Crimean court refuses to investigate imprisoned Maidan activist’s torture
After a ‘confession’ tortured out of Ukrainian Euromaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko was used to imprison him on surreal charges, a military court in Russian-occupied Crimea has refused to even consider his appeal against the refusal to investigate clear evidence of torture.
Kostenko’s lawyer, Dmitry Sotnikov said that he expected the worst when he arrived to find that the FSB [Russian Security Service] officers alleged to have taken part in the torture had not turned up, and the judge had no intention of organizing video contact with Kostenko who is imprisoned in the Kirov oblast. There are certainly problems at present in Crimea with power, yet the court still sat for 3 hours, only to rule that the appeal proceedings should be terminated. The excuse given was that Kostenko’s allegations of torture had been considered during his trial. This, however, is not true. Judge Vladimir Mozhelyansky had claimed the evidence of torture was outside the scope of the charges.
Sotnikov writes that the court ruling is actually better than if they had simply rejected the appeal. It points the finger back to the Kievsky District Court in Simferopol which convicted Kostenko in May this year, and gives grounds for a cassation appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court and to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Ukrainian Euromaidan activist was charged and convicted by a court in Russian-occupied Crimea of slightly injuring a Ukrainian Berkut riot police office in Kyiv on Feb 18, 2014. The alleged offence was thus in Ukraine and under Ukrainian law. The court lacked any jurisdiction for such a prosecution, and the charges were not just unproven, but fundamentally unprovable.
As Kostenko’s lawyer Dmitry Sotnikov points out, his client, a Ukrainian, is forced to defend his rights in a foreign country. Russia and courts under its control in Crimea are not in a position to investigate the charges in Ukraine, and these were simply fabricated. Supposedly motivated by “a feeling of ideological hatred and enmity to law enforcement officers”, Kostenko was supposed to have deliberately aimed a cobble stone at V.V. Poliyenko, an officer of the Crimean Berkut special force unit. This had allegedly resulted in Poliyenko receiving an injury “in the form of a large haematoma on the left shoulder”.
This was deemed to fall under Article 115 § 2.b of the Russian Criminal Code (deliberately causing mild damage to health for motives of political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or enmity, or for the same motives in relation to a social group).
Since the Berkut officer had not been a Russian national at the time of the alleged incident, there was no possibility of keeping Kostenko in detention and then imprisoning him. Kostenko was then also accused of ‘”unlawfully obtaining, keeping or carrying the main parts of a firearm”). The investigators claimed to have found a rifle barrel when searching his home.
Sotnikov says that not one of the official witnesses of the search confirmed that weapons were found in Kostenko’s flat. The investigators claimed that Kostenko’s father, Fedir Kostenko had identified the gun barrel as belonging to his son.
They also claim, however, that it was Kostenko Senior who gave permission for the search (needed as there was no search warrant).
Fedir Kostenko disappeared soon after this and has not been seen since.
Kostenko is a former police officer, who took part in Euromaidan from December 2013. He asserts that he was abducted in Kyiv in February 2015, and taken by force to Russian-occupied Crimea.
He was officially detained on Feb 6, but he and witnesses assert that he was held by FSB [Russian Security Service[ officers in Simferopol from Feb 5, 2015.
During those 24 hours he received multiple injuries, including a broken arm. The only ‘lawyer’ present was one appointed by the investigators, and a ‘confession’ was obtained from Kostenko, as well as a statement that he had been beaten on the street by unidentified individuals.
Kostenko retracted all such ‘confessions’ as soon as he was able to see to a real lawyer, and Sotnikov has since repeatedly endeavoured to get criminal investigations initiated over both the initial torture, and ongoing ill-treatment of his client while he was held in detention.
An appeal is due shortly against the refusal to investigate evidence of torture.
Contempt for procedure, for Kostenko’s right to a fair trial
As mentioned, the court ignored Kostenko’s retraction of his initial ‘confessions’, despite the ample evidence of ill-treatment. Judge Mozhelyansky from the Kiyevsky District Court in Simferopol took only the original ‘confession’ and first interrogation into account and found Kostenko guilty of both charges, and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. The court of appeal upheld the conviction, but reduced the sentence to 3 years and 11 months.
Kostenko was taken to the Kirov oblast, without his lawyer or his mother who has recognized status as civic defender being informed.
As well as the appeal against the refusal to investigate evidence of torture, Sotnikov is preparing a cassation appeal, and an application is currently with the European Court of Human Rights. Sotnikov expects another to follow if the appeal is rejected.
The Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Oleksandr Kostenko a political prisoner.
Kostenko is a former police officer and is being held in a prison colony in the Kirov oblast for imprisoned police, FSB and military intelligence officers. As a person who left the police after exposing criminal wrong-doing in the police force, as a Maidan activist, and because of his allegations of torture by FSB officers, this could put him in danger. Sotnikov has also learned that Kostenko was summoned for questioning on Thursday about Euromaidan, the role of human rights activists in his case, as well as about his lawyer. The men who questioned him did not identify themselves.
Publicity is vital to show that Kostenko is not forgotten, and that the Russian authorities are under scrutiny.
Please write to Oleksandr Kostenko
If you can write in Russian, then a few words about yourself would be appropriate, but please avoid politics or any mention of Kostenko’s case.
If Russian is not possible, then even a letter with the following will give an important message to both Oleksandr and the Russian authorities that he is not forgotten.
Добрый день, Олександр!
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним. Держитесь!
Hello, Oleksandr, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten. [The last word is like ‘hang in there’)
613049 Russia, Kirov oblast, Kirovo-Chepetsk, Prison Colony No. 5, Ovranzhnaya St, 16
(ФКУ ИК-5, ул. Овражная 16, г. Кирово-Чепецк, Кировская область, 613049 Россия)
Костенко Александру Федоровичу,Halya Coynash