Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24’s decision to broadcast a “confession” by Stanislav Aseyev, a Ukrainian journalist held for more than a year by separatists in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. RSF is concerned about the pressure that may have been put on him and reiterates its call for his immediate release.
The long “interview” that Rossiya 24 broadcast on 17 August – Aseyev’s first appearance since going missing in June 2017 – has just fuelled concern about his physical and psychological condition. He said in the broadcast that he spied for Ukraine, in line with the charges brought against him by the authorities in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR).
The Russian TV channel's “reporter” interspersed the “interview” with criticisms of Aseyev and the Ukrainian authorities but provided no information about the conditions in which he is being held, his state of health or any actual evidence substantiating the spying charge.
One of the media outlets that Aseyev worked for, the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), described the “confession” as “highly questionable.” RFE/RL spokesperson Joanna Levison said: “We have no idea when it was made, or under what conditions or duress.”
“Broadcasting the ‘confession’ of a journalist held arbitrarily for more than a year constitutes a grave violation of both journalistic ethics and international humanitarian law,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We are extremely concerned about Stanislav Aseyev, who seems to have been acting under constraint, and we appeal again to all parties to do everything possible to obtain his swift release.”
Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which both Russia and Ukraine have ratified, forbids inhuman or degrading treatment while article 14 protects the right of persons not be forced to testify against themselves or to be forced into a confession.
Aseyev was one of the few independent journalists to stay in Donetsk after Moscow-backed separatists seized control there in the spring of 2014. He reported for various Ukrainian newspapers and for RFE/RL’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” and the neighbouring “People’s Republic of Luhansk” (LNR) have become news and information black holes. The few critical journalists still there have to operate clandestinely and visits by foreign observers are increasingly infrequent.
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.