Russia continues to force its citizenship on Crimean political prisoners
Russia’s Prosecutor General has claimed to the Polish Open Dialogue Foundation that Crimean Ukrainians Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are Russian citizens since they did not ‘express any wish’ to retain their Ukrainian citizenship. The statement is firstly, untrue, and secondly, immensely cynical since both men were arrested and then illegally taken to Moscow before the deadline had run out for officially ‘expressing such a wish’ in person at a restricted number of places in the Crimea.
The Open Dialogue Foundation had lodged a formal request for information regarding the unlawful arrest and prosecution of Ukrainian activists Oleg Sentsov; Oleksandr Kolchenko; and Gennady Afanasyev; their unwarranted detention, as well as the use of violence against them by officers of Russia’s FSB.
The Prosecutor General’s Office responded that these “residents of Crimea are considered Russian Federation nationals if they did not express their wish to retain other citizenship”. It says that only the fourth person accused of a ’terrorist plot’ - Oleksy Chirny had done so and that he was therefore the only one allowed consul protection, while the other three are considered Russian citizens. The same letter claims that the allegations of violence “were not corroborated and that therefore no reaction is needed”.
Film director Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, and two other known opponents of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea - Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirny were all arrested in May after the date – May 9, Victory Day – when they were supposed to have been planning major terrorist attacks. There were no terrorist acts and until the charges against them were announced by the FSB at the very end of May, even the whereabouts of the four men were unclear. The four are alleged to have taken part in a ‘terrorist plot’ on behalf of the rightwing party ‘Right Sector’, and Sentsov is accused of having been its mastermind.Sentsov is an internationally known film director and solo father with two young children, making any involvement in a ’terrorist plot’ seem highly implausible. There has been been any indication of a link with ’Right Sector’. Oleksandr Kolchenko is an anarchist and member of the anti-fascist movement, and it is inconceivable that he would have had anything to do with the Right Sector.
The first mention of such an alleged link was on May 30, five days after the resounding victory of Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s presidential elections was accompanied by pitiful showings by both far-right candidates, including Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh. The party has been consistently demonized by the Kremlin and government-controlled media, and Kolchenko has suggested that Russia needs a ’Right Sector’ plot to try to justify its annexation of the Crimea. The only ‘evidence’ for the charges against the men is from ‘confessions’ obtained from Afanasyev and Chirny while they were held in custody in Simferopol without contact with lawyers or their families. Both Kolchenko and Sentsov have from the outset alleged that they were subjected to torture in Simferopol aimed at extracting similar confessions from them. Sentsov says that the interrogators threatened to make the charges against him worse if he did not give testimony against EuroMaidan and the new Kyiv government.
Just one month ago, the same Prosecutor General effectively admitted that all four men are Ukrainian citizens. This was, however, obviously a slip of the tongue and not a shift from the position that the men became Russian ‘automatically’.Attempts to forcibly impose Russian citizenship on the men have been condemned by human rights groups as a clear breach of Russia’s own legislation and the men’s fundamental rights. They have also been categorically opposed by both Sentsov and Kolchenko
Worth repeating Oleg’s statement in court in the middle of July:
“I was never a member of “Right Sector” and did not organize any terrorist groups and terrorist acts in Crimea. I consider May 9 [Victory Day] an important day for any Slav and monuments linked with that day are untouchable. I therefore consider the allegation that I was attempting to blow these monuments not just unfounded, but insulting.
I am not guilty of organizing the impugned crimes, I consider the case fabricated and political because it is based on the testimony of two suspects which was first extracted out of them under torture, and now they can’t retract the allegations, and have been promised short sentences. They used torture against me also. I wasn’t arrested on May 11, but on May 10, and before the official interrogations in the SBU building in Simferopol they tortured, beat and humiliated me to extract a confession and testimony against the leaders of EuroMaidan and Ukraine, claiming that they had ordered these crimes. After I refused, they told me that I would be called the organizer of these crimes in court and that I’d face more serious charges. “
“I also wish to protest against the attempts to deprive me of Ukrainian citizenship. I have always been and remain a citizen of Ukraine. I do not recognize the Russian Federation’s annexation and military seizure of the Crimea. I consider any agreements made by the illegitimate government of the Crimea with the Russian Federation invalid. I am no serf to be passed over together with the land. I have not written any applications to take on Russian citizenship and reject my Ukrainian citizenship. “
Kolchenko’s lawyer has applied to a Simferopol court to have Kolchenko’s Ukrainian citizenship recognized.