Russian special services continue with the fabricated criminal case against the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. The investigators declare that the investigation will be completed soon, and in early 2015, the trial may begin.
Let us remind ourselves that Oleg Sentsov and other persons, accused in the case of the ‘Crimean terrorists’, are facing serious charges of terrorism in the form of the arson attack on the ‘Russian Community of Crimea’ building on 14 April, 2014 (the entrance to the building was burned) and the building of the Simferopol branch of the party ‘United Russia’ on 18 April, 2014 (a window was damaged by fire), as well as charges of ‘plotting to carry out explosions’ on the Crimean Peninsula.
There is no compelling evidence of the crimes, incriminated to Oleg Sentsov. All charges against him are based solely on the testimony of other defendants in the criminal case, which are believed to have been obtained under torture.
Torture was also exerted upon Oleg Sentsov himself, in order to force him to confess to the crimes. The investigating authorities of the Russian Federation refused to investigate into the allegations of physical violence suffered by the Ukrainian, justifying the refusal with openly cynical allegations about Sentsov’s sadomasochistic tendencies.
Oleg Sentsov faces up to 20 years in prison.
2. Oleg Sentsov’s arrest has been extended until 11 April, 2015
On 29 September, 2014, the Lefortovo District Court of Moscow extended the arrest of Oleg Sentsov by 3 months, i.e. until 11 January, 2015. The hearing was presided over by Judge Margarita Kotova. Oleg Sentsov was present at the hearing and had the opportunity to deliver a speech.
Sentsov and other persons, accused in the case of the ‘Crimean terrorists’, are facing serious charges of terrorism in the form of the arson attack on the ‘Russian Community of Crimea’ building and the building of the Simferopol branch of the party ‘United Russia’.
The Russian FSB investigator, Artem Burdin, who is investigating the case of Sentsov, explained the need to extend the arrest with insufficient time to conduct search operations. According to the investigator, Sentsov’s ‘criminal’ activity consists of several episodes which need to be investigated. In addition, as stated by the investigation, other persons were also involved in the offences and are currently wanted.
During the trial, Oleg Sentsov’s counsel, Dmitriy Dinze argued that the extention of the arrest was unnecessary, since the charges against his client are based solely on the testimony of two other detainees involved in the criminal case (Gennadiy Afanasyev and Alexey Chirnyi). And that, given the fact that torture was exerted on Sentsov in the detention centre of Simferopol in order to force him to give confessionary statement, it is possible that torture has also been applied to other detainees, and so, the evidence aggrevating Sentsov could have been obtained illegally. Dmitriy Dinze also stated that the charge concerning Sentsov’s participation in the Ukrainian nationalist organisation ‘Right Sector’ has already been removed from the case file, which means that the motive behind the terrorist attacks, imputed to Sentsov by investigators, no longer exists. The counsel requested that the measure of restraint for Sentsov be changed to one which doesn’t involve incarceration.
“The assignment of a long-term incarceration, taking into consideration the engagement of the Russian FSB, political events in Ukraine and the search for an internal enemy in the form of the ‘Right Sector’, gives reason to believe that the investigator does not care which particular accusations should bemade against my client” , – Dmitriy Dinze stated in court. However, the court granted the prosecution’s request and extended the period of arrest.
The counsel Dmitriy Dinze filed a complaint with the Moscow City Court against the decision of the Lefortovo Court to extend the arrest of his client. The appeal was considered on 20 October, 2014. The Judicial Board of the Moscow City Court dismissed the appeal of the defence, and recognised the legitimacy of extending the arrest of Oleg Sentsov.
On 26 December, 2014, the Lefortovo court presided over by Judge Petr Stupin, once again extended the arrest of Oleg Sentsov, until 11 April, 2015. The day before, on 25 December, 2014 the arrest of two other persons involved in criminal proceedings was also extended. Alexey Chirnyi’s arrest has been extended until 9 April, 2015, while Alexander Kolchenko’s incarceration – until 16 April, 2015.
