• Topics / Against torture and ill-treatment
• Topics / The right to a fair trial
Kremlin-backed Donbas militants threaten to execute Ukrainian prisoners
Yevhen Chudnetsov in Feb 2015
A spokesperson for the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’[‘DNR’] has claimed that the militants are not holding any civilians nor anybody illegally. All those in custody, Darya Morozova asserts, are ‘under investigation’, and could be sentenced to death. The remarks come on the eve of the first anniversary of the Minsk 2 Agreement, and less than two weeks after 60-year-old religious specialist Ihor Kozlovsky and volunteer Marina Cherenkova were both seized by the militants. Prominent DNR militant Alexander Khodokovsky is reported to have asserted that Kozlovsky, who is a much respected academic, could have been involved in “destabilizing the situation” and had “multiple contacts with various organizations in Ukraine engaged in destructive activities here”.
According to the Minsk Agreement, all persons illegally held must be exchanged, on an all for all basis. A recent planned exchange fell through, according to the Ukrainian side, because the militants suddenly put forward new and impossible demands. The militants in their turn blame Ukraine. Yury Tandit from the SBU [Security Service] centre trying to organize exchanges speaks of 130 people on its list of Ukrainians held hostage. The figure for people registered as missing is much higher - over 600.
Morozova, who calls himself the ‘DNR human rights ombudsperson’, was speaking to Yulya Polukhina, for an article in the Russian Novaya Gazeta. Her words have been widely discussed and commented on in Ukraine, so the lack of any retraction from Morozova or other militants suggests they do reflect the position currently taken.
Morozova had been asked to comment on the so-called 30-year ‘sentence’ passed on Yevhen Chudnetsov, a Ukrainian soldier from the Azov regiment who was captured in February 2015. The militants claim that he surrendered. Novaya Gazeta writes that the relatives of Chudnetsov, who is from the area, missed ‘the trial’ because this began half an hour earlier than scheduled. The ‘prosecutor’ had demanded the death penalty, so an appeal can in theory be lodged by either the defendant or the prosecution. This seems highly theoretical in Chudnetsov’s case, since he has not from the outset had a lawyer.
There is disturbingly little information about this so-called trial or what indeed Chudnetsov was charged with. There is, however, a video which was widely shown on all Russian propaganda channels. In it, Chudnetsov looks obviously as if he has been beaten, and has had around half his teeth knocked out. The torture he was almost certainly subjected to is not mentioned. Instead, it is claimed that he surrendered and then at this press conference voluntarily provides ‘information’ about the foreigners supposedly instructing Azov – from Georgia, Sweden and the USA or fighting as mercenaries, and the foreign weapons purportedly used.
Morozova was asked if people like Chudnetsov can be part of the list of people to be exchanged. She said that for the moment, no, and that they are working on the same principle as the Ukrainian authorities. She claims that they have 30 people convicted of periods from 15 years to life, and are in no hurry to pardon them. If they are not being handed over, she claims, then the militants “try them within the framework of our legislation. We do not in principle have prisoners of war, and the people who are in our custody are all facing charges. Procedural matters are underway, trials, and they will soon be convicted.
You meant all of those captured as prisoners of war can be tried?
Morozova chillingly goes on to claim that they are holding no more than 30 people (not the 133 that the SBU says), and that they have no civilian hostages. They have only prisoners of war, she claims, and says that they have ‘proof’ that these people really killed people, and that they were responsible for the death of civilians. She asserts that most of those still held were seized near Ilovaisk, and claims that some are accused of rape, murder and torture. Many Ukrainian soldiers died near Ilovaisk, after the militants’ promise of safe passage proved a treacherous lie. Neither then, nor on other occasions, was it only soldiers who were taken prisoner and tortured, as the experience of journalist Yevhen Vorobyov demonstrated.
Her list of prisoners from the militants’ side for exchange, she says, contained 1490 names. She asserts that they know definitely that these people are in detention in government-controlled territory, facing criminal charges. The SBU says that they are only aware of 465 people.
Morozova, in fact, calls 500 from the almost 1500-strong list “political prisoners”, and claims they are in detention either for involvement in the so-called ‘referendum’ on May 11, 2014, or spoke out in support of the self-proclaimed ‘republics’.
Asked about the prosecution’s demand for the death penalty in Chudnetsov’s case, Morozova confirms that yes, according to the ‘DNR criminal code’, the death penalty can be used, and may well be. The ‘DNR’ introduced its own ‘criminal code’ back in August 2014, with the death penalty for particularly grave crimes. In a second resolution passed by the so-called DPR ‘Council of Minsters’ on Aug 17, military courts and a system of military justice were introduced. More about these ‘military courts’ was revealed in November of that year with the list of ‘capital offences’ including insubordination, ‘state treason’, ‘spying’ and ‘desertion’, as well as looting, robbery, etc. Former Russian military intelligence officer and militant leader Igor Girkin recently confirmed extrajudicial executions, although in fact, his senior aide Igor Druz had confirmed this to the BBC back in August 2014. The main difference was that Girkin admitted only to killing ‘looters’, while Druz was entirely open, saying that the militants had killed a number of people “to prevent chaos”.
The militants are now claiming that they are not holding any hostages or others illegally, and claim that any people in their custody are under criminal investigation.
Like Ihor Kozlovsky, one presumes. Or people like Yevhen Chudnetsov, ‘sentenced’ to 30 years without a lawyer in a trial his family missed because it happened half an hour ahead of schedule.