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Russia secretly moves imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov

Halya Coynash
Human rights monitors in the Siberian city of Irkutsk have reported finding Crimean filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov held in the Irkutsk SIZO or remand prison. It appears he was moved from Yakutia a week ago, with Sentsov himself given no explanation as to why.

Human rights monitors in the Siberian city of Irkutsk have reported that Crimean filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov is being held in the Irkutsk SIZO [remand prison]. It appears he was moved from Yakutia a week ago, with Sentsov himself given no explanation as to why.

He is currently being held in solitary confinement in the basement of the ‘red’ block of the prison.  Very worryingly, the public monitoring committee which reported the news notes that prisoners have told them that the block is called ‘red’ because of the red brick cells used by inmates who have agreed to collaborate with the ‘investigators’ or administration by acting as effective torturers of other prisoners. 

The monitors say that Sentsov himself is in a freshly renovated and clean cell.  He sends greetings to everyone, and “feels OK”. 

This, in fact, is a statement about Oleg and not about the conditions he is in, since neither he nor civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko with whom he was ‘tried’ are ever inclined to complain.

The list of Russia’s violations in its prosecution and imprisonment of Sentsov, Kolchenko and other political prisoners is long.  On top of the lawlessness of the trial and imprisonment themselves, Russia is in direct breach of the European Convention on Human Rights over the fact that it is holding the men thousands of kilometres from their homes.

Up till now Sentsov has not wanted to challenge the decision to send him so far from Crimea since in the Yakutia prison where he was held, there were at least no overt violations and he was not subjected to torture, etc.

It remains to be seen whether this changes. For the moment, his move from one prison in Siberia to another would not seem to suggest that the Kremlin is finally heeding the calls from the entire international community for Sentsov’s release. On the other hand, the move is unexpected, and the fact that this is a SIZO could mean that the plan is not merely a change in Siberian prison walls. 

There were calls for Sentsov and Kolchenko’s release from all international bodies, democratic countries and filmmakers from soon after their arrest and their 20- and 10-year sentences, respectively, in August 2015 were condemned as ideologically motivated terror”. 

Sentsov was one of four opponents of Russia’s invasion and annexation arrested by the FSB in May 2014.  It is generally assumed that, having invaded and occupied Crimea, Moscow was trying to claim justification through a fabricated ‘terrorist’ plot by the Ukrainian nationalist Right Sector which they hoped to use as ‘proof’ that Russia needed ‘to protect Russians and Russian-speakers in Crimea. 

The four men: Sentsov; Kolchenko; Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy 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.

The FSB, in torturing him, told Sentsov back in 2014 that if he didn’t provide the ‘confessions’ they demanded, he would be made the ‘mastermind’, sentenced to 20 years and rot in prison. 

There was never any proof of any ‘terrorist plot’, only the testimony of Afanasyev and Chyrniy, obtained while the men were held incommunicado and without lawyers.  One of the two (Afanasyev) stood up in court on July 31, 2015,  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’s grandiose claims about attempts to destroy infrastructure were quietly forgotten, and 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 Molotov cocktail incidents as protest 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.

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.

Despite the lack of any evidence, the refusal by Chyrniy to give testimony in court and Afanasyev’s retraction of his testimony, three Russian ‘judges’ at the Rostov Military Court - – Sergei Arkadyevich Mikhailyuk, Viacheslav Alexeevich Korsakov  Edward Vasilyevich Korobenko  sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in a maximum security prison and Kolchenko to 10 years. 

Material on the need for punitive sanctions against all those individuals implicated in the politically-motivated persecution of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko can be found here


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