Report: ‘37 hostages of the Kremlin’ (update)

1. Introduction

Due to the pressure, the international community was able to secure the release of Nadiya Savchenko, one of the most renowned Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. However, the number of Ukrainian citizens who have faced politically motivated criminal prosecution in Russia, has only increased in recent years. At least 30 Ukrainians are kept behind bars.

Especially difficult is the situation in Crimea, where, under the guise of fighting extremism, Russia pursues the most socially active Crimean Tatars. At least 14 people have been detained and the investigation into their cases continues. Thus, Russian propaganda creates the image of the Crimean Tatar people as an ethnic minority, prone to extremism. A similar technique has been used in Russia before, when, in the mass consciousness of society, representatives of Muslim nations were portrayed as extremists. Lawsuits against Crimean residents are carried out in the Caucasus region of Russia, where the situation with human rights is particularly difficult, and the work of independent observers is being hampered.

Many of the persecuted Ukrainian citizens have already been sentenced to long-term imprisonment (more than 5 years; incarceration). In Russia, they faced torture and psychological abuse, fabrication of criminal cases on trumped-up charges, as well as unfair trials.

The question of the release of persecuted citizens of Ukraine is not legal, but rather political. It is solely due to international pressure and the threat of imposing further sanctions that the Russian authoritarian regime can be forced to release Ukrainians.

In the report, we continue to present the fate of the Ukrainians, facing politically motivated criminal prosecution in Russia. The previous report ‘28 hostages of the Kremlinwas prepared jointly with the Centre for Civil Liberties and the initiative ‘Euromaidan SOS’ within the framework of the advocacy campaign ‘LetMyPeopleGo’.

2. The case of Nadiya Savchenko

Nadiya Savchenko, a former Ukrainian soldier, captured by pro-Russian militants in the east of Ukraine. In Russia, a criminal case was initiated against Savchenko, who faced charges of assassinating Russian journalists Anton Voloshyn and Igor Kornelyuk. The court trial commenced in September 2015 and was marred by overt bias. The international society labelled the trial ‘politically motivated’.

The court ruling

On 21 March, 2016, in the Donetsk City Court, the announcement of the verdict against Nadiya Savchenko, which was to last 2 days, began. More than a hundred representatives of the media, diplomatic workers as well as Nadiya’s friends and relatives arrived in Donetsk to observe the trial. Due to the limited confines of the courtroom, it was only possible for half of those wishing to participate in the reading of the verdict to be present. Notably, representatives of the Embassies of Canada and Poland were unable to enter the courtroom.

Some journalists followed the trial on video monitors on which the proceedings were being broadcast in a separate room. An element of the journalists present, including representatives of federal TV channels, were not allowed in the court building due to ‘overcrowding’. Despite this, several pro-Kremlin activists, wearing T-shirts bearing photographs of the murdered journalists, were allowed into the courtroom. Also, rallies ‘in support of Russian justice’ took place near the court building. They were attended by several dozen members of the Russian national patriotic organisation ‘Natsyonalno-Osvoboditelnoye Dvizheniye’ [‘The National Liberation Movement’] (NOD). 

During the reading of the verdict, the judge labelled all evidence presented by the defence ‘unconvincing’ and ‘unfounded’. In particular, the court censoriously approached the testimony of Nadiya Savchenko and her sister. The judge labelled the testimonies of other witnesses of the defence ‘contradictory’ and stated that they had been disproved by the witnesses of the prosecution, whom ‘there is no reason not to trust’. Testimonies of experts, summoned by the defence, were also labelled ‘contradictory’.

By decision of the court, Nadiya Savchenko was found guilty of the murder of journalists Anton Voloshin and Igor Kornelyuk (Article 105, section 2, letters ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘zh’ and ‘l’ of the CC), the attempted assassination of another journalist Viktor Denisov who was shot at (Article 30, section 3; Article 105, section 2, letters ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘zh’, and ‘l’ of the CC), as well as illegally crossing the border (Article 322, section 1 of the CC). She was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine in the amount of 30,000 roubles (approx. 430 dollars).

On 18 April, 2016, in Ukraine, sentences were handed down to Russian soldiers Evgeniy Erofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov who had participated in a military operation in the Donbass on the side of the so-called ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’. Erofeyev and Aleksandrov were considered prime candidates to be exchanged for Nadiya Savchenko.

The exchange

On 25 May, 2016, without any prior announcement in the media, the exchange of Nadiya Savchenko for the Russian soldiers Evgeniy Erofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov was carried out. According to the official version, it was not an exchange, but rather a transfer of convicts on the basis of the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree pardoning the Ukrainian servicewoman; thus fulfilling the request sent to him by relatives of Anton Voloshin and Igor Kornelyuk, the journalists killed in Ukraine. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, in turn, signed a decree on the pardoning of the convicts Erofeyev and Aleksandrov. As stated by the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Mariya Zakharova, the exchange of Savchenko for Erofeyev and Aleksandrov was in no way connected with the Minsk agreements.

3. ‘The Chechen case’

Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh are Ukrainian citizens whom Russia accused of committing crimes 20 years ago during the first Chechen war (between 1994-1996). According to Russian investigators, the Ukrainians allegedly took part in the war on the side of Chechen separatists. According to the criminal case file, former Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk, also fought in Chechnya. The evidence base in the criminal case centered around the testimony of witness Aleksandr Malofeyev, who allegedly fought alongside Karpyuk and Klykh in Chechnya, as well as the testimonies of the defendants, obtained from them using torture. On 26 October, 2015, a court trial commenced on the case of Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh.

Analysis of the indictment act

The Human Rights Centre ‘Memorial’ conducted analysis on the indictment act in the criminal case against Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh, identifying numerous historical inaccuracies concerning the case, which testifies to its fabrication. During the First Chechen War, ‘Memorial’ was engaged in the search for missing persons, prisoners of war and dead Russian soldiers as well as civilians.

According to the materials of the criminal case, the accused committed the alleged crimes (assassinations of Russian soldiers and their torture) in the vicinities of ‘Minutka’ Square, the Presidential Palace, as well as at the railway station in Grozny from 31 December, 1994 to 2 January, 1995. However, human rights activists have established that 28 of the 30 soldiers, whose murder the investigation attributed to Karpyuk and Klykh, had been killed in other areas of the city and under different circumstances to those specified in the case file. Most notably, among the list of Ukrainians allegedly murdered was the Russia hero, Yuriy Igitov who committed self-immolation with the use of a grenade. Moreover, in the area of the city of Grozny indicated in the aforementioned case file, military operations were not being carried out at that time.

Analysis conducted by human rights defenders was not included in the criminal case file for official reasons (the documents, on the basis of which the analysis was produced, were not examined in court).

It is highly unlikely that the only witness for the prosecution - Aleksandr Malofeyev - also participated in both Chechen wars, as he stated during the interrogation. At the request of the court, the case against Malofeyev, connected with another criminal case, was referred to the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic. According to the materials, in 2000, Aleksandr Malofeyev was serving prison time in Crimea, having been convicted of robbery and therefore could not have been in Chechnya at that time, as alleged by the investigators. Malofeyev’s participation in the First Chechen War is also very unlikely; according to the investigation, he became a member of the Ukrainian nationalist organisation ‘UNA-UNSO’ at the age of 15.

The court trial

The court trial in the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic was held with the participation of jurors which meant that some hope of an acquittal remained. Judge Vakhit Ismailov presided over the trial.

As in all Ukrainian cases, the court trial was marred by overt bias. The court granted the majority of motions filed by the prosecution and repeatedly rejected motions filed by the defence. Also, under various pretexts, the court refused to accept evidence filed by the defence. In particular, on 4 April, 2016, Judge Ismailov refused to admit to the case file records pertaining to the interrogation of defence witnesses filed with the court by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine (GPU). The package of documents from the GPU was provided in response to a formal request filed by the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office. The interrogation records included, amongst other things, evidence which would have favoured Karpyuk and Klykh, confirming that they had not been in Chechnya at the time of the military operation and, hence, could not have committed the crimes they were accused of.

The Russian side made several attempts to disrupt the cross-examination of the witnesses for the defence (relatives of Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh) during the trial. In order to take part in the trial, they had to travel a great distance (approx. 2,000 kilometres), which resulted in significant financial expense. On 14 March, 2016, they should have testified at the trial, however, the judge reportedly fell ill and consequently, the court session was suspended. On the morning of 24 March, 2016, on the day of the next court session, representatives of the Federal Migration Service visited the apartment where Karpyuk’s and Klykh’s relatives were residing during their stay in Russia. They drew up a report in connection with the alleged non-compliance by the Ukrainians with the permitted period of stay on the territory of Russia. After the Ukrainian consul arrived at the scene, representatives of the migration service left. Defence witnesses somehow managed to attend court and give testimonies at the trial.

On 17 March, 2016, the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic held a court session on the extension of the period of detention of Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh. Many journalists, civic activists, as well as relatives of the defendants attended the trial. The majority of those who arrived at the court, including Mykola Karpyuk’s brothers, were unable to gain access to the courtroom, as it transpired that it was occupied to capacity by unknown persons. Later, it was later reported that these attendees were, in fact, students who had been invited to the trial by the judge, Vakhit Ismailov. Stanislav Klykh’s mother did manage to gain entry to the courtroom, and when Stanislav saw her, he suffered an emotional breakdown - he began to shout out, proclaiming his innocence and that he had never been to Chechnya. Witnessing this, Stanislav’s mother fell weak, collapsed into the arms of the bailiffs and lost consciousness.

This behaviour of Stanislav Klykh came as no surprise. According to Counsel Irina Dubrovina, a few months before this incident, Stanislav Klykh had begun to show signs of mental illness. During the court proceedings, he behaved inappropriately: he flew into fits of rage, during which he used profanities and insulted the participants of the trial; he also began to show signs of insanity. In this regard, Stanislav Klykh was sent for psychiatric examination, which, predictably, deemed him sane. 

During subsequent court hearings, Stanislav Klykh continued to be extremely emotionally unstable, shouting out accusations about judges and public prosecutors. At the hearing on 20 February, 2016, in connection with Klykh’s behaviour, the judge ordered he be removed from the courtroom and announced that the extract from the minutes of the hearing would be sent to law enforcement authorities for inspection and that criminal proceedings may be imitated against Stanislav Klykh for insulting the public prosecutor, as a representative of the authorities, during the performance of his duties (Art. 319 of the CC of the RF). On 4 April, 2016, it was announced that a second criminal case had been instituted against Stanislav Klykh for insulting the public prosecutor. 

According to Counsel Marina Dubrovina, from mid-February 2016, while in the detention centre, Stanislav Klykh was administered medication (in tablet form as well as injections) against his will. This may an indication that the Russian law enforcement and prison authorities were aware of Klykh’s insanity and through the use of medication, were striving to influence state of health.

Attempts to involve public attorneys in the case

On 21 April, 2016, it was reported that Judge Vakhit Ismailov, against the will of Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klyhh and their defenders, had become involved in the case as additional public attorneys. Given that this occurred during the final stage of the proceedings, the court decision cannot be justified by the necessity to ensure the rights to defence of the accused. On the contrary, it is clear that this was a direct violation of their rights to a defence, as the public lawyers, as often happens in Russia, can act in the interests of the prosecution and prevent the effective work of independent counsels.

On 4 May, 2016, the attorneys, appointed by Judge Ismailov, failed to appear at the hearing, having filed a statement announcing their resignation from the case. Afterwards, the judge postponed the hearing until the following day, at the same time appointing two more attorneys. However, Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk once again refused to accept assistance from the assigned ‘defenders’. Subsequently, the judge abandoned his attempts to involve additional attorneys.

The court ruling

On 17 March, 2016, at the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic pleadings were entered. Prior to the hearing, Counsel Doka Itslayev requested that one of the jurors, who, according to the counsel’s account, was calling upon the other jurors not to acquit the Ukrainian defendants, stating: ‘You can’t act against the authorities’, be disqualified. The judge dismissed the motion.

On the evening of 18 May, 2016, following the pleadings and Mykola Karpyuk’s final plea (Stanislav Klykh was once again removed from the courtroom due to his improper behaviour and did not enter his final plea), the jury retired to arrive at a decision. However, they failed to reach a unanimous decision and the chairman of the jury requested an adjournment until the following morning.

The next day, the jury announced that they had found Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh guilty of all charges. Also, according to the jury’s announcement, Klykh deserved to be shown leniency.

On 24 May, 2016, the prosecution demanded that Mykola Karpyuk be sentenced to 22 years and 6 months’ imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony, and Stanislav Klykh - to 22 years’ imprisonment in a strict regime colony. The counsels demanded that all charges be dropped given the amount of time that had elapsed (over 15 years) and that the criminal prosecution be discontinued.

On 26 May, 2016, the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic found Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klyhh guilty of ‘leadership and participation in the criminal group’ (Art. 209, section 1 of the CC of the RF), the ‘murder of two or more persons in connection with the performance of their official duties’ (Article 102, letters ‘v’, ‘z’ and ‘n’ of the CC of the RSFSR) and ‘attempted murder’ (Article 15, section 2; Article 102, letters ‘v’, ‘z’ and ‘n’ of the CC of the RSFSR) as part of armed groups in the North Caucasus in 1994. Mykola Karpyuk was sentenced to 22 years and 6 months' imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony, and Stanislav Klykh - to 20 years’ imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony. Judge Vakhit Ismailov also issued a separate judgment in respect of the counsels Doka Itslayev and Marina Dubrovina for ‘actions, not befitting the honour and dignity of a lawyer’. Consequently, they are facing the possibility of being deprived of their rights to practice law. This clearly constituted an attempt to apply pressure to the convicts’ defenders, aimed at dissuading them from filing appeals.

4. The case of the ‘Crimean terrorists’

In May of 2014, four citizens of Ukraine: Gennadiy Afanasyev, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Oleg Sentsov and Oleksiy Chyrniy were detained in Crimea. Before their detention, each of them had borne an active pro-Ukrainian stance and openly opposed Russia’s occupation of the peninsula. The detainees were accused of offences related to ‘terrorism’, namely: the arson attack on the office door of the Russian Community of Crimea and the window of the office of the ‘United Russia’ party, as well as conspiracy to carry out an explosion at the Lenin monument and the Eternal Flame Memorial in Simferopol. All detainees were subjected to torture in order to force them to proclaim their guilt, and slander other defendants indicted in the case. Under torture, Gennadiy Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy agreed to cooperate with the investigators: they pleaded guilty and gave false testimonies against Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko. As a result, Afanasyev and Chyrniy were sentenced to ‘short’ terms of imprisonment, 7 years in prison. As for Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko, who did not admit their guilt, a show trial was held, in which they were eventually sentenced to 20 and 10 years’ imprisonment, respectively.

Gennadiy Afanasyev

In the trial against Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennadiy Afanasyev was one of the key witnesses, and, according to the prosecution’s plan, he was to give a testimony that would confirm the terrorist activity of Sentsov and Kolchenko. However, during the trial, Afanasyev recanted his previous testimony, stating that it had been given under torture. After the incident, representatives of the Russian law enforcement and prison systems began to requite Gennadiy Afanasyev for his act. The FSB investigator openly warned Afanasyev that he would be sent to serve his sentence in the ‘white bear area’ (–i.e. the North of Russia). It is a well-known fact that it was initially planned that Gennadiy Afanasyev would serve his sentence in a prison in the Kurgan province, in the south of Russia. However, following the incident at the trial, it was decided that he would be transferred to the northern part of the country, i.e. to colony №25, Syktyvkar, the Komi Republic. He was transferred there in October 2015.

Shortly after his arrival at the colony, Afanasyev’s personal belongings were searched and a blade was allegedly found. Afanasyev stated that the blade must have been planted. After this incident, he was sent to solitary confinement. During a subsequent search, guards allegedly found another contraband object: a SIM card for a mobile phone. According to the prisoner, it had also been planted by the colony’s guards. On one occasion, Afanasyev received an admonition for praying at night. ‘Repeated violations’ served as a pretext for harshening the conditions of his detention – on 9 February, 2016, Afanasyev was transferred to single-space facility №31 in the town of Mikun, 100 km from Syktyvkar. The ‘single-space facility’ is used as a form of disciplinary punishment in the Russian penitentiary system. Conditions of detention in various single-space facilities are extremely harsh – many prisoners are held in tiny cells, designed to hold just a few people, they are only entitled to one short visit and one parcel annually.

Gennadiy Afanasyev suffered a violation of his right to receive appropriate medical care. On 16 February, 2016, in the colony, Afanasyev was examined by a medical doctor and diagnosed with subacute streptoderma. In some cases, the disease can cause side effects such as sepsis. In spite of this, the only treatment he was prescribed was a course of zelyonka (a solution of brilliant green).

The colony’s authorities also violated Gennadiy Afanasyev’s right to diplomatic protection. The Russian side continues to insist that he is a citizen of Russia, and, therefore, is prohibited from meeting with Ukrainian diplomats. Afanasyev’s case file states that the Ukrainian passport is attached thereto. Afanasyev himself has repeatedly stated that he is a citizen of Ukraine and that he has not been granted Russian citizenship.

On 9 March, 2016, the Syktyvkar City Court ruled that Gennadiy Afanasyev has the right to serve his sentence in a colony in close proximity to his place of residence (or in a region of Russia, adjacent to Crimea). At the same time, the court refused to oblige the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) of Russia to immediately provide for Afanasyev’s transfer to one of the penal colonies in Crimea or in a nearby region of Russia. The court also refused to compensate Gennadiy Afanasyev for the moral damage he suffered.

On 2 May, 2016, Gennadiy Afanasyev, along with another Ukrainian political prisoner Yuriy Soloshenko, was transferred to Moscow, presumably for an exchange which would ensure their return them to Ukraine. Both prisoners wrote a petition for clemency, addressed to the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. In his petition, Gennadiy Afanasyev did not admit his guilt. Currently, they are still being held in custody in the ‘Lefortovo’ Detention Centre (Moscow).

Oleksiy Chyrniy

Following the announcement of the judgment, Oleksiy Chyrniy was transferred to one of the colonies in Magadan Province of Russia to serve a 7-year prison term.

On 16 July, 2015, the Supreme Court of the RF rejected the appeal filed by Oleksiy Chyrniy’s defence.

Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko

On 24 November, 2015, the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court considered the appeals against the judgments, issued in the case of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksander Kolchenko. The convicts participated in the court hearing via live video conferencing from detention centre No. 4 in Rostov-on-Don. The Ukrainians’ defence team petitioned to annul the verdict and refer the case for review. The counsels cited that Gennadiy Afanasyev, whose testimony served as the basis for the accusation, stated that he had been subjected to torture and that he had given false testimony incriminating Sentsov and Kolchenko.

The Collegium decided to uphold the verdict of the trial court.

Soon after, the convicted Ukrainians were transported to the places where they would serve their sentences; Oleksander Kolchenko was transferred to strict regime Correctional Facility No. 6 of the Office of the Federal Penitentiary Service in the RF for Chelyabinsk Province in February 2016; Oleg Sentsov - to the strict regime Correctional Facility No. 1 of the Office of the Federal Penitentiary Service for the Republic of Sakha. In both cases, in violation of Russian law, neither of the convicts was transferred to a colony near his place of residence (Crimea) or sentencing (Rostov Province). This was a deliberate measure aimed at preventing any opportunity for Sentsov and Kolchenko’s relatives to visit them in prison.

On 30 May, 2016, the Supreme Court of the RF refused to consider Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko’s cassation appeal. Thus, all possible protection mechanisms have been exhausted in Russia, and now the Ukrainians and their counsels can only seek redress from the European Court of Human Rights.

5. The case of Oleksandr Kostenko

Oleksandr Kostenko is a former law enforcement officer from Crimea; he took part in the ‘Euromaidan’ protest rallies in Kiev. Following his return to Crimea in December 2014, a criminal case was initiated against him for allegedly ‘assaulting a police officer’ during ‘Euromaidan’. During the investigation, he was subjected to torture. In May 2015, Oleksandr Kostenko was sentenced to 4 years and 2 months in prison in Crimea. Following an appeal, the sentence was reduced to 3 years and 6 months.

Oleksandr Kostenko is serving the term in the penal colony of the Office of the Federal Penitentiary Service of the RF of Kirov Province. He continues to be subjected to persecution and pressure whilst serving his sentence. Immediately upon his arrival at the colony, he was registered in the preventive database ‘as [a prisoner] studying, promoting, professing or spreading extremist ideology’ and as ‘likely to escape’.

As stated in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the Consul of Ukraine is not allowed to visit Oleksandr, which constitutes a violation of Art. 13 of the Consular Convention between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

According to counsel Dmitriy Sotnikov, Oleksandr Kostenko was twice punished with admonitions for allegedly failing to greet an employee of the administration of Correctional Facility No. 5. On 12 April, 2016, Kostenko was placed in a punishment cell. All this took place on the eve of the Oleksandr Kostenko’s parole hearing, which was held on 13 April, 2016. The court ruled against releasing the Ukrainian. Counsel Dmitriy Sotnikov intends to lodge an appeal in respect of this ruling. 

Oleksandr Kostenko is also denied his right to adequate medical care. Presently, he has a problem with his arm which was broken during his arrest. Oleksandr Kostenko’s arm was operated on while he was still in the detention facility, but the treatment should not have been limited to the surgery also; he is in need of post-surgical medical treatment. According to counsel Dmitriy Sotnikov, Oleksandr hasn’t been undergone any post-operative procedures in CF No.5, and, as a result, his arm has begun to wither.

On 20 April, 2016, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation refused to revise the sentence against Oleksandr Kostenko, rejecting all the arguments of the defence. In particular, the court did not accept the argument that in the course of the preliminary investigation, the Ukrainian was subjected to torture. The Supreme Court also pointed to the fact that, at the time of the institution of criminal proceedings, Oleksandr Kostenko was a citizen of Russia, although this is not true, as Kostenko is a citizen of Ukraine and has never been granted Russian citizenship. 

