Sentsov: My country, for whose freedom I fought, will not abandon me”.
Dmitry Dinze, lawyer representing Oleg Sentsov, the well-known Ukrainian film director, has said that Russia’s FSB used torture to extract testimony from his client. The FSB are claiming that Sentsov, together with three other people from the Crimea, was involved in a terrorist plot. All four have been active in peacefully protesting against Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea. Sentsov was also active in the AutoMaidan movement.
Dinze has told RBK that the FSB prevented him from seeing Sentsov for two weeks so that the bruises would have time to disappear. On June 4 he lodged a complaint with the Investigative Committee demanding that a criminal investigation be initiated against the enforcement officers who he accuses of beating and threatening his client and exceeding their powers.
The complaint states that a plastic bag was pulled over Sentsov’s head until he fainted and he was threatened with being raped or killed in order to get him to confess to organizing explosions; arson attacks; possessing a weapon and explosives. Dinze says that the bruises to Sentsov’s back, buttocks and other parts of his body were recorded by staff at the temporary holding facility in Simferopol, and in the SIZO [detention centre] there. He asks that the relevant documents be sought from those places.
Dinze, who earlier represented Pussy Riot members, agreed to take on the case soon after Sentsov’s arrest late on May 10, but up till the end of May was not able to see him.
Two members of the Public Supervisory Commission, Dilyara Tasbulatova and Zoya Svetova visited the men in Lefortovo on May 29. Svetova told RBK that this was the first time in her practice that she had had to sign an undertaking to not divulge any information about the conversation with Sentsov. RBK reports Tasbulatova as saying that Sentsov did not complain of ill-treatment. The meeting did, however, take place with two federal penitentiary service employees present, and judging by a report by New Times journalists who were also allowed to see Sentsov, he was referring only to the situation in Lefortovo. He said to the journalists:
You yourselves understand very well: here all is within the law. If they were putting pressure on me, I wouldn’t stay silent. I don’t want to write home for the moment, . It’s simpler for me like that. I know that my friends and family will help me. My country, for whose freedom I fought, will not abandon me”.
The other three accused did not complain either though they did say that it had been bad in Simferopol. Tasbulatova believes that they are all under pressure from the SIZO administration to keep quiet, a charge denied by an official penitentiary service official.
According to RBK all but Sentsov have ‘confessed’. It is not clear when or if 23-year-old Alexander Kolchenko did so. On May 30 Russian TV channels showed 23-year-old Gennady Afanasyev and Alexei Chirny asserting that they had received instructions from Sentsov.
As reported, all four arrests and the charges against the men seem very clearly linked with their civic activities and protest against Russian occupation (more details here). Sentsov is a film director who gained renown for his film Gaamer and was involved in another film, Rhino which had both Ukrainian state funding and financing from a German film fund. He is also a solo father of two, with his 9-year-old son suffering from autism. It is difficult to understand where he could have found the time to ‘mastermind’ the purported terrorist plans, let alone why he would have done so.
Amnesty International earlier issued an urgent appeal in the cases of Sentsov and Kolchenko, stating :
Ukrainian citizens and Crimea residents Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko are among a group of detainees from Russian-occupied Crimea who have been unlawfully detained and transferred to Moscow. They are believed to be accused of terrorism offences under Russian legislation and do not have adequate access to their lawyers.
FSB issued its statement on May 30, claiming that the men were part of a Right Sector terrorist conspiracy. Right Sector was recently found to have been mentioned almost as many times in the Russian media as the ruling United Russia party and far more than any other Russian party. Both the Kremlin and pro-Kremlin media have consistently exaggerated its role in EuroMaidan and the post-Yanukovych government of this far-right nationalist movement whose presidential candidate on May 25 gained less than 1% of the votes.
Dmytro Yarosh’s dismal showing in the elections has not stopped the demonization by the Russian media of Right Sector as this trial shows. The lack of any evidence or in fact likelihood that the charges are genuine is almost certainly designed to send a chill to all civic activists in the Crimea.