OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir welcomes a decision by the authorities in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Crimea region to expunge the criminal record of RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena, insisting that the Crimean journalist shouldn’t have been “persecuted” in the first place for expressing his views.
Semena, who had been convicted of separatism on the peninsula, last week received documents from a court in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, confirming that his suspended sentence had been lifted and his criminal record expunged.
“I am glad that Mykola Semena is finally free,” Desir said in a statement on February 3, expressing hope that the move means “he will now be able to resume his journalistic work unhindered, and travel freely.”
Semena, who has contributed to the Crimea Desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was arrested by Crimea’s Russia-imposed authorities in 2016 and charged with acting against the "territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."
In 2017, a court convicted Semena, handed him a 2 1/2-year suspended sentence, and banned him from “public activity” for 3 years.
Another court in Crimea upheld his conviction three months later, but a court in Simferopol on January 14 this year ruled to prematurely terminate the probation period and expunge his criminal record.
Semena says the accusation against him was politically motivated and that Russian authorities based their case on an inaccurate translation of one of his stories from Ukrainian into Russian.
The United States, the European Union, and international media watchdogs all condemned the trial and verdict.
“Semena’s case reminds us of the harsh conditions in which journalists work when covering the conflict in and around Ukraine,” Desir said.
“It is paramount to ensure safe working conditions for the journalists,” the OSCE representative added.
Russia seized Crimea in 2014 after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned office amid a popular pro-democracy uprising.