6. The case of Andriy Kolomiyets

Andriy Kolomiyets – aged 23, member of the ‘Euromaidan’ protest rallies in Kiev. In December 2014, he moved to Russia, where a few months later, he was arrested on suspicion of drug possession. Shortly after, he faced accusations of the attempted murder of two police officers during the events in Kiev.

Andriy Kolomiyets was arrested in May 2015 by the police officers in the city of Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkar Republic of the Russian Federation). Initially, he was detained for an alleged illegal possession of drugs (Art. 228, section 2 of the CC of the RF), which could have been planted on him in order to create an excuse for the police to arrest him. After being subjected to physical violence (Kolomiyets was subjected to torture with the use of electric shocks and battery), the charge of the attempted murder of workers of Ukrainian law enforcement bodies at the time of the events in Kiev was brought against him.

According to the prosecution, Andriy Kolomiyets is a member of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – UPA, banned in Russia (it virtually ceased to exist in 1954) and participated in the ‘armed resistance to law enforcement officials’ during Euromaidan in Kiev. In particular, as stated in the indictment act, on 20 January, 2014, Andriy Kolomiyets threw incendiary bottles at police officers. Consequently, he allegedly posed danger to the lives of two employees of the ‘Berkut’ special division from Crimea: M.V. Kozyakov and A.V. Gavrilenko. Thus, in addition to the charges of illegal drug possession, Kolomiyets also faced charges of attempted murder of law enforcement officers (Art. 105, section 2 of the CC of the RF). The evidence base is based on the testimony of Andriy Kolomiyets, obtained under torture, and on the testimony of the very ‘victims’ who allegedly identified Kolomitets.

The court trial of Andriy Kolomiyets was launched in February 2016. The case is being examined near the place of the permanent residence of the ‘victims’, i.e. in Crimea. Andriy Kolomiyets faces up to 15 years in prison.

The story of the criminal prosecution of Andriy Kolomiyets is very similar to the case of Oleksandr Kostenko. In both cases, Russia dispenses justice on the events that took place in another country, and with the participation of citizens of another state. It is noteworthy that during the interrogation, attempts were made to coerce Kolomiyets to give a false testimony against Oleksandr Kostenko, but he refused to do so.

7. The case of Hayser Dzhemilev

Hayser Dzhemilev is the youngest son of the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev. He was sentenced by a Russian court to 5 years in prison, having been convicted of negligent homicide, in connection with a crime of 2013 (i.e. before the occupation of the peninsula). As a result of the appeal, his sentence was reduced to 3.5 years’ imprisonment. Even before the handing down of the judgment in Russia, a Ukrainian Court had sentenced Hayser Dzhemilev to 3 years and 8 months’ imprisonment for the very same crime. Thus, Russia violated a fundamental principle of justice concerning the lack of possibility of punishing a person twice for the same crime.

In May 2015, Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice sent a formal request to the General Prosecutor’s Office of the RF in which it called upon Russia to extradite Hayser Dzhemilev to Ukraine so he could serve the Ukrainian court’s sentence. The Russian side did not respond to the request, and so Ukraine was forced to resend it. In January 2016, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the RF denied the request.

On 25 February, 2016, the Sovietkiy District Court of Astrakhan dismissed a motion filed by Dzhemilev’s defence regarding his parole. The court justified the refusal with a negative opinion about the convict which focused on his lack of commendations, and the fact that he has 4 outstanding admonitions. The counsel’s complaint against the refusal of parole was also rejected.

It is worth noting that Hayser’s father, Mustafa Dzhemilev, is prohibited from entering the territory of Russia, and so he cannot visit his son in prison. The illegal criminal prosecution by Russia of Hayser Dzhemilev is an attempt to exert pressure on his father who openly opposes the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia.

8. The case of Hizb ut-Tahrir

Following the annexation of Crimea, the self-proclaimed authorities of the peninsula begun to persecute people on religious grounds. Members of the religious organisation ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, recognised by Russia as terrorist, were subjected to criminal prosecution. In Ukraine and other democratic countries, the organisation is not considered a terrorist group. Human rights activists insist that there is no evidence to suggest that ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ members engage in any terrorist activities.

Thus far, at least 14 people have been arrested in Crimea on charges of involvement in the activities of the organisation.

First, in January 2015, Crimean Muslims: Ruslan Zeytullayev, Nuri Primov and Rustem Vaitov were detained. In April, 2015, Ferat Sayfullayev was also detained. They were all accused of involvement in the terrorist organisation ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ (Art. 205.5, section 2 of the CC of the RF), and Ruslan Zeytulaev also faced charges of organising the group’s activities (Art. 205.5, section1 of the CC of the RF).

The reason for the criminal prosecution was possession of literature which is banned in Russia, as well as the fact that in conversations with other people, they spoke of the organisation in a positive context. On this basis, they faced charges of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘participation in the organisation of its activities’. It is clear that the qualification of such actions as a criminal offence is a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion, as enshrined in international instruments and the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

According to Counsel Emil Kurbedinov, who protects the interests of the accused, the evidence presented by the investigators was based on the testimony of witnesses who have had a strained relationship with the accused and examinations which concluded that the recordings and the literature, uncovered during searches of the defendants in the case, are related to the ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ party and reflect its ideology.

At the beginning of 2016, the second wave of arrests of suspected members of the ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ organisation began on the peninsula. They faced the same accusation as the previous detainees.

In February, in various corners of Crimea, searches were carried out almost simultaneously at the homes of 14 people suspected of involvement in ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’. Four of them were later arrested, namely: Emir-Usein Kuku (a member of the Contact Group on Human Rights in Crimea), Inver Bekirov and Muslim Aliyev (both chairmen of local Muslim communities in Crimea) as well as Vadim Siruk. As regards Emir-Usein Kuku, he had been previously subjected to persecution by Russian security services for openly criticising Russia for its occupation of the peninsula. Charges of organising and participating in the activities of a terrorist organisation (Article 205.5, section 1 and 2 of the CC of the RF) were brought against all four detainees.

In April, Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov were arrested. According to Dzhepparov’s sister, prior to that, the security services had attempted to convince him to cooperate with them, but they refused. In May, Zevri Abseitov, Remzi Memetov, Rustem Abiltarov and Enver Mamutov were detained in Bakhchisarai. All were arrested on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist organisation (Art. 205.5, section 1 of the CC of the RF).

It is worth noting that all the detainees had participated in meetings devoted to discussing the political situation in Crimea, in particular, the possible negative consequences of the Russian occupation of the peninsula for the Tatar population. These arguments were cited in court to justify the necessity to arrest them. It is noteworthy that frequently, such meetings were held with the participation of just a handful of people. Thus, the allegations of involvement in a terrorist organisation could have been used to serve as a pretext for the persecution of a politically active part of the population of the peninsula. All those accused in the organisation of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities face 15 to 20 years in prison, and those who were only accused of participation in it - 5 to 10 years.

All the defendants of the criminal case are being held in custody. The court refused to select any other measure of restraint than detention with respect to them despite the fact that they all have minor children (Enver Mamutov has 6 minor children). Given that the majority of Muslim families are patriarchal and women, as a rule, do not work, the arrest of the breadwinners can result in serious difficulties for their families.

On 18 May, 2016, the trial of those first arrested on charges of involvement in the ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ terrorist organisation: Ruslan Zeytullayev, Nuri Primov, Rustem Vaitov and Ferat Sayfullayev commenced. A preliminary hearing was held across two locations. The defendants and their counsels were in the Crimea Garrison Military Court of Simferopol whilst the judge conducted the hearing via video conferencing from the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don. It is worth noting that it was also in the Rostov court that the trial against the Ukrainian political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko was held. On 26 May, 2016, all the defendants were transferred to Rostov-on-Don for a further trial.

On 1 June, 2016, during the first hearing in the North Caucasus District Military Court, 4 public defenders were appointed to represent the defendants. The defendants were against this decision as each already had his own counsel. However, the court ignored their protests. It is noteworthy that in other Ukrainian cases, attempts were also made to involve additional public defenders in cases in order to disrupt the work of the defence teams. Such actions of the court can be regarded as a restriction of the defendants’ rights to a defence.

In addition to the 14 people who are behind bars for their alleged involvement in the religious organisation ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, hundreds of other Muslims have faced persecution on religious grounds. Law enforcement agencies of the occupying authorities even arrest Muslims while they worship in mosques (on 6 May, 2016, approx. 100 people were detained in Molodezhnoye village), and storm the houses of Crimean Tatars to conduct searches in different parts of the peninsula. 

9. The case of ‘26 February’

On 26 February, 2014, a mass rally of pro-Ukrainian activists in support of Ukrainian unity was held in the building of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic (AR) of Crimea. At the same time, near the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea, counter-rallies took place, one of which was attended by representatives of pro-Russian organisations who demanded Crimea’s accession to Russia. Due to the ineffective actions of the police, with respect to ensuring the safety of peaceful assembly, a skirmish broke out between the participants of the rally, resulting in injuries to dozens of people, two of whom subsequently died (both were participants of the pro-Russian rally).

In connection with these events, the law enforcement agencies of the authorities occupying the peninsula initiated a criminal case against members of the pro-Ukrainian meeting. Participants of the pro-Russian rally have not been subjected to prosecution and are merely involved in the case as victims, which evidences the selective nature of justice.

8 participants of the pro-Ukrainian rally were subjected to criminal prosecution. Some of them received suspended sentences having been convicted of involvement in the riots (Article 212, section 2 of the CC of the RF) - Talyat Yunusov (3.5 years’ imprisonment with probation), Eskender Nebiyev (2.5 years’ imprisonment with probation). The prosecution against other defendants is still ongoing. And so, Ali Asanov, Mustafa Dehermendzhi and Akhtem Chiyhoz have been held in custody for more than a year now, while Arsen Yunusov, Eskender Kantemirov and Eskender Emirvaliyev are under house arrest. The most serious charges were brought against the Deputy Chairman of the Majilis of the Crimean Tatar People Akhtem Chiyhoz who is accused of inciting riots (Art. 212, section 1 of the CC of the RF). He faces up to 15 years in prison. The rest of the defendants in the case are charged with participation in mass riots (Art. 212, section 2 of the CC of the RF), and face up to 8 years in prison.

The period of detention of Ali Asanov, Mustafa Dehermendzhi and Akhtem Chiyhoz has been repeatedly extended in violation of Russian legislation and international standards. On 2 March, 2016, Judge of the Supreme Court of Crimea Galina Redko willfully, in an extra-judicial procedure, extended the period of detention of the defendants. A court session was not even held. Therefore, Akhtem Chiyhoz filed a report on the commitment of an offence by Judge Redko. On 19 May, 2016, another judge, Olga Plastina, tried to hold a court hearing on the extension of the detention of Akhtem Chiyhoz in absentia, which is in violation of Russian legislation.

On 15 January, 2016, at the Crimean Supreme Court, the trial of ‘26 February’ commenced. The Presiding Judge was Viktor Zinkov. The prosecution in the trial is represented directly by the Crimean Prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya. At the very first session, the court prohibited the capturing of video and taking of photographs during the trial.

The investigators stated in the indictment act that all of the accused, except Chiyhoz, ‘... used violence against an unidentified person’. At the same time, it is not specified how the use of force has been proved.

10. The case of Serhiy Lytvynov

Serhiy Lytvynov is a resident of Luhansk Province; he was subjected to criminal prosecution in Russia on several trumped-up charges of committing crimes in the east of Ukraine. Since August 2014, he has been held in a detention centre in Rostov-on-Don.

First, as a result of torture and unlawful methods of inquiry, Serhiy Lytvynov incriminated himself by ‘confessing’ to committing a number of grave crimes on the territory of Luhansk Province: the murder of 39 men, the rape and murder of eight women and the murder of a 12-year-old girl. Lytvynov was accused of the murder of two or more people (Art. 105, section 2 of the CC of the RF) and the use of prohibited means and methods of warfare (Art. 356, section 1 of the CC of the RF), punishable by a life sentence. Later, it became clear that the charges were invented by investigators and had no basis in reality. In addition, a forensic examination revealed that Lytvynov had been subjected to torture aimed at forcing him to incriminate himself. The criminal case fell apart and the investigating authorities of the Russian Federation have not submitted the indictment act in the court.

The case of Lytvynov is the only one among the so-called ‘Ukrainian cases’, in which someone was accused of committing purely military offences. This case also fell apart during the investigation stage due to the absurdity and false nature of the charges.

However, instead of releasing Serhiy Lytvynov, another criminal case was initiated against him on charges of robbery (Article 162, section 3 of the CC of the RF). According to investigators, in the summer of 2014, Lytvynov, along with two ‘representatives of the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine’, committed a robbery with the use of a Kalashnikov rifle against a citizen of the Russian Federation in a village in Luhansk Province’. The attackers allegedly ‘stole two cars belonging to the victim and caused him bodily harm’.

The charge of robbery was brought against Serhiy Lytvynov on 8 June, 2015, nearly a year after his arrest. At that time, the ‘aggravated’ Russian citizen Oleksandr Lysenko first became involved in the criminal case.

Serhiy Lytvynov’s defence presented to the court evidence of the fabrication of the case. In particular, the Russian citizen (the victim in the case) did not reside in Ukraine at the time of the alleged robbery, and he presented to investigators false documents when proving his ownership of the cars.

On 24 April, 2016, the Tarasovskiy District Court of Rostov Province found Serhiy Lytvynov guilty of committing a robbery (Art. 162, section 3 of the CC of the RF) against Russian citizen Aleksandr Lysenko and sentenced him to 8 years and 6 months' imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony. On the same day, Serhiy Lytvynov’s defenders filed an appeal against the verdict. Ukrainian lawyers intend to challenge the verdict in the ECHR and to file a lawsuit in the interests of preserving the honour and dignity of Serhiy Lytvynov in the light of articles published by some Russian media outlets, which, without him having been convicted, referred to Lytvynov as ‘the Ukrainian Punisher’ who killed dozens of people in the Donbas. The defence intends to file another claim for damages, in their opinion owed to Serhiy Lytvynov, in compensation for the year he was detained in connection with charges which were later dropped.

11. The cases of spies

Yuriy Soloshenko

Yuriy Soloshenko is a 74 year-old former director of the ‘Znamya’ military plant (in Poltava). In October 2015, he was sentenced by a Russian court to 6 years’ imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony, having been convicted of spying for Ukraine. The investigation promised Soloshenko a suspended sentence on the condition that he agreed to cooperate and that he pleaded guilty. Having faith in the promise, Soloshenko ‘confessed’ to spying, but was sentenced to a prison term regardless, rather than probation.

Due to the grave state of his health (he has heart disease and a tumour), it is unlikely that Yuriy Soloshenko will survive the harsh conditions of detention in a Russian prison. Since the early days of his term, he has been held in a prison hospital wing due to his serious health condition. 

There are only two chances for Yuriy Soloshenko’s to be granted early release: an exchange with Ukraine, or a pardon by the President of Russia. The probability of a prompt exchange with Ukraine is very low at the moment, given the difficulties during the talks about an exchange of prisoners between the two countries. And so, Yuriy Soloshenko decided to try the second option: a month after the verdict was announced, he filed a petition for clemency to the President of Russia. However, the procedure for clemency in Russia provides that, before the petition reaches the President, it should be considered by members of the Regional Commission on Pardons, and the Governor of the Province in which the prisoner is serving his term.

Yuriy Soloshenko filed one more petition with the Commission on Pardons in Nizhny Novgorod. ‘My only desire in this life is to devote my remaining days to my elderly, 75-year-old, sick wife who needs my help and support, and my minor grandchildren, and my great-grandchild, who was born after my imprisonment’, - Yuriy Soloshenko wrote in the petition. On 20 April, 2016, he received a response from the Nizhny Novgorod Committee on Pardons, refusing his request. 

Valentyn Vyhivskyi

Valentyn Vyhivskyi is a Ukrainian entrepreneur; under mysterious circumstances, he was arrested in Crimea in September 2014 and subsequently accused of ‘spying’. The case of Vygivskiy is fully classified. It is known that he agreed to cooperate with investigators and admitted his guilt. In December 2015, the court sentenced him to 11 years in prison.

