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Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko has been held in custody by Moscow since 2016. (file photo)

Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko, whom Russia has charged with espionage in a case seen by rights activists as politically motivated, has entered a not guilty plea as his trial began in Moscow.

Sushchenko's lawyer, Mark Feigin, wrote on Twitter that the Moscow City Court started the trial on March 27, and that his client pleaded not guilty.

Sushchenko, a Paris-based correspondent of the Ukrinform news agency, was detained in Moscow in 2016 on suspicion of collecting classified information.

Kyiv and rights activists say Russia has jailed several Ukrainians on trumped up, politically motivated charges since Moscow seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and threw its support behind armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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

The list included Sushchenko and filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year sentence in a Russian prison after being convicted of plotting terrorist attacks in a trial supporters called absurd.

The list, which the parliament statement said was not complete, also included several leaders of the Crimean Tatar minority, which rights groups say has faced abuse and discrimination since Russia's takeover.

Yury Dmitriyev is escorted by a police officer upon his arrival for a court hearing in Petrozavodsk in June 2017.

Russian historian and activist Yury Dmitriyev, who is being tried on child-pornography charges, says he maintained his innocence in his final statement to the court ahead of a verdict.

After making the statement at a hearing behind closed doors on March 27, Dmitriyev told journalists that he said, "I am not guilty."

Dmitiyev said that Judge Marina Nosova will pronounce a verdict on April 3, but his lawyer said the verdict may end up coming later as the case is very complex.

"To objectively deal with the case [and] to analyze all the evidence is a huge job, and so it is very possible that the court will not be able to pronounce [the verdict on April 3]," lawyer Viktor Anufriyev said.

On March 20, prosecutors asked the court to convict Dmitriyev and sentence him to nine years in prison.

Anufriyev has said that medical and forensic experts determined in February that his client was not a pedophile and that 49 nude photographs of Dmitriyev's foster daughter, on which the prosecution built its case, were not pornography.

Investigators claim that Dmitriyev intended to use the photos, which were found on his personal computer, to create pornographic material to share online. He is charged with "preparing and distributing child pornography."

Dmitriyev, who heads the Karelia chapter of the prominent Russian human rights group Memorial, has worked for decades to expose crimes committed in the northwestern region of Karelia by the Soviet state under dictator Josef Stalin.

Dmitriyev denies the charges, and his colleagues argue that the case has been trumped up to punish him for his past research and to silence him in the future.

He and his colleagues say the photos were taken because medical workers had asked him to monitor the health and development of the girl, who was malnourished and unhealthy when he and his wife took her in at age 3 with the intention of adopting her.

Dmitriyev was arrested in December 2016 and went on trial on June 1, 2017. He was released from pretrial custody in late January on condition that he wouldn’t leave the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk without permission.

With reporting by Interfax and TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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