The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Aleksei Bessarabov and Vladimir Dudka
According with international guidelines and definitions, Memorial Human Rights Center considers two residents of Sevastopol, Crimea Aleksei Bessarabov and Vladimir Dudka political prisoners.
The two men were criminally prosecuted because of their previous occupation (both were retired Ukrainian naval officers) and because they both had strong continuing links with Ukraine. The prosecution was conducted with a use of torture and fabricated evidence in violation of the rights of the defendants to legal representation and a fair trial. Memorial Human Rights Center calls for the immediate release of Bessarabov and Dudka.
Aleksei Bessarabov is a journalist and Vladimir Dudka is an engineer at the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. They are both residents of Sevastopol and former Ukrainian naval officers who had retired a few years prior to the Russian annexation of Crimea.
On November 9, 2016 the two were detained by FSB officers. Both were charged with preparing acts of sabotage in Sevastopol upon instructions of the military intelligence of Ukraine.
On April 4, 2019 Sevastopol City Court sentenced Bessarabov and Dudka to 14 years in a strict-regime prison colony and fined both for 300,000 rubles and 350,000 rubles, respectively, for offences under Article 30, Section 1 of the Russian Criminal Code in association with Article 281, Section 2, Part A of the Russian Criminal Code (‘preparing acts of sabotage as part of an organized group’) and Article 222.1, Section 3 of the Russian Criminal Code (‘illegal possession of improvised explosive devices as part of an organized group’).
According to the FSB, at the behest of Ukrainian military intelligence Bessarabov and Dudka prepared to blow up TV and radio transmitters and fuel warehouses belonging to the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
Why Memorial Human Rights Center considers Bessarabov and Dudka political prisoners
The authorities did not allow the suspects to see either their families or lawyers for more than a week after they were arrested. Subsequently, the suspects related in detail how FSB officers tortured them with electric shockers and forced them to self-incriminate in front of a video camera during that time.
Main government-controlled TV channels used cuts from those “video confessions” as proof of the crimes of the “Kiev Junta”’ Later, the FSB was forced to withdraw charges laid in many similar cases in Crimea that were accompanied by similar video “confessions” (for example, the cases of Vladimir Prisich and Redvan Suleimanov). Therefore, it is impossible to consider that evidence as a proof of the guilt.
In our opinion, the FSB failed to present significant evidence of the alleged offences. For example, the explosive devices found in a hidden cache bear no traces of the DNA of the defendants. Despite the fact that the two men were under video surveillance and their phones were tapped, the authorities were unable to catch them “red-handed.” The evidence in the case contains no video or audio recordings that even tangentially confirm the preparation of acts of sabotage.
There are also strong grounds to suggest that the correspondence on the Viber messenger app cited as evidence was fabricated, and the special phones, allegedly used to conduct this correspondence, were planted.
We believe that the Russian authorities fabricated the case against Bessarabov and Dudka for the purpose of propaganda as part of a long-term campaign to depict Ukraine and its citizens as enemies.