Memorial Human Rights Centre: Ukrainian journalist Vladislav Esipenko, convicted in Crimea, is a political prisoner

25 March 2022

Esipenko has been sentenced to six years in a penal colony on charges of possessing a grenade

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre

Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international criteria, considers Vladislav Esipenko [also transliterated as Yesipenko] a political prisoner. We believe his case was fabricated in the absence of any evidence of a crime. The prosecution of Vladislav Esipenko, a Ukrainian journalist, is intended to force him to end his professional activities and is part of the anti-Ukrainian campaign unleashed by the Russian authorities in 2014.

We demand that Esipenko be immediately released and his conviction quashed.

Vladislav Esipenko and the charges against him

In February 2021 Vladislav Esipenko, a journalist working for Krym. Realii [Crimea. Realities], went on a business trip to Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. On 10 March his car was stopped by FSB officers who claimed they found a grenade in Esipenko’s possession. He was detained and charged under Article 222.1, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation, transmission or carrying of explosives or explosive devices’) and under Article 223.1, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘illegal preparation of explosives, as well as illegal preparation, alteration or repair of explosive devices’).

According to the investigators in the case, the journalist took the grenade from a cache and carried it with him to ensure his personal safety while collecting information for Krym. Realii.

Initially, Esipenko confessed to the charges. In an interview shown on the Russian state TV channel, Crimea 24, he said he had been carrying out tasks in Crimea for the Ukrainian Security Service. However, Esipenko was never formally charged either with espionage or sabotage.

Subsequently, Esipenko withdrew his confession. He stated that after his arrest he had been subjected to brutal torture and the grenade had been planted on him by law enforcement operatives. It was not until he was able to meet with independent lawyers, a month after his arrest, that he was able to make his position public.

Why Memorial considers Esipenko a political prisoner

After studying the materials of the case, we concluded Vladislav Esipenko is a victim of a politically motivated prosecution for reason of his professional activities.

First, we believe using a grenade for the purpose of self-defence makes practically no sense, since a person would be likely to blow themselves up along with those against whom they are defending themselves. The likelihood that a journalist who well knows about the repression going on in annexed Crimea, and is driving a car with Ukrainian licence plates, would risk carrying a banned object of this kind, that is in practice impossible to use, is extremely low.

Second, as the trial showed, the testimonies of key witnesses contradict each other and the grenade simply would not physically fit into the glove compartment of the car in which, according to the charges, it was found.

Third, the investigators’ claim that on 10 March 2022, after the inspection of the car, Esipenko was released on a pledge to heed any further summons, which he fulfilled, and was detained only on 11 March. We believe this is a cynical lie aimed at covering up evidence of torture. Esipenko says he was tortured on the night of 10-11 March. We believe that law enforcement personnel prevented the journalist, who was then held in custody, from meeting independent lawyers for almost a month for the same reason.

A more detailed description of the case and the position of Memorial can be found on our website.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

How you can help

Address for letters: 

in English: Vladislav Leonidovich Esipenko (born 1969), Remand Centre No. 1, Federal Penitentiary Service for the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, 4 Lenin Blvd., Simferopol, Republic of Crimea, 295006.

in Russian: 295006, Республика Крым, г. Симферополь, бул. Ленина, д. 4, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН России по Республике Крым и г. Севастополю, Есипенко Владиславу Леонидовичу 1969 г. р.

You can also send an e-mail to Vladislav Esipenko for a fee via the Federal Penitentiary Service Letter system, or for free via the Rosuznik website.

You can also help political prisoners by donating online to the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners via the YooMoney wallet 410011205892134.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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