Victim of Russia’s first Crimea show trial faces new reprisals
Oleksiy Chyrniy, one of the three opponents of Russia’s occupation of Crimea arrested with renowned filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, has been moved to a much harsher prison regime and is being denied visits from the Ukrainian consul, making it next to impossible to monitor his treatment. Attempts to force Russian citizenship onto the Ukrainian are particularly untenable since Russia never denied that Chyrniy had formally registered his rejection of Russian citizenship soon after Russia’s invasion. It is now claiming that it ‘can’t find’ the formal notification, and that he is therefore a Russian citizen.
Much less is known about Chyrniy because he never retracted the original ‘confession’ tortured out of him, and he was held without access to anyone but the Ukrainian consul until after his trial in early 2015. Although, unlike Oleg Sentsov; civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and Gennady Afanasyev, Chyrniy has never been officially recognized as a political prisoner by the Memorial Human Rights Centre, he is widely understood as also being a victim of what human rights defenders have called “ideologically-motivated state terror” against opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea apply equally to Chirniy.
Chyrniy, a 35-year-old history teacher, was the first of the Ukrainians to be arrested in the early hours of May 9, 2014. All four men were held incommunicado for up to three weeks, first in Simferopol (Crimea), then in Moscow, before being shown on Russian TV at the end of May.
The FSB asserted on 30 May 2014 that the four men were members of a ‘Right Sector ‘terrorist’ plot who had been planning terrorist attacks on vital parts of Crimea’s infrastructure. It claimed, for example, that they were planning to blow up railway bridges, although there are none in Crimea.
Chyrniy and Afanasyev were widely shown on Russian TV, ‘confessing’ to the charges. They were later separately ‘tried’ and sentenced, each to seven years, the minimum on terrorism charge.
Chyrniy’s ‘trial’ began and ended on April 21, 2015, with the judge removing Chyrniy’s recently appointed lawyer, Ilya Novikov from the courtroom after Novikov stated that his client appeared to have falsely incriminated himself.
Chyrniy was found guilty of planning to organize explosions in the night to a Lenin monument and the Eternal Flame, as well as of involvement in Molotov Cocktail attacks on two pro-Russian organizations’ offices, also in the night when they were deserted.
In Russia, such actions are treated as hooliganism or vandalism and receive, at most, a suspended sentence.
Russia wanted a ‘terrorism’ plot involving Ukrainian opponents of its illegal annexation, and all four men were sentenced on ‘terrorism’ charges.
There was never any evidence of terrorism, and the firebomb incidents, and planned explosion to the Lenin monument were not commensurate with the charges.
Four men were held incommunicado for several weeks. Once in Moscow, Sentsov and Kolchenko consistently denied the charges and, especially Sentsov, gave detailed and consistent accounts of the torture applied to get ‘confessions’. Sentsov was told that if he didn’t ‘cooperate’, he’d get 20 years – as he did.
Afanasyev was virtually not seen, with even his trial in December 2014 held in secret. Then on July 31, 2015, he defied the FSB’s order that he refuse to testify at the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko, and simply confirm his earlier incriminating testimony. Instead, he got up and stated that all previous testimony had been untrue and extracted through torture. He later gave equally detailed descriptions of the methods used.
Chyrniy never retracted his ‘confession’, however he has told the Ukrainian consul that he was tortured into giving it.
Russia has long claimed that Kolchenko and Sentsov ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens. Both have rejected this, and an application with the European Court of Human Rights has been lodged on Kolchenko’s behalf. The same attempts were made with Afanasyev until Russia included him in an exchange in June 2016, on health grounds. The attempts to foist citizenship are illegal under any circumstances, but the excuse always applied in their case – that they had not formally registered their rejection of Russian citizenship – does not apply in Chyrniy’s case.
Please write to Oleksiy Chyrniy! Letters are a sign to him – and to Russia – that he’s not forgotten.
If writing in Russian is a problem, there is a ‘crib’ below which you can also just add. Photos or similar would be nice, and please avoid anything political or about their case since that will stop the letters getting through. Maximum weight, by the way, is 100 g. It’s also a good idea to give a return address for him to be able to reply.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hi, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.
RF, 346519, Rostov oblast, Shakhty, 10 Otkrytaya St. Prison No. 9 in Shakhty
Chyrniy, Alexei Vladimirovich, b. 1981 [the Russified version of his first name and patronymic is more likely to get through]
Or in Russian: 346519, Ростовская обл, Шахты г, Открытая, 10, ИК-9 в Шахтах
Чирнию, Алексею Владимировичу, гр 1981
Birthday 21 March 1981