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Russia-imposed Court in Crimea Sentences RFE/RL Journalist to Six Years in Prison

FILE - The wife of the arrested Vladyslav Yesypenko, Kateryna, with a poster in his support near the Office of the President of Ukraine in Kyiv, July 7, 2021.

A Russia-imposed court in Ukraine's Crimea has sentenced RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko to six years in prison for the alleged possession and transport of explosives, a charge he has steadfastly rejected.

The Simferopol City Court handed down the verdict and sentence on February 16 after a closed-door trial.

Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence the journalist to 11 years in prison.

Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, was detained in Crimea in March 2021 on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence.

Before the arrest, he had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on the social and environmental situation on the peninsula.

Yesypenko testified during a court hearing on February 15 that the authorities "want to discredit the work of freelance journalists who really want to show the things that really happen in Crimea."

Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova condemned the court's ruling, calling the case against Yesypenko fabricated.

"[All] the accusations against the Ukrainian citizen [Yesypenko] are trumped up and politically motivated," Denisova wrote on Telegram, demanding Yesypenko’s immediate release.

Denisova also called on the international community to pay attention to the “systemic violation of the rights of Ukrainian citizens on politically motivated charges by the aggressor country.”

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, who has called the trial a "mockery of justice," said on February 15 that Yesypenko was "detained for no reason, brutally tortured into a made-for-TV ‘confession,’ and subjected to eight months of a sham trial."

"Vladyslav should be released immediately and allowed to rejoin his wife and daughter, who have been waiting for him to come home since last March,” he added.

Press freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the U.S. State Department, are among those who have called for Yesypenko’s immediate release in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing.

Moscow illegally annexed Crimea in early 2014 and weeks later threw its support behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east, where some 13,200 people have been killed in the conflict, which continues to this day.