Free anti-fascist prisoner Alexander Kolchenko

August 10, 2015 at 10:47 am (anti-fascism, Civil liberties, Human rights, internationalism, Paul Canning, Russia, Ukraine)

By Paul Canning (cross-posted with his blog)

Alexander Kolchenko is a left-wing social activist and antifascist who is being held in captivity by the Russian authorities. Along with renowned film director Oleg Sentsov, he was kidnapped by the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) and detained following the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula,. He is held as a political hostage in Lefortovo jail in Moscow and has been charged with committing “acts of terrorism” and “belonging to a terrorist community”.

A call to action has been organised by the French ‘Active Generation: The web activists network‘ and the International Solidarity Campaign For Alexander Kolchenko.

Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.

Why is Alexander Kolchenko in jail?

Alexander, who has undeniably proved his antifascist stance over many years, is facing preposterous accusations of belonging to Right Sector, a radical Ukrainian right-wing organization, whose real role in Ukrainian events is blown out of proportion by Russian official propaganda. In modern Russia any activist — left-wing, anarchist or liberal — can be slandered as a member or sympathizer of Right Sector. This situation is comparable to the hunt for nonexistent ‘Trotskyists’ under Stalin, or the McCarthy witch-hunt for communists.

Putin’s authoritarian and nationalist regime, which uses in its propaganda everything from religious prejudices and conspiracy theories to outright racism, shamelessly steals “antifascist” rhetoric. And yet anyone who is considered bothersome is called a “fascist”, even if he/she stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

The case against antifascist Alexander Kolchenko and civil activist and film director Oleg Sentsov (investigators enrolled them into the same “terrorist” group) is political. It is meant to intimidate inhabitants of Crimea and prevent any resistance on the peninsula.

The most authoritarian of methods are now used in annexed Crimea to repress all discontent. Many people were obliged to leave Crimea because their life and freedom were threatened: lawyers, left-wing activists, students and trade union activists, anarchists, antifascists and Crimean Tatar activists who have fallen victims of ethnic discrimination.

Sentsov (left), Kolchenko (right)

What threats does Alexander Kolchenko face?

A terrible prison sentence of up to 20 years threatens Alexander for a non-existent “terrorist attack” in which he was not involved. Kolchenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners (such as the more famous Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda (Nadia) Savchenko) are detained only in order to demoralize opposition by show trials. Their freedom is directly linked to the stability of the Putin regime: if we can shake the confidence of Putin in his impunity, the prisoners will be set free.

  • There is no hope that Kolchenko, Sentsov and others will be judged fairly by the law.
  • Their arrest was unlawful.
  • The charges against them are far-fetched.
  • It’s not a mistake, the regime knows what it’s doing.

Both men have refused to take part in their trial, which Sentsov called a “concert”. He said at the opening of the trial:

Your Honour, I have already stated that I do not consider this court to be legitimate. We are citizens of Ukraine who were arrested on the territory of our country, and we are being tried on fabricated charges. I don’t, however, feel any animosity to you and other parties to this trial.

A lot of lies have already been spoken here and I therefore feel it necessary to clarify certain things, but I do not plan to later take part in these proceedings.

I consider myself a Maidan activist, but that does not mean that I am a criminal. Maidan was the main deed that I have carried out in my life, but that does not mean that I’m a radical, burned ‘Berkut’ riot police or drank anybody’s blood. We drove out our criminal President. When your country occupied Crimea, I returned there and engaged in the same volunteer work as on Maidan. I spoke with hundreds of people. We considered what to do next but I never called on anybody to carry out actions that could have led to deaths.  I did not create terrorist organizations, and I certainly had nothing to do with ‘Right Sector’.

Do they have support from NGOs?

The renowned Russian human rights organisation Memorial has condemned the trial and stated that it considers both men to be political prisoners. Amnesty International is also concerned.

Film director Sentsov has received support from the UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and widely within the film industry. Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in May dedicated its opening event to Sentsov.

The main prosecution witness, Gennady Afanasyev, has confirmed that his ‘confession’ had been extracted through torture. The sole other witness, Oleksy Chirniy, told the Ukrainian consul and his lawyer that his testimony was given under duress. Kolchenko and Sentsov also say they were tortured. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has suggested that Afanasyev’s retraction may mean that he is now in danger.

Kolchenko admits taking part in a failed firebombing of the office of the United Russia party. However, says Memorial, ‘terrorism charges are “incommensurate both with the damage caused, and with standards of Russian practice.”

Says Memorial:

We assume that Right Sector is being foisted on the indictment in order to create a primitive media image of a nationalist threat in Crimea.

Russian has imposed Russian citizenship on the pair and they are being prevented from seeing the Ukrainian consul and from being defended by a Ukrainian lawyer.

How can you help Alexander Kolchenko?

We’re asking international left-wing and libertarian forces for help. You can organize and lead actions of protest and solidarity, write letters to Kolchenko, send donations for lawyers and food parcels, help his family. It is also important to spread information about his case. Most of all, we need to dissociate ourselves from any forces that support aggressive expansion of Russian nationalism, even if they cover it up with ‘leftist’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric. Putin’s regime is doing just fine without your sympathy, better save it for those who have become its victims.

When to start?

You can start right now by helping us to spread this text, translating it into other languages and sending it to comrades. We also strongly encourage you to organize demonstrations in support of Alexander Kolchenko and other political prisoners jailed in Russia.

Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.

For case updates check the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group website.

This text has been adapted from The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

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