Russia’s Sentsov – Kolchenko case - "an absolutely Stalinist trial"
Photo: Anton Naumlyuk
The prosecutor has demanded 23 years for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and 12 years for civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in a case with no crime and where all evidence was obtained through torture. Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova likens this to Stalinist repression, not a court trial
Svetova has seen a huge number of trials over the last 15 years, but nothing like the “absolutely insane hearing” on Aug 19. She can’t remember a case where, with no elements of a crime, or criminal (terrorist) acts, the prosecutor should be seriously demanding 23-year and 12-year sentences. This, the fact that everybody expects the court on Aug 25 to convict two innocent men, and much more, she says, is reminiscent of Stalinist repressions where people were arrested for nothing.
Sentsov is charged with leading a ‘terrorist organization’, Kolchenko of taking part in it and of involvement in one specific firebomb attack of a pro-Russian organization active in helping Russia seize control of Crimea in 2014. There is no evidence that an organization even existed and the only specific charge against Kolchenko is one that has not previously been classified by any Russian court as ‘terrorism’.
“The prosecutor is demanding 23 and 12 years for people accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Today Sentsov and Kolchenko’s lawyers clearly demonstrated that there are no elements of a crime in this case, nor any criminal act. On Aug 19, 2015 I saw a totally Stalinist trial. Three judges were sitting there, a real ‘troika’, with cold, virtually dead eyes who were listening to the prosecutor and the lawyers”, Svetova writes here.
Another of the disturbingly Stalinist features of this case has been the fixation on some demonized organization, in this case the far-right and nationalist ‘Right Sector’. Russia has constantly exaggerated this organization’s role in both Euromaidan and subsequent events in Ukraine. There was even a Russian media attempt on the night of the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, 2014 to claim distortion of the election result after the Right Sector candidate gained a pitiful 0.9% of the votes. It was therefore no surprise that five days after those elections, FSB should have claimed that it had uncovered a supposed Right Sector ‘terrorist plot’. It has never produced any evidence at all, nor did any of the witnesses for the prosecution even demonstrate a clear understanding of what Right Sector is, although they were all convinced it was dangerous, etc. There is nothing to link Sentsov, left-wing and anarchist Kolchenko, or Gennady Afanasyev with the far-right organization. In court on Wednesday, the prosecutor Oleg Tkachenko changed their story, saying that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not accused of membership in Right Sector, but of having “taken on the ideology of this organization as a guide for action”. What this means remains a mystery since the court has not demonstrated any interest in seeking clarification on this subject, or with respect to the numerous other discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.
At the final hearing on Wednesday, the defence demolished all of the charges against the two men, then Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, read out the account given by Gennady Afanasyev of how he had been tortured to get him to testify against Sentsov.
As reported, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy were arrested at the same time as Sentsov and Kolchenko. Their ‘confessions’ and testimony are literally all that the charges against Sentsov are based on. It is therefore of critical importance that Afanasyev retracted his testimony on July 31, stating that it had been given under duress. He then spoke for the first time to a lawyer not provided by the investigators and gave a detailed account of the torture applied immediately after his arrest, and also the pressure placed on him to repeat this testimony in court. As well as threats against him, the FSB officer who appeared at the prison, warned him that his mother “could have an accident” if he didn’t cooperate.
All of this information was read to the court. The judges simply looked down and did not react in any way, and the prosecutor continued to demand 23 and 12 years. It should be stressed that the details in Afanasyev’s account fully coincide with those given by Sentsov, and Chirniy is also known to have told the Ukrainian consul that he had been forced to ‘confess’.
Unlike the players in this modern-day show trial, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has taken Afanasyev’s account seriously. On Aug 19 it issued a statement recognizing Afanasyev as a political prisoner and warning of the danger he is now in. This follows a similar statement and damning assessment of the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko.
Sentsov’s final statement was, as all previous statements, courageous and moving. So too was Kolchenko’s who spoke of the fact that the court had heard about the use of threats and torture by the FSB against Sentsov and Afanasyev.
“It’s interesting that people using such methods to obtain testimony have no qualms about accusing us of terrorism”.
He called the charges against them fabricated and politically motivated, and said that this trial, as in those against Nadiya Savchenko, the Bolotnaya Square protesters and others are aimed at extending the life of the current regime.
“Yet throwing us in prison, this regime speeds up its end, and those people who still yesterday believed in law and order, today, watching such trials, have lost that faith. And tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, those people who are part of the 86 percent [supposedly supporting President Vladimir Putin – HC] will overturn this authoritarian regime.”
Kolchenko noted that in the letter read out to the court, Afanasyev said that the FSB officer had told him that the day he gave testimony in court would be the most important day in his life. “Seemingly, Afanasyev took those words to heart and interpreted them in his own way. I was very taken with this great, and powerful act of his”.
Gennady Afanasyev is in danger; Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing long sentences on preposterous charges. And Russia is descending into a frightening Soviet tradition in which people are tortured for ‘confessions’ with neither the prosecutor nor the judges even batting an eyelid when this is demonstrated to the world.
Please write to all three men
The website of the Solidarity Committee with the Crimean Hostages will try to get messages to them.
In the first box, write one of the following names at a time
Олег Сенцов (Oleg Sentsov )
Олександр Кольченко (Oleksandr Kolchenko)
Геннадий Афанасьев (Gennady Afanasyev)
Then in the next box write your name
The next box asks for a telephone number if you wish to give it. An email address is, however, needed (the fourth box).
Finally, in the fifth box, write your message.
The key aim is to ensure that all three know that they are not forgotten. The following would be quite sufficient (if you do write yourself in Russian, please avoid anything controversial or over-political).
Мы восхищаемся Вашим мужеством и надеемся на Ваше скорое освобождение.
Спасибо, что нашли в себе силы остаться честным с самим собой.
(We admire your courage and hope for your speedy release. Thank you for finding the strength to remain true to yourself. The last word is a word of support, like “take care!”)
The question under the last box asks if you are on social networks - yes, no in that order (or leave it blank)