Will the leader of the free world endorse Russia’s treacherous aggression?

The Financial Times published the appeal to President Trump to raise the fate of journalist Mykola Semena and scores of other Crimeans being persecuted during his meeting with Vladimir Putin. 

Will the leader of the free world endorse Russia’s treacherous aggression?

 From Yuriy Lukanov, Kiev

Sir, Crimean journalist Mykola Semena was formally charged with a crime against Russia on the same day that Donald Trump was inaugurated President of the US.

During the election campaign, candidate Trump raised eyebrows by suggesting that he could recognise the peninsula’s illegal annexation, noting that most Crimeans supported the idea of joining Russia. Mr Trump should note that Mr Semena now joins a long list of journalists, activists and ordinary Crimeans who face lengthy prison terms for holding the opposite view.

Mr Semena, who is now to stand trial in front of a court in a region illegally occupied by Russia in early 2014, faces up to five years behind bars for his views. His case is just the tip of a growing iceberg of systemic Russian oppression against freedom of speech in Crimea and Ukraine as a nation.

The so-called Crimean amendment to Russia’s criminal code adopted by Duma legislators in May 2014 envisions criminal charges — up to five years in prison — for anyone who questions Russia’s territorial integrity. Four Crimean journalists have since been charged under this law for expressing Ukraine’s legal right to the territory. Dozens of activists and members of the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority face the same fate for challenging Russia’s illegal land grab and repressions on the peninsula.

Nowhere close to Russian borders or regions it occupies is safe any more for Ukrainians. Last September, for example, Roman Sushchenko was arrested while visiting family in Russia. The Paris-based correspondent for state news agency Ukrinform is accused of spying.

Russia is carrying on for a third year now with a vicious war against Ukraine that spans from hybrid intimidation and disinformation through its propaganda channels, to oppression and real life-and-death military battles in the eastern Donbas region. Combined Russian and militant forces controlling the breakaway region continue daily to shell — and routinely kill — government forces. Some 10,000 have died in nearly three years of fighting. And despite all of this, President Trump has repeatedly said he plans to establish friendly relations with Russia and could support dropping sanctions imposed due to its aggression in Ukraine.

When President Trump shakes hands with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during their much anticipated and hyped first face-to-face meeting, he should, as leader of the free world, raise the fate of Mr Semena, a contributor to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, scores of other Crimeans being persecuted, and the Donbas victims of a still raging and oppressive war.

Mr Trump’s silence will only endorse and further fuel Russia’s treacherous aggression upon basic freedom of speech, human rights and a peaceful neighbour.

 

Yuriy Lukanov Independent journalist and advocacy specialist,

Human Rights Information Centre,

Kiev, Ukraine