Mykola Semena was convicted under the “separatist” Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, for publicly denouncing the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea. He was handed a 2-year suspended sentence. On January 28, Semena was officially released from house arrested and cleared of all criminal charges.
Originally from Western Ukraine, Mykola Semena has been living and working as a journalist in Crimea since the 1980s, and holds the title of Honored Journalist of Ukraine. He gained acclaim as a reporter for the Russian newspaper Izvestia and the Ukrainian newspaper Den.
January 2020: On January 14, the Railway Court of Russian-occupied Simferopol grants a petition from Semena’s lawyer Oleksandr Popkov for early termination of probation and acquittal. The decree becomes effective 14 days later. On January 28, Semena is officially released from house arrest and cleared of all criminal charges, including his ban on journalism.
July 31, 2019: Investigators from the National Police of Ukraine in Sevastopol accuse the judge who ruled in Semena’s case of ignoring irrefutable evidence, thus depriving Semena of the right to a fair trial.
December 2018: On December 18, 2018, Semena’s conviction was upheld. A three-year prohibition on his working in journalism was shortened to two.
September 2017: On September 22, the court finds Semena guilty on a charge of separatism. He is handed a 2-year suspended sentence.
August 2017: Semena denies the accusation filed against him of violating Russia’s territorial integrity. In that same hearing, the court rejects the request of defense attorney Popkov to interrogate as remote witnesses Mykhailo Savva, head of the expert group “Sova,” and Volodymyr Prytula, editor-in-chief of Krym.Realii, both of whom fear that going to Crimea would be unsafe. On August 31, 2017, the judge denies Popkov’s request to remove as evidence two translations from Ukrainian and English on the grounds that they are not certified by a translator. Semena has maintained his innocence throughout the trial.
July 2017: In a hearing on July 7, experts are unable to offer testimony in support of the charges against Semena. The trial resumes in Simferopol on July 18. At the hearing, judges agree to the defense attorney’s request to include the UN resolution on human rights in occupied Crimea among the case documents.
June 2017: On June 5th, 2017, Semena’s correspondence is read out loud in Ukrainian. Although the next hearing is scheduled in June 14, the court is forced to reschedule after the Russian-Ukranian translator fails to make an appearance. An FSB expert, translator, and two witnesses do not arrive at court for a hearing rescheduled on the 21st, leading to a postponement until July.
April 2017: The trial resumes on the April 3 with the testimony of two FSB officers and the man who brought the Krym.Realii article to the authorities’ attention. When testimony reveals possible illegal surveillance of Mykola Semena, the defense requests to hold part of the hearing in a closed session; the request is denied, and the next hearing is scheduled for April 18, 2017. On April 18, one witness for the prosecution testifies.
The trial is adjourned for one week as two witnesses for the prosecution fail to show up in court. The next hearing is scheduled for May 10. On that date, the prosecution interrogates two witnesses, Mariya Kostyuk and Sergey Meshkovoy, and the next hearing is scheduled for May 22. On that date, the court reads out Semena’s personal correspondence, which defense attorney Popkov cannot understand because it was written in Ukrainian; as a result, the hearing is postponed until June 5, 2017.
Februrary 2017: Semena’s first court hearing is initially scheduled for February 17, 2017. It is postponed after one of his lawyers, Emil Kurbedinov, is detained and his computer temporarily confiscated. The hearing is rescheduled for February 28, and the trial begins on March 20. The defense requests a more open judicial process, leading the judge to adjourn the trial for two weeks, resuming on April 3.
April 2016: After his home is searched by the Federal Security Service (FSB), Semena is detained on April 19. He is released shortly after with orders not to leave the capital as long as the investigation is proceeding. Due to the travel restrictions placed upon him,
Semena is unable to travel to Brussels in November to accept the Pavel Sheremet Prize for Freedom of Speech. Semena has been suffering major cardiac issues since early 2017, but has not been allowed to travel for the surgery he needs immediately.
September 2015: Semena publishes an article criticizing the annexation of Crimea and suggesting that Ukraine should have blockaded the peninsula. He is investigated by the Moscow-backed Prosecutor-General, Natalya Poklonskaya, over “calls for undermining Russian territorial integrity via mass media.”
March 2014: Although Semena has already retired at the time of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he returns to reporting after Russia’s aggression in the region. He begins work for Krym.Realii, a project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to broadcast news free of Russian propaganda to the Crimean population. In response, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s Internet regulation agency, unsuccessfully attempts to block the site within the peninsula.
free expression in ukraine
Nearly three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, free expression in the literary, journalistic, and artistic spheres remains under significant pressure in many of the states of the Eurasia region. The shared history of totalitarian rule has proven hard to shed, as the countries face varied political, social, and economic challenges. From assassinations of reporters to the censoring of writers to the closing of theatrical productions, authoritarian efforts to control historical narratives and foreclose individuals’ expressions of their current identities remain a disturbing trend. The shutting down of space for independent thinking has particularly characterized the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and these constraints on human rights spread well outside that country’s borders. This is especially true in Belarus and the countries of Central Asia, where laws target press freedom, civil society, and individual creativity. Ukraine and Georgia have sought to democratize and more fully integrate into Europe, but been old habits of surveillance, limits to free speech, and arbitrary imprisonment have impeded progress.