war crimes in Ukraine

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FSB uses new forms of torture against ‘Ukrainian Crimea saboteur’ political prisoner

Halya Coynash
In the absence of any evidence of acts of sabotage, damning proof of innocence and of the torture used to extract confessions, Russia’s FSB are using unlawful forms of pressure to force Yevheny Panov and Andriy Zakhteit to give up their lawyers and ‘cooperate’.

It will soon be a year since Ukrainian Yevhen Panov was first seized by Russia’s security service [FSB] and shown on television showing clear signs of having been beaten.  The ‘confessions’ extracted from him and Andriy Zakhtei were retracted when the men were finally allowed to see lawyers, and both gave harrowing accounts of the torture they had been subjected to.  With no evidence at all to back Russia’s charges, the FSB has resorted to other methods of forcing the men to ‘cooperate’, i.e. to reject proper lawyers and accept the charges against them. 

It can only be guessed what measures have been applied against Zakhtei since it appears that he has now formally rejected his lawyer and contracted an ‘agreement’ with the investigators.  This will mean that the charges against him will be heard separately.  Reports at the moment, based on an unnamed source, suggest that Zakhtei has stipulated that he will not (and cannot) give testimony against Panov whom he had never set eyes on before their arrest.  Since Zakhtei has presumably been promised a shorter sentence in exchange for his agreement, it remains to be seen whether the FSB accepts this.

Any testimony given under such circumstances can hardly be taken seriously when both men’s applications to the European Court of Human Rights give graphic detail of the treatment they received, and there remains absolutely no evidence of any ‘sabotage plot’.  The forensic tests taken failed to find a single DNA trace or fingerprint linking Panov and Zakhtei to the weapons, etc. allegedly concealed in a cemetery near the Armyansk crossing between Crimea and mainland Ukraine. 

It was clear from the outset that the FSB most feared real lawyers, rather than those they provide who can be relied upon to sign all documents and only tell the prisoner that he or she should ‘confess’ to get a lighter sentence. 

The lawyer Panov’s family had hired was prevented from seeing his client for two months after Panov was seized in early August 2016.  The first meeting came only after the European Court of Human Rights intervened and demanded both information about Panov’s physical condition and the origin of any injuries, and that he be allowed to see his lawyer.

At that brief meeting, Panov explained that he had been tortured and retracted every word said on the ‘confession’ video which the FSB produced.

He and Zakhtei were immediately taken away to Moscow.  This was probably to try to prevent any more revelations but did not work, since both men had by then been in contact with proper lawyers. 

Typically, both men were then returned to Crimea where new methods were used against them.

One of the forms of pressure is shocking, and, unfortunately, applies to all the ever-increasing number of Ukrainians held prisoner on fabricated charges under Russian occupation.  There is serious overcrowding in the Simferopol SIZO, with the men held in unsanitary and insect-infested cells, and effectively no medical care for either existing issues, or for the illnesses that must arise in such conditions.

Dmitry Dinze, Panov’s lawyer, has posted a photo of Panov’s arm which is covered in bedbug bites following his transfer to a cell with 21 other men, no proper ventilation and unsanitary conditions.  

Dinze believes that his transfer to such a cell was organized by FSB officers who arrived from Moscow and that this is part of the psychological pressure being used against the Ukrainian who recently turned 40 in prison.

Dinze notes that Panov is also taken to the investigator with a bag over his head and his arms tied behind his back.  There is no good reason for such treatment, and it seems clear that the methods are aimed at forcing him to agree to ‘cooperate’.

His lawyers have lodged a formal complaint with the prison service, although this seems unlikely to achieve anything  They tried to give Panov something to get rid of the bedbugs and cockroaches, but it was confiscated, and Panov’s requests for help for the bites, etc. from the medical unit were rejected.

Both Panov and Zakhtei were seized on August 7, 2016.  On August 10, the FSB claimed that it had foiled terrorist acts planned by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s military intelligence.  It asserted that there had been major incidents, with shelling from mainland Ukraine, during the nights from 6-7 and 7-8 August, with 2 Russians – an FSB officer and a soldier – killed.   There are independent reports about something taking place in the early hours of Aug 7, though they suggest rather that an FSB officer died in a drunken brawl between Russian border guards and Russian FSB officers.  There is nothing at all to back the claims about the second night and supposed shelling from Ukraine.  There was another reason for scepticism about the Russian claims, namely that the alleged incidents had been preceded by Russian moves to block access to independent Internet websites and coincided with Russia’s deployment in occupied Crimea of a huge amount of military technology.

The only ‘proof’ came from televised ‘confessions’ from Panov; Zakhtei; Ridvan Suleymanov and Volodymyr Prysich.  Three of the men have since stated that they said what they were told to, under torture.  The charges that Suleymanov is now facing differ radically from what he supposedly confessed to, and Prysich was recently sentenced to 3 years on entirely different charges.  Almost nothing is known about Prysich, but he was able to tell the court that he had been tortured, and that the ‘confession’ and the new charges were pure fabrication.

There are grounds for believing that both Panov, who is a former Ukrainian soldier and a volunteer in Energodar (Zaporizhya oblast) and Zakhtei were deliberately lured to the place where they were seized. 

Olga Dinze, who is defending Panov, together with her husband, earlier reported that the scars from the torture Panov was subjected to are still visible. 

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