Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have confirmed that they are holding missing Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseev.
Representatives of the separatists did not state where Aseev is detained, but admitted that he was in their custody, Iryna Herashchenko, Ukraine’s representative in the Tripartite Contact Group in Minsk, told Radio Svoboda.
“They simply confirmed that they have Stanislav, that he has been included in the release lists that we are currently discussing,” she said, referring to prisoner exchange negotiations.
The admission by the separatists’ representatives adds further confirmation to what was essentially a broadly understood, but not officially confirmed fact. The Ukrainian authorities already know where Aseev is being held, Herashchenko said.
Read More: A Journalist Disappears in Occupied Donetsk
For several years, Aseev wrote articles about life inside the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) for pro-Kyiv publications. He published all his texts under the pseudonym “Stanislav Vasin” and took extensive security measures to remain undetected.
Then, on June 3, the journalist disappeared with hardly a trace. Nearly six weeks later, the DPR confirmed Aseev’s detention to his mother. Later, the separatists confirmed that Aseev had been arrested in a letter to the Russian Union of Journalists. However, confirmation to official Ukrainian representatives has been less forthcoming and slower.
Aseev stands accused of espionage, a charge for which rights activists fear he could face twenty years in prison or even the death penalty.
During previous sessions in Minsk, Ukrainian negotiators convinced the separatists to allow Toni Frisch, a coordinator of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to meet with Aseev when he visited occupied Donetsk in August. However, Frisch was ultimately only allowed into the prison where the DPR keeps military prisoners, Herashchenko said.
“Unfortunately, not one international organization has been given access to Stas [Aseev] — not the OSCE, not the UN, not the International Committee of the Red Cross,” she said.
The separatists also do not let relatives visit Aseev and do not allow him to call his mother.
Political Prisoners in the DPR: Arrested in Donetsk, Aseev joins the ranks of Ihor Kozlovskiy and Volodymyr Fomichev. All three Ukrainians were illegally imprisoned by the DPR for realizing their right to freedom of expression, says Maria Guryeva, a press officer at Amnesty International Ukraine.
Kozlovskiy is a prominent Donetsk-based religious scholar, who was well known for his pro-Ukrainian views and involvement in a 2014 ecumenical prayer marathon for a united Ukraine in Donetsk. He was working on an article documenting how the separatist “republics” in Ukraine’s east had negatively affected religious minorities when he was arrested in January 2016. The DPR charged Kozlovskiy with espionage and manufacturing weapons after the separatist “investigators” reportedly found two hand grenades in his home. The DPR “authorities” subsequently sentenced him to nearly three years in prison, where he remains to this day.
By contrast, Fomichev was a Kyiv-based blogger and employee of the Centre UA non-governmental organization. He was arrested in January 2016 by the DPR while visiting his parents in their native Makiivka for the New Year’s holiday. On August 16, 2016, Fomichev confessed to the improbable charge of bringing two hand grenades from Kyiv to Makiivka, likely believing he would be freed if he falsely admitted guilt. Instead, he was sentenced to two years in prison.