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The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Trial of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko: First Day

Halya Coynash
Details from the hearing in Rostov on the Don into the ‘terrorist plot’ charges against film director Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko

Details from the hearing in Rostov on the Don into the ‘terrorist plot’ charges against film director Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko

The trial has begun in Rostov on the Don of renowned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and Ukrainian left-wing activist Oleksandr Kolchenko.  Russia is charging them with ‘terrorism’ and they are likely to receive up to 20 year sentences despite the lack of any real acts of terrorism or evidence.  They have been recognized as political prisoners by Memorial, and their release has been demanded by, among others, the European Union, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

The defence lawyers were forced to sign undertakings not to divulge any information about the case, and it appears that the testimony of three ‘witnesses’ in volume 10 will still be classified as secret.  This is of particular concern given the degree to which this trial must already hinge on the testimony of two other men – Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy who received minimum sentences after agreeing to ‘cooperate’ with the prosecution.  All four men were known for their opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.   

The trial is being heard by the North Caucuses Military Court in Rostov on the Don, following a change in Russian law placing all charges of terrorism under military court jurisdiction.

The hearing began inauspiciously with the court rejecting two applications for people to be accepted as civic defenders.  Kolchenko’s lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina had asked for Rostov activist Vladislav Ryazantsev, and Sentsov’s lawyer Dmitry Dinze, for Sentsov’s cousin Natalya Kochneva.  The prosecution objected on grounds which Dinze pointed out are in breach of Russia’s Criminal Procedure Code and Constitution.  Any person is entitled to act as civic defender, in addition to the lawyers.  The court ignored this and turned down both applications.

Secret information

Dinze fortunately raised the issue of classified material in the case.  Supported by Sentsov’s other lawyer, Vladimir Samokhin and Sidorkina, he asked that the court explain which specific information is classified as secret.   The hearings over such material will be closed, but clearly the defence must know what it is they are not allowed to divulge. 

This secret information is of major concern.  Sentsov and Kolchenko are both civilians with no access to state secrets.  They are accused of involvement in a ‘terrorist organization’ yet the two men already sentenced were convicted of two incidents in April in which Molotov cocktails were thrown into pro-Russian buildings at night, causing minor damage and an alleged attempt to blow up a monument to Vladimir Lenin.  Aside from the vague ‘terrorist plot’ charges,  Kolchenko is accused only of one of the Molotov cocktail incidents), and Sentsov seemingly only of ‘masterminding’ the plot.  Under such circumstances, any secrecy is unacceptable.

The judge has promised only to specify procedure for hearing the classified material.

Ukrainian citizens

The defence asked for the two men to be allowed a visit from the Ukrainian consul (Hennady Breskalenko who was present at the hearing) with Dinze asking also for permission for Sentsov’s relatives to visit him. 

The prosecution had no objection to family visits but claimed that the two men were Russian citizens and could not see Ukraine’s consul.

Neither Sentsov nor Kolchenko signed any document asking for Russian citizenship, and both have adamantly rejected all attempts to foist this citizenship on them.

See: Imprisoned Crimean Activist takes Russia to Strasbourg over forced citizenship

The court allowed the application about a visit from relatives, but said that the consul’s visit could only be arranged after “resolution of this case on its merits”, as in after the court issues its verdict.

The court is due to read out the indictment against both men who deny all the charges.  Sentsov made it clear in court, as he has on previous occasions, that he does not consider this to be a court or a trial. 

Two people with ‘victim’ status are also scheduled to be questioned on Monday: Andrei Kozenko and Alexandr Bocharev from the Russian Society, one of the organizations which had a Molotov cocktail thrown at it. Details about its activists around the period of Russia’s invasion can be found here.  Kozenko is currently being questioned.

More details about the charges, etc., here: Final act in Russian reprisal against Sentsov and Kolchenko imminent

Further details here: Sentsov & Kolchenko face 20-year sentences for non-existent ’terrorism’


Photo: Radio Svoboda

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