Yury Lutsenko: I am defending myself with what little I have left
Former Minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Lutsenko, who was recently transferred from the Lukyanivsk SIZO [pre-trial detention unit] to the Kyiv City Ambulance Clinic, believes that his three-week-long hunger strike has not gone unnoticed by those in power. He is convinced that in leaving him in custody they are simply settling scores. He spoke of this in an interview to a Kommersant – Ukraine correspondent, and also said that after leaving the SIZO he did not plan to seek treatment abroad.
Tell us about the circumstances of your transfer from the SIZO to the Ambulance Clinic. Why did you choose hunger strike as your form of protest and did you think it would go on so long?
At the last court hearing (on 21 April the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv extended Lutsenko’s remand for yet another month until 26 May)I declared a hunger strike in protest at the unlawful ruling. This was passed to the press by the press service of People’s Self-Defence [the political party which Yury Lutsenko leads – translator). From 22 to 30 April the Prosecutor General’s Office tried hard not to notice this. Its position was that there was no hunger strike as there was no statement from the SIZO Administration, although there is no demand in laws for such a statement.
With time it became increasingly difficult to ignore what was happening. On 30 April my cell-mates signed protocols confirming that I was on hunger strike. The scales showed that I had lost 14 kilograms, and by the way weight-loss now stands at 19.5 kilograms. However the main thing is that the examination showed that there was acetone in the blood.
After that the Administration announced its decision regarding forced feeding “with a mixture for people on hunger strike” aimed at getting the acetone out of the organism. All of this lasted for three days and throughout that period the Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO] claimed that I was eating sausage, buns and a marvellous high-calorie mixture. I responded to such mockery and lies by refusing to take any mixtures, drips, etc. On 8 May I was transferred to the medical unit and several consultations were held.
My condition was deteriorating. On 10 May, on the 19th day of my hunger strike, I was bundled into a van and taken to the Ambulance Clinic. Surrounded by a dozen Spetsnaz [Special Forces] officers in masks and another twenty others place in the corridors and around the clinic I was examined by the registrar and sent to a ward. I am now in these premises, with bars on the windows and door with four police officers around the clock.
How is your state of health now? What did the doctors find?
Under a convoy of the same Spetsnaz officers I am undergoing examination. There is one advantage – I don’t have to wait in queues (he laughs). I don’t see myself as Stalin or Brezhnev to publish communiqués about my state of health in the newspapers. There are problems but thanks to the doctors it’s all under control. They use the drips until late at night.
Let’s return to the last court hearing. On 21 April were you convinced that you would be released?
No, I basically knew the result. Admittedly I thought there was a 2% chance that a miracle would occur for the Christian Good Friday. That’s pointless. In a country where the Prosecutor General’s brother heads the high court of criminal proceedings and all judges have the sword of Damocles hanging over them, with that to be found in the President’s Administration and the High Council of Justice there are no miracles. Incidentally, I have still, after 22 days, not received the court ruling.
The court officially extended your remand in custody on the grounds that your advocates had not familiarized themselves with your case. Have they by now?
My defence had long turned down the right to familiarize themselves with the material of the criminal case. They immediately sent a letter to the Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, asking that the preventive measure be changed from remand to a signed undertaking not tot abscond since absolutely all, even far-fetched reasons for holding me In a cell had been exhausted. Silence. They even sent an appeal to the President as Guarantor of the Constitution and citizens’ rights. The same answer.
By the way, what do you think: do many people remember why you’re in the SIZO, what you’re accused of?
Of course not, yet I think most understand that regardless of the formal details, the reason boils down to Yanukovych’s political reprisals against an opponent.
In view of your state, after leaving the SIZO, whenever that happens, you’re not planning to go abroad for treatment, are you>
No, I’m not planning to.
Earlier in an interview to Kommersant – Ukraine, you spoke of how the case against you was political and said you were not capable of reaching an arrangement with the regime. Has anything changed in your assessment of the situation? Are you perhaps ready to name the officials behind your imprisonment? For example, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov doesn’t bear a grudge against you. What about you against him?
I’m not inclined to discuss my relations with people who felt aggrieved in the press. …
You don’t feel that your hunger strike has gone unnoticed by the regime, that it’s totally ignore and that its only result is a deterioration in your state of health? Does it not seem to you that those in power are not responsive to such forms of protest?
I don’t think so. I believe that somebody has long needed to speak of the unacceptability of continuing totalitarian practice of holding people who haven’t been convicted in custody, not giving it publicity.
Ukrainian legislation envisages such forms of restriction as bail, a signed undertaking not to leave, somebody’s guarantee. Why are these not used? Why are there fathers of three children held on charges of economic crimes for years in the Lukyanivsk SIZO? Why is it not possible to use their flat as security, take an undertaking and leave them in peace to await the court ruling? I can answer that this is because the decision of the PGO investigator regarding remand supported by the court guarantees a system of mutual protection and inevitable guilty verdicts.
Behind this there are such banal things as the plan for investigators and the PGO, control figures, the percentage against the previous year demonstrating “effective” work. This repressive machine is convenient but unnatural in the modern world. We are not just talking about political prisoners, but about tens of thousands of ordinary people who’ve perhaps taken the wrong step. I would call for people to begin talking seriously not only about the politically motivated detention of Lutsenko in a cell for those facing charges involving life sentences – by the way in the next cell there is a person accused of murdering two police officers, but also about the system of PGO lawlessness as a whole. I would note that I spoke of that as Minister of Internal Affairs, but then it was called “confrontation of departments. I talk about it now when I can.
In one of your letters you wrote that you were willing to stand up for your rights with the highest value – life. Why? After all in the worst case scenario, if such a price is demanded, you simply wont’ need those rights.
I agree, the phrase is quite full of pathos, yet in general it reflects my state. Judge yourself: I’m arrested for using my constitutional right to not admit to guilt, not give testimony, to express my opinion in the press. This PGO paper summoning up Beria’s spirit (on extension of remand in custody) has been unashamedly affirmed four times by the Pechersky and Appeal courts. That means I face an analogous comedy with the prospect of being imprisoned for 10 years. I need to preserve my life and health for that, pretending faith in justice and lawfulness?! Unfortunately, law-based arguments in today’s Ukraine don’t work. Therefore I remain with that little which is left to me. Of course all of this reeks of corrida with an inevitable finale. Yet in my view that’s better than meekly going to the slaughterhouse.
The interviewer was Valery Kalnysh