Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ considers Karina Tsurkan a political prisoner. She has been deprived of her liberty in violation of her right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In her case it seems no offence has been committed and the evidence has been falsified. We demand the immediate release of Tsurkan.
Who is Karina Tsurkan and what is she accused of?
Karina Tsurkan, a former board member of the energy company Inter RAO, is charged with espionage (Article 276 of the Criminal Code, punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment). According to the investigators, in 2015 Tsurkan allegedly passed secret information to the Information and Security Service of Moldova about the supply of electricity to the territory of Ukraine, including that part of the Donbass not controlled by the central government.
On 14 June 2018 Tsurkan was remanded in custody. On 16 January 2020 the First Court of Appeal released her, imposing other pre-trial restrictions. However, already on 7 February the Second Court of Cassation overturned this decision and remanded her in custody again. We believe this rush to cancel the relaxation in pre-trial restrictions is one of the most striking manifestations of the court’s bias against Tsurkan.
On 21 September hearings in the case of Tsurkan began at Moscow City Court, and on 29 September consideration on the merits began.
Tsurkan has denied the charges against her. She has a young son (a minor) and an elderly mother.
Why does Memorial consider Tsurkan a political prisoner?
Despite the closed nature of the investigation against Tsurkan, an analysis of the chronology and circumstances of the prosecution leads us to conclude that it is politically motivated:
- The initiation of the case against Tsurkan, the decision to remand her in custody, and the specific nature of her prosecution, have been in line with a general trend in recent years which has seen an increase in prosecutions for espionage and treason since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the intensification of confrontation between Russia and Western countries since early 2014. To maintain the image of Russia as a besieged fortress surrounded by enemies, more and more prosecutions of ‘spies’ and ‘traitors to the Motherland’ are required and the activities of counter-intelligence agencies are often aimed at fabricating such cases.
- The Tsurkan case is directly related to the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and the informal but active support of the Russian authorities for the self-proclaimed DPR/LPR. The insistent desire to expose a ‘spy’ in the Ministry of Energy is not a matter of ensuring Russia’s national security, but a result of the wish to continue an aggressive foreign policy without being exposed to the risk of sanctions.
- The classification of prosecutions for espionage and treason and the closed nature of court proceedings have led to an increase in the number of unlawful, biased convictions. The general atmosphere of distrust in such verdicts is furthered by the fact that in such trials, defendants are denied the right to a full defence and a fair trial and the public cannot be convinced of the validity of the verdict or the proof of guilt. All of these factors are characteristic of the prosecution of Karina Tsurkan.
- The formal ruling to prosecute in this case, published by the lawyer Ivan Pavlov, does not specify how Tsurkan obtained access to information constituting a state secret, nor the manner in which she passed secret information to Moldovan intelligence agencies, nor the amount of the alleged monetary reward, which, according to the investigation, motivated her to commit a crime (even though the value of the assets seized from Tsurkan exceeds 1bn roubles). The charges against Tsurkan do not withstand any criticism and do not meet the requirements of the Russian Criminal Procedural Code.
- Lawyers for the defence note that the charge against Tsurkan is based on poor quality photocopies of an information sheet filled out by an agent, allegedly drawn up about her by Moldovan intelligence, and intelligence reports. At the same time, it is important to note that the material contained in the information sheet does not correspond to reality and the information sheet was written with numerous spelling and grammatical errors. The FSB refuses to disclose the source of these documents, citing the testimony of a single classified witness.
Legal counsel is provided to Karina Tsurkan by the human rights organisation Team 29.
More information about this case and the opinion of Memorial Human Rights Centre is available on our website.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
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