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Vladyslav Yesypenko is detained by FSB officers in Crimea on March 16.

A court in Russian-occupied Crimea has extended the detention of an RFE/RL freelance correspondent by six months as dozens of people rallied in the Ukrainian capital to call for his release.

In a closed-door session on July 6, the court in Simferopol ruled that Vladyslav Yesypenko, who has been held since March, will remain behind bars until December as he awaits trial. The next hearing is set for July 15.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence.

During his apprehension, the FSB claimed that it found an object "looking like an explosive device" in his automobile; he was later charged with "making firearms."

The crime is punishable by up to six years in prison.

Yesypenko testified during a closed-door court hearing in April that he was tortured with electric shocks, beaten, and threatened with death unless he "confessed" to spying on behalf of Ukraine, his lawyer reported at the time.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned the extension of Yesypenko's detention, saying it was the latest Kremlin-backed move to target independent media outlets.

"Vladyslav Yesypenko is guilty of nothing more than being a journalist. He was trying to share the truth about the situation in Crimea with the outside world before facing detention and apparent torture at the hands of his Russia-based captors," Fly said in a statement.

"The only legitimate verdict this judge could render is a finding of innocence and Vladislav’s immediate return to his wife and daughter.”

Human rights activists and journalists joined Yesypenko’s wife on Maidan Square in Kyiv following the court hearing to demand his release. A similar demonstration was held in Vinnytsya in western Ukraine.

The solidarity rallies were organized by the Crimean Human Rights Group, the ZMINA Human Rights Center, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, the Association of Relatives of Kremlin Political Prisoners, and the Platform for the Release of Political Prisoners.

The groups encouraged supporters to take part in an online campaign using the hashtag #FreeYesypenko and to send letters of support to the jailed journalist.

Oleh Sentsov, a Crimean journalist and film director who was jailed by the Kremlin for five years, was among those who addressed the rally in Kyiv.

Sentsov, who was freed in September 2019 as part of a prisoner swap, told the crowd it was important to raise awareness about Ukrainian citizens imprisoned by Russia on trumped-up charges.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba earlier in the day took to Twitter to demand his release.

Russia has sought to crush dissent in Crimea, including prosecuting journalists and human rights activists, since seizing the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014.

Press freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, are among those who have called for Yesypenko’s immediate release in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing.

Freedom House noted that Yesypenko’s detention is only one example of the harassment directed at RFE/RL journalists working in Crimea.

Anti-LGBT Protesters Attack Journalists In Tbilisi, Force Organizers To Cancel Pride Event
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LGBT campaigners in Georgia have canceled a planned Pride march after opponents attacked activists and journalists and the government and church spoke out against the event.

Hundreds of violent counterprotesters took to the streets of Tbilisi against the Pride march scheduled for the evening.

At least 50 journalists were attacked by mobs at different locations, including two RFE/RL reporters, who were denounced for spreading "anti-Georgian sentiment" and propaganda.

Videos showed anti-LGBT groups waving Georgian flags scaling the Tbilisi Pride headquarters, tearing down rainbow flags, and ransacking the office.

In a statement announcing the march had been called off, Tbilisi Pride accused the government and church of emboldening a "huge wave of hate" against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and failing to protect citizens' rights.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned the attacks on journalists with RFE/RL's Georgian Service and other members of the press.

"There is no justification for acts of violence against journalists who are simply doing their jobs, especially in a democracy," Fly said in a statement. "We demand that the Georgian authorities thoroughly investigate these attacks and bring swift justice to those involved."

Earlier on July 5, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said it was inappropriate to hold a Pride march, arguing that it would create confrontation and was "unacceptable for a large segment of the Georgian society."

He also claimed that the "radical opposition" led by exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement was behind the march and sought to create "unrest."

The Georgian Orthodox Church had also called on supporters to gather against the Pride march. Videos of the mobs showed some priests joining the protests.

After the march was canceled, priests chanted and people danced to Georgian folk songs in front of the parliament building.

Tbilisi Pride organizers said that although they could not go out "in a street full of violence" supported by the government and church, they would continue to advocate for LGBT rights.

"We would like to tell the supporters clearly that the fight for dignity will continue, this is an indispensable process that despite the hate groups, the Patriarchate and the government's resistance, will not stop," they said.

WATCH: Twenty people were detained on July 1 as Georgian ultranationalists attempted to disrupt a film screening at the opening of the four-day Tbilisi Pride LGBT rights festival.

Twenty Arrested As Ultranationalists Attempt To Disrupt LGBT Event In Tbilisi
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Condemning the violence, the U.S. and EU diplomatic missions in Georgia, as well as the embassies of 16 other countries, issued a joint statement calling on the Georgian government to protect people's constitutional right to gather peacefully.

"We condemn today's violent attacks on the civic activists, community members, and journalists, as well as the failure of the government leaders and religious officials to condemn this violence," the joint statement said.

Rights groups also condemned the violence and accused the government of supporting hate groups.

"Violent far-right crowds supported by Church & emboldened by incredibly irresponsible statement of PM @GharibashviliGe gathered in Tbilisi center to prevent Pride March, attacking journalists & breaking into Pride office," wrote Giorgi Gogia, the associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

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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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