Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it fears that a detained Crimean journalist’s televised “confession” to spying on behalf of Ukraine was obtained under torture and has called for his immediate release and the withdrawal of the charges against him.
In a statement on March 26, Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, expressed concern about “the psychological and physical pressure” Vladislav Yesypenko has been subjected to.
Cavelier also condemned the ban on access to his lawyer.
Yesypenko, a freelance contributor to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, was “visibly pale and had difficulty talking when he made his confession — one almost certainly obtained under duress — in an interview for local Russian TV channel Krym24 that seemed more like a police interrogation,” the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said.
The interview was broadcast on March 18, eight days after Yesypenko, who has Ukrainian and Russian dual nationality, was arrested in Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimea region.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said Yesypenko was suspected of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence and claimed that an object “looking like an explosive device” was found in his automobile during his apprehension.
The journalist was charged with “making firearms,” which is punishable by up to six years in prison.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has called for Yesypenko’s immediate release and also has questioned the circumstances under which Yesypenko made his confession.
“We question the circumstances surrounding this purported confession, which appears to be forced and made without access to legal counsel,” Fly said in a statement.
“The Russian authorities have similarly smeared RFE/RL Ukrainian Service contributors with false charges in the past. Vladislav is a freelance contributor with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, not a spy, and he should be released.”
Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service described the arrest as “a convenient attempt to distract the attention of the population away from the numerous internal problems of the peninsula” ahead of the seventh anniversary of its forcible annexation, which was marked on March 18.
The U.S. State Department called Yesypenko’s arrest “another attempt to repress those who speak the truth about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”
Graty, a Ukrainian media outlet specializing in police and judicial abuses, quoted a source at Yesypenko’s place of detention as saying he had been tortured, while the lawyer chosen by the journalist’s family has not been allowed to see him, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG).
This suggests that the authorities are trying to cover up evidence that Yesypenko has been “subjected to illegal methods of investigation, including physical and psychological violence,” the CHRG said.
Yesypenko was detained along with a resident of the Crimean city of Alushta, Yelizaveta Pavlenko, after the two took part in an event marking the 207th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian poet and thinker Taras Shevchenko the day before in Crimea.
Pavlenko was later released.
Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.
Rights groups say that since then, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation.
Moscow also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.