Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Wednesday it is concerned about Roman Sushchenko, the Ukrainian national news agency Ukrinform’s Paris correspondent, who is being held on a spying charge in Moscow.
Sushchenko went missing on arriving in Moscow on 30 September and it was only by chance that ONK Moscow, an association of prison visitors, discovered him in an isolation cell during a routine visit of Moscow’s Lefortovo prison on 2 October.
It was not until yesterday that the Russian authorities confirmed that they are holding him. The Ukrainian consulate had not been told until then, and
Sushchenko had not been allowed to contact his family to tell them he had been arrested.
Sushchenko is facing a possible sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison on a charge of spying under article 276 of the Russian criminal code. He is currently held under a two-month detention order effective from 1 October, the day after his arrest.
He was initially given a court-appointed lawyer but his family have hired Mark Feygin, the lawyer who defended Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who was held by the Russians for two years. Feygin has not yet been able to visit Sushchenko or see the prosecution file.
“The way the Russian authorities have handled this case raises serious doubts about the grave charges brought against Roman Sushchenko,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“In violation of his rights, this journalist was placed in detention without being able to contact his consulate and has still not been able to meet his lawyer. If the authorities cannot produce credible evidence to support the charges, they must release him without delay.”
Sushchenko has worked for Ukrinform since 2002 and has been its Paris correspondent since 2010, mainly covering international stories. According to Ukrinform, he went to Moscow to visit relatives but the Russian authorities say he went there with the sole aim of gathering classified information concerning national security.
According to the Russian authorities, he works for the Ukrainian defence ministry with the rank of colonel – a claim that is categorically denied by Kiev. Prior to 2001, he was part of the peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.