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RFE/RL Contributor Mykola Semena's Trial Resumes In Crimea

Mykola Semena
Mykola Semena

The trial of Crimean journalist Mykola Semena, an RFE/RL contributor who has been indicted on separatism-related charges by the Russian authorities controlling the peninsula, resumed on April 3 after a two-week adjournment.

Shortly after it initially got under way on March 20, the presiding judge halted the proceedings following a defense request for a more open and accessible process by holding the trial in a larger courtroom.

Semena is being prosecuted for an article he wrote criticizing Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and expressing support for a blockade of the territory initiated by Ukrainian activists.

Two officers on Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) and the man who initially alerted Russian law-enforcement officials about Semena's article testified at the trial on April 3.

The trial at a Russian court in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, is being held amid international pressure on Moscow to drop the case against Semena, 66. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

The charges stem from a 2015 article he wrote for RFE/RL's Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) website that Moscow-installed authorities in Crimea allege called for the violation of Russia's territorial integrity.

Semena says he is not guilty, contending that he has the right to openly express his opinions and that Crimea's status was and remains the subject of dispute.

In March, the European Parliament called on Moscow to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who are in prison or face other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

The nonbinding resolution urged Russia "to allow all the above-mentioned people to travel freely, including Semena, who is being prosecuted for his journalistic work for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty."

Washington has also called on Russian authorities "to drop spurious charges against Mr. Semena and release him and all other Ukrainians held by Russia for political reasons."

Ten members of the U.S. Congress have signed a letter urging prosecutors to drop the charges, which they said appeared to be "part of a concerted effort by Russian and Russian-backed authorities to clamp down on independent media."

Russia seized control of Crimea in March 2014 after sending in troops without insignia, engineering a takeover of the regional legislature, and staging a referendum that was swiftly dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine, the United States, and a total of 100 countries in the UN General Assembly.

Moscow has portrayed its takeover of Crimea as necessary to protect ethnic Russians and other residents of the peninsula from oppression by pro-Western officials that took power in Kyiv following the 2014 ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

That narrative has been rejected by Ukraine and Western governments, which accuse Russian-backed authorities in Crimea of rights abuses against Crimean Tatars and others opposed to Moscow's rule there.

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

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