Crimean political prisoners registered as “Russian terrorists”
In a case where four Ukrainian nationals are accused of plotting, but not committing, ‘terrorist crimes’, a Moscow court has refused to drop the ban prohibiting the lawyers of renowned Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov from commenting on the trial. In the meantime Sentsov and three other opponents of Russian occupation of the Crimea have been added to Russia’s list of people considered to be implicated in “extremist activities or terrorism”.
The contempt for domestic and international law is breath-taking. As well as upholding the ban on disclosing information about the case, the court also found lawful the refusal by the prosecution to provide the lawyers with some of the material of the case. This is clearly a violation of Sentsov’s rights.
Sentsov was not brought to the court and took part in the hearing via video from the SIZO or pre-trial detention centre. The TASS information agency reports that he did not rise when the judge entered and left and did not answer most of the questions. He asked instead what the course of the rouble was at present, and the price of oil. TASS comments only that he did not explain how these questions were relevant.
All four men have been added to the ‘list of terrorists and extremists’ as Russians, although they are Ukrainian nationals from the Crimea. Attempts to claim that Sentsov ‘automatically’ became a Russian national since he did not register his wish to retain Ukrainian citizenship are especially cynical since he was arrested before he had the opportunity. He has stated clearly that he remains a Ukrainian citizen. His lawyers have lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights partly over his forced removal to Russia. The Court in Strasbourg will doubtless also look askance at the refusal by Russian prosecutors to carry out a proper investigation into Sentsov and left-wing activist Oleksandr Kolchenko’s allegations of torture.
The charges against all four Crimeans are 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. There appear to have been two separate incidents in April when Molotov cocktails were thrown into Russkaya Obshchyna Kryma on April 14, and the office of the local branch of United Russia on April 18. Since not one of the men was detained before May 10, the evidence of involvement in the two incidents is almost certainly from testimony given. It seems extremely likely, in fact, that the only ‘evidence’ in this case must be considered ‘confessions’ provided by Afanasyev and Chirny. 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, placing a very large question mark over how the others’ confessions were obtained.
One of very many question marks.