Crimean Court Announces Charges Against RFE/RL Journalist

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

A court in Russia-occupied Crimea has filed charges against an RFE/RL freelance correspondent in a process that has been decried by Kyiv, the United States, and press advocacy groups as a sham to crush dissent and information.

A Simferopol court charged Vladyslav Yesypenko, who has been in detention since March, with possession and transport of explosives. Yesypenko, who pleaded not guilty, could face up to 18 years in prison.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence.

But the indictment made no mention of espionage or work for Ukrainian intelligence, as stated previously by the FSB.

Yesypenko testified during a closed-door court hearing in April that he was tortured with electric shocks, beaten, and threatened with death unless he "confessed" to spying on behalf of Ukraine, his lawyer said at the time.

After a court extended Yesypenko's detention earlier this month, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly described the case as the latest example of the Kremlin's campaign to target independent media outlets.

"Vladyslav Yesypenko is guilty of nothing more than being a journalist. He was trying to share the truth about the situation in Crimea with the outside world before facing detention and apparent torture at the hands of his Russia-based captors," Fly said in a statement.

"The only legitimate verdict this judge could render is a finding of innocence and Vladyslav’s immediate return to his wife and daughter.”

Russia has sought to crush dissent in Crimea, including prosecuting journalists and human rights activists, since seizing the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014.

Press freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the U.S. State Department, are among those who have called for Yesypenko’s immediate release in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing.