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Russia blocks access to Ukrainian jailed for 6 years for social media post

06.08.2021
Halya Coynash

Yevhen Karakashev in ’court’ Photo Vladyslav Ryazantsev, RFERL

The Russian prison where Yevhen Karakashev is serving a 6-year sentence for civic activism and a social media post is trying to prevent Ukraine’s Consul from visiting the Ukrainian political prisoner from Crimea.  The claim that Karakashev is ‘Russian’ seems a cynical ploy given that Russia has made it next to impossible to survive in occupied Crimea without taking a Russian passport.  In this case, it is particularly brutal since Karakashev is imprisoned in Russia, far from his home, and his elderly mother is not up to the arduous journey.  The Consul, Taras Malyshevsky explains that it is her visit, allowed just once in six months, that he will be using in her place.

Malyshevsky told the Crimean Human Rights Group that Karakashev is being held in cell-like conditions with communication restricted.  He has been storming the prison colony with calls and promises to keep trying to get to see him.  He plans to travel to the prison colony in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (the Northern Caucuses) and will at least leave money which Karakashev can use to supplement the appalling diet of Russian penal institutions and, hopefully, buy envelopes and stamps (enclosing a blank envelope is always a good idea when writing to Yevhen and other political prisoners).

As reported, Russia worsened Karakashev’s prison conditions in November 2019 and placed him in a punishment cell, partly because he had refused to collaborate with the prison authorities.  At the time, his lawyer Alexei Ladin explained that he had twice been thrown into a punishment cell on his arrival at the prison colony just two months earlier, on 11 September 2019.  Both times, the pretext was some alleged infringement over clothing.

In one case, the deputy head of the colony, Gabiyev presented him with a choice: sign an agreement to collaborate or he would write up an infringement of clothing rules and send him to a SHIZO [punishment cell].  Karakashev did not agree to collaborate. The second time he ended up in the SHIZO when he went out without his cap which had been washed and was wet.  He came out of SHIZO on 1 November, and on that same day there was a commission which imposed a year’s imprisonment in a prison-like cell.”

Since it is now August 2021, it would seem that similar methods have been used to keep Karakashev in these much harsher conditions.

Karakashev will soon (21 August) be turning 43, and has spent well over three years in captivity, first in Russian-occupied Crimea, then in Russia.  He is an anarchist activist from Yevpatoria and had earlier taken part in pickets demanding the release of civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners.

He was arrested on 1 February 2018, just hours before public hearings into a controversial land development which he had vocally opposed.  The development went ahead, and Karakashev has been imprisoned ever since.  The men who burst into his home that day, forced him to the ground and handcuffed him before taking him away and holding him in police custody for a long time because he was able to phone a friend and ask for a lawyer to be contacted.  It is likely that his multiple abrasions and other injuries were sustained during that period.  The Russian-controlled police, however, refused to initiate proceedings over his injuries in custody.

The charges laid against him pertained solely to very old posts on the VKontakte social network.  Russia’s FSB claimed that the posts fell under Article 205.2 of Russia’s criminal code which punishes for something called ‘public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism’. 

One of Karakashev’s very old (re)posts had been a video of the last interview given by the so-called Prymorsky Partisans . The ‘partisans’ in question were six vigilantes who waged a bloody war against the Russian police. In the video, they explained that they had declared war on the police because of the brutality and corruption entrenched in the Russian police force.  The video was declared ‘extremist’ by a court in Russia, and copies of the interview posted on social media before the court ruling and forgotten, are used, when the FSB cannot find another pretext, for questionable prosecutions.

It was also claimed that at the end of 2014, Karakashev had made a pronouncement during a social media chat with other Crimean anarchists which “contained linguistic and psychological signs of incitement to carry out violent, destructive actions (blowing up cars, buildings, state authorities)”. 

In fact, Karakashev had simply asked the other participants in the chat whether they thought the actions of the Prymorsky Partisans made sense.    There were no calls to repeat them, nor was there any praise of their methods, and this was merely an invitation to dialogue. 

It is likely that the main witness against Karakashev, Sergei Vasylenko, gave his testimony under duress.  Vasylenko was prosecuted and imprisoned for 10 days in November 2016 after calling on people to boycott Russia’s illegal elections.  Just before this, he posted an appeal on YouTube in which he spoke of attempts to bring criminal proceedings against him for supposed incitement to enmity. 

After an extremely flawed trial held in the same Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don that has become notorious for politically motivated verdicts against Ukrainian political prisoners, Karakashev was sentenced on 19 April 2019 to six years’ imprisonment, with a further ban on administering Internet websites for two years.  

That sentence was upheld on 15 August 2019 by Russia’s Supreme Court.  

Ladin has, from the outset, condemned this case, pointing out that there was no element of a crime in the charges against the activist.  He stresses that Russia is not just in violation of international law through its prosecution of Crimeans under Russian law, but of international conventions on human rights, since it is a direct attack on freedom of speech.

Although the Memorial Human Rights Centre has not yet formally declared Karakashev to be a political prisoner, it has added him to its list of likely victims of political persecution.  There is a strong likelihood, Memorial HRC states, that “the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea.”   They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists since January 2018. 

Please write to Yevhen Karakashev!

Even just a few words will tell him and Russia that he is not forgotten.  Letters need to be in Russian, and any political subjects or reference to his case should be avoided. If possible, include an envelope and some thin paper as he may well try to reply.

If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card

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.  

Address (use either English or Russian, it is only the letters themselves that need to be in Russian)

361423 Russian Federation, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, Kamenka, 1 D.A. Miziev St, Prison Colony No. 3

Karakashev, Yevgeny Vitalievich, b. 1978

Or in Russian:

361423 РФ, Кабардино-Балкарская республика, Чегемский район, Поселок Каменка, Улица Д.А. Мизиева, 1, ФКУ Исправительная колония №3 УФСИН России по Кабардино-Балкарской Республике,

Каракашеву, Евгению Витальевичу, г.р. 1976

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