On June 4, a Moscow court found Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment in a maximum security prison.
This sentence was delivered in spite of the prosecution’s demand for a 14-year sentence in a maximum security prison and the defense’s claims that the Ukrainian journalist was the victim of a provocation.
Sushchenko was arrested in Moscow in September 2016. He had just flown in from Paris, where Sushchenko was based as a correspondent for Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform.
The Russian security service claim that Sushchenko was working with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, passing on information about the Russian military and National Guard.
Sushchenko’s lawyer Mark Feygin – who was disbarred in late April but later permitted to represent the Ukrainian journalist as a public defender – announced on Facebook on June 5 that an appeal against the verdict had been filed.
What’s more, First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Iryna Herashchenko
stated that Sushchenko’s sentencing paves the way for Sushchenko’s exchange or release.
As Herashchenko commented in a meeting of the Ukrainian parliament’s Conciliatory Council on June 5: “I want to remind you that everyone who we’ve managed to take out of Russian prisons got the chance to do so after the pseudo-verdict had been made. Therefore, in a way, the sentencing gives us more negotiation maneuvers in order to talk to Moscow about Roman’s release.”
This view is shared by Sushchenko’s daughter Yulia, who believes that the sentence could speed up her father’s eventual release. It has been several months since she has had any contact with her father.
“The last time we talked on the telephone was the beginning of March, when my father’s dad died, my grandfather. They allowed him to call my grandmother, to talk to her and support her… And then I was also able to talk to him,” Yulia says adding that the last time she saw her father was in February when she and her mother went to the pre-trial detention facility.
“He’s tough, he never shows any weaknesses, no matter how bad or painful it is for him, he keeps himself together,” she speaks of Sushchenko. “Quite the opposite, he always tries to support us, so that we don’t give up and keep it together,”
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
Yulia told Hromadske that she is also concerned about her father’s health and the conditions he is being kept in.
“He has certain problems with his teeth… t’s a common problem for all inmates. It’s because the food’s bad in there, food is rationed, the atmosphere is bad, they don’t get any vitamins, no sunlight. My father has problems with his vision,” she said.
Yulia says that, fortunately, the Ukrainian consul is allowed in to see Sushchenko. “These permits are only issued by judges, it takes a lot of time, it takes one month to get a meeting,” Sushchenko’s daughter explains.
Yulia also noted that the recent verdict on her father’s case could speed up his release:
“After the sentencing, the case and my father’s fate in general will leave the procedural phase and it will become political. Therefore, in fact, it will be easier to speak purely legally about some sort of exchange, release. We really hope that this will be a chance for my father’s release nevertheless.”
When asked about the possibility of a pardon, Sushchenko’s daughter stated: “I’m sure that my father has not, does not and will not recognize his guilt, therefore there is no [possibility.] It’s a completely falsified case… The whole case was built on the witnesses statement. I realized that there was a certain scenario, for which they found someone.”
In her opinion, the Ukrainian government is doing everything it can to ensure her father’s and the other Ukrainian political prisoners’ release. But unfortunately not everything is decided by the Ukrainian side, she adds.
“Like Herashchenko said [in a meeting of the Ukrainian parliament’s Conciliatory Council on June 5], all the keys are in Putin’s pocket. It all depends on him, who [is released] and how,” Yulia commented.
That has not stopped a huge support base for Sushchenko from developing. Both at home and abroad, human rights activists, institutions, and governments have condemned the sentence, believing Sushchenko to be one of the many Ukrainians currently serving prison sentences in Russia on politically-motivated, fabricated charges.
Most notably, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called for Sushchenko’s release. As the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir noted in his statement: “Journalism is not a crime, media workers should carry out their work under safe conditions, without fear of being harassed, attacked or imprisoned.”