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11.05.2017 | Halya Coynash

Speak out for those whom Russia stops from being at Eurovision

#NoEurovisionFor Akhtem Chiygoz, Ferat Saifullaev
   

Spare a thought for the 44 Ukrainian political prisoners who cannot be at the Eurovision competition currently underway in Kyiv, nor even see it from their prisons in Russia, or Russian-occupied Crimea.  Most have not seen their families for a long time and it could be decades before they return home unless international pressure can be brought to bear on Russia.

This is why Ukrainian activists have launched the initiative #NoEurovisionFor  They stress that they are not trying to ‘politicize’ Eurovision.  This is a call to solidarity with people persecuted for their words, or their faith, or simply victims of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine.  This Eurovision is about celebrating diversity and that must include those whom, for one reason or other, Russia is persecuting like so-called ‘dissidents’ in the Soviet Union.  

The activists are reaching out to visitors to Kyiv and handing out information about prisoners like Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz and the very many others.  On their website, they invite people to help share information about political prisoners, via social networks or any other channels.

Of particular importance is the fact that for the first time, we are able to donate money to help the families of the 44 prisoners, many of whom have small children.  As reported here, there are currently 69 children in occupied Crimea, many of whom were themselves deeply traumatized when armed and masked Russian enforcement officers burst into their homes and took their fathers away in handcuffs. 

After many months when children would wait in the court building, hoping to see their father when he was brought to the court for detention hearings, the occupation regime began making all such hearings closed to all but the men’s lawyers. 

The activists are also inviting people – both those now in Kyiv and others concerned about Ukrainian prisoners of the Kremlin – to join in creating a European network which could, if needed, translate texts, organize pickets, etc.

Of the 44 political prisoners whom Russia is holding, most are from Crimea, including the very first political prisoner whose case was only learned about recently.  13 men, including renowned filmmaker Oleg Sentsov are either serving huge sentences or imprisoned facing trial on ‘terrorism’ or ‘sabotage’ charges, despite no acts of terrorism or sabotage in Crimea under Russian occupation.  In all cases, the only ‘evidence’ is from men held incommunicado and totally under the control of the FSB.  Many have since stated clearly that the ‘testimony’ was extracted through torture.

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov; civic activist Oleksander Kolchenko & Oleksiy Chirniy

It is exactly three years since the Russian FSB arrested them and Gennady Afanasyev (since released on health grounds) on totally spurious terrorist plot charges.  The men had peacefully opposed Russia’s occupation, and the case has been condemned as “ideologically motivated terror” against dissent.   

‘Crimean sabotage’ plots

In August 2016, the FSB came up with the first of two new ‘Crimean saboteur’ plots’.  In the two, seemingly unrelated, ‘cases’, 10 men have so far been arrested,  Yevhen Panov, Andriy ZakhteiRedvan Suleimanov and Volodymyr Prysich were seized in August, with all forced to give ‘confessions’ before cameras.  Panov and Zakhtei retracted all testimony when finally, only after the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, allowed to see lawyers, and both have spoken of the torture they were subjected to.

Two academics - Dmytro Shtyblikov and Oleksiy Bessarabov - were arrested in Sevastopol together with a retired Ukrainian military officer Volodymyr Dudka.  The FSB claimed that they were “members of a sabotage – terrorist group of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Central Intelligence Department” who were planning acts of sabotage on military and other infrastructure”. Two much younger Crimeans  - Oleksiy Stohniy and Hlib Shabliy were arrested 10 days later, with this followed on Nov 24 by the arrest of Leonid Parkhomenko, a long-retired Black Sea Fleet captain. 

Only one of the 6 men arrested in November – Volodymyr Dudka – has been able to see a lawyer of his choice and it is telling that he is the only person who has formally retracted previously given ‘confessions’.

Crimean Muslims

19 Crimean Muslims, most of them Crimean Tatars, are in indefinite custody, with four already convicted.  All are accused of involvement in the pan-Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine.  Russia has provided no evidence that Hizb ut-Tahrir is ‘terrorist’ and there is no proof of any act of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world. 

Crimean Tatar Ruslan Zeytullaev was recently sentenced to 12 years after the FSB objected to the first ‘light’ sentence since they needed a leader for their unproven Hizb ut-Tahrir group.  The same military court in Rostov obliged the second time, despite the lack of any evidence and the fundamental illegality of the prosecution.

Emir-Usein Kuku is almost certainly imprisoned because of his human rights activities, and after an attempted abduction only turned into an FSB ‘search’ after Kuku’s cries for help attracted attention.  It is likely that other men, such as Muslim Aliev, were arrested for their strong civic position, while Vadim Siruk was quite possibly targeted as an ethnic Ukrainian to warn others against converting to Islam. 

It should be stressed that the 15 men still in custody in Crimea are now facing huge sentences on no grounds at all.

The ’26 February 2014 case’: Akhtem Chiygoz, Ali Asanov, Mustafa Degermendzhy

If Russia was hoping for a show trial against Akhtem Chiygoz, the highest-ranking Mejlis leader in Crimea since its head Refat Chubarov was banned from his homeland, it should have come up with something less openly lawless.  Chiygoz has been in custody for over 2 years, and Asanov and Degermendzhy were held in prison for almost 2 years before being released under house arrest.  This is despite the fact that the charges against them are over a pre-annexation demonstration and are even in breach of Russia’s own legislation, as well as fundamental principles of jurisdiction.  Only Crimean Tatars are targeted although there were also pro-Russian demonstrators, and most of the violence in fact is seen from among their activists.

Mykola Shyptur, a Maidan activist has been held prisoner in Crimea since March 9, 2014.  Shyptur ended up in prison following an attack and attempted abduction by the armed paramilitaries who helped Russian soldiers take control of Crimea and who are believed to have been behind the enforced disappearances of pro-Ukrainian activists.  He showed resistance which may well have saved his life, since the police were forced to react.  Even though Shyptur was clearly the victim, he ended up sentenced on trumped-up charges to 9 years.

Revenge for Euromaidan:  Oleksandr Kostenko, Andriy Kolomiyets.

Both men were convicted on absurd and unprovable charges linked with Euromaidan in Kyiv, well before annexation.  The men’s allegations of torture, backed in Kostenko’s case by his broken arm and other injuries, were ignored, as were the multiple irregularities.

Pro-Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh has been in custody since December 2016 on preposterous charges.

As well as the Crimeans illegally held in Russian prisons, there are also Ukrainians from other parts of Ukraine held, some after effectively being abducted, in Russia.

Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh were seized and held incommunicado for 18 months and 10 months, respectively.  During that time, under torture, they signed confessions to insane ‘crimes’ allegedly committed in 1994-1995, together with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and other prominent Ukrainian politicians.  Despite the fact that the charges are refuted by historical fact, and that the men retracted all testimony as given under torture, when finally allowed to see lawyers, they were sentenced to 22.5 and 20 years.  There are very serious concerns about Klykh who has been systematically driven insane through torture, psychotropic drugs and the Stalinist insanity of the ‘trial’.

Similar torture was applied to obtain the secret trials and 11-year sentence of Valentin Vyhivsky and 12-year sentence of Viktor Shur.  Serhiy Lytvynov is serving an 8.5 year sentence on a second surreal charge, after the late Viktor Parshutkin, helped by Ukrainian activists, proved that Lytvynov’s ‘confessions’ to heinous war crimes had been extracted through torture. 

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