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Mark Demesmaeker MEP on political prisoners of Russia

8 September 2016

Mark Demesmaeker MEP on political prisoners of Russia

Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia are still a fact. The tensions between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and the West have not disappeared even though all eyes are currently fixed on the situation in Turkey and the flows of refugees into the Western world.

Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia are still a fact. The tensions between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and the West have not disappeared even though all eyes are currently fixed on the situation in Turkey and the flows of refugees into the Western world.

Political prisoners in Russia face long-term imprisonment, torture, psychological abuse and unfair trials.
We should maintain and enforce the international pressure on Russia if we want to increase the chance of prisoners being released.

Politically motivated persecution has swept the territory of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and the methods deployed against civilians are inhuman. Yet, it is open to international society to do something about it.
One of the former political prisoners in Russia, and the most famous, is a brave woman who went on hunger strike during her imprisonment to show her protest. Her name is Nadiya Savchenko. The former Ukrainian military female pilot was released in May this year as part of a prisoner exchange with two Russian soldiers in Ukraine, and she is now working to ensure the liberation of the other political prisoners remaining on Russian territory.
ECR MEP, Mark Demesmaeker, co-hosted a press conference yesterday together with Michal Boni from the EPP and the Open Dialog Foundation, in the light of Savchenko’s visit to the European Parliament this week. Savchenko’s visit serves as a reminder to the EU and Western society to not forget about Ukrainian prisoners still being held in Russia.
Mark Demesmaeker has been pushing for the release of Savchenko ever since her capture, as he is convinced that she was convicted without any clear evidence. It was a political imprisonment: “Savchenko’s release shows us that it is possible for Western society to put pressure on Russia with the result that more prisoners will be released. Savchenko is a symbol of freedom”, he says.
Savchenko’s realease, threats of imposing further sanctions on Russia and a publicity campaign highlighting the horrific conditions prisoners face puts Russia under pressure.
Earlier this year, Mr. Demesmaeker, also co-hosted an event together with Polish ECR MEP, Anna Fotyga, the Open Dialog Foundation and Center for Civil Liberties focusing on the 28 hostages of the Kremlin- Savchenko being one of them. At this event, two other released hostages shared their horrifying stories about how they were treated. One of these two was Irina Dovgan, who you might remember from the photo taken by a journalist from the New York Times, which went all around the world, of Irina standing bound to a pole beaten up and people spitting at her and kicking her.
These are just some of the conditions, which the hostages endure.
There are currently at least 30 Ukrainian citizens facing politically motivated criminal prosecution in Russia. Especially severe is the situation in Crimea, where at least 14 people have been detained and Russian propaganda creates the image of the Crimean Tatar people as an ethnic minority that is prone to extremism.
However, maintaining and enforcing further pressure on Russia can help to release more hostages. In June this year two others of the 28 Kremlin hostages were released- Yuriy Soloshenko and Gennadiy Afanasyev. Additionally, this month, Yuriy Ilchenko escaped from the illegally occupied Crimea to the mainland Ukraine, thus fleeing persecution.
Imposing more sanctions and raising more awareness about the treatment of hostages in Russia are the most important ways that the West can play its part in ensuring that hostages will regain their human rights, which are basic elements of our democracy.
Savchenko’s visit to Brussels highlights this fact and shows the outside world, and not least Russia, that we remain strong in our determination to defend democratic human rights no matter what. This must always remain our cause.

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