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”I’m no criminal’. Ukrainian artist sentenced to 15 years for protesting Russia's war against Ukraine refuses to wear prison uniform

05.12.2023   
Halya Coynash
“Russian law gives shorter sentences even for murder, and I spoke out against murder.” - Bohdan Ziza

’Administration’ building in occupied Yevpatoria on 16 May 2022, Bohdan Ziza (photo from the Instagram support group)

’Administration’ building in occupied Yevpatoria on 16 May 2022, Bohdan Ziza (photo from the Instagram support group)

Ukrainian political prisoner Bohdan Ziza has faced the first of what look likely to be many periods in a Russian ‘punishment cell’ or SHIZO.  He had refused to wear a prison robe, stating, quite rightly, that he is not a criminal.  Ziza is one of an ever-increasing number of Ukrainian political prisoners serving huge sentences in Russia’s worst penal institutions for opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its full-scale invasion of Ukraine or simply because any Ukrainian would do for the latest show trial. The percentage of such political prisoners in Russia’s penal institutions is increasing for another reason, namely that actual criminals, even those serving long sentences for murder or other violent crimes, are getting recruited to fight Russia’s war against Ukraine in exchange for money, their freedom and a presidential pardon. 

Ziza’s lawyer visited him in the Vladimir Prison on Friday 1 December.  He reports that, despite the gruelling journey from the SIZO [remand prison] in Novocherkassk and the term in a punishment cell as soon as he reached the prison in Vladimir, Bohdan is in good spirits.  

He is in a cell with another Ukrainian political prisoner – Appaz Kurtamet, one of the mounting number of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians abducted since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Both young men were tortured by the FSB and then subjected to politically motivated trials.  Both are facing long terms of imprisonment in Russia and badly need to know that they are not forgotten.  Please write, if you can!  Addresses can be found below, as well as a sample letter if writing in Russia is a problem.

15 years for opposing Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine

Bohdan Ziza, who turned 29 on 23 November, has been in Russian captivity since  soon after his protest at around 4 a.m. on 16 May 2022 when he hurled yellow and blue paint on the door of the occupation Feodosia administration building.  He did have a petrol bomb, but this appears to have been aimed solely at greater effect for his act of protest against the war, which he was simultaneously videoing. The building, after all, was deserted, aside from a security guard whom he had, himself, alerted.

Had his action not been obviously pro-Ukrainian and in protest at Russia’s war of aggression, Ziza would, at most, have received a suspended sentence or fine for ‘hooliganism’. Instead, he was seized, tortured into making multiple ‘confessions’ and then charged, with ‘terrorism’ under Russian legislation illegally applied in occupied Crimea.  Bodan’s sister has explained that he was devastated by the war and, especially, by the reports of Russia’s war crimes in Bucha and Mariopol and had written to her that he could no longer remain silent.

During his final address to the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia), Ziza said that he regretted that his elderly grandmother, who had brought him up and now needs his help, would be left alone.  He had, however, acted in accordance with his conscience. He is a Ukrainian, and it causes him pain to see what is happening to his country.   He acknowledged that his protest had been foolish, and that he should have expressed his views in a different way but rejected the ’terrorism’ charges and asked if his protest really warranted the 18-year sentence demanded by the Russian prosecutor. “Russian law gives shorter sentences even for murder, and I spoke out against murder.”

@I am also an ordinary citizen of my country, but of Ukraine, and who is not accustomed to be silent in the face of lawlessness. I am not alone in this ‘aquarium’ [the effectively cage that he is held in] today.  There are over 200 people with me.  These are Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russian prisons on fabricated charges.  Many of them are Crimean Tatars who have yet again faced Russian repression.  I am myself half Crimean Tatar and it is painful to see what is happening to our people.”    (More details here).

Appaz Kurtamet

Appaz Kurtamet

Seven years on insane charges

Appaz Kurtamet was just 20 when he was abducted by the FSB on 23 July 2020 while seeking to cross from mainland Ukraine into occupied Crimea to visit relatives. He vanished after ringing his parents to say that he had reached the checkpoint.  Appaz He rang his parents when he arrived at the checkpoint and then vanished.

This was an enforced disappearance, not an arrest, as the FSB continued to deny that Kurtamet was in their custody.  It was only through unofficial channels that Appaz’ mother learned that he was being held at the Simferopol SIZO.

It was only in October 2022, that the FSB came up with surreal charges against Appaz and he was formally remanded in custody. He was sentenced to seven years, for having, purportedly “financed an illegal armed formation” under Article 208 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code.  It was claimed that he had done this by sending 500 UAH (around 12 euros), seemingly as a loan, to a friend who, it later transpired, is defending Ukraine as part of the ‘Crimea’ volunteer battalion (more details here).  

Please write to Bohdan and Appaz!

Letters need to be hand-written in Russian and on ‘safe subjects’ (no mention of the war, politics, or the men’s persecution).  If writing in Russian is difficult, just writing out the few lines below, perhaps with a photo or picture, will still tell them that you are thinking of them.  Any help in circulating information about their persecution will also help!

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь, что скоро вернетесь домой.  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. ] 

Addresses (can be in Russian or English)

600020 Россия, г. Владимир, ул Большая Нижегородская, д. 67, ФКУ Т-2,

Аяизову, Богдану Сергеевичу, г.р. 1994

and

Куртамету. Аппазу Халиловичу, г.р. 2002 г.р

[or in English

600020 Russia, Vladimir, 67 Bolshaya Nizhegorodskaya St.

Bogdan Sergeevich Azizov, b. 1994

and

Appaz Khalilovych Kurtamet, b. 2002

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