NO RETURN TO STALINIST SHOW TRIALS IN RUSSIA
The decision on 25th August by a military court in Russia to sentence the Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov to 20 years in prison and socialist and anti-fascist activist Oleksandr Kolchenko to 10 years has sparked an international outcry. They are to be held in a high-security penal colony, Sentsov has been denied the right to even see his children.
Both were arrested by the Federal Security Service (successor to KGB) on 11th May 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea, held on trumped up charges of ‘terrorism’. Despite being Ukrainian citizens both were taken from Crimea and the trial held in Russia’s city of Rostov-on-Don under Russian law.
Kolchenko a well-known anti-fascist activist has been absurdly accused of being part of a plot with ‘Right Sector’ the ultra-right nationalist organisation. The whole trial has been denounced by human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Amnesty International describing the trials as being “redolent of a Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents.” Stating that that it was “was fatally flawed and credible allegations of torture and other ill-treatment have been ignored by the court. Both Oleg Sentsov and one of the main witnesses for the prosecution have alleged that they were tortured.” See: Crimean activists sentenced after a fatally flawed military trial .
Human Rights Watch in their dispatches pointed to the political motive of this trial:
“Since the Russian occupation of Crimea, Russian authorities have been quick to silence those who oppose their actions there – be they Crimean Tatars, pro-Ukraine activists, or Moscow-based independent advocates. But this latest case, and the terribly harsh sentences for Sentsov and Kolchenko, is the starkest warning yet to Russia’s critics in Crimea: keep quiet or else.” See: Dispatches: Crimea keep quiet or else!
As the judge read the sentencing Kolchenko and Sentsov were defiant standing arm in arm and singing Ukraine’s national anthem including the lines “We will lay down our body and our soul for our freedom”.
Ken Loach has joined European film directors calling for their release and has informed the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign of his continued support for these prisoners.
Leading left-wing Labour Party MP John McDonnell has joined him in declaring:
“When Amnesty describes a trial as fatally flawed the world needs to sit up and listen. The return of show trials in Russia has to be condemned. I join with the thousands of other upholders of democracy in calling for the release of Sentsov and Kolchenko.”
Mick Antoniw a Labour member of the National Assembly for Wales has called for stepping up the campaign:
“The incarceration of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov for 20 years is a return to the Stalinist show trials of the nineteen thirties. He has taken a stand against Russian imperialism and aggression and is now paying the price for offending Putin. Now is the time for real international solidarity with Sentsov and the stand he has taken to defend democracy, freedom of speech and Ukraine’s national integrity.”
A view echoed by Michael Calderbank, Co-Editor, Red Pepper:
“The show-trial of film-maker Oleg Sentsov and anti-fascist activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in Putin’s Russia recalls the worst aspects of “justice” as administered under Stalin. The charges are plainly preposterous, and the only “evidence” of their guilt was obtained using torture methods. Their only “crime” is that they are Ukrainians, and wish to challenge Russia’s military aggression. Please support the international campaign to demand their release. ”
The Facts of the Show Trial
1. Sentsov and Kolchenko are Ukrainians that were arrested by the Russian FSB in March 2014
Oleh Sentsov was arrested on 11 May 2014 shortly after the Russian occupation of Crimea; Oleksandr Kolchenko was arrested 5 days later on May 16. Since then, they have been tortured and imprisoned for over a year.
Both men were Crimean’s and opposed Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. Sentsov is a film director internationally recognised for his feature Gamer, he was a Euromaidan activist and later involved in taking food to conscripts blockaded in their bases in Crimea. Oleksandr Kolchenko was a student and socialist, ecologist and anti-fascist activist; he had supported Euromaidan and opposed the Russian occupation. Russian authorities initially claimed Kolchenko and Sentsov “automatically” became citizens of Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Both denied applying for Russian citizenship. Sentsov said he was “not a serf to be transferred together with land.”
2. They were accused of “plotting acts of terrorism” and being part of a “Right sector terrorist group”
The prisoners are accused of committing acts of terror and of being part of a “Right Sector terror group” supposedly led by Oleh Sentsov. These accusations are based entirely on testimonies of Henadiy Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chirniy, who were also arrested and charged with participation in the same group. After holding Sentsov without charges for three weeks a statement by Russia’s FSB accused the four Ukrainians of being “part of a terrorist community, to carry out explosions with home-made devices on 9 May 2014 near the Eternal Flame memorial and Lenin monument in Simferopol and to set on fire to the offices of the Russian Community of Crimea public organization and the United Russia party branch in Simferopol on 14 April and 18 April 2014.”
2. The accusations are based on testimonies given under torture
The accusations against Sentsov and Kolchenko are based entirely on testimonies of Afanasiev and Oleksiy, who were also arrested and charged with participation in the same “terrorist group.” Both Afanasiev and Chirniy have stated they were tortured by FSB.
On 31 July 2015 Afanasyev retracted his testimony as given under duress. After that he was beaten again in prison. Sentsov and Kolchenko have stated repeatedly that they were tortured and beaten, and there is nothing to assume that the same didn’t happen to Chirniy.
3. A return of Stalinist show trials in Russia
The “Right sector” accusations made by FSB are ridiculous. Right sector is a Ukrainian far-right movement, while Kolchenko is a Ukrainian left-wing anti-fascist activist. There’s no evidence to link the prisoners to Right Sector, which is Russian propaganda’s favourite bogeyman. This forced prosecutors to change their accusations to claiming the group just “took on the ideology.” Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, assumed “that Right Sector is being foisted on the indictment in order to create a primitive media image of a nationalist threat in Crimea.”
4. The crimes which they are accused of are never classified as “terrorism” in Russia
One thing that united Kolchenko and Sentsov was their opposition to Russia’s annexation of their homeland, of which Putin’s ruling United Russia party was an active player. Kolchenko, Chirniy, and Afanasiev admit to planning to vandalise the United Russia offices, but in all cases the acts carried no significant damage.
There are numerous cases of such acts at United Russia party offices and administration buildings across Russia. These are never charged as acts of terror, the perpetrators instead being convicted for hooliganism and getting as little as two years in prison.
5. Free these political prisoners
Sentsov and Kolchenko are political prisoners and human right groups in Russia, Ukraine and internationally also recognise them as such. The campaign to free the Ukrainian socialist Kolchenko and film-director Sentsov must be stepped up.The trial being entirely based on forced testimonies, the alleged plot and connection to Right Sector speak of a return of Stalinist show trials in Russia, according to human rights groups.