No end in sight to Russia’s revenge against imprisoned Maidan activist
While Russian-occupied Crimea is looking set to convict another former Euromaidan activist of invented crimes over which it has no jurisdiction, efforts are continuing to secure the early release of Oleksandr Kostenko, the Ukrainian now serving a politically-motivated sentence in Russia.
Ukraine’s Embassy in Russia has sent a formal note over the recent refusal to grant Kostenko parole. The Embassy points to clear flaws in the April 13 ruling, Kostenko’s health problems and family circumstances, and asks that the appeal be given due consideration. The court rejected the parole application citing Kostenko’s denial of legally absurd charges and the fact that he had been placed in a punishment cell. It did not take into account the flimsy pretext for a severe punishment (Kostenko was alleged to have not greeted a prison official). The court also noted in its decision that Kostenko had been placed on a ‘prophylactic register as a person studying, propagating, preaching or spreading extremist literature’. This was despite the fact that during the court hearing, a prison official had been unable to give any sensible reason for Kostenko being on this list.
The official could hardly admit that nationality and / or political motivation were involved. At least one other Ukrainian political prisoner (Oleksandr Kolchenko) has also been registered as potentially ‘extremist’. When Kolchenko tried to find out what this ‘extremist ideology’ was, a prison guard mentioned showing dissatisfaction with the current regime.
The refusal to release Kostenko, a recognized political prisoner, was not unexpected, however the grounds given have been rejected by Russia’s own Supreme Court which will also be pointed out in the appeal. The court ignored the fact that Kostenko has a small child, and that his mother has suffered two heart attacks since her son was arrested.
Kostenko’s lawyer Dmitry Sotnikov sees both the refusal to grant parole, and the fact that his client has been put in a punishment cell as political. He writes that Oleksandr Kostenko, like Russia’s other Ukrainian prisoners, is a victim of Russia’s war against Ukraine. All of the Ukrainian political prisoners and Crimean prisoners who were illegally ‘retried’ according to Russian law are prisoners of war. He believes that they will either all be released, in accordance with a political decision, or none.
Sotnikov has lodged a cassation appeal with Russia’s Supreme Court and is continuing the battle against the stubborn refusal to investigate the considerable evidence that Kostenko was badly tortured still in Simferopol.
Oleksandr Kostenko is a Ukrainian citizen sentenced by a Russian-occupied Crimean court to 4 years imprisonment over an alleged offence in Kyiv, before Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. The court ignored the evidence that his first ‘confession’ had been tortured out of him, and flagrant infringements of procedure from the moment of his arrest. Subsequent appeals have slightly reduced the sentence which now stands at 3 and a half years. He has been in custody since Feb 5, 2015.
The Ukrainian Euromaidan activist was convicted of slightly injuring a Ukrainian Berkut riot police office in Kyiv on Feb 18, 2014. Even if Russian-occupied Crimea had had the jurisdiction to carry out such a prosecution, the charges were also entirely unprovable. He was, nonetheless, found to have deliberately aimed a cobble stone at the Berkut officer who had suffered a bruise on his left shoulder as a consequence. Kostenko was supposed to have been motivated by “a feeling of ideological hatred and enmity to law enforcement officers”.
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 therefore later 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.
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.
Fedir Kostenko disappeared shortly after this in circumstances which also arouse concern.
Kostenko was officially detained on Feb 6, but had in fact already been held in custody then for around 24 hours. During that initial period, 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 is, as mentioned, still challenging the refusal to initiate criminal proceedings over his client’s torture.
The Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Kostenko a political prisoner.
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,