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29.03.2016 | Halya Coynash

Russia forced to admit that political prisoners Sentsov & Kolchenko are Ukrainian citizens

   

Russia has hopefully abandoned its extraordinary attempts to force Russian citizenship on Crimean political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko.  Outgoing Russian Ombudsperson Ella Panfilova has written in her  last,  2015 report that in response to Sentsov and Kolchenko’s complaints, “legal uncertainty regarding their citizenship has been removed and their Ukrainian citizenship recognized”.  There is, unfortunately, no mention of Gennady Afanasyev, convicted in the same politically motivated case, who was recently denied a visit from the Ukrainian consul. 

If Panfilova had not acknowledged the men’s Ukrainian nationality, the European Court of Human Rights would.  At least one application to the Court in Strasbourg, on behalf of Kolchenko, was lodged in April 2015.  It may in fact not be withdrawn since mere acknowledgement that Ukrainian political prisoners are Ukrainian does not necessarily mean that the other flagrant violations of the men’s rights will be removed. 

Four opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea – Sentsov, Kolchenko, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy - were arrested in May 2014.  They were almost certainly tortured before being taken illegally to Russia where all were convicted in profoundly flawed trials of involvement in a so-called ‘terrorist plot’. 

Only Chirniy had formally registered his rejection of Russian citizenship during the one month allowed for this after Russia’s annexation.  Whether all of the other three even knew of the one month time limit isn’t clear.  It is quite likely that they would in any case have refused to inform the aggressor state that they did not wish to take on its citizenship. 

The fact that Sentsov and Kolchenko had not carried out the procedure was cited by Russia as supposed grounds for ‘automatically’ making them Russian citizens.  Sentsov’s reaction to this, during a court hearing in July 2014, is worth hearing in full:

 “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  Crimea. I consider any agreements made by the illegitimate government of  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. “

The EU and all democratic countries have condemned Russia’s actions in holding the men in detention in Russia, and the trials of Sentsov and Kolchenko.  The same condemnation must apply to Afanasyev and Chirniy whose trials were less public since they had initially ‘confessed’.  Afanasyev was recognized as a political prisoner (as were Sentsov and Kolchenko) in August 2015 after he courageously retracted his testimony in court stating that it had been given under torture. 

Moscow’s motives for foisting Russian citizenship are clear, with this being an attempt to deprive the men of their right to protection under Ukrainian law and to deflect international attempt from the men’s imprisonment.  Ukraine recently formally demanded their extradition and Kolchenko’s lawyer believes that the acknowledgement that the men are all Ukrainians is an important factor.  It remains to be seen what Russia does, but that it is willing to breach bilateral agreements has already been seen in its refusal to return Khaiser Dzhemiliev, son of the veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev who is being used as a hostage.   

Panfilova also mentioned “evidence of violations at pre-trial investigation stage” saying that these were being analysed “for the purpose of determining possible further actions”.

All men are believed to have been subjected to torture with Afanasyev and Chirniy agreeing to ‘cooperate’ as a result.  Sentsov and Kolchenko refused throughout and have consistently denied all charges and spoken of the torture applied. 

There is no evidence of any ‘terrorist plot’ and the entire case was based on the testimony of Chirniy and Afanasyev.  The fact that the latter, at considerable risk to himself, retracted his testimony as extracted through torture and Chirniy refused to testify in court was ignored by the court which sentenced Sentsov to 20 years and Kolchenko to 10 years. 

All of this, and the compelling arguments presented by the Memorial Human Rights Centre for declaring Sentsov and Kolchenko political prisoners are simply ignored in Panfilova’s report, making the vague words about ‘possible further actions’ over violations seem very empty. 

It is of immense concern that no mention is made of Afanasyev at all since by the end of 2015 it was quite clear that he was – as warned by Memorial – facing reprisals in a Russian prison 2, 700 kilometres away from his native Crimea. 

There is now evidence, confirmed after a visit this week by lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina, that Kolchenko is also being subjected to unwarranted disciplinary measures including long periods in punishment cells. 

Oleg Sentsov has now arrived at the Yakutsk prison where he is to remain until Russia can be convinced to stop violating all international norms and human rights. 

It is especially worrying that all men have been sent so far from their homes, their lawyers, with Russia clearly trying to keep them out of the public eye. Sentsov’s lawyer Dmitry Dinze reports that a cassation appeal has also been passed to the Supreme Court via the Ombudsperson’s office, but any court ruling depends entirely on political decisions from the Kremlin. 

The men’s release and that of all Ukrainians illegally held in Russia is a requirement under the Minsk Agreement.

Please help to publicize their case and ask politicians in your country to put pressure on Moscow.   And write to the men!  Your letters and postcards tell them and the Kremlin that they are not forgotten.  (Please cut and paste the addresses in Russian). 

Oleg Sentsov

677004 г. Якутск, ул. Очиченко, д. 25.

Сенцову Олегу Геннадьевичу, 1976 г.р.

Oleksandr Kolchenko  (please enclose light-weight paper and an envelope, so that he can reply)

Россия 456612, Челябинская обл., Копейск, ул. Кемеровская, 20., Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р.

There is a small chance that Gennady Afanasyev will soon be moved, so please write to him and Oleksy Chirniy by sending 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 

Афанасьеву Геннадию Сергеевичу, 1990 г.р.

Oleksy Chirniy

Чирнию Алексею Владимировичу, 1981 г.р.  post.rozuznik[at]gmail.com

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