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Protests Grow Against Media Crackdown in Crimea

Journalist Mykola Semena
Journalist Mykola Semena

WASHINGTON -- International media groups have intensified efforts to support Mykola Semena, a Crimean journalist and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), calling on Russian authorities to allow him to leave the peninsula to receive medical care.

In a joint appeal issued September 2, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) warned that Semena suffers from cardiac problems, and would risk becoming permanently incapacitated without urgent treatment.

Semena, who contributes to RFE/RL’s Crimea Realities website, was charged in April under the Russian criminal code for allegedly violating Russia’s territorial integrity after he wrote an article expressing the view that Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, should be returned to Ukraine. He is currently under house arrest in Simferopol.

Last week, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s Deputy Information Minister Emine Dzheppar condemned the criminal case against Semena and insisted he be permitted to receive medical attention in Kyiv.

"Authorities in Crimea should drop the charges against Mykola immediately and allow him to receive the medical treatment he needs," RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said.

Referring to a month-long blockage of the Crimea Realities website in Crimea that shows no sign of abating, Kent added, “The case against Mykola is 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."

The website, published in the Crimean Tatar, Ukrainian, and Russian languages, is blocked by a majority of internet providers in Crimea, following an order on August 1 by the counter-extremism and terrorism unit of the peninsula’s Moscow-backed prosecutor’s office. Nevertheless, residents using other means, and users in Russia and mainland Ukraine have continued to access the site, logging 1.7 million visits in August. Crimea Realities also reaches audiences in Crimea through radio broadcasts on medium waves.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv deplored the attacks against RFE/RL earlier this year, condemning “the Russian government’s growing crackdown on independent voices in Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea.” The IFJ and EFJ have called the charges against Semena “unfounded.”

In an interview about his case with RFE/RL on August 31, Semena said, “I think several objectives are pursued here: to silence me, to prohibit me to work, or to force me to leave.”

Semena was awarded a medal of honor for “outstanding merit” by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on August 30, in honor of the anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.