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Russia tortures Volodymyr Prysich for ‘Ukrainian Crimea saboteur plot confession’, then changes the charges

07.08.2017
Halya Coynash

Ukrainian truck driver Volodymyr Prysich had the misfortune to be delivering furniture to Russian-occupied Crimea on August 13, 2016, when Russia’s FSB was on the lookout for other Ukrainians to accuse of involvement in a supposed ‘Ukrainian sabotage plot’.  The last to be arrested, he was the first to be convicted of something entirely different from what he ‘confessed’ to

The FSB’s first story

On August 10, the FSB claimed that it had foiled terrorist acts planned by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s military intelligence.  It asserted that there had been major incidents, with shelling from mainland Ukraine, during the nights from 6-7 and 7-8 August, with 2 Russians – an FSB officer and a soldier – killed.  A very different interpretation (a drunken brawl) has been suggested for the one incident during the first night and there is nothing to back the claims about the second night and supposed shelling from Ukraine.

There was no proof as such, only four videoed ‘confessions’ from Yevhen Panov; Andriy Zakhtei; Redvan Suleymanov and Prysich, who denies all the charges. .  

On August 21, Prysich was heard on Russian television, ‘confessing’ to having been recruited by Ukrainian military intelligence in January 2016.  Driving around Crimea, he was supposed to have gathered information about the deployment of military technology.  The confession sounded as though he was reading a script.

He said that he had been in Crimea 8 times, he says, up till August, and passed photographs of military technology, etc. to the military intelligence man 5 times.

This was part of a longer feature about the supposed attacks by two groups of saboteurs, with a former Russian military intelligence officer saying that all of this had been planned at a high level, and that only the chief military commander “could take responsibility for carrying out a military operation in peacetime.”

The ‘trial’

Nothing more was mentioned in the media about Prysich until the Crimean Human Rights Group learned that the had been sentenced on May 18, 2017 to 3 years’ imprisonment.  The sentence was handed down by Pavel Kryllo from the Gagarin District Court in Sevastopol and on a charge of possession of a narcotic substance.  All mention of the Ukrainian military intelligence recruitment, the spying, etc. had vanished.

In court Prysich denied all charges.  He said that he had been seized by masked men in Sevastopol in the morning of August 13, 2016 and taken somewhere for ‘questioning’ which began with them removing his shoes.  He was then administered an electric shock after each question and told to think carefully about his answer.

In his final words to the court, Prysich stated that the charge of possession and transportation of drugs had been fabricated by the FSB after the charge of spying collapsed.  He noted that the package with drugs had ‘appeared’ in his van half a day after he was seized.

He told the court that the ‘investigator’ had himself filled out the protocol with the supposed confusion, and forced Prysich to sign it to avoid the more serious charge of spying. 

Evidence

It is hard to know what evidence could be expected when the charges changed so radically, and when there was never any proof of a ‘Ukrainian Crimea saboteur plot’, only the ‘confessions’ of four men.

Two of them: Panov and Zakhtei, retracted their confessions as soon as they were (after a very long period of FSB resistance) allowed to see independent lawyers.

Suleymanov is now charged only with a false bomb alarm, with all the ‘sabotage’ elements in the story discarded.

Prysich was tried on altogether different charges.

Torture

There is also no proof that Prysich was tortured, but it is hard to imagine another reason why a man in FSB custody would describe entirely fictitious work for Ukraine’s military intelligence.

His account of torture also coincides with that of Panov and Zakhtei.

Appeal        

Prysich’s appeal was held in the Russian-controlled Sevastopol City Court on August 3, 2017.  According to relatives, it all took 20 minutes, with Volodymyr taking part by video link from the SIZO [remand prison] and not even allowed to give a final statement.  The so-called deliberation in the judge’s chamber lasted all of five minutes, with the court announcing that the appeal had been rejected.  The Crimean Human Rights Group notes that the appeal had listed numerous infringements of material and procedural law, which were clearly ignored. 

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