Crimean prisoners: On the eve of coming back to Ukraine

Author : Ivan Putilov

Source : 112 Ukraine

The first group of Crimean prisoners convicted by the Ukrainian courts before the annexation of the peninsula, will be transferred to Ukraine on March 3
10:30, 2 March 2017

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The first group of Crimean prisoners convicted by the Ukrainian courts before the annexation of the peninsula, will be transferred to Ukraine on March 3. Ukrainian Ministry of Justice expects that 12 people, who were serving sentences in the peninsula or in the territory of neighboring Russia, to be convoyed back to Ukraine.

Russian and Ukrainian Ombudsmen agreed to transfer two dozen prisoners serving sentences in annexed Crimea to Ukraine yet in summer of 2016. During this time, the sentence of some “applicants” for convoy has already terminated.

"Together with Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, we have agreed the date of transfer of 12 Ukrainians, who were serving sentences in Crimea and were illegally transferred to the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea to Russia. These people are not political prisoners; they were convicted by the Ukrainian courts. And they are all citizens of Ukraine, so they have right to come back to the territory of Ukraine," Sergei Petukhov, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Justice wrote in Facebook.

Related: Russia again refuses to repatriate Ukrainians Sentsov, Kolchenko

Neither yes, nor no

After that Ukrainian ombudsman's office have criticized the Deputy Minister of Justice for premature announcement of the transfer of the Crimean prisoners, which supposedly can derail the agreement.

At the same time, Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Tatiana Moskalkova has not yet confirmed in formation on the transfer of prisoners.

"We are very committed to the implementation of the agreements, but I do not confirm the date named by Lutkovska (Ombudsman of Ukraine – Ed.), because I cannot say about the final decision on the timing and mechanisms on the part of public authorities," she said.

That is, it is not known whether the prisoners be transferred exactly on March 3. Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine Sergei Petukhov declined to comment on the new statement of the Russian Ombudsman.

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"After March 3, I would be ready to talk to you," he said to the correspondent of Krym.Realii.

Ombudsman’s office also refrained from official comment on its negotiations with the Russian side.

"Strictly speaking, there is nothing to comment on. Neither "yes" nor "no". We are waiting. Deputy Minister of Justice has some information, but, strictly speaking, for ethical reasons, I try not to comment on it," said the representative of the Ukrainian Commissioner Mykhailo Chaplyga.

According to our information, prisoners who claim to be transferred to Ukrainian colony, are now in a detention center in Belgorod, near the Ukrainian-Russian border. All of them are citizens of Ukraine, and have been living on the mainland Ukraine until being arrested.

Thousands of applicants

Ukrainian human rights organizations welcome the negotiations on the transfer of prisoners from Crimea. They also note that not only these 12 people need to move to the Ukrainian prisons. According to the Regional Centre for Human Rights, after March of 2014, more than 2200 prisoners were taken from the annexed the peninsula to the territory of Russia.

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"Of these, there were those who have been sentenced by the Ukrainian courts. And there are those in respect of whom the criminal proceedings were initiated after the annexation of Crimea," said expert of the Regional Human Rights Center Roman Martynovsky in a commentary for Krym.Realii.

According to him, about three thousand people are kept in detention or partial-confinement facilities of Crimea - two correctional colonies and detention facility in Simferopol. Human rights activist stressed that the majority of them have Ukrainian citizenship, regardless of whether they took Russian passports or not. And, accordingly, they have the right to serve their sentences in the territory controlled by the official Kyiv.

Related: Lavrov: Possible Ukrainian political prisoners exchange

"The total number of people (who might apply for the serving of punishment in Ukraine – Ed.) is unknown, because some people have already been freed. Someone returned to the territory of Ukraine, some returned to Crimea from the Russian Federation. Some stayed on the territory of Russia," said the human rights activist.

Martynovsky notes that this is also difficult to determine how many prisoners from Crimea or neighboring Russia wish to serve their sentence in the territory of continental Ukraine. This is due to the fact that some of the convicts refer in this regard to the Russian authorities, and someone write applications to the Ukrainian side. The defenders are not reported of these cases. Some Ukrainians are serving sentences in Russia and Crimea, they did not even know that they have such a right. A part of the prisoners are aware of this possibility, but they prefer to silently wait, because they are afraid of persecution by the colonial administration.

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The list by the Regional Centre for Human Rights contains about 150 persons willing to serve the sentence on the mainland Ukraine.

Four deaths

According to human rights activist Roman Martynovsky, prisoners, who are now serving their sentences in Crimea or Russia for various reasons want to do it in the Ukrainian colonies. Some because of political reasons, and some because conditions in the Ukrainian colonies are better than in the Russian ones. Human rights activist claims that his colleagues get a lot of complaints about medical care in the colonies of Crimea and neighboring Russia. According to him, over the past three years four Ukrainian prisoners died due to the untimely rendered assistance.

According to human rights activist, Ukrainian prisoners who remained in Crimea or were transferred to Russia, also complain about poor conditions and lack of opportunities to see relatives.

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Roman Martynovsky said that the issue of transfer of prisoners from Crimea to the territory controlled by Ukraine has been deadlocked for several reasons. Russia has revised the sentences of all persons who were serving sentences in correctional colonies of Crimean since March 2014. And in order to transfer them to Ukraine, Ukrainian justice authorities must recognize the legitimacy of these decisions, but they do not want to do it. The Ministry of Justice of Ukraine also refused to recognize the validity of sentences that have been issued in Crimea after the annexation, and it is not possible to transfer prisoners of this category back to Ukraine, using international conventions.

Human rights activist Roman Martynovsky believes that despite these legal collisions Ukrainian authorities must find a way to solve the situation and return the convicted persons from Crimea and Russia. Ombudsmen of the two countries agreed on the transfer of only 12 people. The upcoming convey is based solely on informal political agreements and it is not stipulated by international agreements between Russia and Ukraine.

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"This mechanism, in my view, is inefficient. But this does not mean that it cannot be used. If at least one person can be returned, it is necessary to return her by all means," said the human rights activist Raman Martynovsky.

He noted that it took more than 10 month for the Ukrainian and Russian Ombudsman agreed on the transfer of 12 people. At this rate it will take long centuries to return Ukrainian prisoners. Martynovsky believes that to develop a more effective mechanism in Ukraine it would be appropriate to establish a coordination center, which will include representatives of relevant state bodies and non-governmental organizations.


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