis of the fingerprints on the grenade concluded that they were not his. After his arrest, he had to wait nearly a month before being allowed access to independent lawyers.
As a result of the mistreatment, his health has worsened steadily throughout his detention and he was hospitalised in mid-August. But, against the advice of the doctors, the judicial authorities sent him back to the detention centre despite the unsanitary conditions of its cells and the lack of available medicine.
The ability of journalists to work in the Crimean peninsula has declined sharply since its annexation by Russia and it is now in danger of becoming a “black hole” from which no news and information emerges.
Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index, while Ukraine is ranked 97th.