Irkutsk, Chelyabinsk, Syktyvkar, Magadan oblast – the incumbent Kremlin regime has inherited a tradition that stretches back to the days of the Russian Empire in casting Ukrainians to prisons at the edge of the world. Recently it was reported that Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov, who had been illegally imprisoned and convicted of terrorism, would be transferred to Irkutsk. Oleksandr Kolchenko, his co-defendant in the same case who received ten years of penal colony, is being sent to Chelyabinsk.
Another accomplice in the “case of Crimean terrorists,” Oleksii Chyrnii, was transferred recently to the Magadan oblast. And it has already been a few months that Hennadii Afanasiev, who had been a witness in the Sentsov-Kolchenko case, serves his term in the colony near Syktyvkar. Incidentally, on February 12 there is going to be a hearing on the appeal by Afanasiev and his mother Olha in protest of the decision by the Federal Penitentiary Service, according to which Hennadii is to be serving the sentence in a remote region thousands of kilometers away from his home in Simferopol – Komi Republic. Maybe, that was the reason the special forces of the Federal Penitentiary Service conducted a personal search of Hennadii and found a SIM card (which, probably was planted), and the prisoner is now facing the threat of solitary confinement. And those are not the only examples.
“APPARENTLY, THE JAILERS THOUGHT THAT MY FATHER LIVES TOO COMFORTABLY”
For Viktor Shur, the “prisoner of the Kremlin,” who is serving a sentence in the prison No. 5 of the Tatarstan Republic, the conditions of his detention were gratuitously made harsher. Human rights activists from the “Let My People Go” campaign suggest that the elderly man will be kept in the disciplinary cell. The order for the harsher conditions seems to come straight from Moscow, and only concerns Shur. This order was not justified by any legal grounds.
Viktor Shur is a citizen of Russia, but his whole family lives in Ukraine, and he has a residence permit in Ukraine. Late past year he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for “treason” – allegedly, he spied in Russia on behalf of Ukraine.
“Thanks to respectful attitude of the inmates in my father’s prison, he has not complained about his conditions. He even used to say that he thought it would be worse,” says Olha Nalimova, Shur’s daughter. “And, apparently, after an inspection from Moscow, which had visited two weeks earlier, his jailers perhaps thought my father lives too comfortably. So, an order came from Moscow to transfer him to harsher conditions of detention.”
The situation is complicated by the fact that Shur has no legal protection – earlier, he refused the lawyer because he trusted in the honesty and integrity of a Russian police investigator, Krokhmal. As for the Ukrainian citizenship for Shur, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs promised to assist in this process in October, but since then there has been no real action on their behalf, according to Nalimova.
“The transfer has begun, for nearly a month there was no communication with the father, we did not know his whereabouts and condition,” says Nalimova. “Then he was quarantined in a colony for two weeks, and then the inspection came. Now he is threatened by the harsher detention conditions. Letters to father are being put to selection; we sent him the documents he could fill out in order for his brother to deal with his citizenship matters in Ukraine. As it turned out, a date in the colony requires waiting in line, and it sometimes takes up to half a year. Therefore, we must wait for the father’s turn for a meeting to have an opportunity to really talk with him.”
“THE TREND WAS SET LONG AGO, AND IT IS CRYSTAL CLEAR”
From this week the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic in Grozny continues the trial of Mykola Karpiuk and Stanislav Klykh, Ukrainians who are accused of involvement in the First Chechen War. The proceedings were put to a halt for two weeks in order to have Klykh pass a psychiatric examination after his inappropriate behavior in the courtroom.
The Ukrainian has been admitted sane. The defense does not comment on the results of the examination, because it might harm the trial, but wants to conduct an independent one. According to Maria Tomak, coordinator of the “Let My People Go” campaign, the court resumed with redoubled intensity – the meetings are to be held daily. Therefore, the case will be tight.
In addition, the pressure is increasing upon Serhii Lytvynov, farmer from Luhansk region, who was originally charged with murder and rape. The accusations have been dropped later, and now he is being tried “only” for car theft. Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of the NGO “Center for Civil Liberties,” says that Russian investigators are trying to prevent independent defenders from taking part in the case – admitting only a lawyer who was imposed by the court.
“On February 13, a meeting of foreign ministers of the Normandy Quartet [the representatives of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia. – Ed.] is scheduled. So, we can assume – though probably none of us can say it with certainty – that by strengthening the harassment upon the prisoners, Russia is trying to put on airs and raise the stakes. After all, the talks about an exchange of the ‘Kremlin’s prisoners’ have been there long ago,” reflects Polina Brodik, activist of the “Let My People Go” campaign. “But that’s just speculation. Sudden changes in several cases at once shortly before a meeting in the Normandy format could be just a coincidence. It is difficult to make any predictions and give a clear analysis. Thus we are only observing the situation.”
Incidentally, the transfer of Sentsov and Kolchenko to Irkutsk and Chelyabinsk, very far from their place of living and registration – as well as in the case of Afanasiev – contradicts the Russian law. They are eligible to complain to the court and require being imprisoned closer to Crimea.
“WE MUST REDOUBLE OUR EFFORTS”
Occasionally, the lawyers of the “Kremlin’s prisoners” refer to the possibility of their clients’ exchange. “Negotiations of this kind do not occur in the legal field, it must be a political decision,” says Matviichuk. “Mark Feigin, lawyer of Nadia Savchenko, has expressed confidence that his client would be released in the spring. I do not know what his optimism is based on. The option he promotes is sending her to serve the sentence in Ukraine. But it depends not only on Ukraine’s decision, which has to admit Nadia guilty, albeit formally, but also on the Russian Federation.”
There are several ways to release “hostages of the Kremlin,” at the same time making sure Russia would not lose face before its citizens, emphasizes Matviichuk. For example, the exchange can occur in the framework of the Minsk agreement – every Ukrainian, imprisoned for political reasons in the Russian Federation, is included in the exchange list. But all of this requires a political decision. To make sure they are made in favor of the people, the international pressure is needed.
“We must redouble our efforts to have the names of the 21 Kremlin’s prisoners never leave the agenda of international organizations, and neither the agenda of any negotiations with Russia,” asserts Matviichuk. “It will be even harder eventually. When the trials come to an end, the people remain alone against the administration of the colonies, and their health and life are completely under control of the jailers. And we can hear nothing about them. Therefore, the fates of these people need to be kept up in public attention. There is support of the international community. We appreciate those sometimes symbolic acts. But many things happen symbolically at first and then become a reality.”