3. Other defendants in the case of the ‘Crimean terrorists’
Initially, one criminal case was opened jointly against Oleg Sentsov and three other Crimeans – Alexander Kolchenko, Gennadiy Afanasyev and Alexey Chirnyi. As in the case of Oleg Sentsov, they were arrested in May 2014 by Russia’s FSB workers and, following a short period of incarceration in a Simferopol detention facility, they were transferred to the ‘Lefortovo’ detention centre in Moscow.
On 25 December, 2014, it was announced that the trial of Gennadiy Afanasyev had already been carried out and he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, having been convicted of committing a terrorist act (Article 205, section 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). His case on charges of terrorism has been split into separate proceedings. The trial was held in secret and the public was merely informed about the results.
Let us remind ourselves that Gennadiy Afanasyev and Alexey Chirnyi pleaded guilty and they agreed to cooperate with the investigation team. Moreover, their confessions serve as a basis for charges levied against Oleg Sentsov. Their testimonies may have been given under torture, as torture was also used against Oleg Sentsov. It is worth noting that, during the arrest, Alexey Chirnyi was subjected to forcible treatment in a mental hospital, during which methods of punitive psychiatry may have been applied.
Alexander Kolchenko, according to his counsel, Svetlana Sidorkina, is not cooperating with the investigators and has not given any testimony. However, he does not deny the fact that he was near the office of the ‘United Russia’ party on the night of the arson attack (18 April, 2014) and at the very time the fire broke out.
On 29 September, 2014, during the hearing regarding the extension of the term of arrest with regard to Oleg Sentsov, it became known that the number of those accused in the criminal case has risen to 8. This fact was mentioned in the motion for the extension of his arrest. In addition to the well-known Afanasyev, Kolchenko, Sentsov and Chirnyi, the request also cited other alleged participants of the terrorist group: E. Asanov, N. Borkin, I. Zuykov and S. Tsyril. These names hadn’t been mentioned in the case previously. The motion was signed by the investigator Artem Burdin on 22 September, 2014. Unfortunately, no information about the new suspects, apart from their names, has been made public thus far. It is even unclear whether they are still wanted, or if they have been detained, or if they have given any testimonies.
4. Russian investigators are striving to pass off Oleg Sentsov’s traces of torture as a result of his sadomasochistic behaviour
Attempts to prosecute the FSB employees who committed acts of torture against Oleg Sentsova, have failed.
According to the Ukrainian filmmaker, Russia’s FSB workers exerted physical violence on him – they put a plastic bag over his head and strangled him into unconsciousness; they applied multiple blows to his back and head with their legs, hands and batons, they removed his pants with shorts, beat him on the buttocks and threatened to rape him with a baton; they also threatened him to take him out to the forest and kill him and to put him in a ‘sweatbox’, or feed him to dogs.
In early October 2014, Sentsov’s counsel, Dmitriy Dinze received a decision to dismiss the criminal case regarding the use of torture by members of the FSB of Simferopol in the period after his arrest (on the night of 10 May 11, 2014). The decision was issued on the request of the accused. The application had been filed by Dmitriy Dinze as early as in June 2014.
Oleg Sentsov publicly reported the use of torture against him during the first court hearing regarding the extension of his arrest on 7 July, 2014. According to the Ukrainian filmmaker, Russia’s FSB workers exerted physical violence on him – they put a plastic bag over his head and strangled him into unconsciousness; they applied multiple blows to his back and head with their legs, hands and batons, they removed his pants with shorts, beat him on the buttocks and threatened to rape him with a baton; they also threatened him to take him out to the forest and kill him and to put him in a ‘sweatbox’, or feed him to dogs. The torture continued for approx. 3 hours, and their goal was to induce the filmmaker to confess to his terrorist activities, i.e. the intent to organise and commit a series of arson attacks and bombings, as well as the possessing weapons and explosives. Oleg Sentsov refused to give the confessionary statement.
It should be noted that the medical certificate, issued to Sentsov before his transfer to the Lefortovo detention facility on 16 May, 2014, pointed to blade-bone damage, most likely inflicted on him during the torture in Simferopol.
