Ukraine’s New Judicial Genre
Terrorist bombs are always aimed at showing the public that nobody is safe from attack. The case of Dmitry Reva (in custody now for over a year) is in danger of showing Ukrainians how easy it is to end up in prison as a result.
A new move in the increasing role played by the State-owned national television channel UTV-1 was seen last week with worrying ramifications for the presumption of innocence in Ukraine.
The close cooperation between Ukraine’s leaders, enforcement bodies and UTV-1 has long been apparent, most noticeably over the prosecutions of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. If some modicum of distance was at least officially maintained by the courts, this was abandoned on Tuesday 4 June when UTV-1 – in a novel appearance as defender of freedom of speech – effectively received court backing for its role as criminal investigator, prosecutor and judge.
On 4 June the Kyiv Court of Appeal revoked a first court ruling which had ordered the retraction of false information disseminated about Dmitry Reva, one of four men charged in connection with four bomb blasts in Dnipropetrovsk in April 2012, in the film “Adov Ad” [“Hades Hell”] Since the film which was shown twice on UTV-1 not only falsifies evidence, but also consistently pushes the idea that a person not convicted of any crime is a “terrorist”, one is forced to conclude that the court also found no problem with contempt for the constitutionally guaranteed principle of presumption of innocence.
Dmitry Reva and his lawyers expressed outrage and filed a defamation suit. . UTV-1 and the company which produced the film, VTV, initially just referred to “freedom of speech”, but in the appeal claimed that they had never referred to Reva as being involved in the bombs. It is, however, his photo that accompanies musing on how intellectuals can become “ordinary bombers”, and how “we are dealing with a new type of terrorist”.
The following extract from the film is even more overt “During our investigation we learned that two of the arrested men – Viktor Sukachev and Dmitry Reva – previously worked in the team of a member of the opposition. We were also able to establish that the wrongdoers had in his name corresponded with the head of the Dnipro Hydro-Electric and Zaporizhya Nuclear Power Stations … You can fully agree that having arrested the group of terrorists, the law enforcers have averted an even greater danger for millions of our citizens…”
The fact that the Court of Appeal effectively agreed that the above had no relation to Reva and in no way defamed him or presented him as a terrorist, is profoundly unsettling.
Dmitry Reva has been held in custody for over a year now charged with being an “accomplice”. He is accused of having gone to the centre of Dnipropetrovsk around the time of the bomb blasts “to observe the reaction of the police and public to the explosions, and if necessary pass on information to Sukachev and Fedoryak, so that the latter could coordinate their further actions”.
In view of the quite extraordinary lack of a crime in the actions he is charged with, the investigators couldn’t help but worry about the equally daunting absence of any evidence. They don’t even attempt to explain why the exchange of text messages between Sukachev, one of the men charged with planting the actual bombs, and Reva is supposed to prove complicity in an act of terrorism when Sukachev on that day sent similar messages to a number of other friends. Since the two men had common friends from university days the whole exchange seems absurdly innocent:
S. : “Are you OK? None of our lot hurt?”
Reva “Yeah, I think so”,
S “Hades Hell, everything at our end seems to be OK”
So innocent in fact that the Security Service [SBU] investigators needed to either reject their plan to bring charges which a leading legal expert has officially concluded contain no crime, or fabricate some kind of “proof”.
Their first attempt failed abysmally. The supposed telephone call made to Sukachev’s number during the search of Reva’s flat might have aroused suspicion. Instead, however, it inspires only anxiety that the security of the country should be in the hands of SBU officers who have not only proven willing to falsify evidence, but capable of forgetting that Reva’s phones had already been taken away from him.
A criminal investigation forced by the defence over this distortion of evidence is going nowhere, and there are worrying indications that it is to be shelved.
Such improper behaviour was however gaining most undesirable publicity given the assertions at the highest level that the case had been solved and the terrorists caught.
It was around that time, and shortly before the parliamentary elections, that UTV-1 and the film’s producer, VTV, became involved. On 18 October, then again on Saturday, 20 October 2012 UTV-1 broadcast “Hades Hell”, which purports to be a documentary about the bomb blasts.
In the first two minutes of the film, a text message on a telephone screen is shown with the words “from the terrorists’ correspondence”. The following “messages” are given:
“Everything went well, our people didn’t get hurt”
“Good. Now Hades Hell has begun”
After such overt distortion of the main “evidence” In the case against Dmitry Reva, the only doubts remaining concern the motives of the film producer and UTV-1. The bias and manipulation of the audience’s perception could in principle come down to a primitive wish for sensationalism.
In light of the above, Tuesday’s Court of Appeal ruling unfortunately gives credence to suspicions regarding the likely commissioned nature of the film, and yet again raises serious concerns about the role of courts in Ukraine.