Mounting concern about Ukrainian journalist held by separatists

After holding Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev arbitrarily for more than a year, the separatists controlling the eastern city of Donetsk are apparently preparing to try him on a charge of spying. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for his immediate release.

It seems that the self-proclaimed “authorities” in Donetsk want to provide Aseyev’s detention with a semblance of legality. Although he has not yet been formally charged, the separatists began in mid-July to publish what they claim to be extracts from his diary in order to give credence to the idea that he was a spy.

Few people have been convinced by these “revelations” and a friend of Aseyev, Yegor Firsov, says he has Aseyev’s real diary and has posted photos of it on social networks. He also says that the separatists are trying to extract a confession from Aseyev by threatening to arrest his mother. In Donetsk, spying is punishable by 20 years in prison, or death in war-time.

“The little news of Stanislav Aseyev that reaches us is increasingly disturbing,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The separatists seem bent on persecuting this journalist, who dared to defy their news blockade and tell the rest of the country what was happening in Donetsk. We call on all parties to redouble efforts to obtain his swift release.”

When Aseyev went missing at the start of June 2017, the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) at first said nothing and then finally recognized that it was holding him. One of the few independent journalists to stay in Donetsk after the separatists took control, he reported for various Ukrainian newspapers and for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s local service under the pseudonym of Stanislav Vasin.

According to former fellow detainees, he is being held in the former “Izoliatsiya” factory, which the separatists are using as one of their jails. The “DNR” is refusing for the time being to include him in a prisoner exchange with the Ukrainian government in Kiev. At the start of July, Firsov said Aseyev had begun a hunger strike in protest against the “DNR”’s refusal to give him medical care.

The annual “Donbass Media Forum” opened in the city of Kharkiv on 6 July with the adoption of a declaration calling on the “Normandy contact group” (Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France) to intercede to obtain Aseyev’s release.

The “DNR” and the “People’s Republic of Luhansk” (LNR) have become news and information black holes ever since Russian-backed separatists seized power in the Donbass (Donetsk and Luhansk regions) in the spring of 2014. The few remaining critical journalists have to operate clandestinely and visits by foreign observers are increasingly infrequent. Crimea has also been purged of its critical journalists and media since annexation by Russia in 2014.

The rest of Ukraine is ranked 101st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 25.07.2018