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Oleg Sentsov found in Chelyabinsk, travelling around Russian prisons

29.02.16 | Halya Coynash

It is not only Kremlin-backed militants who hold their hostages in basements. Two human rights activists have found Ukrainian film director and political prisoner in a Chelyabinsk SIZO [remand prison] where he had been held for almost a week, since his arrival on Feb 19, in a basement. The cell was for four people but holding 12, which one of the two visitors says is normal. Before that he had been held in a Samara SIZO, also in a basement.

Sentsovs health has obviously suffered, and he has a bad cold. He tells the visitors, however, that everythings fine and that hes travelling around Russia and its prisons. He is quite emphatic, however, that there is no system of justice in Russia. The women understand who Sentsov is, and even point out that he doesnt look like a terrorist, but clearly have difficulty knowing what to say. What do you talk about with a world renowned Ukrainian filmmaker held behind Russian bars on his way to one of the furthest prisons the authorities could find to serve a 20-year sentence for literally nothing, except opposition to Russias invasion and occupation of Crimea?

The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbOxHYJ9jJA

It will soon be a month since Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kostenko were taken to prisons in the far east of Russia, knocking any hope that Moscow might choose to mark the first anniversary of the Minsk II agreement by actually complying with it.

The plan is clearly to hold both men in prisons as far from their lawyers and the public eye as possible. Kolchenko, whom the women promised to look for, is likely to be held in a maximum security prison in Chelyabinsk, while Sentsov is not headed for Irkutsk as everybody was originally told, but the Yakutia region in the Far East. This period of transfer is particularly gruelling and also dangerous, since the mens lawyers are deprived of any contact with their clients.

Sentsov and Kolchenko have both been recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre and their trial and sentences (to 20 years and 10, respectively) described by renowned Russian human rights defenders as ideologically motivated terror against opponents of Russias invasion and annexation of Crimea. Their release is required by the Minsk Agreement and has been repeatedly demanded by European structures and all democratic countries.

Radio Svobodas Crimean Service spoke with Kolchenkos lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and Sentsov main lawyer Dmitry Dinze about possible ways to get the men back to Ukraine.

Both Minsk Accords require the exchange of all prisoners and persons illegally held on an all for all basis. During his Dec 17, 2015 televised press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin chose to ignore this, pointing out that all exchanges must be of equal value. The UNIAN reporter had reeled off (a small part of) a considerable list of Ukrainians held in Russia, while mentioning only the two Russian military intelligence officers captured during a militant attack on Ukrainian soldiers in the Luhansk oblast. Putin was clearly referring to the numerical difference, not to the crucial distinction, namely that all the Ukrainians are hostages and most have been recognized as political prisoners, unlike the two Russian service men fighting in a country Russia claims not to be at war with.

Svetlana Sidorkina believes that any exchange involving Sentsov and Kolchenko on the one hand, and the two Russians Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov on the other will be possible only after the verdict is handed down on the latter. Their trial is continuing, with the two men now denying that they were serving Russian officers, although this conflicts with what they told everybody, including Russian journalists and the OSCE, during the first month and more after their capture (see More evidence that captured Russians were military intelligence officers

Both Sidorkina and Dinze hope to organize for Sentsov and Kolchenko to be released to serve their sentence in Ukraine. Although Russia has tried to automatically force Russian citizenship on them, they remain Ukrainian nationals and there are bilateral agreements which allow for such transfer.

Both lawyers are understandably reticent about anything but the formal procedure for such applications. They are, however, both critical of Ukraines authorities for not being more proactive in their support for the men. Dinze positively states that if Ukraine in this situation was more active, we would have already initiated all mechanisms needed for Sentsov to be sent to that same Ukraine to serve his sentence. Dinze spoke of action needed by Ukraines Justice Ministry, Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor Generals Office.

Deputy Justice Minister Serhiy Petukhov rejected the criticism, saying that it is a long process to obtain all the necessary documents for Sentsov, Kolchenko and also Gennady Afanasyev.

