Crimean journalist and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) contributor Mykola Semena has received the prestigious Andrei Sakharov Order For Courage, an award recognizing modern publicists who “stand on the side of truth.” RFE/RL’s Crimea reporting unit, Crimea Realities, was also honored.
Accepting the award for Semena at a ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine on January 31, Crimea Realities Editor in Chief Vladimir Prytula expressed appreciation that “Russian friends have awarded [Semena] for his words that Crimea is Ukraine.” Speaking for Crimea Realities, he said the award is a tribute to the team’s journalists who work “under very difficult conditions, when each day they could face arrest.” He added that, “For them it is extremely important that their rights are valued.”
Semena, a native of Simferopol, was handed a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence by a Russian court in September 2017 after being arrested the previous year and charged with acting against the “territorial integrity of the Russian Federation’’ in connection with an opinion piece he wrote that asserted Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. Semena has said the accusation was politically motivated, and that Russian authorities based their case on an inaccurate translation of his article. The sentence includes a two-year ban on his “public activities,” a reference to his journalism.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Russia-backed authorities, in defiance of international law, have governed the peninsula since. RFE/RL launched Crimea Realities (Krym.Realii) within months of the annexation to provide independent reporting, in Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar, and Russian, about developments in the region.
Other recipients of the award included Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and journalist Roman Sushchenko. Sentsov was sentenced by a Russian court in Crimea in August, 2015 to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting terrorism acts. Sushchenko is being held in Russia’s Lefortovo prison after being detained on charges of espionage in 2016. International rights groups have condemned both cases as politically motivated.
The Sakharov Prize for Journalism as an Act of Conscience was founded in 2001 by entrepreneur and human rights defender Peter Vins as a tribute to the work of Soviet dissident and human rights defender Andrei Sakharov. Vins created the Order for Courage in 2017.