An appeal hearing at a Moscow court on Tuesday (22 August) must quash a lengthy prison term imposed on Maksym Butkevych, a Ukrainian human rights defender, Amnesty International said today. The decision to imprison him for 13 years was taken by the so-called supreme court in Russian-occupied Luhansk in Ukraine, for a crime that evidence has shown Butkevych could not have committed.
“A court in Moscow will be considering an appeal against the decision made during a sham trial which was held in secret, against a defendant who had no contact with the outside world, including his lawyer, and was apparently forced to incriminate himself on video for a crime which Maksym Butkevych simply could not have committed,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, for said.
Before the war in Ukraine, Maksym Butkevych led a Ukrainian NGO helping refugees find protection in Ukraine. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Butkevych volunteered for the Ukrainian Armed Forces before being put in charge of a platoon. His unit was later captured on the front line by Russian forces.
“Since his capture, Maksym Butkevych has been heavily smeared by the Russian media and the Russian authorities in Moscow, and portrayed as a villain intent on killing civilians. Wilfully depriving Maksym Butkevych, as a prisoner of war, of fair trial rights constitutes a war crime in itself,” Denis Krivosheev said.
“The court of appeal must quash the decision to imprison Maksym Butkevych for 13 years and release him from the custody imposed by the so-called supreme court in Luhansk. The sham trial against Maksym Butkevych and his treatment since his captivity is a reprisal by Russia for his civic activism and his prominent human rights work, and so will be any outcome of the appeal hearing other than the quashing of the earlier decision on his imprisonment.”
Maksym Butkevych’s family, friends and colleagues have been running a campaign for his release and justice: #FreeMaksymButkevych. Like the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian prisoners of war held by Russian forces and their proxies, Maksym Butkevych has had limited contact with the outside world. There is every reason to believe that he, like many other Ukrainian prisoners of war held by Russia, has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, details of which are presented in the statement “Ukraine: Russia’s reprisals against prominent Ukrainian human rights defender who joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine”.
In contravention of international humanitarian law, Russia has consistently denied the ICRC unimpeded and repeated access to all prisoners of war, despite its own persistent demands and those of the UN and other stakeholders. It has wilfully deprived Ukrainian prisoners of war of the right to a fair and regular trial, which constitutes a war crime, and those responsible must be brought to account. Russia must fully abide by international law governing occupation. It must end immediately its war or aggression against Ukraine. For all victims of all crimes under international law committed by its forces in Ukraine, Russia must provide full and adequate reparation.