3 Aug 2018 22:51

Russia's FSIN explains why it denied a priest access to Sentsov

MOSCOW. Aug 3 (Interfax) - Penal Colony No 8, the Russian penitentiary where Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov is serving his sentence, did not allow a priest to visit him recently because the cleric presented invalid papers and also due to the fact that no request to see a clergy member came from the inmate, the Federal Penitentiary Service's (FSIN) press office said on Friday.

"As for the document [letter of attorney issued by the Apostolic Orthodox Church] presented by Mikhnov-Vaitenko [the priest] to the chief of FSIN regional department with a view to visiting the institutions of the Penal System in the territory of the Northwestern Federal District, it should be noted that Penal Colony No 8 in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District is situated in the Urals Federal District, where the document is not valid," the FSIN regional department said in a statement in response to an Interfax enquiry on Friday.

Moreover, as of the date when the priest applied to the penitentiary, its administration had no official request from Sentsov to permit his meeting with a member of the religious organization, the FSIN department said.

At the same time, visits to penitentiaries are governed by the Russian Correctional Code, which stipulates that "presenting or failure to present a letter of attorney by a member of any religious organization does not affect the official decision on permitting their access to an inmate", it said.

According to the FSIN, Penal Colony No 8 is in contact with Russian Orthodox Church priest Maxim based in the town of Labytnangi, who "visits the penitentiary on a regular basis, performing religious rites and holding ceremonies, and personally talking to inmates," it said.

"No requests came from Sentsov as to permit him meetings with the priest. Once a request is received from the inmate about meeting with the cleric, such a meeting will be organized in accordance with the law," the FSIN said.

Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Liudmyla Denisova said on July 31 that Father Hryhoriy, bishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church, was not allowed to visit Sentsov in the penitentiary.

On August 1, the chairman of Russia's presidential Council for Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, asked the FSIN to allow priest Grigory Mikhnov-Vaitenko to visit Sentsov to try and persuade him to end his hunger strike.

Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014 on terror charges. In August 2015, the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don found him guilty of forming a terror group in Crimea and sentenced him to 20 years in a top-security penitentiary facility.

On May 14, 2018 Sentsov announced a hunger strike to demand the release of all Ukrainian prisoners in Russia.