20.07.2016 | Halya Coynash

Russian revenge for Maidan extends to Crimean political prisoner’s brother


   Oleksandr Kostenko and Natalya Poklonskaya,  

Yevhen Kostenko has been fined for showing disrespect to the judge who handed down a knowingly unjust sentence against his brother and Maidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko on May 15, 2015.  The latter was sentenced to over 4 years’ imprisonment for an unproven offence during Euromaidan in Kyiv over which a court under Russian law had no jurisdiction. 

On July 18, Yevhen Kostenko was ordered to pay 60 thousand roubles for supposedly carrying out his “criminal intent to insult judge Vladimir Mozhelyansky” by showing the finger.   In his ruling, judge D. Berberov stated that the middle finger represents the male sexual organ, without making it clear why he thought so.   The restraint order against Kostenko, preventing him from leaving Crimea, remains in force until he pays the fine.

The charges against Yevhen Kostenko were first reported by his brother’s lawyer Dmitry Sotnikov who was blunt in calling them part of the general offensive against his client’s family, with this having including searches of homes despite the presence of very small children.  Sotnikov pointed to Mozhelyansky’s close collaboration with the occupation regime and noted that he had even directly insulted Oleksandr Kostenko during the trial, and been disrespectful to his mother, with this prompting Sotnikov to lodge a disciplinary complaint against him.  The Crimean Human Rights Group points out that Ukraine has initiated criminal proceedings against both Mozhelyansky and Berberov for state treason.

Sotnikov then said that the charge of ‘insulting’ the charge dated back to the court hearing just prior to sentence being passed.  In protest that even on the eve of the sentence his client was being beaten and refused food, Sotnikov left the court, with all members of the Kostenko family also leaving.  According to Sotnikov, Yevhen had a nervous twitch because of the strain they were under.  The court bailiffs interpreted his movement as an indecent gesture and demanded a formal explanation.  He explained that it had been a spasm and apologised to the judge if his gesture had been misinterpreted. 

The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Oleksandr Kostenko to be a political prisoner and pointed to the legal absurdity of the entire prosecution.

Oleksandr Kostenko is a Ukrainian citizen sentenced by a Russian-occupied Crimean court to 4 years’ imprisonment over an unprovable offence which allegedly took place during Euromaidan in Kyiv, well 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.

As well as the lack of any jurisdiction, the actual charge of slightly injuring a Ukrainian Berkut special force officer during the Euromaidan protests was fundamentally unprovable.  This did not stop Natalya Poklonskaya, installed as Crimean prosecutor by the occupation regime, from demanding a sentence of 4.2 years which Mozhelyansky obligingly provided. 

The Maidan activist was convicted of slightly injuring a Ukrainian Berkut riot police office in Kyiv on Feb 18, 2014.  Even without the lack of jurisdiction, the charges were also comical in their absurdity.  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”.

Like many of these political cases, another ‘criminal’ offence was thrown in to ensure that Kostenko could be held in detention from the beginning.  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 still challenging the refusal to initiate criminal proceedings over his client’s torture. 

The conviction which will assuredly be condemned by the European Court of Human Rights has been through all appeal levels.  No court had the courage to dispute the fundamentally lawless conviction, although his sentence was reduced to 3.5 years. On June 16, a court in Kirov (Russia) where Kostenko is being held also ignored the Russian Supreme Court’s guidelines on parole, demonstrating yet again the political nature of the entire case.

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   

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