Yakiv Strogan released from custody; impunity intact

Halya Coynash

  On the very day that a campaign was planned in support of Yakiv Strogan, the wonderful news came that after 14 months remanded in custody, he has at long last been released on a signed undertaking not to leave Kharkiv.

The news is wonderful for Yakiv, his wife and small son.

It unfortunately leaves the question which began the introduction to our appeal unanswered: Where do you turn for protection from lawlessness? 

The case of Yakiv Strogan has demonstrated new depths of police impunity in Kharkiv. 

For almost 4 months after a scuffle between Strogan and a neighbour in August 2010 Yakiv Strogan consistently accused police officers of torture aimed at extorting money from his family. He was questioned by experienced lawyers from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group who stated equally publicly that he had spoken of things he was most unlikely to have come up with himself.  Strogan tried to get a criminal investigation initiated, spoke out publicly, even at parliamentary hearings.   

Until one evening in December when police officers from the same police station turned up and arrested Yakiv Strogan, accusing him of attempted murder way back in August 2010.  The neighbour with whom Strogan had had a run-in and who had fallen on a broken bottle was now presented as the victim of an attempted murder, with his wife the star witness and a knife, without finger prints, but supposedly the weapon.

Strogan was taken into custody and by the time he was brought to court the next day had clear signs of beating. They were reported by human rights group representatives and journalists in the court and ignored by the judge who remanded Yakiv Strogan in custody. 

He was held there until 12 March 2012.

There has been no investigation of his allegations of torture in August, with all courts rejecting appeals against the Prosecutor’s refusal to initiate a criminal investigator and the Supreme Court’s judgement awaited.

The Prosecutor has similarly refused to initiate an investigation over torture in police custody on 9 December, despite the number of witnesses able to confirm the difference in Strogan’s condition by his court appearance the next day. 

The road to the European Court of Human Rights seems depressingly clear, as does the Court’s likely judgement.

The hearings into the charge against him began in spring last year. Spring is once again in the air but there is not a sign of any movement towards resolution.  For some time the judge even refused to allow Strogan’s lawyer to see his client.  It seemed clear that the trial was being dragged out.

There are serious grounds for concern about the course of the trial as well. The judge, for example, refused to hear the testimony of a witness, the wife of the building janitor, who saw the broken glass with blood on it which Strogan has said from the outset was how his neighbour injured himself.

The forensic report which supposedly substantiated the claims of attempted murder was, back in May 2011, so demolished in court that the judge agreed to the defence’s demand that the author of the forensic examination be questioned in court.  She also demanded other documentation with that, and the forensic expert’s questioning, enabling a decision to be made as to whether a repeat forensic examination was to be called for.

On 21 September another forensic examination was ordered in Kharkiv.  There was one more court hearing at which the forensic expert asked for more documents.  Since then there has been silence. 

It is excellent that Yakiv Strogan has finally been released from custody and can be with his family. 

It remains as deeply disturbing as ever that the law enforcement bodies and court persist in refusing to investigate serious allegations of torture against police officers.

In December 2010 the message intended seemed entirely clear: those who dare speak out against lawlessness will live to regret it. 

14 months on that message rings out very loudly.  It spells danger to any Ukrainian or visitor to the country. 

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