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Crimean Journalist Hopes To Steer Trial Away From 'Politics'

Crimean journalist Mykola Semena (file photo)
Crimean journalist Mykola Semena (file photo)

SIMFEROPOL -- Crimean journalist Mykola Semena has told RFE/RL that he welcomes the chance to make a straightforward, law-based case for his innocence at a trial he said has so far been dominated by politically charged statements by Russian prosecutors.

Semena, who is fighting what he says is a baseless, politically motivated separatism charge at a trial in Russian-controlled Crimea, spoke before a hearing on June 14.

"Up to now, only the prosecutors have been given the floor to talk -- and every one of their statements or motions in the trial has had political connotations," said Semena, an RFE/RL contributor.

"That is why our goal now, as we move to a new stage of the trial, is to turn the process into a legal discussion -- so that the opinions were expressed solely based on law, not political ideas," he said.

The defense had been expected to begin making its case at the June 14 hearing, but the judge quickly adjourned the trial until June 21 after a Russian-Ukrainian translator did not show up.

Semena faces up to five years in prison if convicted by Russia, which has jailed several people from Crimea who opposed or have criticized Moscow’s 2014 seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.

The charge against Semena, 66, stems from an article he wrote for RFE/RL's Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) website in 2015. The Kremlin-installed authorities in Crimea have charged that the article called for the violation of Russia's territorial integrity.

International Concern

Semena maintains his innocence.

He told RFE/RL on June 14 that the defense's main strategy is based on Chapter 29 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and on the fact that the legal status of Crimea has been under discussion at an international level.

Semena's trial has been delayed several times for various reasons since it started on March 20.

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

Activists say his trial is part of a persistent Russian clampdown on independent media and dissent in Crimea since Moscow’s takeover.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent has described the case against Semena as "part of a concerted effort by Russian and Russian-backed authorities to obstruct RFE/RL's journalistic mission to provide an independent press to residents of Crimea."

After a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president fled in the face of pro-European protests in February 2014, Russia seized control of Crimea by sending in troops and staging a referendum considered illegitimate by most of the world.

The United States, the European Union, and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia over the takeover of Crimea and say they will not be lifted until it is returned to Kyiv's control.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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