A few months after the filing of a statement of torture, the Military Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee (MID IC) of the Black Sea Fleet sent a reply to counsel Dmitriy Dinze, which reported a refusal to open a criminal case with regard to the torture exerted on Oleg Sentsov. MIC IC investigator V. Oparin explained the respective decision by stating that Oleg Sentsov allegedly caused the injuries to himself whilst engaging in ‘sadomasochistic’ activities.
According to investigators, on 10 May, 2014, a search was conducted in Oleg Sentsov’s place of residence, during which ‘objects for sadomasochistic activities’ were found. “(…) The pre-trial investigation bodies, taking into account the explanations of the DFSB operatives: Major I. Tishin, Senior Lieutenant A. Sagayd, as well as citizens: D. Korniyebko and D. Ivanova regarding the presence in Sentsov’s apartment of sadomasochistic items, have come to the conclusion that the above mentioned injuries on Sentsov’s body may have been caused as a result of satisfying the intimate (sexual) needs of the latter, with the use of these objects in the process of sexual relationships with his partner(s), and Sentsov’s statements that he had allegedly received an injury as a result of physical violence exerted on him by Russia’s FSB workers during his detention are subjective in nature and aimed at discrediting of the Russian FSB” – the letter from the investigative committee reads.
It should be noted that the response of the investigators indirectly confirms the version that Oleg Sentsov was arrested on 10 May, 2014, and not on 11 May, 2014, as officially stated in the investigation file.
As lawyer Jenny Kurpen, the press secretary of Dmitriy Dinze stated, the response of the investigators is not supported by any documentation and is intended to discredit the Ukrainian filmmaker. “(… ) It (the response of the MID IC of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation – Ed.) doesn’t include a list of objects found or a detailed description of them, nor information about the further fate of these items – whether they were only found, or also seized during the search. It contains no professional opinion which would confirm or deny whether the items, allegedly found in Sentsov’s place of residence, are related in any way to ‘sadomasochistic activities’. Also, there is no element of professional opinion, which would confirm or deny that the nature of the injuries present on the body of the accused, are consistent with the findings of investigator Oparin. The investigator has not confirmed the identity of the partner(s) who may have had some relation to the circumstances surrounding the infliction of the described injuries on Sentsov, nor has he determined the date(s) when these circumstances may have occurred”, – Kurpen noted.
Counsel Dmitriy Dinze announced his intention to appeal against the refusal to institute criminal proceedings.
5. The issue of Oleg Sentsov’s citizenship
The investigating authorities of the Russian Federation do not recognise the Ukrainian citizenships of Oleg Sentsov, Alexander Kolchenko, Alexey Chirnyi and Gennadiy Afanasyev, continuing to insist on the fact that the accused have automatically been allocated Russian citizenship due to the annexation of the Crimea. Under this pretext, the investigators haven’t granted Sentsov permission to meet with Ukrainian diplomats. The defendants themselves regard themselves as citizens of Ukraine and have not opted to assume Russian citizenship.
On 13 October, 2014, Alexander Kolchenko’s counsel, Svetlana Sidorkina filed a claim with the Kiev District Court of Simferopol, requesting the recognition of Alexander’s right to maintain Ukrainian citizenship. In the lawsuit, the lawyer refers to the law ‘On Citizenship of the Russian Federation’. The law states that “when the state border of the Russian Federation changes (…), people living in the territory subject to the change of state ownership, have the right to choose their nationality (choice of citizenship) in the manner and within time limit established by the relevant international treaty of the Russian Federation” (Art. 17 of the Law ). Still, the Crimea is not a subject of international law, therefore it is not possible to conclude an international treaty with it. Such a treaty can only be concluded between Russia and Ukraine; however, such a treaty has not been concluded. Accordingly, the procedure for unilateral granting of citizenship cannot be legally executed.
Nevertheless, counsel Svetlana Sidorkina does not expect to receive a favourable ruling from the Russian court, and so, she is preparing to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.
