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Russian Prosecutor Seeks Suspended Sentence For Crimean Journalist Semena

Mykola Semena
Mykola Semena

A Russian prosecutor in Crimea has recommended a suspended sentence for Mykola Semena, an RFE/RL contributor who is fighting what he says is a politically motivated separatism charge in court on the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula.

At a September 18 hearing in Semena's trial, the prosecutor asked the court to find him guilty and hand him a three-year suspended sentence, meaning he would not be imprisoned unless he were to violate the terms of the verdict.

The prosecutor also recommended that Semena, 66, be barred from "public activities" -- apparently including journalism -- for the same three-year period.

The charge against Semena stems from an article he wrote for RFE/RL's Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) website in 2015, a year after Russia seized control of Crimea from Ukraine.

The Kremlin-installed prosecutor in Crimea charged that the article had called for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity.

Given the floor for his final statement before the verdict, which is expected on September 22, Semena repeated his contention that he is innocent.

He said that both Ukrainian and Russian law give him the right to express his opinions freely, and that all arguments he has made in his writing have been based on national and international law.

"I think this is exactly what any good and law-abiding citizen of any state, including Ukraine or Russia, should always do," Semena told the court.

"And the state not only has no legal right to try him for that, it has no moral right to punish him for that, especially if the state -- through its constitution -- has guaranteed freedom of expression and freedom of thought," he said. "Otherwise the state is doomed."

Semena also said that public discussion of all issues, including whether or not any particular region is legally part of Russia, is protected by the freedom of expression.

Russia seized control of Crimea in March 2014 by sending troops to the Black Sea peninsula and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries.

Rights activists say Russia has used trumped-up, politically motivated charges to prosecute dozens of Crimeans who opposed the takeover.

"My opinion about Crimea coincides with the opinion of the majority in the world, of international organizations, and of the governments of the majority of the countries," Semena told the court, adding that he believes Russia's position "is not based on the law."

"If I am pronounced guilty it will be a verdict not only for me, a Ukrainian journalist, but a verdict against journalism as a whole in Russia," he said.

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