Crimean activist detained for defence of political prisoners Sentsov & Kolchenko
"Today it’s them, tomorrow it could be any of us"
The organizer of a small picket calling for the release of, among others, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko was detained on Saturday in Russian-occupied Crimea. A protocol was drawn up, accusing him of ‘infringing the rules on holding a public gathering”.
The video here shows how the young men were simply standing in a row with placards in defence of political prisoners. The police appeared and demanded to see their ‘permit’. One of the men explained that they had sent notification of the planned picket, and had received a note saying that it had been sent elsewhere. They had not received the ‘permit’ that is expressly not required by Ukraine’s Constitution and implicitly not by Russia’s. After long discussion, they insisted that Oleksandr Shestakovych go with them to the police station. He now faces a fine or administrative arrest under Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation.
The protesters on this occasion were effectively outnumbered by the police, and the only heavy-handed measure was the administrative protocol against Shestakovych.
This was in marked contrast to the situation a month earlier, on June 4, when around 50 Crimeans were violently dispersed while trying to hold a peaceful protest. On that occasion, the greatest shock was probably experienced by Pavel Stepanchenko, a communist deputy in Alushta who had played an active role in supporting Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.
He and some other protesters were clearly confused by the brutal side suddenly demonstrated by the Russian authorities they had supported. They can be heard shouting “shame on Russia” and, much less comprehensibly, calling the police violently dispersing them “Banderovtsi!”. The latter refers to supporters of the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera and has long been used in all Russian and pro-Russian anti-Ukrainian rhetoric.
It was clear from the outset that even those Crimeans who had supported Russia’s annexation had no idea what this would entail, including the effective end to civic protest. Strictly in theory, protests can be agreed with the ‘authorities’. In practice, as the Autonomous Action people discovered on Saturday, such permission will not be forthcoming.
That leaves single-person pickets which do not need to be agreed. These may be allowed to continued, although that is also not guaranteed. As in Soviet times, the Russian FSB are good at using provocateurs to go up to a picketer and either cause trouble or simply refuse to leave, enabling the police to intervene, calling it ‘an unauthorized meeting”.
Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko (photo: Anton Naumlyuk)
Political prisoners in need of defence
Kolchenko, Sentsov and two other opponents of Russian annexation of Crimea – Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chirniy – were all arrested in May 2014 and held incommunicado for weeks before being taken to Russia in late May 2014. All four men were subjected to torture to extract ‘confessions’ of having 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 movement’s ‘plot’ was absurd.
Sentsov has consistently spoken of the torture he was subjected to and the threats that if he didn’t ‘confess’ to whatever they demanded, he would rot in a Russian prison. The FSB ‘investigators’ specifically threatened to increase the charges if he didn’t ‘cooperate’. He remained unbroken and was charged with being the mastermind of a ‘ultranationalist Right Sector terrorist group’ and planning various ‘terrorist acts’.
There were no specific charges, nor anything directly incriminating him in any offence, terrorist or otherwise. There was also nothing to link him with Right Sector.
Kolchenko was charged with taking part in the supposed ‘terrorist plot’, and with one specific offence – of taking part in an ‘arson attack’ on the office of the United Russia political party in Simferopol. The said attack involved throwing one Molotov cocktail at the offices late in the evening when nobody would be there.
Kolchenko has never denied his role in this, but does not agree that this was ‘terrorism’. In this he is supported by, among others, the Memorial Human Rights Centre which points out that similar acts in Russia have not been called ‘terrorism’, and have received sentences many times less.
The ‘evidence’ in the case was based solely on the testimony of Chirniy and Afanasyev. The latter took the stand in court on July 31, 2015 and retracted all previous testimony as given under torture, and later described the torture in detail.
The prosecutor Igor Tkachenko ignored all of this, as did the three judges: presiding judge Sergei Mikhailyuk, Viacheslav Korsakov and Edward Korobenko.
Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years, Kolchenko to 10. Both men were recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre within days of the trial’s commencement.
In June 2016 Afanasyev was released together with Yury Soloshenko in exchange for two Ukrainian nationals held by Ukraine on separatist charges. Any talk about a possible release of the others remains talk and Sentsov’s cousin Natalya Kaplan, who has just moved to Ukraine from Moscow, is not aware of any movement.
Please write to Oleksandr Kolchenko, Oleg Sentsov and Oleksiy Chirniy
If writing in Russian is a problem, the following would be fine.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним. Держитесь!
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’)
Please cut and paste the addresses OR send letters to post.rosuznik[at]gmail.com – this is a civic initiative helping to send letters to political prisoners
677004 г. Якутск, ул. Очиченко, д. 25.
Сенцову Олегу Геннадьевичу, 1976 г.р.
(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.
You can also send letters to Oleksiy Chirniy via post.rosuznik[at[gmail.com
Чирнию Алексею Владимировичу, 1981 г.р.