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Persecution of Critics Needs to End In Russia-Occupied Crimea

Jailed Journalist’s Health Deteriorates After Alleged Torture in Custody

An activist holds a placard during a rally in support of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's freelance journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kiev, Ukraine on July 6, 2021. © 2021 ddp images/Sipa via AP Images

The health of a Ukrainian journalist in custody in Simferopol on the Crimean peninsula is reported to be deteriorating, following alleged torture by Russian security services.

Vladyslav Yesypenko, a freelance journalist who covered environmental problems and social issues in Crimea, including for U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/EL), was arrested in March 2021 on apparently fabricated charges. According to Russian security services he confessed shortly after his arrest to spying for Ukraine and to keeping a self-made explosive device in his car. He was charged with illegally obtaining and transporting explosives and unlawfully storing weapons.

In an April 6 court hearing and in a written statement, Yesypenko described in chilling detail how Russian security service officials stripped him naked, applied electric shocks and viciously beat him to extract a false confession, allegations that are consistent with our findings on the use of torture and ill-treatment by Russian security forces.

Two weeks ago Yesypenko’s health deteriorated, his wife told me. Her husband, who has high blood pressure and severe back pain caused by kidney stones, was taken to a state hospital as his pain had increased, she said. A doctor insisted on his continued hospitalization, but instead, authorities returned him to detention.

Yesypenko’s prosecution and ill-treatment is the latest in Russia’s ongoing crackdown on independent media in Crimea. Since it’s occupation of the peninsula in 2014, over 50 journalists with RFE/RL’s Crimea-focused reporting project faced pressure, intimidation, or criminal charges. Twenty-seven journalists have since left the project, and 29 have left Crimea altogether. One received a suspended sentence for “making public calls aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity.”

Authorities have also targeted nine journalists involved with the Crimean Solidarity group. Four are serving sentences ranging from 14 to 19 years on bogus “terrorism” charges. Five others are on trial.

If convicted, Yesypenko faces up to 18 years in prison. Instead of being remanded in custody until December 17, as a court in Crimea had ordered, Yesypenko should be released immediately so that he can receive proper medical care. Authorities should end their persecution of activists including the arrest and prosecution of journalists on politically motivated charges.

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