war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

ECHR puts off examination of Sentsov & Kolchenko vs. Russia essentially for political reasons

Halya Coynash

Earlier reports that the European Court of Human Rights had restored the ‘priority status’ assigned to the case of Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko were, as suspected, premature.  One mistake was rectified, yet the Court is still refusing to consider the men’s applications until it has examined Ukraine’s intergovernmental case against Russia over Crimea. 

On 29 January, Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora Human Rights Group, posted a letter from the Court which appeared to say that the decision to adjourn examination of the case pending examination of Ukraine’s inter-governmental case against Russia re Eastern Ukraine had been withdrawn.  The letter asked that an earlier letter adjourning consideration be regarded “as not having been sent”.  It did seem likely, and this has now been confirmed, that the earlier letter was an administrative mistake since application No. 8019/16 concerns Ukraine vs. Russia (re Eastern Ukraine), and should not include Crimea.  

Scepticism had seemed warranted, as an earlier letter, dated 29.09.2018, from the Court in Strasbourg also mentioned that proceedings were to be adjourned, subject to consideration of the case of Ukraine vs. Russia (re Crimea). 

The intergovernmental suit brought by Ukraine could take years to be considered and it is immensely frustrating that this adjournment appears to still be in place.   It will soon be five years since Sentsov, a renowned filmmaker, Kolchenko and two other opponents of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea were arrested, illegally taken to Russia and ‘tried’ and sentenced on fabricated charges.  Making their case and those of the Kremlin’s other Ukrainian political prisoners contingent on resolution of the inter-governmental claims surely infringes their right to justice. 

Agora lawyers filed the first application on Sentsov’s behalf soon after his arrest on 10 May, 2014, although this only pertained to his illegal detention, and, possibly, the torture methods used to try to force him to give false testimony.  That initial application was soon supplemented by applications, first from Kolchenko, a civic activist, who was put on trial together with Sentsov, then also from Gennady Afanasyev. 

Considering that Sentsov’s first application, like the more recent one, was given priority status back in 2014, the delay with their consideration does seem suspicious. 

The Court acted with greater speed in June 2018, demanding information about Sentsov’s state of health on hunger strike.  It also called on Sentsov himself to end the hunger strike, a call which the filmmaker rejected, sending greetings to the Court while noting that his ‘priority’ case had been awaiting consideration since July 2014.  Sentsov ended the hunger strike at the beginning of October when faced with force-feeding.   

He was awarded the U’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in October 2018, with the announcement calling Sentsov “a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world.”

Russia ignored that demand for the men’s release, as it has countless others.  Harsher measures, including more hard-hitting sanctions, are needed, but, like ECHR rulings, slow in coming.

Four mean were arrested in May 2014 in what was the first of several Russian attempts at show trials aimed at creating the impression of a Ukrainian ‘terrorist’ threat.  Sentsov; Kolchenko; Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy were held incommunicado for up to three weeks, first in Simferopol (Crimea), then in Moscow, before the ‘confessions’ of two of the men: Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy were shown on Russian TV at the end of May.  Both Sentsov and Kolchenko have consistently denied all the charges, and have also spoken of the torture they were subjected to.  Sentsov, in particular, stated from the outset that the FSB had told him that if he didn’t ‘confess’, he would be made the ‘mastermind’ of a terrorist plot and get 20 years. Afanasyev found the courage during the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko to retract all his testimony, saying it had been given under torture.

It is not known what exactly the application holds, but the number of obvious violations of the European Convention is very long. 

Sentsov has been incarcerated since May 10, 2014, although the charges against him were not proven, and did not, in any case, constitute ‘terrorism’. 

There are very strong grounds for believing the allegations of three of the men that they were subjected to torture, and Russia has also failed to carry out a proper examination.

He and the other men were prevented from seeing lawyers during the first weeks, and there are multiple other violations of their right to a fair trial.

He and Kolchenko are both held vast distances from their family and homes, despite an unequivocal ECHR judgement on this very issue.  Both men are being deprived of their rights under Ukrainian and international law because Russia insists that the men ‘automatically’ received Russian citizenship.

While it is obviously for the Court to decide, there are no democratically countries that have not demanded the men’s release and condemned the ‘trial’ as politically motivated. 

Please write to Oleg Sentsov and to Oleksandr Kolchenko!

Avoid all political subjects and mention of the men’s case.  The letters should not weigh more than 100 g and it would be good to give a return address since they will probably want to reply.

Only letters in Russian are accepted unfortunately.  If this is a problem, please just cut and paste the following, perhaps with a picture or photo. 

Добрый день,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.   

[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  You are not forgotten.  

Just cut and paste the addresses with the men’s name and year of birth .

Letters to Oleg Sentsov

РФ, 629400 Ямало-Ненецкий автономный округ, город Лабытнанги, улица Северная 33.

Сенцову Олегу Геннадьевичу, 1976 г.р.

[Russian Federation, 629400, Yamalo-Nenetsky autonomous okrug, Labytnangi, Severnaya St, 33

Sentsov, Oleg Gennadievych, b. 1976]

Letters to Oleksandr Kolchenko

РФ,  456612, Челябинская обл., Копейск, ул. Кемеровская, 20.,

Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р.

[Russian Federation, 456612, Chelyabinsk obl., Kopeisk, Kemerovskaya St, 20

Kolchenko, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, 1989]





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