The Crimea correspondent of Krym.Realii, the local branch of US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Yesypenko was visibly pale and had difficulty talking when he made his confession– one almost certainly obtained under duress – in an interview for local Russian TV channel Krym24 that seemed more like a police interrogation.
The interview was broadcast on 18 March, ten days after Yesypenko, who has Ukrainian and Russian dual nationality, was arrested in Russian-annexed Crimea by the Russian Federal Security Service (SFB).
According to a source at his place of detention quoted by Graty, a Ukrainian media outlet specialising in police and judicial abuses, Yesypenko has been tortured. The lawyer chosen by his family has not been allowed to see him. The Crimean Human Rights Group, an NGO, says this suggests that the authorities are trying to cover up evidence that he has been mistreated.
While alleged to have spied for Ukrainian intelligence using his journalism as a cover, Yesypenko is charged with “making firearms,” which is punishable by up to six years in prison. The FSB claims to have found a bomb in his car.
RFE/RL’s president said Yesypenko was the victim of an arbitrary arrest linked to his reporting in the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in March 2014. The Ukrainian intelligence services described his arrest as a Russian propaganda stunt in the run-up to an informal summit on Crimea on 17 March.
“Forcing an imprisoned journalist to declare himself guilty and broadcasting his ‘confession’ is a serious violation of journalistic ethics,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Such practices are also prohibited by article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Russia and Ukraine. We fear that Vladislav Yesypenko’s ‘confession’ was obtained under duress and we are concerned about the psychological and physical pressure to which this journalist has been subjected. We also condemn the ban on access to his lawyer and we call for his immediate release.”
Yesypenko is not the first journalist to be arrested in a region of Ukraine not controlled by its government. Stanislav Aseyev, a reporter held by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern city of Donetsk, was also accused of spying for Kiev in 2018 and was also forced to make a public confession on a Russian TV channel.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
Ukraine is ranked 96th.