Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) says an alleged “confession” of spying by Ukrainian blogger and RFE/RL contributor Stanislav Aseyev that aired on Russian TV was “highly questionable” and demanded his immediate release from detention by Moscow-backed separatists.
"We question the circumstances of this purported confession,” RFE/RL spokeswoman Joanna Levison said on August 17.
“We have no idea when it was made, or under what conditions or duress. We continue to demand that Stanislav Aseyev be released from detention immediately," she added.
The report and confession aired on Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24 on August 17.
Aseyev, who has reported for various Ukrainian media outlets, also contributes to RFE/RL's Ukraine Service and writes under the name Stanislav Vasin.
He disappeared in Donetsk on June 2, 2017, and weeks later, Amnesty International said it had received information from sources in the Donetsk region that Aseyev was being held by the self-styled security organs of the Russia-backed separatists.
A friend of Aseyev's and a former lawmaker, Yehor Firsov, in July said the prisoner had declared a hunger strike and was being "kept in a damp room, sick, but does not receive the necessary medications" while under separatist custody.
Firsov said the separatists had accused Aseyev of spying for the Ukrainian government and threatened him with up to 14 years in prison.
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service has been unable to contact him since his disappearance and his current condition is unknown.
A bipartisan U.S. congressional caucus on August 8 called for Aseyev's immediate release, describing him as "one of the few independent journalists to remain in the region under separatist control to provide objective reporting."
"He has been denied visitation and there have been reports that he may be charged with spying -- an accusation international observers say is politically motivated because of his reporting."
The statement also noted that Aseyev had reportedly gone on hunger strike and that his "situation is becoming dire."
U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio on July 20 also called for Aseyev’s release.
Human rights groups have expressed concerns over Aseyev's whereabouts and said the separatists must release him immediately if they are holding him.
More than 10,300 people have been killed since April 2014 in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and the Russia-backed separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.