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You're reading: Ukrainian journalist held by militants on espionage charges

Russian-backed forces in Donetsk have confirmed they are holding in custody Stanislav Aseev, a freelance journalist who has been missing in eastern Ukraine since June 2, Yehor Firsov, a former member of parliament, wrote in a July 16 Facebook post.

Firsov cited written notification sent by the militants to Aseev’s mother, informing her that her son has been charged with espionage and could face up to 14 years of imprisonment. Firsov also noted Aseev’s mother has already been allowed to visit her detained son.

“Stanislav feels good, “wrote Firsov. “But he is not relying on there being a fair law court. His only hope is prisoner exchange.”

Aseev published his investigations under the name of Stanyslav Vasin. Since the war started, the journalist has been in Donetsk and described everything that was happening in the region, from shooting and shelling to cultural events. His materials were published by leading Ukrainian and foreign media. He also had a blog – a unique window into life on the other side of the “line of contact,” an area that can be difficult for many Ukrainians to access due to travel restriction and physical danger.

On June 2, Aseev, who had been traveling for a number of days, called his mother and said he was on a bus entering the city of Donetsk. He promised to visit her the next morning. On June 3, his mother called him many times, but his cell phone had been switched off.

Aseev’s friends and relatives began to look for him. On arriving in his Donetsk apartment, they found that the door had been broken open and some of his belongings had disappeared, including the laptop he used for work. Aseev’s relatives appealed to the local self-proclaimed authorities, asking about the journalist’s whereabouts. But up until July 16 no information was provided.

Earlier, on June 10 Firsov wrote in his blog on Ukrainiska Pravda, one of the leading Ukrainian news websites, that the journalist had been detained by representatives of the so-called Ministry of State Security in Donetsk.

The Human Rights Watch organization is demanding that the journalist be freed immediately. Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that Aseev had been targeted because he wrote things the pro-Russian forces that have seized control in Donetsk didn’t like.

“He is the victim of an enforced disappearance – a very serious crime under international law that cannot be justified under any circumstances, in times of peace, or war,” said Williamson.

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