In Russian-Occupied Crimea

By | July 14, 2018

SIZO-1 in the city of Simferopol

On June 14, 2018, a citizen of Ukraine of Afghan origin, Kabir Mohammad, who was arrested in the annexed Crimea at the request of Iran instead of another person who is suspected of fraud, gave an interview. In February 2018, he fled to Ukraine after he spent a year in the pretrial detention facility SIZO-1 of the city of Simferopol (the Crimean capital). He was released on the condition of not leaving the Crimea, but instead he secretly went to Ukraine. “I was helped by human rights activists and the state of Ukraine, and I was alsohelped by Afghanistan, where my relatives live, in the past influential politicians,” Mohammad said.

In the Crimea, Mohammad communicated with the Afghans living there. One of his fellow countrymen who looked very much like him, gave his passport to him.

The conditions in the SIZO-1 were horrible. At first Mohammad was placed in an ordinary cell. In a conversation with other prisoners he expressed positive views about the mayor of Kiev Vitali Klitschko. Cellmates reported on him to the administration, and Mohammad was transferred to a cell where at that time there were 49 people, mostly builders from Western Ukraine. One of the builders, named Ivan, was brutally beaten by the SIZO guards and died right before Mohammad’s eyes. Another builder from Western Ukraine, Vasily, died in a cell from illness. In total, Mohammad said, during the year of his detention in the SIZO, at least 13 prisoners died there; one of them hanged himself.

Recently, after Mohhamad left, at least 4 prisoners of the SIZO-1 died. Around April 6, 69-years-old Bilalov Server and 46-year-old Oleg Goncharov were hanged. On April 12, in a punishment cell, 23-years-old Dmitry Shipovnik was found hanged. The next day, in cell No. 8, where the newly arrived prisoners are placed, 39-years-old Islam Iskerov, was found with his throat cut.

For a few days Mohhamad was detained with Evgeny Panov, who is accused of spying for Ukraine. Then Panov, on the order of the local FSB, was transferred to cell No. 102, infested with bedbugs. As Dmitry Dinze, Panov’s lawyer stated, there were more 21 prisoners in this cell, and all of them are literally “eaten alive by bedbugs.” According to Mohhamad, this cell is located in the SIZO basement, where “there are cells where the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians are kept together with suspects in murders and other serious crimes, 40 people per cell.”

For several days Mohammad was in a cell with Vladimir Balukh, a pro-Ukrainian farmer (he put up a Ukrainian flag on his farm) and now a political prisoner. There were 22 inmates in the cell, and Mohammad and Balukh alternately slept on one bunk. On the order of SIZO’s administration, three cellmates attacked Balukh and by force cut his long hair. Later, on January 18, 2018, Balukh was sentenced to three years and 5 months imprisonment in a correction colony for allegedly illegally keeping explosives (they were planted by operatives during a search of the farm).

Mohammad also said in his interview that SIZO’s administration intentionally used to give him, as well as the other Muslims, pork to eat.

During his detention, Mohhamad had a second stroke. The administration refused to allow him to transfer him to Moscow for a necessary operation.

Right: Vladimir Balukh on the 90th day of hunger strike

In August 2017, when Mohhamad was still in SIZO-1, a new criminal case was opened against his former cellmate Balukh. Valery Tkachenko, head of the Temporary Detention Center (IVS) (a center where newly arrested persons are kept), filed a complaint saying Balukh supposedly beat him up. Balukh’s lawyers insist that Tkachenko himself attacked Balukh. Later Balukh described what happened:

The first day Tkachenko, appearing at the recount of the prisoners and noticing Balukh, said: “[…] Now twenty years will be given to you, you will learn in the zone how to love your country.”

Every time when he was in the IVS, he came to my cell and tried to insult me with foul language, humiliated my nationality and, as I understand it, the party I belong to “Right Sector.” He said that we, the “khokhly” [an abusive Russian name for Ukrainians –  V. B.], should be exterminated, and so forth. He was drunk. . . All these attempts to hit me, to offend me, all provocations were on video.

