Misleading headlines over extradition of Sentsov & other Ukrainian hostages
The headlines announcing imminent release of Crimean filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and other Ukrainians held illegally in Russia were at very least premature. Statements about Nadiya Savchenko’s possible return also made the headlines earlier, but have yet to come to anything, despite the 34-year-old now being on a total hunger strike and demands from all democratic countries for her release.
The news that Russia’s Justice Ministry had instructed the Penitentiary Service to collect papers for possible extradition of four Ukrainians also coincided with news of renewed attempts to foist Russian citizenship on at least one of the Crimean political prisoners Gennady Afanasyev. He was advised by his lawyer to make the following statement on video: “I am a Ukrainian citizen and all attempts to foist Russian citizenship upon me are against my will.”
The news about pressure on Afanasyev was disturbing given the recent acknowledgement by Russian Ombudsperson Ella Panfilova that Crimeans Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are Ukrainian nationals. Russia has tried to claim that the two ‘automatically became Russian nationals’ and the recognition that this could not be maintained in the face of Russian and international law was seen as a possible step towards extradition.
How much of an achievement the announcement from the Justice Ministry is remains to be seen. Ukraine had on March 10 formally asked for the extradition of Sentsov, Kolchenko, Afanasyev, as well as 73-year-old Yury Soloshenko. Such extradition of prisoners is agreed under a bilateral agreement, and Russia was obliged to make a response within a month.
It has, however, illegally refused to extradite Khaiser Dzhemiliev, son of the veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev, whom it is clearly holding as a hostage, and optimism was not high.
The apparent acceptance of extradition as a possibility was, according to Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, unexpected. While the move is doubtless to be welcomed, he and the other lawyers are restrained in their response.
Dinze points out that the extradition procedure can take almost a year and that there is no guarantee that Russia will not change its mind.
Svetlana Sidorkina, Kolchenko’s lawyer, repeats the Penitentiary Service’s statement, namely that the final decision lies with the court.
She does, however, assume that the “court will pass a ruling in accordance with instructions from above”.
There is also concern for the health of one of the four prisoners. As reported here, Yury Soloshenko, who turns 74 on May 6, has recently been moved back into a normal cell, despite a recent diagnosis of cancer, on top of ongoing heart and other health issues. The elderly pensioner was sentenced to 6 years maximum security prison on absurd spying charges and effectively prevented from receiving proper legal defence (details here).
There is immediate and very real concern for the life of Nadiya Savchenko whose universally condemned 22-year sentence has now come into force. As she had earlier stated to be her intention, she has now gone on dry hunger strike, and the Russian authorities are not allowing Ukrainian or foreign doctors to examine her.
The Russian Justice Ministry had earlier suggested that Savchenko’s extradition could be discussed if Ukraine recognized the verdict passed by a Russian court and guaranteed that she would serve her sentence in Ukraine.
Although it appears that prisoners do not have to accept guilt to be eligible for extradition, the extradition of prisoners does mean that the person serves the sentence in their own country.
Four Ukrainians who opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea, were arrested, tortured and taken illegally to Moscow.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years on entirely non-existent ‘terrorism’;
Oleksandr Kolchenko was sentenced on almost the same charges to 10 years;
Gennady Afanasyev - to 7 years (as was Oleksiy Chirniy, however his family did not make the relevant application enabling the extradition request).
Yury Soloshenko would be 80 if he lived to the end of a sentence for ‘spying’ he could not have committed;
Nadiya Savchenko was abducted to Russia after being captured by Kremllin-backed militants in Ukraine. She had already been captured when the event Russia accused her of involvement in happened. The court rejected most of the evidence of an alibi and other material which demonstrated the insanity of the charges. She was sentenced to 22 years.
How could any of these sentences be carried out?
All western countries have stressed that Savchenko, Sentsov and all Ukrainians held illegally in Russia must be released.
We can only hope that plans are underway to release these Ukrainian hostages, and that the extradition procedure has been announced to enable the Kremlin to save face. Unfortunately, there were constant attempts before to claim that the Kremlin was not in control, and that everything hinged on a ‘court’ ruling. Here too we are hearing that ‘papers are being gathered’ but that it is a court that will eventually decide.
The Kremlin has lost any right to be believed.
Please write to the Ukrainian hostages! Look on this site for previous reports about all of the above hostages, Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh; Serhiy Lytvynov; Valentin Vyhivsky and Oleksandr Kostenko.
There are also at least 13 prisoners in Russian-occupied Crimea, however writing to them is harder.