A Russian court has convicted Ukrainian Roman Sushtchenko of espionage. Observers hope for a prisoner exchange.
Freedom for Roman Sushtchenko: protest in Kiev, October 2016 Photo: reuters
Ukrainian journalist and foreign correspondent Roman Sushtchenko has been sentenced by a Russian court to 12 years in prison for espionage. The prosecutor had demanded 14 years. The Moscow City Court on Monday afternoon considered it proven that Sushtchenko wanted to learn secret information about the Russian armed forces and the Russian National Guard. Sushtchenko works as a France correspondent for the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform. On September 30, 2016, he had traveled from Paris to Moscow.
Sushtchenko, according to the Russian domestic intelligence service FSB, is a colonel of military espionage of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. He had been caught in the act of spying on the ground. The Russian Foreign Ministry had stressed that Sushtchenko had been in Russia without an accreditation valid for Russia. The trial, classified as "top secret" by the Russian authorities, was held in camera.
In his closing statement, Sushtchenko had stressed his innocence and asked the court to acquit him. What had happened to him, lawyer Mark Fejgin quoted his client Sushtchenko as saying, was a "planned provocation by the Russian secret services."
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Sushtchenko did not work for the ministry. Mariana Betsa, press spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, said the verdict was politically motivated. Ukraine demands the immediate release of Sushtchenko, he said.
Human rights activists demand release
The Kiev human rights activist Maria Tomak of the "Media Initiative for Human Rights" also condemned the prison sentence. Tomak told the taz that in the case of Sushtchenko, the fact that all documents had been classified as secret made things even more difficult for the supporters.
Harlem Desir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said after the verdict became known: "I repeat my call to the Russian authorities to release the journalist." Sergiy Tomilenko, chairman of the Ukrainian Union of Journalists, of which Sushtchenko is a member, condemned the "tribunal" against a "professional journalist whose detention is unacceptable." He added that people will continue to fight for Roman and support his family.
Observers hope that the journalist will be released soon. Against the background of the 23-day hunger strike of director Oleg Senzov, there is hope for a bilateral prisoner release, Maria Tomak told the taz.
According to Ukrainian human rights activists, 64 Ukrainians are currently imprisoned in Russia for political reasons.