Oleg Sentsov’s defence is yet to make attempts to prove in court that the filmmaker is a citizen of Ukraine.
Investigators and the court uphold the view that the detainees are citizens of the Russian Federation. Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office initially recognised the detainees as citizens of Ukraine. This is stated in the reply from the General Prosecutor’s Office dated 21 October, 2014, to the appeal of People’s Deputy of Ukraine, Alexander Brigints. The MP’s appeal was prepared in cooperation with the Open Dialog Foundation. “The key issue in the response is the recognition of our guys by the Russian Federation as citizens of Ukraine. I hope that it will somehow help their lawyers to turn the case in favour of the detainees. In all other respects, the General Prosecutor’s Office has not actually considered or responded to my questions on the merits”, – Alexander Briginets stated.
The response of the General Prosecutor’s Office has caused reverbaration in the media, and soon, the agency changed its position with respect to the citizenship of the Ukrainians. The Open Dialog Foundation received a letter from the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation dated 28 November, 2014, which states that Alexey Chirnyi is the only one among the accused to have maintained Ukrainian citizenship, since he did file the necessary application to maintain the Ukrainian citizenship, while other defendants had not filed such a statement and automatically became citizens of the Russian Federation after the annexation of the Crimea by Russia.
6. Russian authorities declare that they will not release Sentsov as a prisoner of war
For some time, the media in Russia and Ukraine have speculated about a possible exchange of Oleg Sentsov, as well as another well-known Ukrainian prisoner of the Russian regime, Nadiya Savchenko, for Russian soldiers who were captured by the Ukrainian army during the fighting in the east of Ukraine.
Sentsov's release is demanded by:
- the president and the Government of Ukraine
- the Russian KinoSoyuz (Russian Film Union)
- the Confederation of Unions of Cinematographers of the CIS and the Baltic States
- the European Film Academy
- filmmakers from around the world: Pedro Almodovar, Wim Wenders, Mike Lee, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Wajda, Stallan Skarsgård and Ken Loach
The possible exchange was first mentioned by the counsels of Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko: Dmitriy Dinze, Svetlana Sidorkina and Vladimir Samokhin. On 12 August, 2014, they published in the media an open letter to Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko with the initiative to exchange the captive Ukrainian citizens, held in Russia for prisoners of war – citizens of the Russian Federation.
Talks about a possible exchange have intensified particularly following the signing of the Protocol on the settlement of the conflict in the East of Ukraine (the so-called Minsk protocol) in Minsk on 5 September, 2014. The protocol was signed by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the OSCE, as well as the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Among others, the report also contained a clause on the release of all the hostages and illegally detained persons.
On 10 September, 2014, Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU), Valentyn Nalyvaychenko stated that Oleg Sentsov and Nadiya Savchenko have been included in the lists, given by Ukraine to the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics, and whose release is expected by Ukraine under the provisions of the Minsk protocol.
However, as soon as on 11 September, 2014, Russia’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich stated that the exchange of Oleg Sentsov and Nadiya Savchenko cannot be carried out as an exchange of prisoners of war. According to Lukashevich, the Minsk Protocol refers to prisoners of war who were captured during fighting, while Sentsov and Savchenko, according to the Russian authorities, do not fall within this category.
It should be noted that Ukraine, by contrast, exchanged Russian diversionist, Mariya Koleda for Ukrainian prisoners of war. The Russian citizen had not been captured during fighting. In Ukraine, she was involved in the organisation and support of the pro-Russian rallies, and in April 2014, she was detained by SSU workers. Afterwards, a criminal case was opened against her; she was facing charges of organising riots and unlawful handling of weapons. After 5 months of incarceration in one of the Kiev detention centres, On 15 September, 2014, she was exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners of war, along with captured militants. As in the case of Oleg Sentsov and Nadiya Savchenko, Mariya Koledova’s case was widely covered in the media.
Russia continues to insist that it is not involved in the military conflict in Ukraine, while the number of Ukrainian citizens forcibly deported to Russia and facing criminal cases, has increased.
