On June 25, in Sri Lanka, a trial began on three Russians who are accused of intentionally trapping and killing local insects. Two defendants in the case - Artyom Ryabov and Nikolai Kalifyan - were imprisoned. Another suspect, Alexander Ignatenko, is now in the hospital: he got an ulcer due to jail food.  

According to Ignatenko on his social media page, the Russians were sent into custody because they could not find guarantors among local residents until June 15.

According to Ignatenko, it was practically impossible to fulfill this condition, since in case of suspects' failure to appear in court, the guarantors had to pay fines of 500 thousand rupees (more than 180 thousand rubles).

“On my own behalf I’ll say that it’s unlikely that someone will guarantee for a foreigner whom he has known for a month and will risk such money,” the Russian wrote.

Men face up to 40 years in prison, as well as a fine of more than two million rubles. The Russians themselves not only do not admit their guilt, but also point out the lack of evidence from the investigation and a huge number of gross procedural violations.  

Without translators and lawyers

Alexander Ignatenko, an employee of the zoo in Rostov-on-Don, came on vacation to Sri Lanka this winter.

According to Alexander, he, along with two of his friends from Russia, walked in a national park. Men did not have time to leave the park before closing, and at the exit they were searched by employees of the reserve. Ignatenko’s dead bugs were found in his pocket, which, he assured, he collected along the roads outside the park for the sake of scientific interest. 

The very next day, a local court arrested the Russians on charges of poaching. For several months, the men were held in a prison cell, where about 80 prisoners suspected of serious crimes slept on the floor: drug trafficking, murder, rape.

  • A sketch of the prison cell where the Russians lived for several months (according to A. Ignatenko).

For a long time, Alexander Ignatenko could not inform his relatives about his situation. The man managed only several times to communicate with his wife through social networks.

In April, the Russians were released from prison - the authorities made this decision because of the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of spread of infection in prisons.

For all this time they were not provided with a translator or a free lawyer. Only when the Russians managed to contact the Russian consulate in Sri Lanka did they have contacts with lawyers who would be able to represent them in court.

The Russians so far have not been able to read a single page of the indictment in Sinhala. The Government did not provide a translation of the case file even to lawyers.

“I had to independently translate the indictment from Sinhala through an online translator,” Georgy Sukhov, Ignatenko's lawyer, told RT.

The lawyer stressed that the investigation did not provide evidence that the Russians deliberately caught and destroyed insects.

“During the searches in the hotel rooms where the Russians lived, not a single protocol was compiled. They are charged with what they allegedly caught and killed 277 beetles, but in fact no one knows how many insects were seized from the Russians - there are simply no documents. This violates all the basic principles of international law. Among things, Russians had hygiene products - wet wipes and disinfectors, the investigation stated that they were special chemicals for exterminating insects, again without providing any evidence, ”said George Sukhov.

The prosecution contains a list of allegedly captured and euthanized insects. The defense showed him to specialists of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.

“Scientists told us that this list is not compiled correctly: some of the insects are not rare or endemic to Sri Lanka, others indicate the genera, not the species, and it’s impossible to determine by genus whether the insects are red-listed or not,” The interlocutor noted.

Under the criminal law of Sri Lanka, Russians face up to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to two million rubles, or both types of sentences together. According to Sukhov, in practice, foreigners are most often severely fined.

“Local residents are usually sent to prison for such crimes, and foreign citizens are required to pay fines. The country has a system of organized extortion of money from tourists. According to local laws, a fine is charged on each insect found. Since the Russians allegedly found 277 dead bugs, the fine increased to $ 30 thousand, ”the lawyer said.

“I did not collect insects”

According to Sukhov, if the accused are sentenced to a fine, then most likely they will have to be in prison until it is fully paid. For Ignatenko, this can be deadly.

“Ignatenko was diagnosed with an ulcer of the esophagus, they give very spicy food in local prisons - these are the features of the national cuisine. In this regard, for Alexander, being in prison will mean a slow death, ”the lawyer said.

For the first time, Ignatenko was hospitalized after being detained in March, due to an exacerbation of the disease. For several months his condition was stable, but in June serious health problems started again: he had fever, heartburn, vomiting and severe pains. A week ago, a man lost consciousness, he was urgently hospitalized. The day before the trial, Alexander underwent gastroscopy.

The Russian is in a state hospital and does not yet know whether his insurance will cover the costs of treatment or whether he will have to pay for the procedures on his own.

Ignatenko himself, like two other Russians, denies his guilt. According to him, he knows the rules of behavior in national parks and never violated them. During the rest, he found and photographed already dead insects, and then threw them away. He planned to use the obtained photographs in scientific publications.

“In Sri Lanka, I did not collect insects - I needed only detailed pictures of beetles. I never did and did not plan to engage in smuggling - I’m not a suicide, ”Ignatenko shared in an interview with RT.

The man added that now he feels very bad. On June 25, he was unable to attend the hearing.

The Russian lawyer believes that in this situation, the Russian authorities will be able to protect the accused.

“Russia is a serious world power, and we need to show that in no point in the world can Russian citizens be treated so rudely and brazenly,” said George Sukhov.    

Earlier, more than 70 Russian zoologists from various scientific institutions of the country signed a letter in defense of Ignatenko and turned to the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, with a request to help the Russians observe their civil rights. The petitioners vouched for Ignatenko, noting that he had never been seen in commercial entomology.  

Friends and acquaintances of Russians created a support group in social networks, where, in particular, they collect funds for them to pay lawyers.