Russia opens third prison in occupied Crimea to hold political prisoners and civilian hostages abducted from mainland Ukraine
Russia has opened a third SIZO, or remand prison, in occupied Crimea, with this the second since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is likely to be of many prisons or ;basments; for the torture and imprisonment of Ukrainians abducted from occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
The Crimean Human Rights Group [CHRG]that SIZO No. 8, like SIZO No. 2, opened in the autumn of 2022, is directly controlled by FSB [security service. The plans have been underway for some time, as the SIZO was first registered a year ago, on 24 October 2022, with the head of the SIZO named as Rauf Maratovich Idrisov.
Russia began filling SIZO No. 1 in occupied Simferopol with Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners soon after its invasion and annexation of Crimea. The conditions were, and remain, appalling, not least because of the severe overcrowding. At least some of the political prisoners are or were imprisoned in SIZO No. 2, however, as suspected from the outset, the new remand prison has also been used to imprison combatants and civilian hostages abducted from recently seized Ukrainian territory. Such hostages, seized essentially for their por-Ukrainian position, are either held prisoner without any charges being brought, or face trumped up charges of ‘terrorism’, ‘sabotage’ or ‘spying’.
As of September 2023, there were believed to be over 120 prisoners in SIZO No. 2, with none of these, according to CHRG’s sources, prisoners accused of ‘ordinary offences’.
In some cases, Russia held abducted civilians for months before admitting that they are in their custody. The period where they are held incommunicado is generally used to torture them into providing supposed ‘confessions’ on video, often for Russian television.
In a chilling number of cases, Russia continues to hold civilians without any status at all, and without even acknowledging where they are. Victims of such enforced disappearances include representatives of the local authorities – often the mayors or similar of Ukrainian towns or villages invaded by the Russians, volunteers and civic activists. The Russian invaders seized Oleksandr Babych, Mayor of Hola Prystan (Kherson oblast) in March 2022 and have been holding him prisoner ever since. No charges have been laid, nor any formal acknowledgement of his imprisonment. It is through former prisoners, that his family at least knows that he is alive and held at SIZO No. 2. Babych is known to have been imprisoned together with Russia’s oldest civilian hostage, 75-year-old Mariano Garcia Calatayud, a Spanish national seized by the Russians from Kherson oblast Russia only admitted to holding him in April 2023. He has now disappeared, with no formal information again as to where he has been taken. Even less is known of Iryna Horobtsova who was abducted from her home in Kherson on 13 May (her 37th birthday). She too is believed to be held in SIZO No. 2, but all events by lawyer Emil Kurbedinov to gain contact with her have been blocked. We know from released prisoners of war that there are a huge number of Ukrainian civilians imprisoned in Russia as well. There are also those whom the FSB appears to have earmarked for show trials on ‘sabotage’ or ‘spying’ charges and imprisoned in Moscow. Others, after being imprisoned elsewhere, including in occupied Crimea, have been put on ‘trial’ at the notorious Southern District Military Court in Rostov, which has been churning out huge sentences against Ukrainian political prisoners since Russia first invaded Crimea.
Hostages may also be tortured in Crimea, although this is generally before the person’s detention is admitted and s/he is formally remanded in custody
CHRGback in June that the Russians had opened an informal ‘SIZO’ IN Chonhar to which they were transferring some of the political prisoners who had been held in SIZO No. 2. Those held in Chonhar also included people detained on political grounds in occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Among those illegally imprisoned at that time were around ten people who had been seized and imprisoned on Russia’s insane charges of involvement in the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion
Several civilians, abducted, tortured and imprisoned in SIZO No. 2 in occupied Crimea have since faced farcical ‘trials’ and received huge sentences.