Afanasyev disappears after retracting testimony against Oleg Sentsov
It is 5 weeks since Crimean political prisoner Gennady Afanasyev was moved from Rostov, apparently to a prison colony, and all efforts by his mother to find out his whereabouts have been unsuccessful. There are very serious grounds for concern, noted immediately after Afanasyev appeared at the trial of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and not only refused to testify, but retracted all previous testimony stating that it had been tortured out of him. He then gave a detailed account of the torture he had been subjected to, the pressure immediately before and after his appearance in court on July 31.
Olha Afanasyeva last heard from her son over a month ago. He was in the Republic of Komi, and was awaiting a further move. Since then there has been no contact at all.
In a statement on Aug 19, the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre recognized Afanasyev as a political prisoner and specifically warned that he was in danger following his retraction of testimony.
As reported, Afanasyev originally ‘confessed’ to all charges presented and gave testimony against himself and Sentsov. He had never had a lawyer not appointed by the investigators, and had been sentenced at an effectively secret court hearing in Dec 2014 to 7 years imprisonment. This is the minimum sentence which both he and the fourth person arrested, Oleksy Chirniy received for ‘cooperating’ with the investigators.
Memorial HRC lists the charges against Afanasyev, namely involvement in two night-time firebomb attacks on the offices of pro-Russian organizations; participation in a terrorist organization supposedly led by Oleg Sentsov; plans to blow up a monument to Lenin and an attempt to buy explosives.
Afanasyev admits only the firebomb attacks. Memorial HRC says that it has examined the taped conversation between Chirniy and Pirogov, an FSB informer, and agrees that this indicates that neither Afanasyev or Sentsov was involved in any plan to blow up the Lenin monument. There is nothing to indicate the existence of a permanent terrorist organization behind all three episodes.
There are also no grounds for classifying the firebomb incidents as terrorist, with such an interpretation in fact running counter to Russian practice.
Memorial stresses that Afanasyev’s allegation of torture must be fully investigated, and that he is in danger.
Afanasyev, Sentsov and Kolchenko were all involved in peaceful protest against Russian annexation and in measures to help Ukrainian soldiers who were effectively held prisoner in their barracks after Russian soldiers seized control of the peninsula. Afanasyev’s mother was among the many who responded and prepared food for the besieged soldiers. Afanasyev also organized a first aid course at the Karman Art Centre in Simferopol
The four were all arrested in May 2014, and held incommunicado for weeks before being taken to Russia. On May 30 last year the FSB [Russian Security Service] accused all four men of involvement in a ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’, and pro-Kremlin television showed ‘confessions’ from Chirniy and Afanasyev.
Gennady Afanasyev’s courageous retraction of his previous testimony on July 31 can be read here. He later described the earlier torture and the pressure he had been put under before appearing in the courtroom. See: Tortured for testimony against Sentsov-Kolchenko in Russia’s ‘Crimean terrorist plot’ trial
One FSB officer has already ‘visited’ him since and hit him very hard, and he was known to be facing immense pressure to now claim that his retraction was given under pressure. The threats received have included menacing words about bad things happening to his mother.
Amnesty International in Ukraine has launched a petition in support of Afanasyev and has also called on people to write to the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika.
Please join in writing to Chaika and also ask politicians in your country to raise the case of Gennady Afanasyev at higher level, and ensure that his release is demanded together with that of Sentsov and Kolchenko.
The Prosecutor General’s Address (in Russian):
Юрию Яковлевичу Чайке
ул. Большая Дмитровка, д. 15А
Please point out the facts known about Afanasyev being a key witness and having retracted his evidence, and about his account of the torture and threats.
Politely remind Chaika that Russia’s Constitution requires that Russia take measures to prevent torture and hold those responsible to answer;
Call on him to ensure that Gennady Afanasyev is protected from all forms of torture, ill-treatment and unacceptable pressure;
Call for an investigation into his allegations of torture.