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Pussy Riot Members Detained for demanding that Russia #FreeSentsov

Halya Coynash

Two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot are facing administrative prosecution for a totally peaceful protest calling for the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov whom Russia arrested shortly after its invasion and annexation of Crimea.

Maria Alekhina, herself a former political prisoner, and Olga Borisova were detained outside the prison near Yakutsk a day after they hung a huge banner reading ‘Free Sentsov’ on a bridge nearby. 

They were held in the police station and questioned for five or six hours before being taken to the Yakutsk City Court.  The latter, however, found errors in the police documents and sent them back to be ‘rectified’. The women are charged with infringing the rules for holding a public protest.

There is a lot to say about the absurd prosecution of Pussy Riot members, but they are thankfully now free to speak for themselves.  Their protest on August 6-7 was important precisely because Oleg Sentsov is illegally incarcerated thousands of kilometres from his two children, mother and home in Crimea.  The isolation is quite deliberate in his case and that of Russia’s other Ukrainian political prisoners.

Russia’s first ‘Crimean show trial.

Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy were seized by the Russian FSB in May 2014.  The four Crimeans were linked only in their shared opposition to Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea. 

Russia claims that Sentsov was arrested on May 11, which clashes with Sentsov’s own testimony and the first reports of his arrest .  The hours in question are critical since Sentsov has given a consistent account of the torture he was subjected to during that period.

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.

Sentsov and Kolchenko were sentenced on August 25, 2015, with Sentsov convicted of ‘organizing a terrorist organisation’ (Article 205.4 § 1 of the Russian Criminal Code), and two episodes treated as ‘terrorist acts committed by an organized group’  (Article 205 § 2a).  Other articles of the criminal code were added, presumably to justify the huge 20-year sentence, but these were the main ones.

There was literally no evidence of terrorism against any of the men.  There was never any proof that a terrorist organization had existed, nor of any plans to commit the grandiose attacks on Crimean infrastructure which the FSB claimed on May 30, 2014.

As has repeatedly proven the case, the FSB’s claims have been largely for the Russian state propaganda machine and then quietly forgotten.  By the trials of Sentsov and Kolchenko only two Molotov cocktail attacks at night on the empty offices of two pro-Russian organizations were presented as ‘terrorist acts’. 

The incidents are undisputed, but there is no evidence that Sentsov even knew about either of them.  Similar protest acts in Russia are treated as hooliganism or vandalism, and incur, at most, a suspended sentence. 

The four men were denied any contact with lawyers or their families for nearly three weeks. Sentsov and Kolchenko remained adamant from the start that they were innocent and Sentsov, in particular, has given a detailed account of the torture methods used, and the threat that if he didn’t ‘confess’, he would be made the ‘mastermind’ of a terrorist plot and get 20 years. 

On August 25, 2015, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years, as the FSB had threatened, on the basis solely of two men’s testimony, obtained while the men were held incommunicado and without lawyers.  One of the two (Gennady Afanasyev) stood up in court, at great risk to himself, and retracted all testimony, saying it had been extracted through torture.  Chyrniy refused to testify in court, meaning he could not be questioned.

The FSB had imposed a regime of virtually total secrecy until the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko began in the summer of 2015.  It became clear from Day 1 that the prosecution had no real evidence and on 5 August 2015, the Memorial Human Rights Centre declared both Sentsov and Kolchenko political prisoners.  It later made the same statement about Afanasyev (who has since been returned to Ukraine as part of an exchange, on health grounds).

Despite the lack of any evidence, the refusal by Chirniy to give testimony in court and Afanasyev’s retraction of his testimony, the Rostov Military Court sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in a maximum security prison and Kolchenko to 10. 

Russia is also claiming that Sentsov and Kolchenko ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens, and appears to now be using this same illegal means of depriving the men of their rights as Ukrainian citizens in the case of Chyrniy.


PLEASE write to Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleksiy Chirniy.  The letters, like the banner on a bridge in Yakutsk, are an important message to the men and to Moscow that they are 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.  


Oleg Sentsov

Russia, 677004, Republic of Yakutia, Yakutsk, 25 Ochichenko St, Prison No. 1

Sentsov, Oleg Gennadiyevich, born 1976

Oleksandr Kolchenko

Russia, 456612, Chelyabinsk oblast, Kopeisk, ul. Kemerovskaya, 20, Prison No. 6,

Kolchenko, Alexander Alexandrovych, born 1989

Oleksiy Chyrniy

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]

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