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Crimean Journalist Semena Handed Suspended Sentence In 'Separatism' Case


A screen grab of Mykola Semena, who spoke to Current Time TV after the verdict was handed down.

A court in Russia-occupied Crimea on September 22 found RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena guilty on a charge of separatism and handed him a 2 1/2 year suspended sentence in a case criticized by the West as politically motivated.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service said the 66-year-old Semena was also barred from "public activities" -- apparently including journalism -- for three years.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent condemned the verdict and sentence, describing them as "part of an orchestrated effort by Russian authorities in Crimea to silence independent voices."

The European Union called the verdict "a clear violation of the freedom of expression and of the media."

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement on September 22 that the verdict "represents another example of the deterioration of the human rights situation in the Crimean Peninsula after its illegal annexation by Russia."

The statement said that the EU remains "unwavering in its support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine" and called for the charges against Semena to be immediately dropped.

Semena's lawyer Emil Kurbedinov called his client's sentence "a lesser evil" referring to its being suspended.

"We will appeal the verdict and sentence at Crimea's Supreme Court and other higher courts but we will do that to officially exhaust all the appeals here to be eligible to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights. We do not believe that we will win the appeals here because the way the trial proceeded clearly showed that the case is politically motivated," Kurbedinov said.

Semena told RFE/RL after the sentence was pronounced that the trial against him was "biased."

"On the one hand I feel a relief as the sentence is suspended, on the other hand I am disappointed with Russian justice, because all the arguments and statements by the defense and experts, whom we invited from Moscow and Kazan had not been taken into account by the court," Semena said.

Talking to Current Time TV, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Semena said the ruling is "a sentence against journalism in Russia."

"The Russian Constitution allows citizens to express their opinions and discuss any issues, ... and therefore Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, on which my case was based, contradicts Russia's Constitution." Semena said.

Russia added Article 280.1 to its Criminal Code right after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 making it a criminal offense in Crimea to question Russia's territorial integrity.

The chairman of Ukraine's National Union of Journalists, Serhiy Tomilenko, called Semena's verdict and sentence "a persecution for expressing an opinion," adding that his union will be working on relocating Semena to Ukraine.

The separatism charge stems from an article Semena wrote for RFE/RL's Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) website in 2015.

The Kremlin-installed prosecutor in Crimea charged that the article had called for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity.

Semena has said the accusation was politically motivated and that Russian authorities based their case on an inaccurate translation of his article from Ukrainian into Russian.

The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media watchdogs have all expressed concern about the case.

“The case of Semena reminds us all of the arbitrary practice of silencing critical voices in Crimea,” the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović said in a statement earlier this year.

Human rights advocates say Russia and the authorities Moscow has installed in Crimea have conducted a persistent campaign of oppression that targets opponents of Crimea's annexation, including many among the region's indigenous Crimean Tatars, independent media outlets, and journalists.

In May 2014, filmmaker and activist Oleh Sentsov was arrested by Russian security services and later sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges.

Sentsov is a native of Crimea who opposed Russia's seizure and annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.

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