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A letter of despair: Crimean prisoners threaten self-harm if they do not return to Ukraine
  • Written by Mykola Myrny, Human Rights Information Centre for "Legal Space"
  • Published in  Crimea Legal Aid
Roman Martynovskiy, UHHRU expert Roman Martynovskiy, UHHRU expert

Crimean prisoners ask top officials to find ways for their return to mainland Ukraine.

"We have families in Ukraine, children, parents with who we cannot contact. They are suffering from this, perhaps more than we do. At the time we were mistaken and committed illegal actions. We are guilty before our Ukrainian society, and, having the opportunity, asking forgiveness today..." - this appeal of the Crimean prisoners during the press conference in Kyiv was read out by the expert of UHHRU  Roman Martynovskiy.

At my request the human rights activist refused to reveal at least a colony from which this appeal came. Keeping in touch with prisoners in the occupied Crimea became even more difficult and he is afraid to lose contact.

In Crimea people are double prisoners, the Chairman of the Board of Human Rights Information Centre  Tatiana Pechonchik comments. Since March 2014 local detention places became inaccessible to the National Preventive Mechanism that monitors compliance with human rights.

"These prisoners were invisible for Ukraine and the world and cannot claim violation of their rights", adds the human rights activist.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian human rights defenders are able to get notifications about the increase in violations of the rights of Ukrainian citizens. Torture, ill-treatment, enforced citizenship of the Russian-Ukrainian Affairs and making local courts verdicts, violating the requirements of international humanitarian law - this is the reality the Crimean prisoners live in.

"We do not see the state's desire to help us. Many of our citizens have been made citizens of Russia for two years already. People are driven to despair. They feel deeply offended and simply do not believe in justice". noted the prisoners of the Peninsula.

UHHRU knows specific cases of pressure on prisoners to force them to obtain Russian passports.

"People are forced not only psychologically, but also physically. Cases where Pro-Ukrainian-minded prisoners were thrown behind bars with persons supporting the so-called "D/LPR" are not few. We know cases when a person after refusing to sign the documents for obtaining a Russian passport is placed in penalty isolators", said Roman Martynovskiy.

On May 11 this year Elvis Asanov, protesting against the attempts of his conviction as a Russian citizen and further transportation to Russia, cut his own throat just in the court room.

Diplomatic institutions of Ukraine in the Russian state about at least 179 of our citizens, who were transferred to Russia. And human rights activists insist that those convicted are more than a thousand. The latest statistics of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine says that there are more than 3 thousand Ukrainians in penitentiary institutions of the Crimea at the beginning of the annexation of Crimea.

Difficult challenge

Deputy Justice Minister Serhiy Petukhov indicates the complexity with the return of the Ukrainians, whose sentences were reviewed in courts of the occupying power.

According to him, Russia demands Ukraine and the international community recognizes Crimea as Russian. It is a condition for cooperation, access to information or communication.

The official noted that neither the international community nor Ukraine will cooperate on such terms. He hoped that Russia's position will change because of the sanctions imposed by the international community.

"We realize that there are perhaps thousands of our fellow citizens who are under Russian occupation. We inform them of the international community. In the case of their appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) we are ready to act as a third party with their hand and are ready to reflect these facts in inter-state claims against Russia in ECHR", said Serhiy Petukhov.

Human rights activist Roman Martynovskiy believes that to ensure the rights and freedoms of prisoners is the responsibility of the state,.

He criticizes the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine that the Ukrainian Consulate does not actively attend our citizens in Russia who want to serve their sentence in Ukraine. Roman Martynovskiy also indicates a lack of cooperation between the Prosecutor General of Ukraine and Russia.

According to him, for the return of all Ukrainians have a legal basis. Namely, article 56 of the Convention on legal assistance and legal relations in civil, family and criminal matters, articles 2, 3 of European Convention on the transfer of sentenced persons and article 5 of the Convention on transfer of persons sentenced to deprivation of liberty for serving punishment in the state whose citizens they are.

"Russia has not fulfilled the requirements of article 5 of the Convention. It does not explain our citizens the conditions and procedure for transferring them to Ukraine to serve their sentences. Therefore, this question can also be initiated the inmates 'relatives, referring to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine", explains Roman Martynovskiy.

The human rights activist said that the government also needs to develop a mechanism that would solve the issue with the courts of the occupying power.

"There is no international pressure, if community in the world will see that Ukraine is doing everything possible to solve this problem. Ukraine has the opportunity to put this question before the Russian Federation".

Reduction of sentence

After revising the verdicts of Ukrainian courts under Russian law many of the citizens of Ukraine got reduced sentences. These people do not want to return to Ukraine, because they don't want to spend time in captivity.

UHHRU proposes to address this aspect so that their situation is not worsened.

"In the end Ukraine needs to recognize that it must act solely in the interests of the rights and freedoms of the person", said Roman Martynovskiy.

Serhiy Petukhov says that in the near future the Ministry of Justice will publish for public comment a draft law on regulation of legal status of persons who served a sentence in Crimea and ATO zone.

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