war crimes in Ukraine

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Russia intensifies reprisals against Crimean political prisoner Gennady Afanasyev

Halya Coynash
Gennady Afanasyev has been moved to a ‘prison-type cell’, one of the worst forms of punishment in the Russian prison system. This is the latest of constant moves aimed at making the conditions of his imprisonment unendurable since the young Crimean retracted his testimony against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko

Gennady Afanasyev has been moved to a ‘prison-type cell’, one of the worst forms of punishment in the Russian prison system.  This is the latest of constant moves aimed at making the conditions of his imprisonment unendurable since the young Crimean retracted his testimony against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko.  A local Russian lawyer representing him is also facing charges relating to a gathering in memory of slain Kremlin critic and politician Boris Nemtsov almost a year ago.

Afanasyev’s lawyer Alexander Popkov explains that the 25-year-old has been moved to a separate prison 100 kilometres from the prison colony where he had been.  It is not clear as yet for how long.  The conditions are especially harsh and he is allowed only one hour’s walk a day.  He can also receive only one parcel in 6 months and have only one short visit.  All of this is of critical importance given the terrible conditions in such prisons. 

Popkov had reported earlier that at the beginning of February Afanasyev and his entire unit in the prison colony had been subjected to a search.  When the prisoners were returning, Afanasyev was stopped and a sim-card ‘found’ in his pocket.  The last time, a razor blade was planted in the same way and used as a pretext for throwing Afanasyev into a punishment cell.  Popkov’s fears that this was a ploy to further toughen Afanasyev’s conditions have proven well-founded. 

At the time, Popkov explained that there is too much international attention as well as from local human rights activists for the authorities to resort to torture or other forms of violence.  Instead, they concoct reasons for imposing ‘penalties’, refuse to provide medical care, etc. 

Afanasyev became the Russian “FSB’s Enemy No. 1” when he stood up at the trial of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and retracted all testimony against them given under torture.  He has recently called that date, July 31, 2015, the day of his personal liberation.  It was an act of courage for which he has paid.  He was sent to a harsh regime prison colony in the republic of Komi and has repeatedly faced punishment on trumped up charges.

On Feb 3, Ernest Mezak, a local lawyer representing Afanasyev was detained and charged with holding an unauthorized meeting in memory of the slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.  Since that meeting was almost a year ago, on March 1, 2015, it seems clear that the harassment is linked with Mezak’s defence of Gennady Afanasyev. 

Earlier in February Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement of protest, adding that the Ukrainian consul has not been allowed to visit the young man for the last 2 months. 

On Feb 12, a court in Syktyvkar (where the prison is) is scheduled to consider Afanasyev’s appeal against his being held in a prison so far from his home and family.  With Sentsov now being moved to the Far East (to Yakutia, not Irkutsk as first reported), Kolchenko to the Chelyabinsk region, the prospects for a successful outcome of this hearing are not good.

Gennady Afanasyev, Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko have all been recognized by the Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners.  Their release, and that of Oleksy Chirniy, the fourth Crimean arrested in May 2014, has been demanded by all democratic countries and international bodies and is part of the commitments made under the Minsk Agreement. 

The four men all opposed Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.  They were arrested in May 2014, and held incommunicado for a few weeks, probably to conceal the signs of torture.  On May 30 the FSB or Russian Security Service claimed that they had been involved in a ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’. 

Sentsov and Kolchenko denied all charges from the outset and spoke consistently of having been tortured to force ‘confessions’ out of them.  Sentsov, who is older, an internationally renowned film director as well as an Automaidan activist, was told that if he didn’t give the testimony they demanded, they would make him the ‘mastermind’ of their fictitious plot and he would die in Russian captivity.

Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years on Aug 25, Kolchenko to 10 years after a trial where it became clear from the first day that the prosecution had absolutely nothing against the men. The Memorial Human Rights Centre issued a statement in which it condemned the trial and recognized Sentsov and Kolchenko as political prisoners

The case entirely hinged on the two ‘confessions’. For (initially) agreeing to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators, both Afanasyev and Chirniy were tried separately and received the minimum sentence for ‘terrorism’. It should be stressed, and Memorial has, that none of the charges against any of the four constitute ‘terrorism’, and even the 7-year sentences are unwarranted. 

Afanasyev only received assistance from Alexander Popkov, a real lawyer, as to one of the purely nominal lawyers provided by the investigators, after his appearance on July 31, 2015.  Popkov later passed on to the court and Ukrainian public details about the earlier torture, and the pressure Afanasyev had been put under before appearing in the courtroom. See: Tortured for testimony against Sentsov-Kolchenko in Russia’s ‘Crimean terrorist plot’ trial.

Despite the testimony which very clearly put Afanasyev in danger and lack of any other evidence, the court went along with the scenario imposed from above, and sentenced Sentsov to 20 years imprisonment and Kolchenko to 10 years.

Please write postcards or letters to all four men.  If you can write in Russian, do, but avoid any discussion of the case or politics.  If not, the following would be fine  (cut and paste the words in Russian, and the same below with the addresses)

Добрый день,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.   Держитесь!

Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  You are not forgotten.  [The last word is like ‘hang in there’)

You can send your letters to post.rozuznik[at], a civic initiative helping to get mail to Russian-held political prisoners  They will deal with writing the envelope and sending it on.  Just cut and paste the names as given below (the year of birth after their name is required by the prison service),

Gennady Afanasyev 

By email:  post.rozuznik[at]

OR:  send by post to :  Афанасьеву Геннадию Сергеевичу, 1990 г.р. - ФКУ ИК-31 УФСИН России по Республике Коми,  169060, Усть-Вымский район, г. Микунь, ул. Восточная.

Oleg Sentsov

Сенцову Олегу Геннадиевичу, 1976 г.р.  post.rozuznik[at] 

Oleksandr Kolchenko

Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р. post.rozuznik[at] 

Oleksy Chirniy

Чирнию Алексею Владимировичу, 1981 г.р.  post.rozuznik[at] 


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