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21.08.2019 | Halya Coynash

6-year sentence in Russian-occupied Crimea for civic activism and a social media post

Yevhen Karakashev in 'court' talking to his lawyer, Alexei Ladin Photo Vladyslav Ryazantsev, RFERL2
   

Crimean activist Yevhen Karakashev was arrested in early February, 2018, hours before public hearings into a controversial land development which he had vocally opposed.  The development went ahead, and  Karakashev has been imprisoned ever since. Although he is one of many Ukrainians under Russian occupation to have been convicted under Russia’s ‘terrorism’ legislation, the charges aroused concern from the outset, and Karakashev’s lawyer, Alexei Ladin,  is convinced that his client was targeted because of his civic activism.  Following the Russian Supreme Court’s refusal on 15 August to revoke or, at least, reduce Karakashev’s six-year sentence, Ladin says that the next step now will be the European Court of Human Rights.

Yevhen Karakashev, who is turning 41 on 21 August, is an anarchist activist from Yevpatoria who has taken part in pickets calling for the release of Oleksandr Kolchenko, Oleg Sentsov and other political prisoners.  Plain-clothes officers burst into home on 1 February 2018,  forced him to the floor, with his arms behind his back in handcuffs.  There was a long period in police custody before he was able to phone a friend and ask for a lawyer to be contacted, and it seems likely that the multiple abrasions and other injuries were sustained during that period.  The Russian-controlled police, however, have refused to initiate proceedings over his injuries in custody.

The ‘terrorism’ charges pertained solely to very old posts on the social network VKontakte.  Russia’s FSB claimed that the posts fell under Article 205.2 of Russia’s criminal code which punishes for something called ‘public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism’.  Incitement to terrorism is, doubtless, bad, but there is nothing to suggest that any of the material contained anything of the kind. In a chat with other Crimean anarchists in January 2017, for example, it was claimed that Karakashev’s words at one point had “contained linguistic and psychological signs of incitement to carry out violent, destructive actions (blowing up cars, buildings, state authorities)”. 

Karakashev says that he had simply asked the other participants in the chat whether they thought the actions of the so-called Prymorsky Partisans made sense.  The ‘partisans’ in question were six vigilantes who waged a bloody war against the Russian police.  Whatever one’s opinion of the tactics used by the vigilantes, it is clearly absurd to call a discussion of the methods ‘incitement to terrorism’.

He was also charged over a video posted at the end of 2014 of the last interview given by the Prymorsky Partisans who explained that they had declared war on the police because of the brutality and corruption entrenched in the Russian police force.  The video was declared ‘extremist’ by a court in Russia, and copies of the interview posted on social media before the court ruling and forgotten, are used, when the FSB can’t find another pretext, for questionable prosecutions. Ladin notes that, in this case, the reposted video had only been viewed once, which he sees as confirmation that it was only ever an excuse for arresting his client.

There are also strong grounds for believing that the one real ‘witness’ gave his testimony under duress. 

Karakashev was jailed for six years on 19 April 2019 by the same North Caucuses Military Court in Rostov which has already sentenced Oleg Sentsov; Oleksandr Kolchenko; Ruslan Zeytullaev and many other Ukrainian political prisoners.  The sentence was upheld by the Russian Supreme Court on 15 August.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre added Karakashev to its list of likely victims of political persecution fairly early, with the human rights group saying that there is a strong likelihood that “the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea.”   They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists since January 2018. 

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