Prisoner of Conscience: Roman Sushchenko
In 2016 Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko travelled from Paris to Moscow on a private visit. However, Russian authorities arrested him on suspicion of espionage. They did not inform Sushchenko’s family, his employer, or the Ukrainian government of his arrest in violation of international law.
Sushchenko, who had been working with Ukrinform, the state news service, since 2002, was sent to Paris as their French correspondent nine years ago. During his time in Paris he has covered politics, business, and current affairs. However, he has also been critical of alleged instances of Russian propaganda in French media.
Later Russia’s Federal Security Service, FSB, claimed that Sushchenko was “a member of the principal intelligence services of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense”. Ukrainian government subsequently denied the allegations.
In the summer of 2018 a Russian court sentenced Sushchenko to twelve years in jail for spying.
“We consider Roman Sushchenko innocent, but in such cases only political results are possible,” said Mark Feygin, a lawyer for Sushchenko, following the verdict, according to Reuters. He also added that the trial against him was politically motivated and based on bogus charges.
In September 2019, after spending three years in a Russian prison, Sushchenko was released as part of a historic prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine. The two countries exchanged dozens of prisoners in a first such move in recent years. The relations between Kyiv and Moscow have deteriorated following the 2014 conflict in Crimea and its annexation by Russia.
“Russia’s security services falsely painted Sushchenko as an intelligence plant, a spurious accusation they have repeatedly lodged against reporters who refuse to accept the Kremlin’s party line,” said Polina Kovaleva, Eurasia project director at PEN America, a media watchdog. “There’s no doubt this is part of a larger worldwide phenomenon of authoritarian leaders — not just in Russia — tarring journalists as enemies of the people. Sushchenko has escaped further persecution, but other writers, journalists, and activists continue to be unjustly punished for exercising the universal right to free expression.”
Shortly after Sushchenko’s release he expressed plans to organize an auction to sell pictures he drew and painted during his detention. “Regarding the further fate of these works, I have an idea to hold a charity auction and use the funds accordingly to support our political prisoners and their families, their children,” said the journalist at a press conference in Kyiv, quoted by Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian service.
Sushchenko said he planned to continue working as a journalist.