Russian thought police interrogate activist over letters to Ukrainian political prisoner
Officers from Russia’s so-called Centre for fighting extremism have appeared at the home of activist Tatyana Kasyanova and interrogated her over her correspondence with Ukrainian political prisoner Oleksandr Shumkov. This visitation comes two or three months after all letters stopped coming from Shumkov, probably blocked by the prison censor.
Kasyanova told OVD.info that local officers arrived at her home in the Moscow Region, saying that they had received orders from Moscow to question her about her correspondence with Shumkov. They wanted to know how she knew the Ukrainian; where she had found his address in prison; why she was writing specifically to him; how long this had been going on; and whether they had ever met. Kasyanova writes to other political prisoners as well, however it was the correspondence with Shumkov that prompted this intrusion.
Lyudmila Shumkova learned on 9 March that a letter they had sent to her nephew had not got past the censor. She said that this was the second time she was aware of, and believes it likely that this also explains why they have not received any letters from Shumkov for so long, with those also probably blocked by the censor. This is, of course, in breach of international standards, however so too was Russia’s abduction of Shumkov and politically motivated imprisonment.
Shumkov went on hunger strike in October 2019, demanding “an end to blackmail using us prisoners at negotiations in Minsk and the Normandy format”, and also that the Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova finally react to his letters and those from her Ukrainian counterpart, Ludmila Denisova. He accused Russia of “blackmailing our people, linking the question of prisoners exchanges with the withdrawal of forces and introduction of amendments to Ukraine’s Constitution.”
Shumkov’s lawyer Alexei Baranovsky reported on 25 October that he had visited the Ukrainian in the prison hospital in Torzhok, Tver oblast to where Shumkov had been moved on 22 October.. He noted that there had been some constructive moves with regard to the prison authorities and the Russian Ombudsperson, and he believed Shumkov might end his hunger strike, which he appears to have done.
There remain many unanswered questions about how Shumkov came to be in Russian custody, but he does appear to have been abducted in late August 2017 from the Kherson oblast and taken by force across the border. He had been serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces since 2014 and, since he is a lawyer by profession, had been working as an investigator for the military prosecutor of the Kherson Garrison. It is believed that he set off for a meeting with an informer who was supposed to provide information about supplies of drugs smuggled from the Kremlin-backed ‘republics’ in Donbas to government-controlled oblasts. The car in which he was driving came under attack near the Russian-Ukrainian border, with a laser gun used against Shumkov, who was taken, unconscious, into Russia.
Although the Russian authorities deny this abduction, as they have others, there is no possibility that Shumkov would have crossed voluntarily into Russia. He had taken part in Euromaidan and in 2014 had been a guard for Dmytro Yarosh, the then leader of Right Sector and one of the people Russia most demonized as its aggression against Ukraine mounted. All of this, as well as his role in the military, meant that Shumkov could have been in no doubt of the danger he would face in Russia.
He was charged under Article 282.2 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code with taking part in Right Sector in Ukraine, this deemed ‘involvement in an extremist organization which has been banned by a [Russian] court’ . The report from Russia’s Investigative Committee did not mention that these ‘extremism’ charges were in connection with activities on Ukrainian, not Russian, territory which were in no way illegal in Ukraine.
The Bryansk Oblast Investigative Committee and the courts were equally unperturbed by the evidence that Shumkov had in fact left Right Sector a couple of months before the Russian court ruling in November 2014 that declared Right Sector illegal.
The investigators claimed that Shumkov “took an active part in the activities of the Ukrainian extremist organization ‘Right Sector’ directed against the interests of the Russian Federation and encroaching upon its territorial integrity”.
During his final address in December, Shumkov noted that he was accused of activities which he had never denied – involvement in Euromaidan and then in Ukraine’s operation against the militants in Donbas. By bringing criminal charges based on the assertion that such activities “threatened Russia’s interests”, he said, “the Russian Federation is acknowledging its presence on Ukrainian territory”. During the first ‘trial’, Shumkov also pointed out the absurdity of a situation whereby Russia’s Supreme Court ruling banning Right Sector in Russia was being treated as a carte blanche for imposing a ban on Right Sector in other countries.
On 31 January 2019 three Bryansk Regional Court judges – Inessa Belova, Vladimir Zenichev and Olga Mazova upheld the original 4-year sentence passed on 4 December, 2018 by Viktor Rukhmakov, from the Sevsk District Court in the Bryansk oblast. The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre had recognized Shumkov as a political prisoner back in April 2018, both because of his almost certain abduction and because the charges were legally nonsensical.
Please write to Oleksandr Shumkov!
Letters need to be in Russian and on ‘neutral subjects’. If this is difficult, the following can be cut and pasted.
Желаю Вам здоровья и терпения, и очень надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.
[Hi. I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ]
Address (the name is at the end, together with year of birth. There will be more chance of it getting through if the name is written in the Russian manner (Alexander)
Russian Federation, 172011, Tver oblast, Torzhok, 79 Staritskaya St, Prison Colony No. 4,
Shumkov, Alexander Sergeevich, b. 1989