Russia: ‘Terror’ trial of Ukrainian film director and activist

Evidence presented at the ongoing trial of the well-known Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and ecologist Aleksandr Kolchenko in Russia may have been extracted under duress, Amnesty said today.

The two pro-Ukrainian activists were arrested shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, their home region, in 2014.

Two key witnesses for the prosecution, both of whom have been sentenced to prison earlier this year, have refused to testify at the trial. One of them, Gennady Afanasev, retracted his testimony saying that he had been pressured into signing a false statement. There are concerns for his safety and the safety of the other witness, Aleksei Chirny, after it was reported last night that they had been visited in detention by members of Russian security services.  

We have serious concerns about fundamental flaws in this trial, and we fear that Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko have been targeted for their opposition to the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Heather McGill, Researcher at Amnesty International

“The absurdity of some of the prosecution evidence and their reliance on testimonies by witnesses who have complained of torture suggest that the charges may have been fabricated. From the courtroom proceedings, it appears the case is collapsing for lack of reliable evidence.”

Oleg Sentsov faces a life sentence, accused of setting up a “terrorist” group and carrying out minor arson attacks, which have been qualified as “terrorist acts”, in the Crimean capital Simferopol in April 2014, shortly after the Russian occupation of the peninsula. His co-defendant, Aleksandr Kolchenko, is accused of being a member of Sentsov’s alleged group and of taking part in the “terrorist” attack. He could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The two men were transferred from pre-trial detention centre in Moscow to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to face a military court. Amnesty International opposes the trial of civilians by military courts. Sentsov has complained that he was tortured after he was detained in May 2014 by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), as has at least one of the prosecution’s witnesses against the two men. Both Sentsov and Kolchenko were denied access to their Russian lawyers for more than four days after their transfer from Crimea to Moscow.

Amnesty International is urging the Russian authorities to drop the terrorism-related charges against Sentsov and Kolchenko immediately. They should face appropriate charges or be released. The authorities must thoroughly and independently investigate the allegations of torture and other human rights violations, and ensure the physical safety of the defendants and the witnesses.