Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
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At the beginning of the week unexpected news appeared – allegedly journalists Dmitry Vasilets and Evgeny Timonin – condemned earlier to 9 years imprisonment for “separatism and complicity to terrorism” – are ready to participate in an exchange of prisoners with the DPR/LPR. It became a shock for many of those who gave them support recently and fought for their release. However, soon afterwards, Vasilets personally quashed these rumors. Now, in an exclusive interview to “Strana” he described the situation in detail.
Is it true that initially you agreed to an exchange?
“No, during the whole time we’ve been in prison, we were proposed both by the SBU in a forcible way, and by the Red Cross without coercion to consider such a possibility.”
And did you?
“I voluntarily never agreed to any exchanges and did everything that I possibly could so that it didn’t happen. In a speech during a debate in the Andrushevsky court this summer I directly and openly on video stated that I am against any exchanges. I asked that the prosecutor didn’t consider including me on any lists. And I said that I consider exchanges to be a criminal act, since human trafficking in Ukraine is forbidden.”
And why don’t you opt for an exchange taking into account the term that you were given – 9 years?
“A year ago the previous group of lawyers also suggested to us to consider the possibility of an exchange. Then the lawyers submitted the corresponding request through some human rights organisations, but when the terms of the exchange were announced [not by the lawyers – ed], we understood that it is unacceptable in any shape or form. After all, the condition for an exchange was an obligation to ‘admit guilt’, it was necessary to travel to the uncontrolled-by-Ukraine territories, and there was no talk about full acquittal in general.”
But this is about freedom …
“I am innocent, I never held a weapon in my hands, in Donbass I didn’t take any part in the conflict. Yes, I wanted to reconcile the involved parties, to cover the events in Donbass truthfully, to stop the lies in the media, but this isn’t a crime and more so, it’s not a pretext to exchange me for our captured soldiers. I, of course, understand that it is very convenient for the Poroshenko regime to receive political bonuses, exchanging for our prisoners of war those who call for peace in Ukraine, those who fight against lies in the media, those who criticise the authorities. But is this normal? And now in Ukraine we have this: if you criticise the power, if you do not support the ATO, if you are against oligarchs not just in words, but in practice, if you do not support the regime, then go to prison and be exchanged under the pressure of the SBU.
Part 3 of Article 258 – the paragraph about ‘other support for terrorism’ – can be interpreted so widely you can’t even imagine. According to the SBU, I ‘helped to set up a YouTube channel’, by which, according to the prosecutor’s office, I ‘assisted terrorists’. And 9 years in prison, according to the logic of the regime, is quite normal for this. The fact that the case is falsified and the charges are nonsense is obvious to all, but the fact remains, I am in prison for the third year! Also, due to such comprehensive public support, sense was already formed to verify to what extent everything is bad in our State. After all, we chose Ukraine, despite the SBU’s enormous pressure, refusing an exchange, we in fact have repeatedly proven at the cost of our freedom that we are innocent. If after this we are not released, I can’t imagine what the country will further become.”
What is happening now? Does the SBU continue to further persuade you for an exchange?
“You will be surprised, but yes. Despite the fact that I openly, repeatedly and in an uncensored way rejected SBU employees of different ranks. Despite the fact that I begged them to remove me from all possible exchange lists and to never bring up this question again. The SBU’s last attempt to somehow exchange me was generally on the verge of marasmus. The prosecutors, having consulted SBU employees, with serious faces said to me that because I refuse an exchange, I need to move with them across the line of demarcation – to the gray zone of the anti-terrorist operation, and there on camera to tell the ‘whole world’ about it! To my question: ‘isn’t it enough that I said it during a video conference to the Court of Appeal?”, they said that it is not enough! Imagine, they hoped that I would want PR and will ride with them to the ATO to allegedly give an interview there and to say for the hundredth time that I refuse an exchange and I henceforth will not agree to any exchanges. In my opinion the SBU already has complete schizophrenia, because if they had a sane mind they simply wouldn’t think to do this. By the way, the Zhytomyr lawyer Andrey Gozhy helped us very much to stop the attempts to forcibly exchange us, which we are very grateful to him for.”
How did it happen that lawyers weren’t aware of the actions of the SBU and an exchange?
“Under the pressure of the SBU we were forced to write several statements without our signatures, and at the same time, of course, access to lawyers wasn’t allowed. With this manipulation the SBU brought uncertainty to our position concerning an exchange for some time, and bewildered our lawyers, but I, finally, at a hearing of the Court of Appeal dotted the “і”. Therefore we further with our lawyers move towards a not-guilty verdict of the court. The team of lawyers of Andrey Portnov, the official representative of which is our lawyer Natalya Voznyuk, works with us, and, so that in the future all discrepancies and manipulations attempts by the SBU will be impossible, I ask to take all information concerning our case only from her. I completely trust our group of lawyers and am sure that through joint efforts we will win.”
