No Offence?

The Kyiv Police have informed the UNHCR that they will not be initiating a criminal case over the abduction of Russian civic activist Leonid Razvozzhaev from the UNHCR’s partner organization in Kyiv on Friday, 17 October. This is despite the fact that Mr Razvozzhaev was in the process of applying for political asylum, and was returned against his will to Russia where he is now remanded in custody. The Russian information agency reports Ukraine’s Interior Ministry as saying that there would be no investigation since Razvozzhaev had been found, albeit in another country – and in custody. This statement is only surpassed by that of Kyiv Police spokesperson Volodymyr Polishchuk, who announced as early as 24 October that no criminal case would be launched. This, he said, was because the civic activist, a foreign national, had been abducted by the security service of another country which could supposedly not be expected to exchange information on its activities.

Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service will say only that Leonid Razvozzhaev entered Ukraine on 16 October, and “left” on 19 October. How and where is unclear, with the Service informing Ukrainska Pravda that it had not been authorized by Leonid Razvozzhaev to disclose this information.

Any opportunity to ask Leonid Razvozzaev has now been stopped with permission having been refused to members of the Russian Public Supervisory Council who asked to see the activist in the Lefortovo SIZO or remand prison in Moscow. They were told that members of the Council, as well as Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, have already met with him and that no more visits are needed. Since it was a Council member who passed on shocking details about the abduction and methods for extracting a “confession”, the plan seems to be to preclude further disclosures.

On Tuesday the Head of Ukraine’s Migration Service told journalists that Razvozzhaev had not asked for political asylum in Ukraine. We can try to be charitable and believe he was simply answering a badly-formulated question. This does not change the essence of the situation which is that a person seeking international protection had already entered the UNHCR’s system and was abducted while taking a short break and forcibly returned to his country of origin..

Shouts for help were heard from the street and he was seen being thrust into a car with Ukrainian number plates. He would seem to have been taken by car to Moscow where he appeared in court on Sunday. The Russian investigators claimed that the activist had “handed himself in” and produced a supposed confession. Razvozzaev has asked the court to ignore this document which was given under duress. He told Valery Borshchov from the Russian Public Supervisory Council that he had been placed under severe pressure and that he was told that his wife and children would suffer if he didn’t “confess”.

The charges against him are also depressingly reminiscent of Soviet times. He is accused of “organizing mass riots” with the proceedings arising from the second part of an overtly anti-opposition television documentary broadcast by the pro-Kremlin NTV.

This is the second time in a matter of months that a person recognized by the UNHCR as in need of international protection has been forcibly returned to Russia. The person from Ingushetia returned in August had already been offered asylum by an EU country.

The UNHCR has been backed in its condemnation of such flagrant violation of international law by the EU, US and a number of NGOs.

Ukraine’s authorities, and the Human Rights Ombudsperson, either come out with staggeringly inadequate statements or are totally silent. It is to be hoped that all those desperate for asylum get the message and steer clear of Ukraine since the Ukrainian authorities’ attitude to the country’s international commitments is all too clear.

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