7. International and Ukrainian community continue to actively support Oleg Sentsov
The campaign in support of Oleg Sentsov is carried out globally.
The president and the Government of Ukraine, the Russian KinoSoyuz (Russian Film Union), the Confederation of Unions of Cinematographers of the CIS and the Baltic States, the European Film Academy and filmmakers from around the world: Pedro Almodovar, Wim Wenders, Mike Lee, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Wajda, Stallan Skarsgård and Ken Loach issued statements condemning the illegal detention and demanding the release of Oleg Sentsov.
On 24 June, 2014, Amnesty International issued a demand that an independent investigation into the possible exertion of torture on Oleg Sentsov be carried out.
On 24 August, 2014, wishing to mark the Independence Day of Ukraine, President Poroshenko signed a decree awarding Oleg Sentsov the Bravery order of the Third Degree.
On 27 August, 2014, during the opening of the Venice Film Festival, organisers left two empty seats at a press conference for the opening of the event. Festival director Alberto Barbera stated that in this way, the organisers wish to draw global attention to the trumped-up criminal cases against the Ukrainian Oleg Sentsov and the Iranian Mahnaz Mohammadi.
From 3 September, 2014 to 9 September, 2014, in Kiev, as well as from 2 December, 2014 to 7 December, 2014, in Odessa, the ‘Week of Ukrainian cinema in support of Oleg Sentsov’ was held. In the course of events, 8 Ukrainian films which had been competing at international film festivals in recent years were shown.
On 18 September, 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution regarding the situation in Ukraine, in which it called on the competent authorities of the Russian Federation to release the abducted Ukrainians – Oleg Sentsov, Alexey Chirnyi, Gennadiy Afanasyev, Alexander Kolchenko and Nadiya Savchenko.
On 23 September, 2014, Representative of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Vincent Degert, on behalf of the European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, answered the questions posed by the Open Dialog Foundation with respect to the case of Oleg Sentsov. According to Vincent Degert, the European Union raised the issue of illegal persecution of the Crimean activists at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.
On 29 September, 2014, the European Parliament President, Martin Schulz, in response to an appeal of the Open Dialog Foundation, expressed concern and indignation at the actions of the Russian Federation in relation to Oleg Sentsov and other arrested residents of the Crimea. The European Parliament President declared that the EU and its member states would not cease in their efforts to exert pressure on the Russian authorities.
On 9 November, 2014, Oleg Sentsov was bestowed the title of ‘honorary member of the jury of the 62nd International Film Festival’ in San Sebastian. In this way, the festival organisers expressed their support for the Ukrainian filmmaker.
On 30 November, 2014, in support of Oleg Sentsov, the Moscow theatre ‘Theatre.doc’ hosted the reading of his play ‘Rooms’. It is also planned to organise the second reading on 18 December, 2014 at the ‘Sakharov Centre’ in Moscow. The donations collected will be transferred to Oleg Sentsov’s family.
On 10 December, 2014, MEP Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz addressed a written inquiry to the European Commission, as to whether the case of the Crimean activists has been monitored on the EU level, and what actions the European Commission intends to take in order to ensure fair trials for the Ukrainians.
The criminal case against Oleg Sentsov is a blatant example of the arbitrariness of Russian security services and the judicial bodies. On the basis of trumped-up charges of terrorism, the Ukrainian faces up to 20 years in prison.
The criminal case against Oleg Sentsov is a blatant example of the arbitrariness of Russian security services and the judicial bodies.
It is obvious that the Oleg Sentsov’s alleged crime hardly qualifies as a terrorist act. The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation provides for less severe punishment under the articles, under which the arson attack, committed by unknown assailants in Simferopol in April 2014, was penalised, for example, ‘Hooliganism’ (Article 213) or ‘Vandalism’ (Article 214). In addition, there is no evidence of Oleg Sentsov’s involvement in these criminal acts. The investigators are relying solely on the confessions of other defendants, which cannot be considered reliable evidence, as it is possible that these statements were obtained through the use of torture.
