Russian authorities urged to drop charges against Crimean journalist

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate withdrawal of charges against Nikolai Semena, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Crimean service, who is due to go on trial today in Crimea’s regional capital, Simferopol.

Semena is facing a possible five-year jail sentence on a charge of “publicly calling for the Russian Federation’s territorial integrity to be violated.” A preliminary hearing was held behind closed doors on 17 February.

He is being prosecuted over a September 2015 report criticizing Crimea’s annexation by Russia and supporting the blockade of the peninsula being organized at that time by Ukrainian activists.

Semena was searched and briefly detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in April 2016 and has been banned from leaving the region since then, which prevented him from travelling to Kiev for a heart operation.

His name has been on a Russian federal agency “list of terrorists and extremists” since July 2016 although he had not been brought to trial until now.

“After eliminating pluralism in Crimea, the Russian authorities are now targeting its last survivors,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Nikolai Semena is being tried for using his right to free speech. We call on the authorities to abandon this prosecution at once and to let him work freely. The international community must not forget Crimea and allow its population to disappear into this new information black hole.”

Crimea’s annexation by Russia in March 2014 was accompanied by a radical purge of the media. The leading media outlets and journalists opposed to annexation were either reduced to silence or found a refuge in Kiev. Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.