Calls on Russia to #FreeSentsov as renowned Crimean filmmaker turns 40
"Here it’s all clear to everybody. An occupier’s court cannot, by definition, be fair"
Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker held for over two years in Russian prisons, is turning 40 on July 13. The Kremlin has sent him and Oleksandr Kolchenko as far from Moscow and publicity as possible. It is vital we demonstrate that no distance will be enough and make greetings to the men and demands for their release resound. Lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina has just visited Kolchenko in the Chelyabinsk prison and reports that he is being held in an information vacuum. Letters are a true lifeline.
In his final address to the ‘court’ on Aug 19, 2015 Sentsov spoke of cowardice being the greatest sin in this world, with that including personal betrayal. Both he and Oleksandr Kolchenko have, from the outset, remained true to themselves and unbroken. Sentsov’s steadfast refusal to ‘cooperate’ with the FSB, despite all the torture and threats, was the reason that he accused of having ‘masterminded’ a supposed terrorist plot and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.
In that address Sentsov asked what “convictions are worth if you aren’t ready to suffer for them, or even to die, ” and spoke of the big betrayals that all too often begin with small acts of cowardice.
He asked for nothing from the court, saying that an occupiers’ court cannot, by definition, be just.
He had had over a year by that stage to see how Russian propaganda was working. He could see that the majority of the Russian population had been conned into believing that there were fascists in Ukraine, enemies of Russia everywhere, but that Russian President Vladimir Putin was great, and Russia never wrong.
There were, however, others who knew very well the scale of the lies, that his native Crimea had been annexed illegally and that Russian troops were fighting in Donbas.
Some had opted for betrayal, others, however, a third smaller part of the population, were fearful because there were so few of them and they could be easily thrown in prison or killed.
“We also had a criminal regime, but we rose up against it. They didn’t want to listen to us, so we beat on rubbish tin lids. They didn’t want to see us, so we set tyres alight and in the end we won.
The same, sooner or later, will happen in your country. I don’t know what form it will take and I don’t want to see anyone suffer. I simply want you to stop being ruled by criminals.”
After being interrupted by the judge, Sentsov added just one more wish – that this third part of the population should learn how to not be afraid.
It is now well over two years since Oleg Sentsov saw his young children – Alina and Vladislav.
Sentsov, Kolchenko and two other opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea – Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chirniy – were all arrested in May 2014 and held without any access to lawyers or their families for several weeks before being illegally taken to Moscow. There, on May 30, the FSB [Russian Security Service] claimed that they had been involved in a ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’. There was nothing to indicate any presence of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector in Crimea, and the idea that Kolchenko, who is a committed left-wing anarchist would have taken part in a far-right movement’s ‘plot’ made the FSB version particularly absurd.
There was literally no evidence of ‘terrorism’ against any of the four Ukrainians;
There is every reason to believe that all were subjected to torture;
There was almost total secrecy about the case before the trial, with the men’s lawyers prohibited from saying anything about it. Both men were recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre within days of the trial beginning when the lack of any grounds for the charges could no longer be concealed;
There were constant attempts to deny that the men were Ukrainians and to foist Russian citizenship on them. These appear to still be continuing.
As mentioned, Sentsov has consistently spoken of the torture he was subjected to and the threats that if he didn’t ‘confess’ to whatever they demanded, he would rot in a Russian prison. The FSB’s threats to make him the main suspect were carried out to the letter despite the lack of literally any evidence at all against the renowned filmmaker and solo father. There were no specific charges, nor anything directly incriminating him in any offence, terrorist or otherwise. There was also nothing to link him with Right Sector.
Kolchenko was charged with taking part in the supposed ‘terrorist plot’, and with one specific offence – of taking part in an ‘arson attack’ on the office of the United Russia political party in Simferopol. The said attack involved throwing one Molotov cocktail at the offices late in the evening when nobody would be there.
Kolchenko has never denied his role in this, but does not agree that this was ‘terrorism’. In this he is supported by, among others, Memorial HRC which points out that similar acts in Russia have not been called ‘terrorism’, and have received sentences many times less.
The ‘evidence’ in the case was based solely on the testimony of Chirniy and Afanasyev. The latter took the stand in court on July 31, 2015 and retracted all previous testimony as given under torture, and has since described the torture in detail.
The prosecutor Igor Tkachenko ignored all of this, as did the three judges: presiding judge Sergei Mikhailyuk, Viacheslav Korsakov and Edward Korobenko.
Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years, Kolchenko to 10, with the two men joining arms and singing the Ukrainian national anthem as the sentences were read out. Russia’s most prominent human rights defenders, writers and others reacted by warning that “The country has again taken the road of political repression”. They said that the trial and sentences could only be called “ideologically motivated state terror”, aimed at suppressing and intimidating any peaceful resistance to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
Russia has exchanged three political prisoners: Nadiya Savchenko; 74-year-old Yury Soloshenko and Gennady Afanasyev. While extradition procedure for all other political prisoners held in Russia is now officially underway, it is difficult to see this as more than a ploy to silence those demanding the men’s release which is required, among other things, by the Minsk Accords.
Please write to Oleg, wishing him a happy birthday, to Oleksandr and all other political prisoners)
All letters must be in Russian. Please avoid any mention of politics or the men’s cases, If writing in Russian is a problem, the following would be fine.
С днем рождения! Желаю Вам хорошего настроения, творческого вдохновения, и чтобы Вы как можно скорее вернулись домой, где Вас очень ждут!
Всего Вам самого доброго и светлого,
[Dear Oleg, Happy Birthday! I wish you inspiration in your work and good spirits, and hope that you will soon be able to return home where you are much missed. All the very best, ….]
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним. Держитесь!
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten. [The last word is like ‘hang in there’)]
Please cut and paste the addresses OR send letters to: post.rosuznik[at]gmail.com – this is a civic initiative helping to send letters to political prisoners
677004, Республика Саха (Якутия), г. Якутск, ул. Очиченко, 25, ФКУ ИК-1
Сенцову Олегу Геннадьевичу, 1976 г.р.
(please enclose light-weight paper and an envelope, so that he can reply)
Россия 456612, Челябинская обл., Копейск, ул. Кемеровская, 20.,
Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р.
Please use post.rosuznik[at[gmail.com
Чирнию Алексею Владимировичу, 1981 г.р.