Russia’s Supreme Court endorses torture and abduction from occupied Donbas of Ukrainian political prisoner
The Supreme Court in Russia has upheld a ten-year sentence against Oleksandr Marchenko, despite flagrant irregularities in his ‘trial’ aimed, among other things, at muffling the fact that the recognized Ukrainian political prisoner was abducted to Russia from militant-occupied Donbas.
The hearing on 16 November 2021 was over a cassation appeal following the original 10-year sentence in a harsh regime prison colony handed down by the Krasnodar Regional Court on 26 November 2020, which was left unchanged by the Third Court of Appeal on 1 April 2020. There were numerous grounds for a cassation appeal, given serious infringements of Marchenko’s right to a fair trial. His lawyers, for example, were refused permission to question prosecution witnesses and ‘experts’. There were also serious question marks over the qualification of Marchenko’s alleged actions, with these not complying with Russia’s criminal code. The most glaring irregularity, however, is that the first two courts and, now, the Supreme Court all ignored the fact that Marchenko had been abducted to Russia from the self-styled and Russian-controlled ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR]] in occupied Donbas.
The defence will now turn to the European Court of Human Rights which will undoubtedly want to know why so many important details in this case were totally ignored by all Russian courts. Marchenko also addressed an impassioned appeal to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He does not mention them in his letter, however the Ukrainian has serious and potentially life-threatening medical issues.
50-year-old Oleksandr Marchenko is originally from Dnipro. He and his wife, Kateryna had, however, been living for several years in Kyiv when, in December 2018, he made a fateful mistake that resulted in him being seized and tortured at the notorious Izolyatsia secret prison in Donetsk and handed over to Russia’s FSB.
Marchenko, a graduate of the Dnipro Mining Institute, had earlier had a good job linked with supplies of mining equipment and had been able to go some way towards satisfying a lifetime dream of owning a sports car. He was, however, only able to afford a 1991 model Lamborghini Diablo which had been bumped around and had a front part which was not authentic. The car required major restoration and repair work, which normal mechanics would not take on. From 2009, therefore, the car had been undergoing restoration work at NonStop, a company based in Donetsk.
The car was easily good enough to be plundered by the Russian / Russian-controlled ‘DPR’ militants who seized Donetsk in 2014. Then in 2017, the car, repainted black but still recognizable, appeared on a video clip about a race in occupied Donetsk. From his own sources, Marchenko learned that the car had been appropriated by Alexander Timofeyev, known as ‘Tashkent’, who was the so-called ‘minister of taxes and revenue’ under militant leader Alexander Zakharchenko. When the latter was killed in a bomb blast in August 2018, ‘Tashkent’ lost the ensuing battle for power and fled to Russia.
For reasons that remain unclear, Marchenko’s acquaintance, Yury Husakov, got in touch with him at that point, and said that if Marchenko came to Donetsk with all the papers for the car, there was a chance of getting it back. Husakov was then supposed to drive the car, once it had received ‘DPR permission’, across the checkpoint into government-controlled Ukraine.
It seems very unlikely that Husakov was that naïve, but Marchenko and his wife knew almost nothing about what was happening in occupied Donbas. Unfortunately, Marchenko not only decided to try to retrieve the car, but did so in a disastrously dangerous way, travelling via Minsk through Moscow and across the Russian / militant controlled part of the border into occupied Donbas.
It was seemingly after Marchenko filed his application for the car to be returned to him, that he was seized at a border crossing on 17 December 2018.
He was held during those two months at the Izolyatsia secret prison in Donetsk where horrific forms of torture are used to force hostages to sign or say whatever the militants demand. Once he finally had access to a proper lawyer, Yevgeny Smirnov, Marchenko was able to say that his captors had stripped him and attached an electric current, among other things, to his genitals. He was also hung by handcuffs from the ceiling for whole days. According to Smirnov, the ‘DPR’ militants would take breaks in the torture during which they asked the same questions of Marchenko as those he was later asked by the FSB in Russia.
The Russian ‘case’ against Marchenko makes absolutely no mention of the car nor of his seizure and imprisonment in ‘DPR’.
On 18 February 2019, Marchenko was taken by force, and with a bag over his head, to the Russian Federation, accompanied first by the ‘DPR security service’, then by the Russian FSB.
In Krasnodar, he was initially told that he had ‘witness’ status, with a Russian court imposing an administrative arrest sentence for supposedly disobeying enforcement officers and a day’s illegal work in Russia.
It was only on 19 February that he was able to send a text message to his family, telling them that he was in Krasnodar. Marchenko’s ‘administrative arrest’ was extended several times, and a court eventually ordered his deportation – a ruling applauded by both Marchenko’s lawyer and Ukraine’s Consul. Instead, and despite the court order, he was not deported. For around a month and a half, he was held in a deportation centre, clearly while the FSB were fabricating ‘a case’ against him.
At the beginning of May 2019, Marchenko was finally charged with ‘espionage’ under Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code. He was accused of having gathered information containing a state secret for Ukraine and Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU]. The FSB (‘investigator on particularly important affairs of the Krasnodar regional FSB, G. Gerasimov) asserted that Marchenko had planned to smuggle ‘military technology’ and had, on 12 May 2018 entered into a criminal conspiracy with a Russia identified as V. I. Fedorenko. The two had supposedly held a meeting in Moscow where they discussed the cost of two had set up a plan to purchase and smuggle across the border into Ukraine two sets of specialized linear-beam vacuum tubes, designed for use in S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. It was further claimed that Marchenko had, on 21 May 2018, “organized the transfer of 130 thousand USD from an unidentified bank in Kyiv to an unidentified bank in Moscow”.
There was no evidence to back these extraordinary charges, including the movements from a mystery bank to a mystery bank of an extremely large amount of money. The charges appear to have been based solely on ‘testimony’ from ‘V. I. Fedorenko’. The original Krasnodar Regional Court had turned down the defence’s application to have Fedorenko questioned in court, as well as the authors of FSB correspondence which was also cited in the indictment. In declaring Marchenko a political prisoner on 27 December 2019, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre pointed out that it is a standard ploy to extract such testimony under threat that the person (in this case Fedorenko) will himself be imprisoned on such charges.
The lack of any evidence was no impediment to the Krasnodar Regional Court which on 26 November 2020 sentenced Marchenko to 10 years’ imprisonment in a maximum security (“harsh regime”) prison colony. On 1 April 2020, this sentence was upheld by the Russian Third Court of Appeal.