It is noteworthy that according to the investigation, Sentsov himself was not involved in the arson attack, but only gave orders to other defendants in the criminal case to carry out the offence. Accusations of plotting to carry out explosions on the peninsula also seem dubious and easy to fabricate. In fact, Oleg Sentsov faced accusations of ‘crimes’, which he did not personally commit, but only ‘supervised’.
One cannot hope for an objective and impartial trial in a Russian court. Thus far, the courts have satisfied all motions of the investigators, despite their ungroundedness, and rejected the motions of the defence (for example, a motion to withdraw the obligation to keep confidential information connected with the case; the counsels had been forced by investigators to sign such a statement).
The sentencing of Gennadiy Afanasyev, one of the defendants in the criminal case of the ‘Crimean terrorists, to a prison term clearly demonstrates the likely scheme of the trials of other accused – a semi-secretive mode of holding trials and a full approval of the prosecutors’ demands. The guilty verdict against Gennadiy Afanasyev can be used as an argument when deciding whether Oleg Sentsov should also be convicted.
Neither Oleg Sentsov nor his counsel, Dmitriy Dinze, can expect a fair trial in court. The counsel’s attempt to raise the issue of the possibility of exchange of prisoners (including Oleg Sentsov) between Russia and Ukraine, is further proof of the fact. The only way to help the Ukrainian director is to draw as much attention as possible to his case throughout the international community and make attempts to resolve the issue through political dialogue.
The Open Dialog Foundation believes that the criminal proceedings involving Oleg Sentsov are politically motivated and linked to his active pro-Ukrainian position which he held during the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia. This criminal case is an element of the repressive policies of the Kremlin on the peninsula and is intended to intimidate other pro-Ukrainian activists in the Crimea.
We hereby call on the international organisations and institutions protecting human rights to monitor the case of Oleg Sentsov and exert all possible pressure on the Russian authorities in order to bring about the release of the Ukrainian filmmaker and other defendants in the criminal case.
The Open Dialog Foundation considers it necessary to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the torture of Oleg Sentsov.
In particular, we call on the UN Committee Against Torture to initiate an investigation into the torture of Oleg Sentsov in the detention centre in Simferopol in May 2014. The position of the Russian investigators regarding the refusal to open a criminal investigation into the torture violates the standards of ‘The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’, which guarantee a prompt and impartial examination by the participating State of all acts of torture in accordance with its criminal law (Articles 4, 12, 13 of the Convention).
We also call on the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, in the context of executing the policy to combat torture in countries which are not members of the EU, to demand that representatives of the Russian Federation give explanations regarding the refusal of the Russian investigators to open a criminal investigation into the torture of Oleg Sentsov.
The Open Dialog Foundation hereby calls on the Russian authorities to discontinue the prosecution of Oleg Sentsov and immediately transfer him back to Ukraine.
The competent authorities of the Russian Federation are required to conduct an investigation into the torture of Oleg Sentsov and, if necessary, cooperate with international human rights organisations and institutions in matters concerning an appropriate investigation.
We hereby call on the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation to investigate into the denial of the MID IC to initiate a criminal investigation into the torture of Oleg Sentsov, in order to determine possible violations and consider the fairness of the investigation.
All those willing to support our demands are welcome to address their statements to the following persons and institutions:
- UN Committee against Torture – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Palais Wilson – 52, rue des Pâquis, 1211 Geneva 10 (Switzerland), tel.: +41 22 917 97 06, E-mail: [email protected];
- High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Commission – European Commission Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, 1049 Brussels, tel.: +32 2 584 11 11;
- Administration of the President of the Russian Federation – 103132, Moscow, 23 Ilinka Street, entrance 11, tel:: +7 495 606-36-02;
- General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation – 125993, Moscow, 15a B. Dmitrovka Street, GSP-3, tel.: +7 495 987 56 56;
- Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation – 105005, Moscow, 2 Tekhnicheskiy Pereulok.
Cover photo: itar-tass.com
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