Tortured Ukrainian political prisoner looks years older, yet remains unbroken
Yevhen Panov is only 42, but he looks ten years older after the torture he was subjected to and almost three years in Russian captivity. The Ukrainian political prisoner is imprisoned in the Siberian city of Omsk, with the other prisoners referring to him as ‘Granddad Panov’. If Moscow has its way he will remain imprisoned for a further five years, with the harshness of his sentence in large part due to his adamant refusal to ‘cooperate’ and admit to the preposterous charges laid against him.
Panov’s lawyer Vera Goncharova recently visited Panov and was able to show him the 40 pages of birthday greetings collected on Facebook. Panov’s brother, Ihor Kotelyanets says that in earlier letters, his brother had often used the phrase “if anybody still remembers me”. He adds: “The hundreds of greetings and best wishes have, I think, removed this question for a long time. He was truly very touched by such widespread attention.”
Although there is plenty to say that is negative, especially about the prison’s failure to provide him with medical care, our letters are not just important moral support for Panov himself. Kotelyanets is convinced that the fact that so many people are following what happens to Panov makes him safer, and the prison authorities less likely to resort to sundry repressive measures.
Panov continues to show that his Russian captors have not broken his spirit. He has refused to work in the prison, as he has no intention of making any contribution to the Russian economy. Some FSB officers recently turned up at the prison and claimed that all prisoners were obliged to undergo a lie-detector test. They sat Panov down and started asking questions about politics, after which Panov refused to speak with them and left. Kotelyanets says that the FSB were forced to give up in Panov’s case. They had thought that everybody would tremble if they just looked at them, and Panov is certainly proving that they’re wrong.
Panov is from Emergodar in the Zaporizhya oblast, and was working as a driver for the Zaporizhya Nuclear Power Plant. He had also responded to Russia’s invasion of Crimea and military aggression in Donbas by actively working as a volunteer, both in civil defence for his city and in helping the Ukrainian army.
On August 6, 2016, the then 39-year-old Panov responded to a phone call, seemingly from a fellow volunteer, asking him to help evacuate a family from Russian-occupied Crimea who were in danger. This, however, his family only discovered much later, after he disappeared.
The first they learned of his whereabouts was on August 10 when Russia’s FSB [security service] claimed that it had foiled terrorist acts planned by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s military intelligence and targeting critically important parts of Crimea’s infrastructure. This was aimed, the FSB asserted, at destabilizing the situation in the run-up to Russia’s parliamentary elections which were illegally taking place in occupied Crimea.
The FSB asserted that there had been major incidents, with shelling from mainland Ukraine, during the nights from 6-7 and 7-8 August, with 2 Russians – an FSB officer and a soldier – killed. Although two Russians did die, there are independent reports suggesting that at least one of the men was killed in a drunken brawl. There was nothing to back the claims about the second night and supposed shelling from Ukraine. Scepticism was only exacerbated by the fact that the occupation regime had blocked various independent Internet sites prior to the alleged events.
The claims were trumpeted by Russia’s leaders and state-controlled media, but based solely on videoed ‘confessions’ from four men: Panov; Andriy Zakhtei; Redvan Suleymanov; and Volodymyr Prysich.
The video produced by the FSB was shown widely on state-controlled Russian media and showed Panov ‘confessing’ to working for Ukrainian military intelligence. He looked very obviously beaten and gave the impression of saying what he had been instructed to say.
It was therefore of immense concern that the FSB prevented the lawyer Panov’s family employed from seeing his client. At one stage they produced a scrap of paper, with a typed statement, allegedly from Panov, rejecting the lawyer’s services. The paper was unsigned, and his family, by now seriously worried, were helped by a human rights group to apply to the European Court of Human Rights. The latter demanded information from Russia regarding the origin of Panov’s bruises, etc. and confirmation that he had been allowed to see the lawyer his family had chosen.
Following this communication from ECHR, and after two full months of total isolation, Panov was able to briefly meet with the lawyer. He immediately retracted all testimony, confirming that it had been obtained under torture. He has since described the torture methods, which form part of his application to ECHR, with these including severe beating; being suspended in handcuffs; mock executions; electric shocks and clamps applied to his genitals.
Both Panov and Zakhtei were moved to Moscow shortly after that brief meeting and placed under heavy pressure to give up their independent lawyers. They refused and were soon moved back to Crimea, where they remained under huge pressure. This included threats of a much worse sentence if they didn’t comply and Zakhtei finally agreed to cooperate. He pleaded ‘guilty’ and gave up his lawyer, yet a Russian-controlled court in Crimea still sentenced him on 16 February 2018 to 6.5 years imprisonment.
Panov was charged with planning acts of sabotage in Crimea as part of a group of saboteurs, as well as with “smuggling ammunition across the customs border of the Customs Union”, with four articles of the Russian criminal code listed (Article 281 § 2a for the planning acts of sabotage; Article 226.1 § 3 and 222 § 3 over the alleged movement and storage of ammunition, as well 30 § 1, and 3 – committing or attempting a crime).
Everything about this case was immensely shoddy with no evidence to back the charges. A telling detail is that of the four men accused of involvement in a supposed plot which they were shown on Russian TV ‘confessing’ to, one - Redvan Suleymanov – ended up accused of something only slightly linked to the original ‘confession’, while Volodymyr Prysich was sentenced on May 18, 2017 to 3 years’ imprisonment on the totally different charge of possession of a narcotic substance. Like Panov and Zakhtei, he asserts that he gave his original ‘confession’ under torture.
There was also no evidence to substantiate these charges, and the alleged ‘stockpile’ contained no DNA or fingerprints to link it with either Panov or Zakhtei.
None of this stopped ‘judge’ Andrei Paly, a Russian from Kaliningrad, from passing the guilty verdict required of him and sentencing Panov to 8 years’ imprisonment.
PLEASE WRITE TO YEVHEN PANOV!
Letters need to be in Russian, unfortunately, and will be passed by the censor, so please avoid any mention of their cases, politics, etc.
If writing in Russian is problematical, you could copy out the following, perhaps with a picture or photo.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.
[Hi. I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ]
Russia 644006, Omsk, 10 lyet Oktyabrya St, no. 176, Unit 2 of Prison No. 6 for the Omsk oblast
Panov, Yevgeny Aleksandrovich, b. 1977
[in Russian] РФ 644009Б, г. Омск, ул.10 лет Октября, д.176, 2 отряд, ФКУ ИК №6 УФСИН России по Омской области
Панову, Евгению Александровичу, 1977 г.р.