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Watchdog

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Vladyslav Yesypenko was detained by FSB officers in Crimea in March.

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- An RFE/RL freelance correspondent arrested in Ukraine's Russia-annexed Crimea has told a court he was tortured with electric shocks, beaten, and threatened with death unless he "confessed" to spying on behalf of Ukraine.

Vladyslav Yesypenko's lawyer on April 6 said his client testified during a closed-door court hearing that the torture lasted two days after his arrest in March on what the defense calls false charges.

"[Yesypenko] told the court that he was tortured in a basement, most likely somewhere in the area of Balaklava, from the moment of his detention until his transfer to the detention center in Simferopol," lawyer Aleksei Ladin said after the hearing.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said that the broadcaster is “outraged” to learn what Yesypenko said during his testimony, saying the journalist “must be set free now, and allowed to rejoin his family in Ukraine immediately.”

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has said Yesypenko, a freelance contributor to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, 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.

"They tortured him with electric shocks and by beating his legs, his genital area, his body. They beat him to obtain confessions and forced him to incriminate himself.... He said they connected some electric contacts to his ear lobes and his head and then switched on electricity that created excruciating pain. When he was more or less getting used to that pain, they continued increasing the power of the electric current," Ladin said.

Ladin asserted that "all of this had a single goal: self-incrimination."

The lawyer also said that his client testified that he was threatened with death, which would be presented to the public as suicide while he was alone in his cell.

Ladin said that a televised interview, in which Yesypenko "confessed" to spying for Ukraine, was staged, with his client saying he was given a written text to read aloud and then answered questions that people in charge of his detention asked.

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.

According to Ladin, Yesypenko also said at the trial that he has serious problems with his kidneys and needs medicine for the ailment.

Rights Groups Concerned

Human rights groups have expressed concerns regarding Yesypenko's treatment in custody and his televised "confessions," demanding his immediate release.

Fly has questioned the circumstances under which Yesypenko made his confession, saying it appeared "to be forced and made without access to legal counsel."

"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," he said.

Ukraine's Foreign Intelligence Service has 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 admitting that torture has been involved in the case, 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 on March 10 along with a resident of the Crimean city of Alushta, Yelizaveta Pavlenko, after the two had taken part in an event marking the 207th anniversary of the birth of the Ukrainian poet and thinker Taras Shevchenko the previous day.

Pavlenko was later released.

Russia forcibly seized 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 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

A Russian court has ordered a fine against the popular video-sharing application TikTok in the country's latest major dispute with a global social platform over content allegedly related to political protests.

The Moscow court ruled on April 6 that TikTok failed to delete content that it said was related to unsanctioned demonstrations, according to local reports.

Russian critics of the Kremlin routinely use international social networks, including Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube, to get around state control of the media and reach tens of millions of citizens with their anti-government messages.

Some local reports suggested the TikTok fine -- 2.6 million roubles ($34,000) -- pertained to alleged appeals to minors urging them to join political demonstrations.

Russian authorities this week backed off slightly from a threat to ban the Twitter social network but have punitively slowed its user connections and announced suits targeting fellow Western digital giants Google and Facebook.

TikTok is owned by China's ByteDance and reports nearly 700 million active users worldwide.

India and Pakistan have banned TikTok in the past, citing politically contentious posts, and then-President Donald Trump sought unsuccessfully last year to ban it in the United States.

Russia’s state communications regulator said on April 5 that it wouldn't ban Twitter amid a dispute over content related to protests but would continue to slow the U.S. social network's speed inside the country until the middle of May.

Imprisoned Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny in January used U.S. social-media networks to organize some of the largest anti-government protests since 2011-12.

A Russian court on April 2 levied a nearly $120,000 fine against Twitter for failing to removes posts related to those protests.

Russians Use TikTok In Social-Media Surge Of Support For Navalny
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The Russian regulator has also focused its complaints against Twitter over alleged failures to remove child pornography and content the overseers said encourages drug use and suicide among children.

Twitter said it has a zero-tolerance policy regarding child pornography and other content deemed harmful.

Roskomnadzor began slowing the speed of traffic on Twitter last month.

In its April 5 statement, the regulator said it would not ban Twitter yet after it claimed the platform took down 1,900 of 3,100 posts with banned content.

Russia’s efforts to tighten control of the Internet and social media date back to 2012, shortly after the largest anti-government protests in years.

Since then, a growing number of restrictions targeting messaging apps, websites, and social-media platforms have been introduced in Russia.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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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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