Don’t you think that the entire story with your jailing happened for the purpose of an exchange?
“No, initially I was jailed in order to stop my journalistic public work in such projects as Media Lustration, Museum of Information War, What the Media is Silent About, the Commission on Protecting the Rights of Consumers of Information Products, and so on. It was needed that I didn’t prevent most of our media from unleashing war in Donbass. This is the first reason. The second reason is the intention of the SBU to close Channel 17. Some time after I was arrested, it was suggested to me to give false testimonies to SBU employees against the leadership of Channel 17 – Zhan Novoseltsev, Aleksey Kutepov, and Andrey Pavlovsky. In exchange a change of article and my release from prison was promised to me. Since I insulted SBU employees with prohibited expressions, already 3 months later they prepared a plan to exchange me. Then the investigator Sergey Fedorenko for the first time suggested to me to opt for an exchange, about a year and half ago, and I again expressed my rejection in an uncensored way to this investigator, like in the case with false testimonies.”
Who conducts negotiations with the SBU? How does the SBU behave?
“Previously, as I already said, at the stage of falsifying the case, they tried to reach an agreement through the investigator Sergey Fedorenko. When my case was fabricated and brought to trial, they begun to offer an exchange through the prosecutor Lina Valeryevna Romanenko. And then, along with prosecutors, different SBU employees, who refused to introduce themselves, both together and separately started coming to us. Some SBU employees behave impudently, some are polite and tactful, trying to seem like decent people, but it is immediately visible that all of them have been involved in a circle of theater! Generally they, waving a hand, exclaimed something like: ‘That’s all, if you don’t want to be free, then don’t! I leave! I’ve nearly left, I already put my scarf, I already put my coat, I already approached the door, but after all, maybe you’ll choose a freedom? What did you forget in prison? To who and what do you want to prove? After all, nobody will return to you the years of youth spent in prison? Think of your relatives that they will tell you! I will say in confidence that there is a lot of exchange lists, we will change you for political prisoners in Russia and if we don’t exchange you now, then we will you exchange later, but in the meantime you will be imprisoned and its unclear for how long and 100% no court will release you! 50 court sessions aren’t enough for you? Have you yet understood that we completely control the courts?’ And the arguments of SBU employees have some quantity of truth, but as is well-known, the most dark night is before dawn, and SBU employees devils have to lose.”
Why, in your opinion, does the SBU now so persistently want to get rid of you via an exchange?
“There are a lot of reasons. The main one is to show to all of society – at the expense of the resonance on our case – that all who criticise the authorities and the ‘guarantor’ [of the Constitution; Poroshenko – ed] is an agent of the Kremlin, a terrorist, and a collaborator. And the most successful way to 100% prove this is to exchange us and guys like us for our captured soldiers. It is for this reason that Ruslan Kotsaba and Vasily Muravitsky were covertly offered to be exchanged, I’m sure it was offered to Aleksandr Efremov and also to many others. Also, under this guise the SBU catches ‘agents of the FSB’ – ordinary citizens of Ukraine who allegedly lead groups on VKontakte and Facebook with ‘anti-Ukrainian’ content under the control of ‘curators’. As everyone knows, it is impossible to lead groups of VKontakte and Facebook from Russia. In Russia the Internet ‘doesn’t work’, it simply ‘doesn’t grow’ there. Then from such caught people an exchange group is formed. Thus, the citizens of Ukraine in a voluntarily compulsory order are sold like cattle to the ‘LDPR’, the party of war receives political bonuses, and SBU employees receive stars on their lousy epaulettes, since they ‘fight against Putin’ too. Let’s agree that very few people of the ones who have been sat in jail for one or two years without guilt, for nothing, will refuse an opportunity to receive freedom, even in Donetsk or Russia. Also, SBU employees already understood that the best lawyers in Ukraine joined our case, and that even with the existence of the stupidest verdict of 9 years imprisonment from the Andrushevsky court, the case will fall apart and we will have to be released. In many respects the SBU wants to somehow get rid of our case, because more and more people begin to learn about us, despite the complete ignoring of our case by all TV channels, and at the same time people begin to compare our 9-years sentence for allegedly controlling a YouTube channel to sentences for notorious murderers and rapists, who are given either a considerably smaller term or are released in general. In this regard, in people, after cognitive dissonance, revolutionary thoughts and strong language towards the ‘guarantor of justice’ of oligarchical origins begin to be born. All of this in total leads to the fact that we still remain in prison to defend common sense, although hypothetically we could be free within a week. I give due respect to Evgeny Timonin, he survives, but for him it is very difficult, and I hope that he doesn’t stage another suicide attempt under the pressure of the SBU.”
How do you feel?
“I also had health problems after this peripeteia begun, but it is sure that I won’t collapse during court hearings like any Mosiychuk or Nasirov. I take this opportunity to express huge gratitude to all those who have supported us for all this time. Friends, we owe you one.”
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