As for the quarrel with Tkachenko, Balukh said:

On that day he came to me and ordered me to introduce myself. I asked him whom I should introduce myself, and he replied with obscene words and foul expressions. Then I said, that I won’t introduce myself either. He rudely told me to go out into the corridor. While I was searched, I stood with my back to him. Then I felt, I’m stressing this, an accentuated punch in the area of my shoulder blade. Since then I have involuntary movement with my fist.

“He called my mother a fallen woman,” Balukh added to his lawyer Olga Dinze.

Balukh declared an indefinite hunger strike, calling the accusations false. On May 3, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert wrote on Twitter: “Russian occupation authorities in Crimea should release political prisoner Volodymyr #Balukh, who has been on hunger strike for 43 days. Unacceptable for #Russia to jail a Ukrainian citizen for flying a Ukrainian flag in Crimea and deny him medical care.” On June 22, Balukh was transferred back to the IVS, where he completely depends on Tkachenko, and announced a full hunger strike.

On June 24, Lyudmila Denisova, the Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman, stated that Balukh has been on hunger strike already for 98 days, and appealed for help to the International Red Cross authorities in the city of Simferopol. The next day physical state of Balukh worsened. His lawyer Olga Dinze explained: “He has very severe pain in the chest and subscapular muscle. Most likely, he has a strangulated nerve.”

On July 5, Balukh was additionally sentenced to 3 years in a general regime labor camp on a false charge of attacking the IVS head Tkachenko.

Oleg Sentsov during his trail

Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian film director sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment, is also on an unlimited hunger strike since May 14, 2018. He was convicted on a fabricated accusation of creating a criminal group in the annexed Crimea, which allegedly planned terrorist acts. Sentsov demands freedom not for himself, but for all Ukrainian political prisoners kept in Russia. He intends to go to on tp the end. From June 8, 2018 on, he is kept in a medical department of an extremely remote colony with anespecially strict regime–IK-8 in the town of Labytnangi located above the Polar Circle.

Since May 23, the Ukrainian soldier Alexander Shumkov was on a hunger strike in solidarity with Sentsov in the Bryansk detention center, and since May 28, the Russian political prisoner Stanislav Zimovets is also on a hunger strike in solidarity with Sentsov in the Volgograd correction colony. From May 31 to June 7, Alexander Kolchenko, convicted together with Sentsov, was on a hunger strike in colony IK-6 in the town of Kopeisk; he stopped his strike for health reasons.

On June 13, the European Parliament demanded that Russia immediately and without any conditions release Oleg Sentsov and all other political prisoners-citizens of Ukraine. For the adoption of this resolution, 485 deputies voted for, against 76, 66 abstained. On June 16, 38 countries asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to raise the case of jailed Sentsov and dozens of other Ukrainian prisoners during his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On June 15, Lyudmila Denisova, the Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman, who arrived in the town of Labytnangi, was not allowed to see Sentsov.

As for Sentsov himself, on June 22, the 40th day of his hunger strikein IK-8, he, assured his lawyer Dinze that he would not send a petition for pardon to Vladimir Putin and forbad Dinze to send such a petition. After his arrest Sentsov repeatedly made statements expressing his extremely contemptuous attitude towards Putin. In particular, Sentsov called Putin a “bloody dwarf”.

After visiting his client on June 22, Dinze stated that Sentsov “is very pale, constantly lies down and does not get up, so as not to waste his energy. Every day, and today too, the doctors of the colony inspect him.”

On June 24, Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe declared he would personally send a petition for Sentsov’s clemency on humanitarian grounds as the European Convention states. Russian law, regulating the submission of such petitions by convicts themselves, does not contain any indication that such a petition can be submitted by a third party.

