WASHINGTON -- The prosecution questioned its final witnesses and continued to introduce documents it claims prove Crimean journalist Mykola Semena’s guilt on charges of separatism, during a May 22 hearing in Simferopol, the capital of Russia-annexed Crimea. The judge set June 5 as the date for the next hearing in the case, in Simferopol’s Zheleznodorozhny district court.
Among the prosecution witnesses were two Federal Security Service (FSB) officers who had monitored Semena’s online activity after gaining access to his computer, likely when Semena called for a technician to his home to repair his internet connection, which had suddenly been interrupted. After that time, the FSB operatives testified that they received a screenshot from Semena's computer every minute.
The prosecution appeared to be most interested in FSB-monitored correspondence between Semena and the head of RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) project, Volodymyr Prytula, to whom Semena described the risks faced by independent journalists on Crimea.
The interest of Russian authorities in Semena had apparently been sparked as early as the spring of 2014, when Semena was detained along with a journalist from the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. The journalists were released, but authorities started building a case on Semena.
Semena faces up to five years in prison if convicted by Russia, which has jailed several Crimeans who have opposed or criticized Moscow's 2014 seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.
The charge against 66-year-old Semena stems from an article he wrote for RFE/RL's Krym.Realii website in 2015. The Kremlin-installed authorities in Crimea have charged that the article called for the violation of Russia's territorial integrity.
Semena insists he is innocent, saying Crimea's status was and remains in dispute -- and that he has the right to openly express his opinions.
The United States, the European Union, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media watchdogs such as including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have expressed concern about the prosecution of Semena.
Activists say his trial is part of a persistent Russian clampdown on independent media and dissent in Crimea since Moscow's takeover.
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent has described the case against Semena as "part of a concerted effort by Russian and Russian-backed authorities to obstruct RFE/RL's journalistic mission to provide an independent press to residents of Crimea."