Russia is continuing its torture of Sentsov, Kolchenko & Afanasyev
While Russia’s response to a formal extradition request is awaited, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s whereabouts are once again unknown, and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko has been flung into a punishment cell on his arrival at a notorious Russian prison in Chelyabinsk.
According to the local supervisory committee which visits prisoners, the formal pretext for this speedy 15-day ‘punishment’ was Kolchenko’s use of ‘slang expressions’ and the fact that he didn’t have a badge on his clothes. It is hard to escape the conclusion that such a severe measure was planned from the outset and any pretext, or next to none, would do.
The same harsh treatment has been meted out to Gennady Afanasyev, another of the four opponents of Russian annexation of Crimea. In an emotional address on the Savik Shuster show, Afanasyev’s mother Olha explained that the torture applied against her son, Sentsov and Kolchenko before their trials has not ended. If before they used physical methods, now they are seeking to break the men psychologically. They put them in a punishment cell immediately, fabricate all kinds of disciplinary penalties and deprive them of medical treatment. Olha Afanasyeva issues a plea to Ukraine’s government to join forces in order to help release them and Russia’s other Ukrainian hostages.
Ukraine’s Justice Ministry announced on March 10 that it has asked for the extradition of four Ukrainians: Gennady Afanasyev; Oleksandr Kolchenko; Oleg Sentsov and 73-year-old Yury Soloshenko. It has publicly called on Russia to put aside politics and return the men on humanitarian grounds to Ukraine.
The Justice Minister Pavlo Klimkin was speaking at a meeting with relatives of three of the prisoners, and openly called them political prisoners. The reference to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons may therefore be contentious, since this document refers to situations where prisoners are expected to serve out their sentences.
This is clearly inconceivable. Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for a non-existent terrorist plot. Kolchenko received a 10-year sentence and Afanasyev 7 years. There was no evidence against any of them, only testimony tortured out of Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy. Afanasyev demonstrated great courage by appearing at the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko and retracting his testimony. He has since faced constant reprisals.
Nobody really understands what the ‘spying’ was that Yury Soloshenko was supposed to be guilty of. Even in his former capacity as director of a Poltava-based factory providing equipment for anti-aircraft warfare, the factory got its business from Russia and had no ‘secrets’. The factory has long been bankrupt, and Soloshenko retired. He is also in bad health and suffering from cancer.
Russia’s Justice Ministry has a month in which to respond. It may try to claim that Sentsov, Kolchenko and Afanasyev are Russian nationals. All three Crimeans who opposed Russia’s invasion and occupation of their homeland have consistently rejected Russia’s attempts to treat them as ‘automatically’ Russian. Kolchenko has even lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights.
The men all remain Ukrainians and their treatment is being closely monitored. It is of real concern that Kolchenko should have faced such a severe ’punishment’ as soon as he was brought to the prison in Kopeisk, Chelyabinsk region. This prison has a very bad reputation (details here). It is also supposed to be for prisoners serving sentences for serious and extremely serious crimes, with half of them convicted of murder.
And recognized political prisoner Oleksandr Kolchenko.
Russia is seeking to hide Sentsov and Kolchenko away in prisons in the far east of Russia, while Afanasyev was sent – just as the FSB officers threatened – to the far north. A court in the Komi Republic city of Syktykvar has just found that Afanasyev’s imprisonment 2, 700 kilometres from his family is in breach of the European Court of Human Rights. This is a very cheering demonstration of professionalism from a Russian judge but it remains to be seen whether it is upheld since it will almost certainly be appealed.
It should be stressed that the release of all four men is required under the Minsk Accords and has been repeatedly demanded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the US State Department and others.
Details about the case
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. Since three addresses are either unknown, or in Afanasyev’s case will hopefully change, please send your letters to
post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com, a civic initiative helping to get mail to Russian-held political prisoners (the numbers at the end, are year of birth which is normally required when writing to prisoners)
Афанасьеву Геннадию Сергеевичу, 1990 г.р. post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com
Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р.
Сенцову Олегу Геннадиевичу, 1976 г.р. post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com
Солошенко Юрию Даниловичу post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com