On July 13, 2018, the 61th day of Sentsov’s hunger strike and his birthday (he is 42-years old), it became known that on June 22, his 75-year-old mother had sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin asking for pardon (Sentsov refused to ask for pardon because he considers himself innocent):

To the President of the Russian Federations

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

from Sintsova Lyudmila Georgievna


Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich!

I ask you to pardon my son Oleg Gennadievich Sentsov, born in 1976, convicted by a Russian court for 20 years in a strict regime colony on charges of organizing a terrorist group.

All mothers love their children, they want them to be free and happy. It’s difficult for me to judge the degree of guilt of my own son, although I know him as a peaceful citizen and a man who is keen on his profession — filmmaking. I will not convince you of Oleg’s innocence, although I believe this. I’ll just say that he did not kill anyone. He had already served four years in prison. His children are waiting for him, his youngest son suffers from autism. They feel bad without him. They will never be happy without their father.

I ask you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, to show mercy and pardon Oleg Sentsov, not to ruin his life and the lives of his loved ones. We are waiting for him at home.

June 22, 2018 Signed by: Sentsova LG

According to an incomplete list of names of Ukrainian citizens and cases connected with Ukraine, at least 77 prisoners are kept in Russian pretrial facilities, as well as in prisons and colonies. On another independently created list there are 71 Ukrainian prisoners.

There are more cases in the Crimea when FSB officers kidnap and torture innocent people. Currently, Crimean lawyers collect all necessary documents to transfer the cases of abducted Crimeans to international institutions, in particular the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. One of the lawyers, Liliya Gememdzhi, explained: “In the near future we will present a special appeal to the Special Rapporteur, so that he can bring claims to the Russian Federation.”

On July 2, 2018, Irina Gerashchenko, First Vice Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine, announced a list of the names of 23 Russians whom Kiev is ready to exchange for Ukrainian prisoners, including Sentsov and Balukh, serving their sentence in Russia. The list includes Russian citizens who “have already been convicted of preparing terrorist acts in Odessa, Kharkov, Kiev, Kherson, Ternopol, or for taking part in military operations in the Donbass, or who are being litigated.” Gerashchenko added: “I appeal to the Russian Federation, take yours, give us the Ukrainians.”

Nuri Primov and his mother Raime Primova

In the meantime, on June 20, Raime Primova, the 68-year-old mother of the Crimean political prisoner Nuri Primov, went on a hunger strike. Before that, she filed an application with the Crimean FSB Directorate to include her son in the list of names for the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia. In 2016, on false accusations her son was sentenced as a “terrorist.” In the colony IK-5, he was twice placed in a punishment cell ShIZO. The FSB responded to his mother that it would give an answer only after a month. On July 3, Primova was taken by an ambulance to the 1st Sevastopol Hospital because of a serious drop in blood pressure. She is a group II invalid, she does not have one kidney and suffers from a liver disease

On June 26, one more political prisoner, the Crimean Tatar Emir-Usain Kuku, who is currently kept in the SIZO-4 in the city of Rostov-on-Don, declared a hunger strike “in solidarity with the Ukrainian who previously went on a hunger strike” demanding the release all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. The statement was addressed to Vladimir Putin, Prosecutor General of Russia Vladimir Chaika and Consul General of Ukraine in Rostov Vitaly Moskalenko. 42-year-old Kuku is a well-known human rights activist from Simeiz near the city of Yalta. As the other arrestees in the so-called Yalta-Alushta case “Hizb ut-Tahrir”, Kuku is accused of membership in a terrorist organization. The hearing of his case continues in the North-Caucasus Military District Court since February 2016. By July 12, 2018 Kuku’s health had worsened, he has lost weight, he feels weak and suffers from dizziness, and from pains in his internal organs.

On the whole, currently Russian human rights activists consider 150 convicts political prisoners.

Author: Vadim Birstein

Dr. Vadim J. Birstein is a historian and geneticist. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers and books and has written two scholarly historical works, "The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science" and "SMERSH, Stalin's Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII". He received the inaugural "St. Ermin's Intelligence Book Award" in 2012 for SMERSH.

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