Letter of despair: Crimean inmates threaten to injure themselves if they not returned to Ukraine

Crimean inmates ask senior officials to find ways to return them to the mainland Ukraine.

"Each of us has family in Ukraine, children, parents, whom we cannot communicate with. They suffer from this, perhaps, even more than we do. We went wrong once and committed illegal actions. We are guilty before our Ukrainian society and we apologize, having an opportunity today..." Roman Martynovsky, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) expert, read out the statement of Crimean inmates during a press conference in Kyiv.

The human rights activist refused to disclose at least one colony, where the inmates who wrote the address are serving sentence. It became more difficult to keep in touch with prisoners in the occupied Crimea and he is afraid of losing contact.

The situation of inmates in Crimea is especially tough, says Chairwoman of the Human Rights Information Centre Tetyana Pechonchyk. Since March 2014, the places of detention have become inaccessible for the National Preventive Mechanism, which monitors the respect for human rights.

"These prisoners became invisible for Ukraine and the world and cannot state about violation of their rights," the human rights activist added.

However, nevertheless, the Ukrainian human rights defenders manage to receive reports on increased violations of rights of Ukrainian citizens. Torture, ill-treatment, forced obtaining of Russian citizenship, mass revising of Ukrainian cases and delivering judgments by local courts in violation of international humanitarian law - this is the reality the Crimean prisoners live in.

"We do not see the desire of the state to help us. Many of our citizens have been made the citizens of Russia for two years. People have been driven to despair. They feel deeply offended and simply no longer believe in justice..." the address of Crimean prisoners reads further.

The UHHRU knows specific cases of exerting pressure on the prisoners to force them to get Russian passports.

"People are forced to do that not only psychologically, but also physically. There have been rather common cases when the pro-Ukrainian prisoners were put in wards where people supporting the so-called ‘DPR/LPR’ were serving punishment. We also know cases when people were placed in solitary confinement and punishment cells each time after they had refused to sign documents to obtain Russian passports," Roman Martynovsky said.

May 11 this year, Elvis Asanov, protesting against the attempts to convict him as a Russian citizen and further convoying to Russia, cut his throat in the courtroom.

The diplomatic institutions of Ukraine in Russian claim at least 179 Ukrainians were convoyed to Russia. However, the human rights activists argue that there have been more than a thousand such convicts. The latest statistics of the Justice Ministry says more than 3,000 Ukrainians have served sentence in the prisons of Crimea as of the onset of annexation of Crimea.

"Why do we have to serve sentences in the country, the laws of which we did not break? We ask you to stop keeping silence, to assume responsibility and take action to return us home. We do hope, keep faith and endure... We offer resistance with only possible means in our situation – go on hunger strike, cut veins..." the prisoners tell in their address. If the Ukrainian authorities ignore the issue, the authors promise to injure themselves even greater.

Difficult challenge

Ukrainian Deputy Justice Minister Serhiy Petukhov draws attention to the complexity of return of the Ukrainians, whose sentences were revised by the courts of the occupation authorities.

"Even if they are serving a sentence in the territory of Russia, their imprisonment is backed with the ruling of a Crimean court. When these people send us the documents, there will be documents of the unlawfully established courts. Ukraine does not recognize any documents of the occupying power, in accordance with the law on ensuring rights and freedoms of citizens and legal regime in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. That is why such cases cannot be settled under the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons," Serhiy Petukhov explained.

According to him, Russia constantly demands that Ukraine and the international community recognize Crimea as Russian territory. It is a condition for cooperation, access to information and transfer of persons.

The official stressed that neither the international community nor Ukraine will co-operate upon such conditions. He hopes that the Russian position will change because of sanctions imposed by the international community.

"We understand that there may be thousands of our citizens under Russian occupation. We inform the international community of their situation. In case they file lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), we are ready to act as a third party on their side and ready to reflect these facts in the international lawsuits against Russia in the ECHR," Serhiy Petukhov said.

Duty of Ukraine

To ensure the rights and freedoms of inmates is the duty of the state, human rights activist Roman Martynovsky noted.

"The rule of law has not been canceled, and, in accordance with Article 3 of the Constitution, a person's life, health, honor, dignity and safety are recognized as the highest social values in Ukraine. The Constitution does not distinguish between a person lying on a sofa at home or a person serving sentence in place of detention," the human rights activist said.

He slammed the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine due to the fact that the Ukrainian consulates were not actively attending Ukrainian citizens in Russia who want to serve their sentences in Ukraine. In addition, Roman Martynovsky indicated a lack of interaction between the prosecutor general's offices of Ukraine and Russia.

"If we talk about the people, whose sentences have not yet entered into force, another action plan is applied. There is no need to recognize the bodies of occupation authorities. Since the issue of extradition of such persons is solved at the level of prosecutor general's offices of the two countries, we do not see problems in returning these people even from Crimea," the UHHRU human rights activist explained.

According to him, there all legal grounds for the return of Ukrainians. In particular, they are stipulated in Article 56 of the Convention on Legal Assistance and Legal Relations in Civil, Family and Criminal Matters, Article 2, 3 of the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

"Russia does not comply with the requirements of Article 5 of the Convention. It does not explain our citizens the conditions and procedure for their extradition to Ukraine. That is why, this issue may be also initiated by relatives of the convicts by addressing the Justice Ministry of Ukraine..." Roman Martynovsky said.

The human rights activist said that authorities should also elaborate a mechanism that would solve the problem with the courts of the occupying power.

"There will be no international pressure if the world community does not see that Ukraine is doing everything possible to solve this problem. Ukraine has the opportunity to put this question to the Russian Federation."

Reduced terms

Having their sentences, delivered by Ukrainian courts, revised under the Russian law, many of the citizens of Ukraine received reduced terms of imprisonment. Such people do not want to return to Ukraine because they have no desire to stay longer in the places of detention.

The UHHRU suggests settling this aspect so that their situation was not worsened.

"In the end, Ukraine has to admit that it must act solely in the interests of observance of human rights and freedoms," Roman Martynovsky said.

Serhiy Petukhov claims that the Justice Ministry will soon make public a draft law on regulation of a legal status of persons who have served sentence in Crimea and the ATO area.

"The document provides for a mechanism for verifying the legitimacy of freeing these people, and thus the settling of their status. It is clear that they have served their full sentence to some extent and have the right to move freely within the territory of Ukraine," Serhiy Petukhov said.

Mykola Mirnyj, Human Rights Information Centre, for "Legal Space"

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