26.12.2011 | Halya Coynash

Questions for the President on the first anniversary of Yury Lutsenko’s arrest


The one and only high point at Viktor Yanukovych’s end-of-year TV press conference was a question from Mustafa Nayem.  Roughly: why, when life for ordinary Ukrainians is getting harder and harder, is your life only improving?   A shame that his was the only question with any punch, and that nobody else thought to take up the topic and highlight the exceedingly tenuous link between question and the President’s response.

The other questions were disjointed and open.  Reminiscent of those you’d hear from a psychotherapist, in fact.  The person can relax, decide what is important for him, what he wants to talk about, can feel safe and in his element. That might well have been the President’s impression since aside from Nayem’s question, there was nothing at all unforeseen.

He could completely forget that this was no feel-good therapy.  He was there to report on his activities, answer specific questions, and not just pour out phrases learned by heart.

It was clear, for example, that he would have to speak about former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. It should have been equally clear to all journalists present that he would deliver utterances about independence of the judiciary and how he, of course, cannot interfere.  It could be predicted that he’d pass the buck, claiming he had to go along with what parliament “decided”.

Yet did nobody think to ask in that case why the first “independent” court suddenly decided, following the international storm over Tymoshenko’s detention, to take a long break until just after the Yalta European Strategy Conference in September?  Or why, in December, a second “independent” court postponed the appeal hearings until the day after the EU-Ukraine Summit in Kyiv?

Could they not have asked why the President does not intervene by at least asking his own tough questions of the Prosecutor or High Council of Justice regarding statements from Ukrainian and international human rights NGOs, as well as EU bodies, about serious infringements in Yulia Tymoshenko’s right to a fair trial?  After all, even Party of the Regions MP and highly-qualified lawyer, Serhiy Holovaty stated publicly that the trial had been full of howling infringements of European standards.

The list of questions that went unasked could be continued yet at least the viewers could hear the main thing, that Europe regards Tymoshenko’s sentence as politically motivated.

The event was broadcast on State-owned UTV-1 whose notorious track record for muffling important information unflattering to those in power would seem to have been contagious. Other politically motivated prosecutions were not mentioned at all during the press conference which on the eve of the anniversary of Yury Lutsenko’s detention was frankly incredible.

Some of the questions below apply equally to former Acting Defence Minister Valery Ivashchenko who has been in detention now for 18 months.

Could the President possibly explain why neither ne, nor the Prosecutor General have responded to statements from Ukrainian and international organizations regarding the lack of any grounds for remanding the former Minister of Internal Affairs and opposition leader in custody, or for the automatic extensions to the detention order? It is his duty as President to safeguard citizens’ constitutional right to liberty and security, as well as to a fair trial. Has the information given, for example, in the Second Preliminary Monitoring Report by the Danish Helsinki Committee been checked out, and by whom?  We are, after all, talking about a man who has not been convicted of any crime having been held in detention over an entire year for “procrastinating with the reading of the case material”.

Yury Lutsenko is charged with offences which are staggeringly trivial. If, in fact, they can be considered offences at all with an ever increasing number of the prosecution witnesses stating under oath that there was nothing at all untoward in the actions which Lutsenko is charged with. 

When it is still unclear where the money for President Yanukovych’s spectacular 60th birthday celebrations came from, and when despite his promise, only a selected few journalists have been shown a selected part of his reportedly sumptuous residence at Mezhyhirya, some questions would surely be in order. One would like to know how the festivities to mark Police Day in December 2008 and 2009, which is one of the supposed offences, differed from the Prosecutor Day festivities in 2011.

It would have been good to ask the President why he is not reacting as the trial of Yury Lutsenko descends into farce. In August two of the official victims in the case stated that the Prosecutor General’s investigator had told them what to write in their official statement about Lutsenko. Each week there are reports that witnesses have been interrogated since the investigation ended, or that they have retracted their testimony, sometimes accusing the investigators of twisting their words. On 13 December the Prosecutor suggested that despite the absence of witness, V. Sheludko, that his pre-trial testimony be read out in court. Judge Serhiy Vovk saw fit to ignore the defence’s objection that Mr Sheludko had already begun giving testimony which had differed significantly from that given to the investigators.

Does the President also see fit to ignore such violations of citizens’ rights?

It is a shame that he was not asked. The argument that there’s no need to ask as we already know why Yury Lutsenko is on trial dooms everyone to remain suspended in a world behind the looking glass where the rule of law and independent judges exist only on elaborate television stunts, otherwise known as the President’s press conference. 

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