NEW YORK—All charges should be dropped against Mykola Semena, a Ukrainian journalist on trial for “separatism” after criticizing the Russian annexation of Crimea, and he should be allowed to travel for urgent medical treatment, PEN America said in a statement today.

Semena is a contributor to Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities), a local service of U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL ). According to the Human Rights Information Center, Semena was arrested on April 19, 2016, and, although later released from jail, ordered not to leave Crimea, placed under house arrest, and barred from leaving the region. He faces up to five years in prison for acting against the “territorial integrity of the Russian Federation,” charges levied in connection with his 2015 article regarding the Russian seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

Semena’s trial is scheduled to begin on February 28. While awaiting the proceeding under house arrest, Semena has experienced worsening cardiac problems requiring immediate surgery. Semena’s lawyers, the International and European Federations of Journalists, and the office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Expression have called on Russian authorities to allow him to seek freely the needed medical treatment.

“The news about Semena’s declining health condition and his urgent need for an operation are extremely troubling,” said PEN America’s Free Expression Coordinator for Eurasia Polina Kovaleva. “Authorities in Crimea should immediately drop all charges against Semena and permit him access to medical care. The harassment of journalists for reporting dissenting opinions in Russia and Ukraine must also stop to allow journalists in Crimea to continue their work without constraint.”

Semena’s case is part of the deteriorating environment for journalists reporting in conflict zones in Ukraine and for free expression in the region more broadly. In May 2014, filmmaker and activist Oleg Sentsov was arrested by Russian security services and later sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges. In September 2016, Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko, a correspondent of Ukrinform in France, was arrested during a private visit to Moscow and accused of espionage. He also faces up to 20 years in prison.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830