Halya Coynash Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Gennady Afanasyev is facing punitive measures in Russian captivity for retracting testimony given under torture against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko. Whendeclaring Afanasyev a political prisoner in August this year, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre warned that he was in danger. That warning has now been repeated by Afanasyev’s lawyer, Alexander Popkov, who says that by his act of courage in refusing to repeat false testimony and saying how it had been tortured out of him, the young Ukrainian has now become the FSB’s ‘personal enemy’.
Afanasyev has, as was threatened, been sent to a prison colony in the far north of Russia [the Republic of Komi] with extremely harsh conditions. In the space of just over a month, he has faced four punishments for fabricated misdemeanours and there are real grounds for concern that he may not survive such treatment for long.
Afanasyev himself, via his lawyer, has passed an appeal to Ukraine’s leaders and to all Ukrainian citizens.
“I hope that my country’s leaders and consuls will help and that extradition or exchange will be organized. I hope to return to my homeland. I would wish for you all that you fear nothing and never surrender”.
Gennady Afanasyev, like recognized political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko, and the fourth Crimean arrested in May 2014 – Oleksiy Chirniy – is a Ukrainian citizen. Moscow’s claim that the four men ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens after Russia’s forcible annexation of their homeland demonstrates cynical contempt for international law.
The four are “Ukrainians held illegally” in Russia, and must therefore be released in accordance with the Minsk Protocol.
We are therefore calling on both Ukraine’s leaders and key European bodies to publicly demand the men’s release and to remind Russia that this is part of the commitment it made in signing the Minsk Protocol.
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Afanasyev, Kolchenko, Sentsov and a fourth person – Oleksiy Chirniy – all opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea. They were arrested in May 2014, and held incommunicado for weeks before being taken to Russia, when on May 30 the FSB or Russian Security Service claimed that they had been involved in a ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’.
Sentsov and Kolchenko denied all charges from the outset and spoke consistently of having been tortured to force ‘confessions’ out of them. Sentsov, who is older, an internationally renowned film director as well as an Automaidan activist, was told that if he didn’t give the testimony they demanded, they would make him the ‘mastermind’ of their fictitious plot and he would die in Russian captivity.
Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years on Aug 25, Kolchenko to 10 years after a trial where it became clear from the first day that the prosecution had absolutely nothing against the men. The Memorial Human Rights Centre issued a statement in which it condemned the trial and recognized Sentsov and Kolchenko as political prisoners.
The case entirely hinged on the two ‘confessions’. For (initially) agreeing to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators, both Afanasyev and Chirniy were tried separately and received the minimum sentence for ‘terrorism’. It should be stressed, and Memorial has, that none of the charges against any of the four constitute ‘terrorism’, and even the 7-year sentences are unwarranted.
On July 31, Afanasyev appeared in court and, instead of refusing to testify, but standing by previously given testimony as the FSB had insisted he do, he stated that everything he had said before was a lie, and given under torture.
He later described the earlier torture and the pressure he had been put under before appearing in the courtroom. See: Tortured for testimony against Sentsov-Kolchenko in Russia’s ‘Crimean terrorist plot’ trial.
Afanasyev’s lawyer has now lodged a cassation appeal against the 7-year sentence passed. He is not confident that the Supreme Court will accept this for consideration since the appeal should have been filed by the prosecutor after Afanasyev effectively broke his agreement with the investigators.
Both the prosecution and the court should have paid heed to Afanasyev’s statement that he had been tortured into testifying against Sentsov. Instead, the FSB threatened retaliation against Afanasyev and his mother, and the court went ahead, as planned, with its 20- and 10-year sentences against Sentsov and Kolchenko.
This is indeed “ideologically motivated state terror” against Ukrainian citizens and none of the sentences can have any weight in domestic or international law.
They are illegally held and must be released.