Ukrainian human rights organizations Human Rights Center and the Center for Civil Liberties believe that the arrest of Ukrinform correspondent Roman Sushchenko in Moscow Sushchenko on allegations of spying concerns not only the freedom of speech.
“This continues the pattern of actions that the Russian government carries out in its relations with Ukraine. Ukrainian citizens are either captured on Russian territory or kidnapped from Ukrainian territory, are confronted with absurd accusations, psychological pressure or even torture so they would recognize themselves as guilty. These actions are part of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” their statement says.
Sushchenko was detained on 30 September 2016, but Russian media reported on his arrest only on 2 October. Thus far, only one mute video where Suchshenko is seen being led down the corridors of a remand prison has surfaced. The Russian NTV reported that the FSB detained “officer of Ukrainian Chief Directorate of Intelligence, colonel Roman Sushchenko” during an alleged “spy action.” But Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of Russian President Vladimir Putin, called the arrest part of the “regular work” of the special services and stated that the reason for the arrest is likely to be Sushchenko’s lack of accreditation, required for foreign journalists in Russia.
However, Sushchenko, who was the French correspondent of the Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform since 2010, was on a private visit to visit relatives, which does not require accreditation. After he was detained, Suchchenko was denied the possibility to contact his wife, who started finding out about his whereabouts after several days of no news from her husband. The Ukrainian consul has been denied a visit to Sushchenko. On 3 October, it became known that the Lefortovo court of Moscow detained Sushchenko for two months, until 1 November 2016.
Arresting Ukrainians on “spying” charges – a recurrent story
If Roman Sushchenko is not immediately released, he may become the 29th Hostage of the Kremlin of the #LetMyPeopleGo list. Currently, 28 Ukrainians imprisoned on political motives are illegally held by Russia. Nine of them are in Russian prisons, and the rest – in Russian-occupied Crimea.
According to Halya Coynash, the Memorial Human Rights Group has declared most of the Ukrainians political prisoners, save those that were convicted of espionage, as their hearings are held behind closed doors and it is impossible to investigate the charges. The three other Ukrainians who were also arrested for “spying charges” – Viktor Shur, Valentyn Vyhivskyi, and Yuriy Soloshenko, were given FSB-appointed lawyers, tortured, and tricked into pleading “guilty.”
So far, it has been possible to exchange only a few of them in exchange for Russian servicemen who were taken captive on Ukrainian territory, or pro-Russian separatists. Most of them remain behind bars, some are in terrible physical and psychological form.
At least three other Ukrainian journalists are also candidates for the #LetMyPeopleGo list, being charged for alleged incitement to violating the Russia’s territorial integrity via media, the Human Rights Center and the Center for Civil Liberties warn:
“They are facing five years of prison. Two are in relative safety on mainland Ukraine, but journalist Mykola Semena is confined to Crimea, not having the possibility to leave the occupied peninsula. In addition, he has health problems that require surgery. The Russian government does not allow him to travel to Kyiv for treatment.”
Reaction of journalists worldwide – chance to help Sushchenko
Mark Feygin, former lawyer of Pussy Riot and Nadiya Savchenko, who starting from 3 October will represent the Roman Sushchenko’s interests, stated that the reaction of the journalist community is very important in ensureing the release of Roman Sushchenko.
“The situation with the arrest of Roman Sushchenko and the accusations against him are wild. Here, a fast and consolidated response of the journalist community could play a great role – not only in Ukraine, in Russia, but in Europe and the world. If there will be an adequate mass reaction, I won’t have to do any work as a lawyer,” he said in an interview ot Ukrinform.
According to Feygin, in the nearest time the FSB will attempt to mold public opinion to ramp up support for their false version of the case not only in Russia, but in the world, and that this needs to be counteracted.
“Let’s imagine. A journalist has been working in Paris for six years. He writes about the “Normandy format,” about politics, economics, culture. And then during several days of his visit to relatives living in Moscow, they apprehend him and claim that he’s a military intelligence officer who specializes in Russia. But if you’re pushing such hard charges, where at least some proof? Nothing, except the video with a man wearing handcuffs,”Feygin expressed his suprise.
The Ukrainian Human Rights Center and the Center for Civil Liberties call upon the Ukrainian government and the international community to raise its voice in defense of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia occupied Crimea and to release them and prevent the emergence of new victims of this repressive policy.
Ukrinform called the detainment of their correspondent a “planned provocation,” and the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the the case was another step in Russia’s policy to “use political hostages in its hybrid aggression against our country.”
Iryna Gerashchenko, First Deputy Chairperson of the Ukrainian parliament, has called upon the OSCE and Council of Europe to respond to the journalists’ detention.
Following appeals from the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, the International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) have called on Russia to free Roman Sushchenko.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “This arrest not only breaches all international norms but also serves to undermine media freedom. It follows a worrying pattern of attacks on Ukrainian journalists and we urge the authorities to free Mr. Sushchenko.”
Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ President said, ‘‘We believe that the charges against Roman are completely fabricated for the sake of silencing his critical voice. The authorities must release him immediately and let him to his family safely.”
Reporters without Borders have also called upon Russia to free Sushchenko.
Ukrainian citizens unsafe visiting Russia
Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities have warned Ukrainians that visiting Russia may be unsafe for them. Oleksii Makeiev, political director of the MFA, said in a tweet that “Visiting the Russian Federation is unsafe for Ukrainians: arbitrary detentions, provocations at the border and at the customs inspection, torture, denials of consular access…”
Відвідання РФ небезпечне для українців: безпідставні затримання, провокації на кордоні та при митному огляді, тортури, недопуск консулів… pic.twitter.com/hkzUnH0wfO
— Oleksii Makeiev (@Makeiev) October 3, 2016
The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Ukrainians about the dangers of visiting Russia already back in April 2016.