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Vladislav Yesypenko, a freelance contributor to RFE/RL, was detained by FSB officers in Crimea on March 16.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it fears that a detained Crimean journalist’s televised “confession” to spying on behalf of Ukraine was obtained under torture and has called for his immediate release and the withdrawal of the charges against him.

In a statement on March 26, Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, expressed concern about “the psychological and physical pressure” Vladislav Yesypenko has been subjected to.

Cavelier also condemned the ban on access to his lawyer.

Yesypenko, a freelance contributor to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was “visibly pale and had difficulty talking when he made his confession -- one almost certainly obtained under duress -- in an interview for local Russian TV channel Krym24 that seemed more like a police interrogation,” the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said.

The interview was broadcast on March 18, eight days after Yesypenko, who has Ukrainian and Russian dual nationality, was arrested in Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimea region.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said Yesypenko was suspected of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence and claimed that an object "looking like an explosive device" was found in his automobile during his apprehension.

The journalist was charged with “making firearms,” which is punishable by up to six years in prison.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has called for Yesypenko’s immediate release and also has questioned the circumstances under which Yesypenko made his confession.

"We question the circumstances surrounding this purported confession, which appears to be forced and made without access to legal counsel," Fly said in a statement.

"The Russian authorities have similarly smeared RFE/RL Ukrainian Service contributors with false charges in the past. Vladislav is a freelance contributor with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, not a spy, and he should be released."

Ukraine's Foreign Intelligence Service described the arrest as “a convenient attempt to distract the attention of the population away from the numerous internal problems of the peninsula" ahead of the seventh anniversary of its forcible annexation, which was marked on March 18.

The U.S. State Department called Yesypenko's arrest “another attempt to repress those who speak the truth about Russia's aggression in Ukraine.”

Graty, a Ukrainian media outlet specializing in police and judicial abuses, quoted a source at Yesypenko’s place of detention as saying he had been tortured, while the lawyer chosen by the journalist’s family has not been allowed to see him, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG).

This suggests that the authorities are trying to cover up evidence that Yesypenko has been “subjected to illegal methods of investigation, including physical and psychological violence,” the CHRG said.

Yesypenko was detained along with a resident of the Crimean city of Alushta, Yelizaveta Pavlenko, after the two took part in an event marking the 207th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian poet and thinker Taras Shevchenko the day before in Crimea.

Pavlenko was later released.

Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.

Rights groups say that since then, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation.

Moscow also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Antonina Zimina is serving a sentence of 12 1/2 years.

KALININGRAD, Russia -- A Russian woman serving a prison sentence on high treason charges has started a hunger strike to protest against being put in solitary confinement for complaining about beatings, her lawyer says.

Antonina Zimina's lawyer told RFE/RL on March 26 that her client has been on hunger strike for four days in a detention center in Kaliningrad, the capital of Russia's far western exclave of the same name.

In late December 2020, Zimina and her husband, Konstantin Antonets, were found guilty of spying for Latvia.

Antonets was handed a 12 1/2-year prison sentence. The couple has denied any wrongdoing ever since they were first arrested in July 2018.

Zimina’s lawyer, Maria Bontsler, said she was sent to seven days of solitary confinement on March 22 for "covering the observation hole on the door of her cell from inside and refusing to sign a registry of cleaning shifts," a routine procedure for inmates who are required to clean the premises.

Zimina covered the observation hole while she was changing her clothes and refused to sign the registry because a guard who beat her in the past brought it for signing, according to Bontsler.

The lawyer added that the real reason behind Zimina’s placement in solitary confinement is most likely the complaints she voiced to officials of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) last week about her beatings by guards.

"The next day, she was called to the detention center's operative department and instructed to sign documents retracting her statements. Now they are threatening to sue her for libel," Bontsler said.

Zimina's father, Konstantin Zimin, told RFE/RL that he was not allowed to see his daughter when he came to the detention center on March 26.

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"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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