Petukhov also cited Russias refusal to extradite Khaiser Dzhemiliev to Ukraine and said that this indicates that Russia is not ready to make concessions at present. The situation with the son of veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev is a little different. It is, however, true that nothing in Russias treatment of Ukrainians held in Russian prisons suggests willingness to hand over these hostages.

A cassation appeal is also being due to be submitted shortly, with Dinze rating its chances of success at 50-50. All depends, he adds, on the political situation in Russia.

Background

Sentsov, Kolchenko and two other Crimeans who opposed Russias invasion and annexation of their homeland Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy - were arrested in May 2014, and held incommunicado for weeks before being taken to Russia, when on May 30 the FSB or Russian Security Service claimed that they had been involved in a Right Sector terrorist plot. There was nothing to indicate any presence of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector in Crimea, and the idea that Kolchenko, who is a committed left-wing anarchist would have taken part in a far-right movements plot was absurd.

There was no evidence of terrorism against any of the four Ukrainians;

There are serious grounds for believing that all were subjected to torture;

There was almost total secrecy about the case before the trial, with the mens lawyers prohibited from saying anything about it;

All are Ukrainians and were illegally taken from Crimea to Russia. Attempts to foist Russian citizenship on them breach international law.

Memorial HRC recognized Sentsov and Kolchenko as political prisoners soon after the trial began, and Afanasyev after his appearance in court on July 31, 2015 when he retracted all testimony as given under torture.

More details here: Oppose Russian Occupation of Crimea & Face 20 Years for Terrorism

Please write postcards or letters to all four men. If you can write in Russian, do, but avoid any discussion of the case or politics. If not, the following would be fine (cut and paste the words in Russian, and the same below with the addresses)

,

, , .

.!

Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten. [The last word is like hang in there)

You can send your letters to post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com, a civic initiative helping to get mail to Russian-held political prisoners They will deal with writing the envelope and sending it on. Just cut and paste the names as given below (the year of birth after their name is required by the prison service),

Gennady Afanasyev

, 1990 .. -31 ,
169060, - , . , .

NB Gennady has been subjected to all kinds of repressive measures almost certainly as punishment for retracting false testimony. One such petty reprisal is that all paper, envelopes and stamps have been confiscated. If you do write to him, please add at least paper and a clean envelope for him to be able to respond.

OlegSentsov

, 1976 .. post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com

OleksandrKolchenko

, 1989 .. post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com

Oleksy Chirniy

, 1981 .. post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com

see also:
5 Russian Federal Agencies Pitched Against Courageous Crimean Political Prisoner
Extradition promises for show as Russia forces citizenship on Crimean political prisoner
Misleading headlines over extradition of Sentsov & other Ukrainian hostages
Russia forced to admit that political prisoners Sentsov & Kolchenko are Ukrainian citizens
Where is Russia hiding Crimean political prisoner Oleg Sentsov?
Crimean political prisoner told ’extremism’ is not liking the regime
Russia is continuing its torture of Sentsov, Kolchenko & Afanasyev
Russian court orders Crimean political prisoner Afanasyev to be sent closer home
Oleg Sentsov hurriedly moved as calls mount for release of all Ukrainian hostages
Russia intensifies reprisals against Crimean political prisoner Gennady Afanasyev
Sent to Siberia for Opposing Russias Annexation of Crimea
Oppose Russian Occupation of Crimea & Face 20 Years for Terrorism
Sentsov & Kolchenko Appeal Rejected in Predictably Farcical Court Hearing
Russias Ideologically Motivated State Terror and Its Ukrainian Victims
Illegally Held and In Danger: Gennady Afanasyev needs our help
Send Birthday Wishes to Russias Crimean Political Prisoners!
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov sues Russias FSB for defamation
Prominent Russians warn of mounting political terror, demand release of Sentsov & Kolchenko
Oleg Sentsov sues Russian TV channels for defamation