A Rotten Plot: Oleg Sentsov refuses to take part in Russian ‘terrorism trial’ farce
Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov and anti-fascist activist Oleksandr Kolchenko both gave testimony on Thursday, but refused to take any further part in the proceedings which Sentsov openly calls a “concert”, not a court trial. Both men’s account of FSB tactics, including torture to obtain ‘confessions’ coincided with that given by Gennady Afanasyev, one of the two other opponents of Russia’s occupation of Crimea who last week retracted his earlier testimony as having been given under torture. Afanasyev, who also spoke of threats from the FSB against himself and his mother, was taken back to prison on Thursday despite the clear concerns that his retraction and account of torture raise about the case and his personal safety (details here).
Sentsov, Kolchenko, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy were all arrested in May 2014 and held incommunicado for around 2 weeks before being taken to Moscow and charged with involvement in, and Sentsov with organizing a ‘terrorist plot’ in Crimea. The FSB claim that two firebomb attacks on the offices of pro-Russian organizations at night, causing minimal damage, were terrorist acts “aimed at destabilizing the situation in Crimea” and allege that Sentsov masterminded them. The prosecution also claims that Chirniy and Afanasyev were planning to blow up a Lenin monument and the Eternal Flame, with this supposedly on Sentsov’s instructions Kolchenko is charged only with one of the firebomb incidents, but the left-wing anarchist is also alleged to have been part of a far-right Right Sector plot
Oleg Sentsov spoke first.
“Your Honour, I have already stated that I do not consider this court to be legitimate. We are citizens of Ukraine who were arrested on the territory of our country, and we are being tried on fabricated charges. I don’t, however, feel any animosity to you and other parties to this trial.
A lot of lies have already been spoken here and I therefore feel it necessary to clarify certain things, but I do not plan to later take part in these proceedings.
I consider myself a Maidan activist, but that does not mean that I am a criminal. Maidan was the main deed that I have carried out in my life, but that does not mean that I’m a radical, burned ‘Berkut’ riot police or drank anybody’s blood. We drove out our criminal President. When your country occupied Crimea, I returned there and engaged in the same volunteer work as on Maidan. I spoke with hundreds of people. We considered what to do next but I never called on anybody to carry out actions that could have led to deaths. I did not create terrorist organizations, and I certainly had nothing to do with ‘Right Sector’.
He explains how he helped foreign journalists and Ukrainian soldiers held under siege (by the Russian military and paramilitaries) and tried to find activists who had gone missing. Some they never found, and he assumes they are no longer alive.
He was detained on May 10 in the entrance to his apartment block, thrown into a minivan and taken with a bag over his head to the former SBU building where he was subjected to a brutal interrogation. “They began kicking me and hitting me with batons, while I was lying and sitting. When I refused to speak, they began using suffocation.
I had seen this many times in the cinema and didn’t understand how people caved in. But it is very frightening, your Honour. They threatened to rape me with a baton, to take me to a forest and bury me there. After about four hours they got tired and took me for a search. It was only then that I discovered that they were from the FSB. They expected to see terrorists and weapons and found only my child. She was present during the search which is not mentioned in the protocol. The money found was money from my film company for filming my ‘Rhino’.
He pointed out that the FSB had found nothing in his computer, or his telephone, “no links with any right-wing radicals”, yet six months later the investigators “unexpectedly found’ some kind of instructions on terrorism.
Throughout these hearings, he says, Chirniy’s name has been heard far more than his. Does the court seriously believe, after hearing the tape (of a conversation between Chirniy and an FSB informer) that if Sentsov had been planning to commit a terrorist act, he would have entrusted it to a person like Chirniy? “So that he would mess it all up?”
“I have said everything and do not wish to take any part in this trial or answer questions from the court or prosecutor. Thank you for hearing me out, your Honour.”
Oleksandr Kolchenko also denied taking part in any terrorist group or in any actions aimed at destabilizing the situation or influencing the authorities. He pointed out that he held anarchist anti-fascist views which clashed with those of the far-right Right Sector he is accused of being a part of. He had only met Chirniy a few times earlier, during excavations they both took part in, and clearly shares Sentsov’s low opinion of Chirniy’s ability to behave in an adequate and rational fashion.
He participated in the second firebomb incident (keeping a look out) in order to cause material damage to the United Russia party since he was against what was happening in Crimea and the party in question had “allowed Putin to bring in troops”.
Kolchenko then also stated that he would not take any further part in the trial, however did intervene once after the prosecutor read out the protocol from Kolchenko’s first interrogation on May 16, 2014. This states that Kolchenko fully admits guilt.
Kolchenko explained that he had been detained in the early evening, beaten around the face and body at a “preliminary interrogation” which was not officially recorded. Later, when formally giving testimony, there was a lawyer appointed by the investigators present. The latter, Kolchenko says, gave him wrong information, not explaining what the articles of the criminal code were that he was charged with. He answered a couple of questions clarifying his statement: he repeated that he had signed the first protocol because the lawyer provided misled him, and that he had been beaten before the protocol was drawn up.
Two weeks into the Sentsov-Kolchenko trial, with Sentsov facing up to a life sentence and Kolchenko up to 20 years, the case looks even worse than it did at the beginning, and that was bad.
There is evidence against Chirniy of involvement in both firebomb attacks and plans to obtain and use explosive devices, causing damage to a Lenin monument and, seemingly, the Eternal Flame. He also talks, in the park to a supposed friend turned FSB informer, about some vague and grandiose plans to commit bigger acts.
There is nothing in the material, aside from Chirniy’s testimony to implicate Sentsov or Kolchenko. This testimony changes over the months with some telling discrepancies. The lack of any real evidence is especially significant given that Chirniy was under surveillance and there is a recorded conversation on the subject. Chirniy previously told the Ukrainian consul that he had been subjected to torture.
The other person who testified against Sentsov, and indirectly, Kolchenko has retracted his testimony, apologizing for his weakness and reporting torture, as well as heavy pressure and threats both immediately before his appearance on July 31, and after it.
This places Chirniy’s testimony in question in a case where there is effectively nothing else to substantiate the charges of ‘terrorism’ against the defendants.