Photo: Family archive via RFE/RL
On 9 June 2021, I wrote a letter to the Government of the Russian Federation regarding the arrest and alleged arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, of journalist and human rights defender Mr. Vladyslav Yesypenko in Russia-annexed Crimea. The letter was written jointly with five other experts. The Russian Government has responded to the communication, at the time of writing, their reply is undergoing translation.
Mr. Vladyslav Yesypenko is a human rights defender and freelance journalist. Since 2017, he has been contributing to the media project “Crimea.Realities” with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a regional news outlet which covers the social, political and human rights situation in Russia-annexed Crimea.
On 9 March 2021, Mr. Vladyslav Yesypenko covered a peaceful demonstration, together with other members of the press, in the city of Simferopol, on the occasion of a Ukrainian poet’s birthday.
On the afternoon of 10 March 2021, Mr. Yesypenko was detained by members of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) of the Russian Federation. Allegedly, no warrant was presented to him at the time of his arrest. It is reported that a warrant was instead drawn up the following day, 11 March, at 10pm.
On 12 March 2021, Mr. Yesypenko was ordered to remain in detention for two months by the Kievsky District Court of Simferopol. He was charged with “illegal manufacture of an explosive device”, which carries a minimum sentence of six years, and “espionage” which carries a sentence of up to 20 years upon conviction. Mr. Yesypenko was originally not allowed to be represented by his
own lawyers and was instead assigned one.
During the two days after his arrest, Mr. Yesypenko was allegedly tortured using electroshocks. An object was reportedly placed on his head, connected to wires, through which an electric current was transmitted, gradually increasing in voltage. According to the information received, Mr. Yesypenko was coerced under torture to testify that he had transported an explosive device in his car and had spied for the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine by taking photos and recording videos of public infrastructure and places of public gatherings in Crimea and sending them to both the intelligence agency and RFE/RL’s “Crimea.Realities” project. He was again coerced to make the same claims
during an interview on the television channel Krym24, which was aired on 18 March 2021.
On 5 April 2021, an FSB officer reportedly threatened Mr. Yesypenko with physical harm if he chose to be represented by his own lawyers instead of the lawyer that had been appointed by the court during his first hearing session in the Supreme Court of Crimea.
At the hearing, on 6 April 2021, Mr. Vladislav Yesypenko decided to meet with his own lawyers and stated that his original confession of guilt had been obtained under torture, by electro-shocks and beatings on the legs, genital area and upper body. The court ordered Mr. Yesypenko’s to remain in detention until 11 May, pending investigation.
Since alleging that his confession was obtained under torture, FSB officers have reportedly threatened to kill Mr. Yesypenko on a number of occasions. An investigation into the torture allegations has reportedly been ordered, but it is unclear at the time of writing what stage these investigations are at.
On 12 April 2021 after meeting with his lawyers in SIZO No.1 pre-trial detention centre in Simferopol, Mr. Yesypenko was called into the office next door to speak with an FSB officer. The officer reportedly threatened Mr. Yesypenko with physical violence and death if he shared further
information that conflicted with his testimony taken under torture.
On 13 April 2021, an FSB officer who was accompanying Mr. Yesypenko on the way to the FSB building for investigative actions, allegedly threatened that he would kill Mr. Yesypenko if he changed his testimony. Upon arrival at the investigation questioning, Mr. Yesypenko explained that his original testimony had been given under torture and he stood by the testimony given at the Supreme Court. Mr. Yesypenko’s lawyers have requested the military-investigative department of the Investigative Committee in Crimea to launch an investigation into the FSB officers who threatened him.
On 30 April 2021, the Kievsky District Court of Simferopol extended Mr. Yesypenko’s pre-detention until 11 July 2021.
In the communication we expressed our utmost concern at the arrest and detention of Mr. Yesypenko, in particular for the allegations of torture, which if confirmed, would constitute a gross violation of human rights. The violations against Mr. Yesypenko appear to have been made in retaliation for his journalistic and human rights work.