Moscow court gives Ukrainian journalist 12 years for “spying”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the sentence of 12 years in a high security prison camp that Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko has received from a Moscow court at the end of a trial held behind closed doors ever since it began in March.

The only point in the proceedings that was open to the public was the announcement of the verdict and sentence on 4 June. Sushchenko was convicted of espionage.

The Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform’s Paris correspondent, Sushchenko was arrested while visiting a friend in Russia in September 2016. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed that he went to Russia to spy for the Ukrainian intelligence services.

During the 18 months he spent in provisional detention, the Russia authorities never issued a public statement about what he was alleged to have done to justify the charge of “gathering confidential information about the activities of the Russian armed forces and national guard.” The details of the indictment were classified as a defence secret.

“This harsh sentence was passed at the end of a trial that was held secretly from start to finish,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “If the Russian authorities cannot produce any credible evidence of this journalist’s guilt, they should release him without delay.”

Sushchenko’s family and the Ukrainian consulate were not notified of his detention until three days after his arrest, when a human rights activist came across him by chance in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Sushchenko’s lawyer, Mark Feygin, said his client’s only hope now was the possibility of being swapped for Kyrylo Vychinsky, a journalist arrested under a treason charge in Kiev last month.

Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.