On the eve of the FIFA world cup, the hesitation between a feeling of hope and a feeling despair grew stronger for those who are fighting for the release of political prisoners.
Especially since the hope for a “gift” from the chief, ahead of the elections (which had led to the release of Khodorkovsky, Alekhina and Tolokonnikova before the last elections) did not come true. If they are not released before the world cup, then there won’t be any other occasion to impress the rest of the world with a sudden act of generosity.
Human rights defenders are fighting for the release of Oyub Titiev, director of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial” in Grozny who was arrested and charged with drug possession in an obvious fabricated case. He denies the charges, stating that the marijuana has been put in his car during his arrest. Antifascists who had been arrested after they took part in a rally against torture, have been charged with revolutionary plans in the so-called “network case”. Some of them admitted their guilt as they could not bear torture by electroshocks, beatings and threats anymore. Three of them later retracted their confession which had been made under torture and in a context of self-incrimination.
The main slogan during the rally on May 20 in Saint Petersburg, in support of antifascists was “the Torture World cup”. This slogan was also translated in English and many other slogans in English could be read. A first in the city. It is clear that people appeal to the international community. Not only the street signs should be translated ahead of this football event!
The most significant and dramatic expression of political prisoners’ fight for freedom in the fringe of the football event is certainly the unlimited hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov who is calling for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners. He is ready to continue his hunger strike until a “tragic outcome” and won’t stop until he’ll obtain what he is calling for.
This demand is legitimate, just as legitimate as the demand, on legal grounds, to stop torturing anti-fascists who have been arrested and stop fabricating cases based on testimonies obtain under torture, just as legitimate as the demand to terminate the case of Oyub Titiev, given the absence of criminal act (allegation of crime cannot be proved as, supposedly all cameras were broken on that day or deployed to the wall; it is as plausible as the fact that the doctor who examined one of the anti-fascists confused bruises with traces of electroshocks.
The expression “act of desperation” that is often used to qualify Sentsov’s hunger strike does not seem right to me here. It is rather a manifestation of hope, the same hope for attention and solidarity as all people who are calling upon a reaction from those who are powerful in this world, are protecting human rights defenders who have been arrested, antifascists, Crimean and Ukrainian activists. When one commits an act of desparation (like, taking hostages or other desperate and unacceptable acts) it often means that he is discouraged. But an anticipated and well-prepared hunger strike is something different. The only thing we can do, is to support him, and fight with all legal means to fulfill Sentsov’s demands.
Sentsov started his hunger strike one month before the FIFA world cup and this month is crucial to change the situation. There won’t be any other opportunity, neither for him nor for us.
On one of the posters during the demonstration against torture was written “electroshock is confession 100% guaranteed”. The slogan is vivid, memorable and tells the truth. It is very difficult not admit guilt, not to fulfill torturers’ demands when you are tortured. But the case of Oleg Sentsov showed us that even the most terrible acts of torture do not break everyone, even electroshocks did not push him to incriminate himself or others. The destruction of a man’s humanity is never 100% guaranteed. Among those who are prosecuted in Penza, one of them Vasily Kuksov never confessed anything and never gave any evidence. In Saint Petersburg, after he had been tortured while being interrogated, Viktor Filinkov refused self-incrimination, told he had been tortures and did not yield to pressure again. Despite the high risk of facing torture again (they have been tortured before) they found the strength to refuse to admit the guilt of their accomplices Pchelintsev and shakursky. Julius Boayarshinov also refuses to testify although he is subjected to pressure and is suffering in a crowded cell (150 people)
People fight for their freedom, dignity and truth, risking their health, many years in prison, and their life. The rulers of their destinies – lying investigators and executioners – are confident that by torture and fakes, the results they are looking for will be 100% guaranteed. In Orwell’s famous dystopia “1984” it turned out to be possible but today, it is not. People resist, and this is a sign of hope not of despair.
First published in the blog of Radio Liberty