Crimean Journalist's Trial To Start In Simferopol

More than two dozen human rights groups have expressed "outrage" over the impending trial of Ukrainian journalist Mykola Semena, an RFE/RL contributor who has angered Moscow over his reporting in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian region of Crimea.

"The Russian government is preparing new act of political retaliation against those who dare to criticize Russian actions on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014 and violated international law," the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), which unites 27 human rights groups, said on February 16.

Semena's lawyer, Andrei Sabinin, said on February 14 that preliminary hearings into the case will be held by the Zaliznychnyy district court in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, on February 17.

The journalist's other lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, told RFE/RL on February 8 that the actual trial for Semena will start on February 28.

Semena was detained in April and then released but ordered not to leave the peninsula. He was charged with separatism and may be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted of separatism based on an article he wrote on his blog that was critical of Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Semena was given a final version of the charges in December and was served on January 20 with the closing indictment in his case, a detailed document that includes descriptions of evidence, the names of prosecution witnesses, and other information.

Semena denies the charges.

The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media watchdogs have expressed concern over Semena's case, which activists say is part of a Russian clampdown on independent media and dissent in Crimea.

Human rights advocates say Russia and the authorities Moscow has imposed in Crimea have conducted a persistent campaign of oppression targeting opponents of the annexation, including many among the region's indigenous Crimean Tatars, as well as independent media outlets and journalists.

"Civic Solidarity Platform is outraged by the cruelty of measures taken by the Russian government against those who peacefully express opposition to its politics in the Crimea." the group said in a statement.

It added that members of the CSP "are expressing their support and solidarity with Mykola Semena" and have urged the international community to "strongly and clearly oppose the repressive actions of the Russian Federation in Crimea.”

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said in January that the charges against Semena were "part of a concerted effort by Russian and Russian-backed authorities to obstruct RFE/RL's journalistic mission to provide an independent press to residents of Crimea."

Russia seized control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, after sending in troops to secure key facilities and staging a referendum dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine, the United States, and more than 100 countries in the UN General Assembly.

With reporting by UNIAN and TASS