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Crimean-based journalist Mykola Semena

Officials in Russia-annexed Crimea have charged Mykola Semena, a contributor to a news site about Crimea run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), with calling for separatism.

Semena's lawyer Emil Kuberdinov told RFE/RL on April 29 that Crimea's Moscow-backed Prosecutor-General's Office made the charge against the journalist on April 28.

Kuberdinov added that Semena refused to answer investigators' questions, citing his rights under Russian law not to testify against himself.

The Moscow-backed Prosecutor-General's Office said on April 19 that Semena was being investigated over alleged "calls for undermining Russian territorial integrity via mass media."

Police then detained Semena for questioning and subsequently released him.

However, he was ordered not to leave Crimea while investigations are underway.

The United States, the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media-freedom organizations have expressed concerns over Semena's case and condemned a clampdown on independent media on the annexed peninsula.

After Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, the Russian parliament passed a law making it a criminal offense to question Russia's territorial integrity.

Russian nationalists are pictured after their attack against attendees of a ceremony for high school history students. The protesters reportedly yelled that the competition's participants were "whores, not students."

Russian nationalists attacked attendees of an awards ceremony for high school history students in Moscow on April 28, spraying them with a green antiseptic liquid and hurling eggs at them for what the activists called a foreign-sponsored attempt to rewrite Russia's history.

Some 50 high school students had arrived in Moscow from all over Russia to be honored for essays they wrote on 20th-century history for a contest jointly organized by the prominent Russian historical society Memorial.

As participants arrived at Moscow's House of Cinematography on the morning of April 28, organizers and participants say they were met by around 20 nationalist activists -- some wearing military-style uniforms -- who berated them for allegedly diminishing the Soviet Union's role in the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Activists threw eggs at those arriving for the event and sprayed several of them with zelyonka, a popular Soviet-era topical antiseptic that leaves a deep green stain.

Among those doused with the green liquid was Lyudmila Ulitskaya, a renowned Russian novelist who chaired the jury for the contest. (The tweet below shows Ulitskaya after she had washed off most of the zelyonka.)

Russian-language news website Meduza quoted one of the activists as saying: "We're exorcising demons from these Jewish kids. These kids have been converted. They're off their rockers. They need medical help."

Jury member Irina Yasina, a prominent Russian liberal activist, said the protesters yelled that the competition's participants are "whores, not teachers."

The nationalist activists and pro-Kremlin media also implied the event served as a vehicle for the ominous intentions of its sponsors, which included billionaire Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov and several German nongovernmental organizations, including the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

Protesters standing outside the building where the event was staged held placards that read "We don't need history bought with foreign money" and "Stop abusing history."

In an apparent reference to Stalin-era repressions, the activists at one point chanted in unison: "Purges, purges, purges."

The Interfax news agency reported that police arrested one man in connection with the incident and charged him with "minor hooliganism," a misdemeanor.

Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, groups together more than 50 bodies nationwide.

WATCH: RFE/RL's Russian Service reports from the scene (in Russian):

Founded in 1989 under the auspices of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, it has led efforts to uncover communist-era repressions and fight discrimination in modern-day Russia.

Nationalist groups have long accused Memorial of attempting to tar the Soviet Union's history, including the crucial role in played in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The Justice Ministry last year placed the organization's human rights center on the Russian government's register of "foreign agents" and accused it of calling for regime change for calling Russia's actions in the Ukraine conflict "aggression."

The award-ceremony incident drew widespread criticism on Russian-language social media, particularly because schoolchildren were involved.

Ksenia Larina, a well-known Russian journalist who also served on the jury, said that "as a Muscovite, I'd like to ask for the kids' forgiveness for what happened on the street."

"For many of them, a trip to Moscow is a big event," Larina told the event. "I'd like to say that what happened here -- that is not who we are, this is not our face. This is a pimple that sooner or later we will pick off. And for you it's a baptism by fire."

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Meduza, and TV Rain

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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