On 31 March, 2016, the Supreme Court considered the appeal against the sentence, handed down against Valentyn Vyhivskyi. The court hearings were held behind closed doors. Valentyn Vyhivskyi was present in the courtroom. The Supreme Court has ruled to uphold the verdict of the trial court.

On 26 April, 2016, Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice sent a request to the Ministry of Justice of the RF to transfer Valentyn Vyhivskyi to Ukraine for serving the sentence imposed.

12. Conclusions

Within the framework of the advocacy campaign ‘LetMyPeopleGo’, the Open Dialog Foundation hereby calls on the international community (international organisations and institutions, governments of the EU Member States, the governments of Australia, Canada, the USA and Japan) to increase pressure on the Russian authorities in order to bring about the release of Ukrainians, incarcerated for political reasons. In order to achieve this, we consider it necessary to:

  1. Organise an international campaign for the defence of the Ukrainian citizens, faced with unlawful, politically motivated criminal prosecution in Russia and the occupied Crimea. In particular, it is necessary to organise hearings on the topic in the national parliaments of democratic states and the European Parliament.
  2. Create a foundation for emergency aid for Ukrainians and their families, persecuted for political reasons in Russia and the occupied Crimea.
  3. Demand that the Russian side respect the basic rights of citizens of Ukraine and the European Union, included in the list of the campaign ‘LetMyPeopleGo’, such as the right to life, freedom from torture, the right to a fair trial; ensure access to a counsel, the international medical missions, as well as Ukrainian and European diplomatic representatives within the period established in international obligations of the Russian Federation.
  4. Promote the provision of qualified legal assistance for Ukrainians, persecuted for political reasons in Russia and the occupied Crimea; provide protection and international support for lawyers who run criminal cases within the framework of the ‘LetMyPeopleGo’ campaign.
  5. Organise international observation of the trials of the citizens of Ukraine, imprisoned in Russia and the occupied Crimea for political reasons.
  6. Organise monitoring missions to places of detention of Ukrainian citizens, imprisoned for political reasons in Russia and the occupied Crimea. It is necessary to establish control over the conditions of their detention and their states of health.
  7. Consider the possibility of nominating the Ukrainians, persecuted for political reasons, as candidates for various prizes and awards in order to attract the maximum publicity to their cases, as well as financial and moral support for the persecuted and their families.
  8. Introduce personal sanctions against those involved in the illegal, politically motivated criminal prosecution of Ukrainians in Russia and the occupied Crimea.
  9. Demand from the Russian side that Ukrainian citizens, imprisoned in Russia and the occupied Crimea for political reasons, be unconditionally released. Without meeting this requirement, the Minsk Agreements cannot be considered to have been fulfilled, and the regime of sanctions, imposed on Russia by democratic countries of the world should remain in force until all Ukrainians, incarcerated for political reasons in Russia and the occupied Crimea, are released.

All those wishing to support our demands are welcome to send their statements to the following persons and institutions:

  • PACE President Pedro Agramunt — e-mail: pedro.agramunt@senado.es, tel: +33 88 41 23 41;
  • OSCE PA Presidente Ilkka Kanerva — e-mail: ilkka.kanerva@parliament.fi, tel:+358 9 432 3055; +358 9 432 3529;
  • OSCE PA Chair of the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions Isabel Santos – a form for online requests: https://www.parlamento.pt/DeputadoGP/Paginas/EmailDeputado.aspx?BID=2103, tel: +351 21 391 9628;
  • European Parliament President Martin Schulz - 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Paul-Henri Spaak 09B011, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: martin.schulz@europarl.europa.eu, tel: +32(0)2 28 45503 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75503 (Strasbourg);
  • EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini – 1049 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200,  e-mail: federica.mogherini@ec.europa.eu, tel: +32 2 584 11 11; +32 (0) 2 295 71 69;
  • The Head of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok – 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Altiero Spinelli 05E240, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: elmar.brok@europarl.europa.eu,tel: +32(0)2 28 45323 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75323 (Strasbourg);
  • The Head of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights Elena Valenciano - 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Altiero Spinelli 11G354, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: elena.valenciano@europarl.europa.eu,tel: +32(0)2 28 45846 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75846 (Strasbourg);
  • The Head of Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee Andrej Plenković - 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Altiero Spinelli 14E165, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: andrej.plenkovic@europarl.europa.eu, 1047 Brussels, tel: +32(0)2 28 45955 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75955 (Strasbourg);
  • EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis- e-mail:stavros.lambrinidis@ext.eeas.europa.eu, tel: +32(0)2 584 230;
  • The President of the European Council Donald Tusk-– 1048 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 175,       e-mail: donald.tusk@european-council.europa.eu, tel: +32 2 28 15650;
  • The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker– 1049 Brussels, Belgium Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, e-mail: president.juncker@ec.europa.eu;
  • The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland - e-mail: thorbjorn.jagland@coe.int, tel: + 33 (0)3 88 41 20 00;
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein – Palais des Nations  CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, tel: +41 22 917 9220;
  • NATO PA President Michael Turner – 1000 Brussels, Belgium, 3 Place du Petit Sablon, a form for online requests: http://www.nato-pa.int/Default.asp?SHORTCUT=2098, tel: +32(0)2 513 28 65;
  • US Secretary of State John Kerry – a form for online requests: https://register.state.gov/contactus/contactusform;
  • Chairman of the US Helsinki Commission Senator Chris Smith – 20515, Washington, D.C., USA, 2373 Rayburn House Office Building, tel: +1 (202) 225 37 65;
  • Office of the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau – ON K1A 0A2, Ottawa, 80 Wellington Street.