Sentsov’s lawyer to defend Russia’s new tortured ‘Ukrainian Crimea saboteur’ hostage
Almost two and a half years after Russia’s FSB first seized Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and 3 other opponents of Russia’s annexation, and charged them with a non-existent ‘terrorist plot’, the same scenario is being followed with (at least) two other Ukrainians. Yevhen Panov and Andriy Zakhtei have been illegally taken to Moscow with the move immediately following confirmation that Panov had been tortured. If Russia hoped to move Panov from Crimea in order to avoid any further revelations, it miscalculated. Dmitry Dinze, who represented Sentsov, has now agreed to defend Panov, and there will be no let-up in scrutiny of the latest plot based solely on ‘confessions’ extracted through torture.
Panov, Zakhtei and at least one other Ukrainian – Ridvan Suleimanov – have all provided televised ‘confessions’ of involvement in a supposed Ukrainian military ‘sabotage plot’ in Ukrainian Crimea which Russia is illegally occupying.
Panov was probably seized on August 7, however under what circumstances remains unclear. His family believe that he was abducted.
On August 10 the FSB asserted that major incidents, including weapon fire from mainland Ukraine, had taken place during the nights from 6-7 and 7-8 August, with 2 Russians – an FSB officer and a soldier – killed. There was nothing at all except videoed ‘confessions’ to back the assertions which have been treated with open scepticism by western countries. There seems to have been some kind of shoot-out in the early hours of Aug 7, but an Aug 8 post, for example, from Edward Zhuravlev, a pro-Russian official suggests that it was caused by drunken Russian soldiers.
The FSB story seemed especially implausible as it coincided with a major movement into Crimea of Russian military technology and came just days after the occupation regime announced that many of the websites providing objective information about events in Crimea had been blocked.
Panov is from Zaporizhya and his family believed from the outset that he had been abducted. They only understood where he was on Aug 10, when Russian state-controlled TV showed a video of Panov ‘confessing’ to working for military intelligence.
Panov looks as though he has been ill-treated, and other parts of the video are quite extraordinarily sloppy. In one image a full moon can be seen which would have pre-dated Panov’s seizure by around 2 weeks.
On the video, Panov says that he served in Donbas for a year from August 2014 to August 2015. He was supposedly “invited to Kyiv and told that a group was being formed for acts of sabotage in Crimea, with the key claim being that the operation had been organized by Ukraine’s military intelligence and that most of the men were intelligence officers.
For almost 2 months the lawyer appointed by Panov’s family was prevented from seeing his client. He was finally allowed to see him in early October after Russia was forced to respond to a demand for information from the European Court of Human Rights.
The Court had asked, among other things, for information about Panov’s physical condition and where he had received his injuries. Russia has now provided a list of his injuries which alone suggest that Panov was ill-treated. The Court unfortunately decided to allow Russia to carry out its own ‘investigation’ into how Panov came by these injuries, and did not immediately demand his return to Ukraine.
It had, however, also asked about legal defence, and the FSB clearly understood that it could no longer prevent Panov having a proper lawyer. The lawyer in Crimea was, however, only able to see Panov once and then both Panov and Zakhtei were moved, without warning, to Moscow.
During that one meeting with the lawyer, Panov confirmed that he had been subjected to torture, probably by FSB officers, between Aug 7 and 12.
He did not see his torturers since a bag was taped over his head. During his seizure on Aug 7, he was struck on the forehead, with this visible even on the first video. He explains that he answered questions on that video from a piece of paper prepared by FSB officers.
He was held, tightly handcuffed, for 7 days, and kept like this with his hands under his knees. They thrust a stick, lifted him and lashed his shins with a metal pipe. He also says that immediately after being taken prisoner, they beat him and used torture methods linked with his genitals.
He couldn’t see anything because of the bag over his head and had no idea if it was day or night. For the first four days, before being taken to Simferopol, he was given no food, only water.
The torture continued in Simferopol, with electric shocks applied to exposed parts of his body. He pleaded with them to stop but they simply laughed. This, he estimates, lasted about a day.
He told the lawyer provided by the FSB about the torture, but it seems more than likely that this was ignored.
There are some key similarities between the ‘cases’.
There were no acts of ‘sabotage’ in August 2016 and no ‘terrorist plot’ in May 2014.
The only ‘evidence’ came from the other two men – Oleksiy Chirniy and Gennady Afanasyev. The latter stood up at the trial of Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and stated that he had given all testimony under torture. He has since described the methods used, with the description coinciding with that repeated from the beginning by Sentsov.
There were grandiose claims, some manifestly absurd (Kolchenko, a committed left-wing anarchist was supposed to have been part of a right-wing Right Sector ‘plot’). There was also no evidence at all, yet a court in Rostov on Aug 25, 2015 sentenced Sentsov to 20 years’ imprisonment, Kolchenko to 10.
Their release has been demanded by all democratic countries and European structures, and is a requirement of the Minsk Agreement.
These are political arrests and political trials, in which the defence’s role can only be to highlight that political nature. It is for the rest of us to make those politicians who can influence Moscow aware of Russia’s Ukrainian hostages and the need to secure their release.