Russia’s Crimean Political Prisoners to remain in detention
A Moscow court has extended until Jan 11 2015 the pre-trial detention of renowned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko. Together with two other young Crimeans, they are facing ‘terrorist’ charges widely viewed as politically motivated. Sentsov, Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirny were all involved in peaceful opposition to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea. They are charged with plotting to carry out terrorist acts which did not take place even though all four were detained after the attacks were allegedly planned.
The only ‘evidence’ in this case appears to be ‘confessions’ provided by Afanasyev and Chirny. Since Sentsov and Kolchenko have both said that they were subjected to torture in the Simferopol FSB offices before being taken, against their will, to Moscow, the credibility of those confessions must be questioned.
Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer told journalists after the court hearing on Monday Sept 29 that he will be appealing against the latest extension. He says that the investigators have no evidence against Sentsov, nor any reason to keep him in custody. He holds out little hope, however, that a Russian court will behave in accordance with rule of law and release the men from custody. Judging by his account of the hearing, Sentsov himself treats the Russian ‘justice’ system with irony.
The investigators claimed that because the case involves ‘crimes of a terrorist nature’, more time is required for the investigation. This arouses scepticism, as do most aspects of the case.
The investigators, for example, assert that the men should be treated as Russian nationals. Given that all of them opposed Russia’s occupation of their homeland, this is particularly untenable, yet an attempt was earlier made to claim that Sentsov had ‘automatically’ become a Russian national since he had not visited a passport office in the Crimea in person to register his wish to keep Ukrainian citizenship. He was already in detention, making this assertion cynical, as well as in serious breach of the law.
The case is teeming with discrepancies some of them so obvious that it seems likely that the authorities want this to look like the notorious show trials of Soviet times.
It is clear from the interrogation, also with the use of torture, of young law student Yury Yatsenko that Russia’s FSB were informed of the ‘terrorist case’ in very early May, i.e. long before the first arrests.
There has clearly been no investigation into the serious allegations made by Sentsov and Kolchenko that they were tortured and ill-treated in Simferopol. Given the lack of any evidence except for the ‘confessions’ of the other two men, this is a critical omission which will certainly be noted by the European Court of Human Rights.
After so many months of demonizing Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist ‘Right Sector’, a plot involving this party may well have been required for the Russian media after Right Sector candidate received less than 1% of the votes in the Ukrainian presidential elections. This does not make it any the more plausible. 39-year-old Sentsov, who stands accused of masterminding this ‘plot’ has no known connection to Right Sector. He has gained a world reputation for films such as Gaamer and is also bringing up two young children by himself. Since they have now been without their father for more than 6 months, the charges seem particularly grotesque.
The allegation that Kolchenko should have been involved in a Right Sector plot is just as absurd for another reason. The 23-year-old is a left-wing civic activist who would have nothing to do with a right-wing party.
A number of prominent European film directors, including Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Pedro Almodovar have interceded on Sentsov’s behalf.
Amnesty International has called on Russian authorities to investigate Sentsov’s allegations of ill-treatment and to return the Ukrainian detainees to Crimea. Russia’s Memorial Society, which recently showed Sentsov’s film Gaamer in Moscow, are also clear that Sentsov is a political prisoner.