WASHINGTON -- A court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) has convicted Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Ukrainian contributor Stanislav Aseyev on extremism and terrorism-related charges, in a case that has become emblematic of the Russia-backed separatist conflict in Ukraine’s eastern region.
According to the DNR’s official Donetsk News Agency, the Appeals Chamber of the Supreme Court of the DPR, an entity that is not internationally recognized, found Aseyev guilty in August of “organizing an extremist community,” “espionage and incitement to espionage,” and public actions “aimed at violating territorial integrity.” He was sentenced to 15 years in a penal colony, with an additional ban on journalistic activity.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly called the verdict “reprehensible,” and said that “Stas is a journalist and was only trying to raise awareness about the situation in eastern Ukraine.” Fly stated, “The ruling is an attempt by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk to silence his powerful, independent voice,” and demanded he be released immediately.
The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine and the European Federation of Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir, Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have condemned the verdict.
Aseyev was captured in the summer of 2017 after blogging for RFE/RL’s Donbas unit and the Ukrainian publications Mirror of the Week and The Ukrainian Week about the effects of Russia's intervention on daily life, schooling, politics, and culture. Aseyev was added to a Ukrainian government list for a potential exchange in August 2017. He has been held incommunicado until now.
On October 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his government is applying “maximum efforts” to bring about Aseyev’s release “and the return of all our citizens” during a press briefing in Kyiv following a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group, the body overseeing negotiations for prisoner exchanges between Ukraine and Russia.
RFE/RL, the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, PEN Ukraine, and Human Rights Watch demanded Aseyev’s freedom in a press conference in Kyiv the same day. The bipartisan U.S. Congressional Press Freedom Caucus called for Aseyev’s release in August 2018, describing him as "one of the few independent journalists to remain in the region under separatist control to provide objective reporting." The One Free Press Coalition, OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media, U.S. Mission to the OSCE, bipartisan U.S. Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio, U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel, and Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich have all pressed for Aseyev’s release.
RFE/RL has also urged the release of Ukrainian Service contributor Oleh Halaziuk, who has also been held for over two years by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk. Crimean contributor Mykola Semena was convicted of separatism by a Russian court in 2017 and is banned from practicing journalism and leaving the peninsula. On September 12, U.S. Charge d’Affaires William Taylor publicly noted the persecution of Aseyev, Halaziuk, and Semena during a presentation in Kyiv.
RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, together with its subsidiary Donbas.Realities and Crimea.Realities regional units, averaged more than 6.8 million monthly visits to its websites in FY2019, and sets a standard in the Ukrainian media market for independence, innovation, and professionalism.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to 34 million people in 26 languages and 22 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 2.6 billion times on Facebook and YouTube in FY2018. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.