Statement on Moscow court’s consideration of appeal against conviction of Maksym Butkevych
On August 22, 2023, the first general jurisdiction court of appeal in Moscow will consider the appeal against the “judgment” delivered in the case of human rights defender and journalist, serviceman Maksym Butkevych, who was sentenced to 13 years in a strict regime penal colony by the so-called court of the Russian-controlled “LPR”.
Maksym Butkevych devoted about 20 years of his life to human rights activities, in particular, he helped refugees and asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, combated hate speech and discrimination. He was a member of the board of Amnesty International Ukraine, he is the coordinator of No Borders project, a co-founder of Human Rights Centre ZMINA, and Hromadske Radio.
When the full-scale invasion started, Maksym Butkevych joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine and went to defend Ukraine. He was captured by the Russians in June 2022 in Luhansk region, in the area of Zolote and Hirske seized settlements.
On March 10, 2023, it became known that the Russian-controlled court of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” sentenced Butkevych to 13 years in prison on trumped-up charges: he allegedly fired a grenade launcher into a section of an apartment block where two local women were hiding in Sievierodonetsk on June 4, 2022. Together with Butkevych, Vladyslav Shel and Viktor Pokhozey, servicemen of the Azov Regiment at the time of their capture, were “sentenced” to 18.5 and 8.5 years, respectively, in Donetsk region.
This sham trial, despite the absence of any evidence in the case and the data on the location of Butkevych’s unit in another region, became another war crime committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine. The details of the criminal case against Butkevych contain nothing that could plausibly link him to the alleged crime, other than a video of his self-incrimination which bears all the signs of a coerced confession obtained under duress. Butkevych’s lawyer was not allowed to defend him in the “court” of the first instance and was not even notified of the date of the court hearing.
This trial once again demonstrated that the Russian government and proxy structures controlled by it in the occupied territories of Ukraine commit war crimes against prisoners of war. After all, the so-called “trials” of Ukrainian service members take place behind closed doors, in violation of all possible standards of justice, are fabricated, and serve the purposes of Russian propaganda to show the Ukrainian service members as bloody criminals.
However, the conviction of Maksym Butkevych is also a demonstrative punishment for his human rights activities lasting many years. Since the beginning of the captivity, Russian propaganda media and social media accounts spread fakes about Butkevych, calling him “militant” and “Nazi”, “propagandist” and “Russophobe”, pointing to his participation in Euromaidan, accusing him of incitement to war.
Ukrainian human rights organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Memorial, PACE members, and other organizations condemned the trial against Maksym Butkevych. A petition for his release gathered about 2,500 signatures. In November 2022, Maksym Butkevych was awarded the Czech “History of Injustice” award: his father Oleksandr received the award instead of his son in Prague.
Given the fact that justice does not exist in the Russian Federation and Russian-occupied territories, we have no illusions and hopes for a fair trial. At the same time, we call on the international community to continue the pressure on the Russian Federation to make it release Maksym Butkevych and all unjustly imprisoned Ukrainian military and civilians, and we also call on the Ukrainian authorities to investigate this crime and the international community to impose personal sanctions on all those involved in the fabrication of the case against Maksym Butkevych.
Human Rights Centre ZMINA
Social Action Centre
No Borders Project
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Alliance of Ukrainian Organizations (Germany)
Human Rights Platform
Charity and Health Foundation
Alliance for Public Health
NGO “Women in Media”
Ukraine Crisis Media Center
Kharkiv Regional Foundation Public Alternative
Free Belarus Center
Forum Civique Européen
Institute of mass information