left activist, anarchist
- Part Two of Article 205 of the Russian Criminal Code (participation in a terrorist act),
- clause ‘a’ of Part Two of Article 205 of the Code (commitment of a terrorist act)
May 16, 2014
10 years in tight security penal colony
days in custody
On May 23, 2014, the Crimean anti-occupation resistance activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and the other defendants in the ‘Crimean Four case’ were transported from the Russian-annexed peninsula, where they were captured, to the Lefortovo remand jail in Moscow. The transportation was an illegal act, which violated the international humanitarian law.
The trial of Kolchenko and Sentsov started in the North Caucasian District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don on July 21, 2015. The verdict was pronounced in a month, on August 25. Kolchenko was found guilty of ‘participation in a terrorist group’ and ‘committing a terrorist act’ and sentenced to 10 years in a tight security colony.
Specifically, Kolchenko was incriminated the involvement in an attempt to set fire to the Simferopol office of Putin’s party ‘United Russia.’ The party branch had not yet been registered at the time, and therefore its subsequent recognition as an ‘aggrieved party’ was groundless.
Oleksandr has been denying the accusations of ‘terrorism’ but has not refuted his participation in the arson. It is worth noting that arsons are typically qualified by Russian judges simply as hooliganism or property damage.
To impute ‘terrorism’ to Oleksandr was clearly incommensurable with his supposed conduct. During the court sessions, Kolchenko called the arson a symbolic gesture. He said that he “had no other way to express his stance against the [Russian] military invasion and civil rights abuse in Crimea”:
I was against the war and against violence. My actions were aimed against the ‘United Russia’ party, which voted for bringing of the armed forces [in Ukraine].
The Russian human rights activists consider the attempt at the compulsory change of Sentsov and Kolchenko’s citizenship from the Russian to Ukrainian one an unprecedented act of abuse. The compulsion took place despite the fact that both defendants declared themselves Ukrainian nationals and possessed only the passports of Ukraine. Under the pretext of the ascribed Russian citizenship to all Crimea’s permanent residents, Ukrainian consuls were not allowed to visit Sentsov and Kolchenko for a long time.
On September 24, 2015, the Ukrainian President decorated Sentsov and Kolchenko in absentia with the Orders for Courage of the First Class.
On November 24, 2015, the Russian Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of Sentsov and Kolchenko’s defence and upheld the sentence earlier passed on them.
At the beginning of March 2016, it became known that, after his long-term confinement in the Rostov remand jail, Oleksandr Kolchenko was transported to the Urals to serve his sentence in penal colony #6 in the town of Kopeysk, Chelyabinsk Oblast. This colony has got a bad reputation of the facility where convicts have been subjected to torture.
At the end of the same month, the defense announced the appeal for cassation in the Sentsov and Kolchenko case.
The Russian Human Rights Centre ‘Memorial’ recognized Sentsov, Kolchenko, and Hennadii Afanasiev as political prisoners.
- All the witnesses for the state prosecution were biased. They were people who either had a criminal record and, therefore, were dependent on the investigation, or voluntarily decided to collaborate with the FSB, or belonged to the so-called secret witnesses, who were likely to be FSB officers.
- The ‘evidence’ of Kolchenko’s ‘guilt’ consisted exclusively of the ‘testimonies’ obtained from Oleksiy Chyrniy and Hennadii Afanasiev under torture. On the Sentsov and Kolchenko trial, Afanasiev renounced his false ‘testimony.’
- The allegation concerning the very existence of the ‘Crimean terrorist group’ was fallacious. None of the defendants questioned in the case told anything about the membership of the ‘group’ or its structure. There was also no consistent evidence concerning the size of the ‘group.’ The defendants had not even been familiar with each other. Kolchenko maintained that he had not personally known Sentsov, while Sentsov said that he had not been acquainted with Kolchenko.
- It became clear during the trial that the story of the arson had been an FSB provocation. It was conceived as a pretext for the criminal prosecution of the Crimean anti-occupation resistance activists, who were depicted as ‘terrorists from the Right Sector.’ In particular, the FSB was said to have learned of Chyrniy’s intention to set fire to the offices of the ‘Russian Community of the Crimea’ and ‘United Russia’ as early as April 11 and 14, 2014, respectively. Yet, strikingly, the enforcement agencies did nothing to prevent the arson.
- The investigation authorities stated that Kolchenko was a member of the Right Sector. This sounds absurdly given that he adhered to anarchist views. Oleksandr used to be a member of left-wing communities and took part in their actions in Crimea many times.
Tortures and pressure
Oleksandr Kolchenko described the tortures used against him as follows:
After the arrest, they beat me on my face and body. I do not confirm the evidence I gave during the investigation. The [court-appointed] lawyer deceived me then about the articles [of the Criminal Code] I was charged under. I have not complained about the violence [earlier] because, when I became aware of the torture applied to Oleg [Sentsov], I decided that the pressure on me was insignificant and that it would be unworthy to complain.
The pressure on Kolchenko is still in progress after his conviction and transportation to the colony in Chelyabinsk Oblast. In particular, right after his arrival in the colony, he was placed in the penal ward for fifteen days under the pretext that he used slang and did not comply with the rules of prison uniform.