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Russia opens ‘extremism’ probe into US-funded Crimea news site

April 19, 2016

Russian security forces in annexed Crimea on Tuesday opened a criminal probe into a US-funded news site for allegedly condoning extremism, searching three journalists’ homes and hauling them in for questioning.

The Krym.Realii, or ‘Crimea, the realities’ website is run by the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news outlet.

Crimean prosecutors said that the FSB security force was investigating the website over an article “calling for the isolation of the peninsula and its inhabitants, including by military operations.”

The prosecutors further accused the site of aiming to “discredit the activities of Russia in Crimea and foment ethnic hatred.”

Journalist Nikolai Semena told AFP he and two other journalists who work for the site had their homes searched by FSB security operatives and were taken in for questioning.

“Around 6 am, the FSB officers came, some in balaclavas. They turned the whole house upside down and confiscated electronic devices,” Semena said.

Semena said he later was released as a suspect after signing an undertaking not to travel, while the other journalists — named to AFP as Lenyara Abibullayeva and Ruslana Lyumanova — were released without any conditions attached.

The probe came a day after the head of Russia’s powerful FBI-equivalent, the Investigative Committee, published an opinion article calling for the act of questioning of Russia’s claim to Crimea to be classified as extremism.

Crimea’s Russian authorities have cracked down on critical media ever since Moscow seized the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, forcing a television channel run by indigenous Crimean Tatars off air.

The Krym.Realii website, which is published in Russian, Ukrainian and the language of the local Tatar community, says it “gives Crimean society what it cannot learn in Crimea from local media: news without censorship” and “honest and open discussion of problems.”

Semena told AFP that the FSB officers who searched his home found articles confirming that he wrote under a pseudonym for the website.

He said security forces pounced on an article about activists who have blocked roads to protest against Crimea’s Russian authorities.

The opinion piece’s headline called the blockade a necessary first step towards “liberation,” Semena said.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.