Closed trial for tortured Ukrainian accused of a ‘Crimea sabotage plot’ that never was
The ‘trial’ has begun of Andriy Zakhtei, one of the four Ukrainians seized by the FSB in Russian-occupied Crimea in August 2016 and accused of involvement in a supposed ‘Ukrainian Crimea saboteur plot’.
A few months ago, Zakhtei agreed to ‘cooperate with the investigators’ by ‘admitting guilt’, with this almost certainly in exchange for a shorter sentence. He has been held prisoner since August 2016 in appalling conditions and under heavy pressure to ‘confess’, and doubtless understood that, whatever he did, he would not be freed.
The changed plea will make the FSB’s paperwork look better, but cannot hide the sordid reality behind this case, which was based solely on four ‘confessions’ and a supposed hiding place with weapons, which contained no DNA traces linking it to any of the men. Zakhtei not only retracted his ‘confession’ as soon as the FSB was forced to allow him to see a lawyer (after two months), but also gave harrowing details of the treatment he received to force a confession out of him. The allegations of torture in his case and that of Yevhen Panov have already been sent to the European Court of Human Rights.
A further absurdity in this case concerns citizenship. Zakthei was the only Ukrainian actually living in Crimea with his wife and child, and had taken Russian citizenship. In March 2017
This is now one of the charges, together with storing and transporting weapons, and preparing an act of sabotage. As mentioned, a forensic assessment found no traces of fingerprints or DNA on the ‘hiding place’ which Zakhtei and Yevhen Panov were supposedly using.
Of the four men whom the FSB extracted ‘confessions’ from in early August 2016, two men – Redvan Suleymanov; and Volodymyr Prysich - were eventually convicted of charges that bore little or no relation to these supposed confessions. Yevhen Panov
Both Zakhtei and Yevhen Panov were were seized on August 7, 2016. On August 10, the FSB
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.
Both Zakhtei and Panov were prevented from seeing lawyers for two months, until the European Court of Human Rights intervened. Panov had a brief meeting with his lawyer during which he confirmed what the video seemed to show, namely the torture he had faced. Russia almost immediately removed Panov and Zakhtei to Moscow, however that did not help conceal the details of the torture which both recounted to lawyers in Russia. They were then taken back to Crimea with the calculation probably being that the shocking conditions and greater scope for putting pressure on the men would force both to ‘cooperate’. This has not worked with Panov, and the testimony Zakhtei gave over the space of a year is not going anywhere – except to the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.