SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- An RFE/RL contributor in Ukraine's Russia-controlled Crimea region has received court papers officially confirming the termination of his probation and the expunging of his criminal record.
A court in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, on January 14 ruled to prematurely terminate the probation period and expunge the criminal record of Mykola Semena, who had been convicted of separatism on the peninsula.
Semena, who has contributed to RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) reporting project, was arrested by Crimea’s Russia-imposed authorities in April 2016 and charged with acting against the "territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."
He received a copy of the ruling on January 28 and is now considered totally free. He told Krym.Realii, "This whole process essentially crossed about four years out of my life, during which all my creative activities were suspended at the risk of ending up in jail."
Reacting to Semena's release, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said, "We are thrilled at the news that Mykola is a free man -- free to be with his family, to receive the medical care he needs, and, of course, to write."
Fly added, "Journalism is not a crime. Mykola's arrest for publishing criticism of the annexation was politically motivated and a profound violation of his basic rights. We are very happy that his important journalistic voice will be heard again."
Semena says the accusation was politically motivated and violated fundamental freedoms of expression and that Russian authorities based their case on an inaccurate translation of one of his stories from Ukrainian into Russian.
In September 2017, a court convicted him and gave Semena a 2 1/2-year suspended sentence and banned him from “public activity” for three years.
Three months later, a court that Russia calls the Supreme Court of Crimea upheld his conviction.
The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and international media watchdogs all condemned the trial and verdict.
In December, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to include the native Crimean journalist and five other colleagues on the list of people held captive in occupied territories for a prisoner exchange and be released to mainland Ukraine.
The United Nations has documented numerous human rights abuses in Crimea, accusing the Russian-imposed authorities of conducting a persistent campaign of oppression that targets opponents of the peninsula’s annexation, including many among the regions’ indigenous Crimean Tartars, independent media outlets, and journalists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order to seize Crimea in 2014 after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned office and fled to Russia amid a popular pro-democracy uprising.