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15.11.2013

They’re males and there are two of them - that’s them!

   

Two young students are facing 4 and 7 year prison sentences for a supposed robbery with violence based solely on a highly questionable identification. The victim of the robbery said “it’s them” and the two – 17-year-old Vlad Kabanenko and 18-year-old Alexei Lozhenko were convicted, sentenced to 7 and 4 years respectively and ordered to pay the victim 20 thousand UAH compensation.

From Alexei’s testimony in court:

“We were made to turn our backs to the victim and she said that my trousers and jacket were similar, and that Vlad had a similar suit. We were put into a car, they asked where the bag was, threatened that they’d take us to the police station where it would be worse. They beat us in the car. I didn’t see the victim again. A second car drove up and Vlad and I were put into different cars. They continued beating me. Then they took us to the police station, into an internal courtyard, placed us against the wall. Around 15 police officers gathered and all of them beat us.

After they’d beaten us up, we were taken to the criminal investigation department to different rooms. I was placed in the corner, forced to lower my head, they wouldn’t let me watch and they began beating me. There were around 5 people in the room.

They asked how many episodes? I said that I hadn’t done anything. They put me on a chair, put a bag over my head, turned the light out and shined a torch at me. My hands were handcuffed become my back. One of the officers pressed with his knee on my back. I couldn’t hold on and fell off the chair. I was lifted up, but as they were lifting me, one of the officers hit me in the chest.

They loosened the bag a bit and again asked “how many episodes?” I said that I hadn’t done anything. This continued a few times, then I got frightened and I said “one episode”.

The police officers said – too little. I said two. They again said two little. Then I said 8 and the police officers said that that was more like the truth”.

From Vlad’s testimony in court:

“I was put in a safe, with my face down and beaten with something heavy, like a book. They beat me around the head, the ribs and demanded that I confess to robbery but I refused. Then they began hitting me in the groin with a baton.

I said that I confessed to 5 episodes, they said that wasn’t enough…”

Both lads were held in a temporary detention unit for 72 hours. During those days they confessed to 8 robberies. There were also identification parades. Alexei had 10 and some of the victims even said that they recognized him.

Fortunately, the robberies in question had been during the holidays and neither Alexei nor Vlad were in the city.

Their parents were not allowed to see them or speak with them during those 72 hours.

On Feb. 21 2013 they were released. Alexei’s mother was waiting with a lawyer and immediately noticed the signs of beating.  The lawyer immediately suggested getting this recorded, however the forensic medical department refused to see them saying that they needed a referral.

They approached the Prosecutor’s Office the next day asking for a referral. Instead they were sent, without a referral, to the ambulance hospital.

Vlad’s mother’s experiences were similar.

The two mothers began fighting a system in which the police are always right.   Oleksandr Skalko, a lawyer for the KHPG National Legal Aid Network, says that the investigation into the crime was strange.  Although the law stipulates that the exact place, time and means by which the crime was committed need to be established, the investigation was confined to several questionings of the victim, her husband and guards at the building site where the bag was later found.

The investigator decided not to search the scene of the crime, nor to look for the missing items, particularly a mobile telephone which would have directly led them to the robber. They also failed to take fingerprints from the purse found.

What is even more incredible is that the bag was collected by the victim’s husband after which he held on to it for two weeks while the investigator couldn’t find time to collect it.

Oleksandr Skalko writes that the court examination was even less objective with the main evidence of guilt being deemed the testimony of the victim and her husband.

As well as numerous other procedural infringements, the most important document of the case, the statement made by the victim, only appeared in the file at the end of the court examination.

This is, of course, the document which should be at the very beginning of the investigation, but was only provided by the Prosecutor together with other documents later.

In the initial protocols of the victim’s questioning, she gave a description very different from Alexei and Vlad’s appearance.  This only changed two days after they were detained.

There is also video footage from half an hour before the crime.  Both lads are dressed differently from the way the victim described her assailants when first reporting the crime.

The description fits in only two details: two people, both male.

The case is presently with the appeal court with a Kharkiv Human Rights Group advocate taking part.

At each court hearing the courtroom is full with relatives, friends, civic activists and journalists all following the case. All hope that the court of appeal will prove objective and fair.

From the report by Oleksandr Skalko

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