September 22 marks two years since Crimean journalist and RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena was convicted on a charge of “separatism” in Crimea because of an article he published challenging Russia’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula. He was given a three-year suspended sentence that includes a ban on “public activities” for two and a half years.
Under the terms of the sentence, Semena cannot change his place of residence or leave the peninsula, even to receive medical care that he urgently needs to treat a heart condition and damaged spine. Twice a month he is required to register with law enforcement authorities in Simferopol to report on his activities. The ban prohibits him from public speaking, publishing in the media, or posting on social networks.
The ban will expire at the beginning of 2020. Until then, as his lawyer, Alexander Popkov, explained to RFE/RL’s Crimea unit, Crimea.Realii, they had agreed he was “not to write anything anywhere, not to publish and not to give interviews.” But Popkov remains concerned about Semena’s security even when the ban is officially lifted. “Taking into account his situation and the situation in Crimea, he, I think, will be forced to engage in self-censorship.”
According to relatives, Semena has spent his confinement reading works in his own library, including those by Schopenhauer, Machiavelli, and Freud. He has also immersed himself in Ukrainian history and literature, works by Crimean Tatar authors, and dystopic novels about the Soviet Union, for example by Vladimir Voinovich and others. He’s returned to his long-time hobby of photography and often can be seen in the center of Simferopol photographing landscapes.
Despite Semena’s forced, public silence, Crimea’s official media continue to condemn him for his pro-Ukrainian position, calling him “a traitor to the motherland” and a “foreign spy.” Such hostility has made even many sympathetic colleagues on the peninsula fearful of openly supporting him, but numerous journalists outside Crimea, press freedom advocates, human rights groups, official dignitaries, and international institutions have vociferously condemned his conviction and urged Russia to release him.
In October 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding Semena’s freedom, together with the release of Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, deputy heads of the Majlis of the Crimean Tatar people. In 2018, he was awarded the prestigious Andrei Sakharov Order For Courage. His book, Crimean Report: Chronicles of the Occupation of Crimea (2014-2016), has been distributed on Ukraine’s mainland and beyond.
The lead-up to the September 7, 2019 exchange of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners reignited some hope for Semena’s early release. However, reporting indicates that his name, while included in a list from 2018, was absent from the most recent exchange list, which led to the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko, and 24 Ukrainian sailors.
Adapted from the original Ukrainian.