Is it justice?
It is very difficult for me to write about this case, because I cannot be impartial.
When I learned that the Kharkov oblast court agreed with the verdict pronounced a month ago in the case of Yuri N. by a district court, I was desperate. What can be done if a man is being killed in front of you? Killed without sense and without aim, as practically all is done in our unfortunate country. Come to the central square and go on a hunger strike? But the article by which Yuri is condemned is not very suitable for public demonstrations. What else can be done? To write complaints? I will, of course, but it is hopeless. First, because the judges who pronounced the verdict and who left it without changes are quite sure that they have acted humanely and justly. The article by which Yuri is accused prescribes the minimal term of five years, and Yuri got ‘only 3.5 years. Yuri keeps asserting that he has never committed the crime, of which he is accused. But who will believe the culprit?
Yuri got his 3.5 years after a very grave stroke that he had at the age of 30 in the autumn of 1999. Being an invalid of the second group, he could hardly survive the stroke. Yuri is an old ‘customer of the Kharkov Group for human rights protection, on the one hand, and of law-enforcing bodies , on the other hand. The last fact makes it extremely difficult to get sympathy from the public. But I shall risk. The Criminal-Procedural Code states that a judge must pronounce the verdict on the base of the profound internal belief. Then, perhaps, on the base of my internal belief I shall try to prove that the verdict was illegal and unjust, demonstrating immorality and cruelty characteristic of our courts.
In autumn of 1991 a lost and desperate woman turned to the Kharkov Group for human rights protection (then we had no office and she came to my home). She asked without hope if we assist in such a case as hers. We listened to her and promised to do what we can. The first Yuris term in prison he got for a petty theft. As many young people who were almost forcefully made to take drugs, he turned to stealing when he had no money for narcotics. So he got his first prison term. Who and how ‘assisted Yuri to fall from the third story and get his spine broken is unknown. Yuri did not tell it even to us, though he trusted us and told much. His mother learned about the accident not at once. What she got was an official message that her son was transferred from the colony to a Kharkov hospital. Several weeks passed before the mother, by hook or crook, learned that her son had his legs paralyzed, that his hands function inadequately and that his kidneys are harmed. Nobody wanted to operate Yuri in the prison hospital. The Kharkov Group managed to have Yuri transferred to the oblast hospital, to organize the consultations by a brilliant surgeon professor Gruntovskiy. He was successfully operated and released from the prison by the state of his health. Metallic rods were left in his spine. I describe all this in so many details to make the reader understand our attention to Yuri.
Yuri was anxious to get rid of drug addiction, he started to attend a Evangelist church. His appearance became utterly changed, but he continued to suffer from great pain, and doctors decided to make another operation. Unfortunately, they applied pain-killers, and after the operation Yuri again began to use drugs. Soon he got another term for theft — 1.5 years. I anticipate reproaches: what kind of people you, human rights protection activists, protect? I shall answer without hesitation: yes, I protect also the poor in spirit and I will continue to protect them. Yuri, in spite of his broken and complicated life is a very noble man, always ready to protect everybody. Cruelty and violence were always unacceptable to him. He was released by amnesty.
In winter 1998 we learned that Yuri, who finally stopped to take drugs, was arrested for rape. No one of us, who knew Yuri, believed in this accusation. There are crimes and felonies so untypical for a given person that they just cannot be committed. ‘I do not believe, said I to Yuris mother when she told about the development of events and many unbelievable sides of the case. Mother just waved off my comment: ‘He was twice convicted, who will believe anybody? But suddenly our hopes were confirmed: Yuri had been staying in prison already for half a year when Olga, the ‘victim of the rape, came to our Group. She said that she came trying to correct what she had done. Olga was utterly confused: in her family life, in her fear before the husband, and before the investigating officer, and before her parents. We quote a passage from Olgas statement handed to the Kharkov Group.
‘I turn to you because during the crime investigation my rights were abused and my testimony was misinterpreted by the investigator, as the result of which it appeared that my complaint to militia accused Yuri. I have no claims to him, he did not exert either physical or psychological pressure on me, and his behavior may not be interpreted as violent.
We turned with a letter to the district court, appending Olgas statement. These materials were added to the case. We also wrote to the district prosecutors office.
Leninskiy district court presided by judge Klimenko did not agree with the arguments of the prosecution and did not find anything criminal in Yuris behavior. According to Article 117 part 3 only one man was condemned for rape — the owner of the house where Yuri and Olga visited as guests. Yuri was released quite ill and psychologically broken. He could not understand how anyone could believe that he could rape a woman, he, who always detested such crimes.
It seemed that the court pronounced the only reasonable decision, and that all Yuris troubles ended. But, perhaps, the investigation officers thought about the question, who would be responsible for half a year of Yuris incarceration. Olga came to the investigating officer and tried to change her testimony, but nothing was changed, and her coming was not even put to a protocol. Meanwhile, N., the first rapist, handed in his cassation, and the district prosecutor protested against the verdict. As a result, the oblast court cancelled the previous decision of the district court and directed the case for the additional investigation. Yuri had no forces to survive this infinite hellish round. After one of the sessions (by the way, he was not detained, although his crime is considered grave) Yuri had a hard stroke. A doctor form the motor ambulance was astonished: people at Yuris age very infrequently have hard strokes. The stroke was grave and extensive, and doctors had difficulties to save Yuris life, and the court machine continued to turn.
Kharkov Group for human rights protection turned to Leninskiy district prosecutors office. We appended many documents and put many questions. How can an invalid of the second group be tried on the basis of the testimony of one person? How may one be tried if the victim changed the testimony? We received a remarkable answer, which is worth of quoting:
‘Since the victim in the course of the first court session repeatedly changed her testimony, the verdict on the cassation of the district prosecutor is cancelled on 5 January 1999 by the court collegium of criminal cases of the Kharkov oblast court, and the case is directed to the same court for the consideration with the same composition of judges.
Since 26 February 1999 the criminal case has been resumed, and now all the details of the crime are investigated, including the testimony of the victim, who continues to keep her position by changing her testimony.
In fact, they explained to us that the fate of a man, his freedom and honor, must depend on the mood of the victim. Another procedure is possible: the prosecutors office must believe only that testimony which blames Yuri and which Olga gave because of the fear of her husband. Later, at the court session, she categorically rejected that in Yuris behavior were any features of violence.
However, the court disregarded this testimony. Yuri was brought to the court from a hospital where he stayed because of hypertension of blood. From the courtroom Yuri was taken to the preliminary prison, since the same court of Leninskiy district presided by another judge found him guilty in the group rape. He got a very short prison term — only 3.5 years, but this term may cost his life.
Is it justice?