Bankova Prisoners release from custody - welcome but insufficient (updated)
Valery Garagutz was on Bankova St as a journalist. He - and presumably many of the others - was offered a deal, a minor fine if he pleaded guilty. He refused
On Friday, Dec 13, the last two "Bankova Prisoners" - 45-year-old journalist Valery Garagutz and 27-year-old IT specialist, Yehor Previr – were released from custody, pending trial. Garaguz was released under a personal undertaking, Previr - placed under house arrest. This means that of the 9 men initially detained over the disturbances on Bankova St. on Dec 1, only one – Yaroslav Prytulenko – remains in custody. In all of the other cases the prosecution had changed its stance following the statement made by Viktor Yanukovych during his “roundtable” chat with Ukraine’s 3 former presidents earlier this week. Unlike promises to not use force against peaceful protesters, the president’s assurance that the preventive measures against the first 9 people arrested over the disturbances on Bankova St would be changed have not proven hollow.
The rulings are to be welcomed in that the men have been freed from custody, but remain unsatisfactory given the serious grounds for questioning the criminal proceedings altogether.
As reported, all men had been detained in custody for 2 months in rulings which prompted an appeal for their release and an by Amnesty International. They were charged with “organizing disturbances” which could carry prison terms of up to 8 years, although none bore any resemblance to the young masked louts outside the president’s administration on Dec 1, and all were injured, some seriously when Berkut riot police stormed.
Two men - 41-year-old father of two, Yury Bolotov and 38-year-old father of three, Vladislav Zahorovko - were found guilty of involvement in disturbances, fined 850 UAH [less than 100 EUR] and released from custody. It would seem that the men’s lawyers were effectively told that if their clients wanted to be released, they should plead guilty. Bolotov’s condition was serious and Amnesty International specifically pointed out that he urgently required an operation. Zahorovko’s case received wide coverage with a poster showing him with his new-born baby saying “I am in SIZO [detention unit] because I’m a danger to society. Vladislav Zahorovko, father of three”
Both men are now free because they pleaded guilty to offences they almost certainly did not commit.
In all other cases the trials are still pending.
On Wednesday, Gennady Cherevko, 41-year-old father of two, was released under the personal assurance of four MPs and the mayor of Lubny, where Cherevko lives. The defence had stressed that he was the sole breadwinner and that his wife is on maternity leave.
Mykola Lazarevsky, 23-year-old architectural student was placed under house arrest until the end of January 2014.
Serhiy Nuzhenko, 31, was released under a similar personal assurance. His lawyer had pointed out that there was no sight of his client on the video footage, and he had not been in possession of any dangerous items. Ukrainska Pravda that the court allowed Nuzhnenko to remain seated. 11 days after the events on Bankova St. he still shows signs of his injuries and is on crutches.
On Thursday Oleksandr Ostashchenko whose picture, together with his daughter, is on the appeal for the release of all Bankova Prisoners was also released from custody on a personal assurance. He has had to sign an undertaking not to leave the place he lives in, and give up his passport and any documents enabling him to leave the country. It is likely that the same conditions prevail with all those released pending trial.
In the case of 21-year-old Yaroslav Prytulenko, the prosecution did not seek a change in preventive measure and the appeal was rejected. The prosecution apparently asserts that Prytulenko was caught with an inflammatory substance, fireworks, or even some kind of weapon. As reported, Hromadskie.tv journalist Dmytro Hnap was in court during the original court hearing. He said that the prosecution claimed that Prytulenko had been caught with a firework device and that he had hit out at police officers when being detained. Those allegations, he reported, were based solely on testimony from police officers whose names were not given, and who were not present in court.
Since the public outrage over those first 9 detentions, three more people have been remanded in custody for 2 months in cases which arouse no less concern. The charges against Road Control journalist Andriy Dzyndzyu, his lawyer Viktor Smaliy, and Lviv photographer Oleh Panas are also profoundly disturbing. According to his father, Oleh Panas was not on Bankova St on Dec 1, having been injured during the Berkut savage dispersing of the peaceful EuroMaidan demonstration on the morning of Nov 30. His photos of the attack were posted by Reuters, and his subsequent arrest and detention over alleged involvement in disturbances have been treated with scepticism.
Over the two years and more that his main rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been imprisoned, Yanukovych has periodically claimed that this is not his business, and that he cannot “interfere” in the judicial process. He did so this week to good effect. These cases are all continuing, others, no less dubious, have been added. Much more is required.