The Release of prisoners of the Kremlin has to Appear on the agenda of Biden-Zelensky Talks

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There was a time, just after Russia’s occupation of Crimea, when the case of director Oleh Sentsov shocked the entire world. However, only recently, after the terrifying testimony of journalist Stanislav Aseyev, the international community has paid more attention to the situation in the torture chambers of the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, where beatings, abuse, and torture of pro-Ukrainian residents of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions have never stopped since April 2014.

Thousands have been detained illegally since the Russian aggression against Ukraine began. Russia has used and keeps on using them as political hostages to put pressure on Ukraine and Ukraine’s allies, for whom human life, human rights and international law are significant.

Thousands have been released from illegal detention over the years, but hundreds remain in custody. Moreover, new hostages are constantly being locked up in the basements of Donbas as well as in pre-trial detention centers and prisons in the occupied Crimea and the Russian Federation.

As of mid-August 2021, according to Ukrainian human rights organizations, at least 116 Ukrainian nationals are being kept illegally in custody in the occupied Crimea and Russia for political reasons (75 of them are Crimean Tatars). At the same time, the SBU (Security Bureau of Ukraine) reports 276 persons who have been illegally seized by Russian-controlled armed groups in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, 30 of these hostages being women.

On the eve of the high-profile visit of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to Washington to meet with President of the United States Joe Biden, we urge both Presidents – of Ukraine and the US – to raise the issue of persons illegally detained and convicted within the Russian aggression in the occupied Crimea, in the temporarily occupied territories of eastern Ukraine as well as in the Russian Federation.

We realize that the key problem is the position of Russian officials and their attempts to use people as an instrument of the pressure. However, given that no progress has been recently made in releasing the prisoners as well as whereas there is the lack of consistent Ukrainian government support and communication with the families of detainees on the situation with the negotiations, it is vital that the issue of illegal detention be mentioned at such a high presidential level, and discussion on “how to return them?” issue be on the agenda of the talks.

Therefore, we as informal coalition of organizations dealing with this issue for years, are requesting:

  1. Presidents of the USA and Ukraine to discuss the ways of pressing the Russian Federation, its occupation administrations and armed units controlled by it

  to make them release the persons detained illegally, due to the political motives, in the occupied Crimea, in the temporarily occupied territories of eastern Ukraine, and in the Russian Federation;

 to ensure the International Committee of the Red Cross an unimpeded access to those illegally detained in the temporarily occupied territories of eastern Ukraine  so that detainees have access to humanitarian assistance, medicines and proper medical care.

  1. US President to raise the following issues during the meeting with the President of Ukraine:

 adopting a Ukrainian legislation on providing the legal and social support to persons illegally detained for political reasons in the occupied territory as well as their families – within the competence of the head of state, namely the submission of the draft law to the Ukrainian parliament;

  establishing the system of assistance for the families of persons being kept in custody by the Russian-controlled occupation administrations and armed groups in the occupied territories, and communicating with them on a regular basis. Currently, the State is not consistent in doing this, with the people being left alone with their problems;

  signing the Draft Law on Amending Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning the Implementation of Norms of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law, registered at no 2689, which the Office of the President has been considering since June 7, 2021. This bill would establish responsibility for crimes against humanity as well as bring articles on war crimes in line with international law. Tens of thousands of people who have become victims of war crimes in the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas, have been waiting for this bill for eight years.

Association of Relatives of the Kremlin Political Prisoners 

Centre for Civil Liberties

Media Initiative for Human Rights

Crimean Human Rights Group 

Human Rights Center ZMINA