Amnesty International has joined other international rights watchdogs in condemning the decision by a court established by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to sentence independent journalist Stanislav Aseyev to 15 years in a penal colony.
The London-based group on October 24 said the sentence was "the latest affront to human rights" by the separatists who took control of parts of the Donetsk region.
Amnesty International's statement comes two days after separatist news outlet DAN reported that the court had found Aseyev guilty of espionage, extremism, and public calls to violate the territory's integrity.
Oksana Pokalchuk, director of Amnesty International Ukraine, said Aseyev "must be released immediately, and the people's right to freedom of expression in Donetsk and throughout Ukraine must be upheld."
"Journalists collect and impart information, that's what they do for a living. For those who are bent on terrorizing and silencing free media, an independent journalist is a 'spy' by default," Pokalchuk said.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly described the ruling against Aseyev "an attempt by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk to silence his powerful, independent voice."
The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, denounced the sentencing as "completely illegal," while the European Federation of Journalists called it a "blatant violations of media freedom."
The verdict was also condemned by others, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ukraine's government, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
Aseyev, who wrote under the pen name Stanislav Vasin, has been held in detention by the separatists since his disappearance in Ukraine's Donetsk region on June 2, 2017.
The 30-year-old journalist was one of the few reporters in Donetsk who continued to work in the city after it came under the control of the separatists in 2014.
Russia-backed separatists are also holding parts of the neighboring Luhansk region.
"Media freedom in Ukraine, including in government-controlled territory, has been cause for growing concern in recent years, with instances of politically motivated criminal proceedings against independent journalists and killings of journalists that remain unsolved," Amnesty's Pokalchuk said.
Ukraine ranks 102nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2019 World Press Freedom Index.