Council of Europe demands release of political prisoners detained by Russia


On 28th June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 2231: "Ukrainian citizens detained as political prisoners by the Russian Federation". The resolution expressed concern about the ongoing detention of 70 or more Ukrainian citizens considered to be political prisoners in Crimea or the Russian Federation on "politically motivated or fabricated charges". The Council also expressed alarm over the conditions of detention of Oleh Sentsov, Volodymyr Balukh and Pavlo Hryb and the allegations that they haven been subject to torture and ill-treatment.

Among other recommendations, the Parliamentary Assembly calls for the "lift of the ban on the Mejlis (the regional legislature of the Crimean Tatars), which is contradictory to international standards of freedom of association, and allows entry into Crimea for leaders of the Mejlis: Mustafa Dzhemiliev and Refat Chubarov".

In a separate incident, several attacks against minorities were reported in Ukraine over the last few months. In April 2018, members of the nationalist group C14 attacked a Romani camp in the Lysa Hora nature reserve near Kyiv. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) reported that a video of the attack shows "families with small children fleeing in terror, chased by masked men who hurled stones and sprayed them with gas canisters, before setting their tents ablaze". Two other attacks were reported in May 2018, one near the village of Velyka Berezovytsia Ternopil where a group of masked men set fire to the camp and another one in the village of Rudne, where masked men attacked Roma people in the middle of the night, beat them and destroyed their belongings. What is more concerning, is that evidence shows "official collusion in each of these attacks", according to the ERRC. A recent report shows how extremists groups like C14 are using violence to "impose their agenda on Ukrainian society". In addition, the report stated that: 

"Organizations that hold far-right views reject democratic values (such as freedom of expression, freedom of assemblies, equality, etc.), yet actively use the opportunities that democracy offers."

Peaceful Assembly

On 19th June 2018, workers’ groups including coal miners, Chernobyl clean-up workers, and Soviet Afghan war veterans protested in the capital Kyiv, requesting state support in several areas, including support for veterans living with disabilities and benefits for the use of public transportation. Reports indicated that, as the protesters attempted to enter the Ukrainian Parliament, clashes with the police broke out.

In a separate development, five Crimean Tatar activists received suspended prison terms ranging from 3 to 4 years for participating in a protest in February 2014 outside the regional legislature building and taking part in "mass disturbances".

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014, many Crimean Tatars have protested against the illegal authorities and their actions in the peninsula. As a consequence, they face threats and are arrested for their activism or opposing the occupation.

In a separate development, it was reported that Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, who is currently imprisoned in Russia for "plotting acts of terrorism", started a hunger strike on 14th May to call for the release of all political prisoners. Amnesty International issued an urgent action calling for his immediate release and for the authorities to ensure that "any and all medical treatment provided to Oleg Sentsov is done in compliance with medical ethics, including the principles of confidentially, autonomy and informed consent, and that no unwanted treatment or force feeding is executed which may amount to torture and other ill-treatment."