The Olaola Femi Case: Free Hand to Skinheads?
Protest to mark a year since Olaola Femi was arrested in Luhansk. The photo is from the facebook page (http://facebook.com/FreeOlaolu)
There is still no resolution in the case of Nigerian student Olaola Femi who has been held in custody for over a year now, despite public concern and statements from the Prosecutor General and the Human Rights Ombudsperson that they were taking the case under their control.
As reported here, the charges against Olaola Femi could carry a sentence ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment. He is accused of attempted murder of a group of Luhansk residents. The prosecution is claiming that he attacked three young men and a young woman with a broken bottle in his hand and tried to kill them. His lawyers (and a number of civic organizations) are adamant that he was defending himself against a racist attack.
On 5 November 2011 Olaola Femi and the young man he was with – Oniola Sudadi - were set upon by five young people who shouted racist insults and pulled them to the ground, beating them. Oriola lost consciousness, but Olaola managed to get up and began defending himself with a broken bottle. In defending himself he lashed out with the bottle, hitting his assailants. Three young men – V. Haman, D. Lemenchuk and A. Loboda received cuts to the arms, neck and head, while Iryna Pashkova who also took part in the incident was hit on the face and head. Olaola Sunkami Femi was arrested 12 hours later and has been in detention ever since.
Human rights workers have pointed to a number of infringements during the pre-trial investigation and the trial itself. For half a year the court could not find an interpreter for the accused, nor was one provided during Olaola’s medical examination following the incident which prevented the doctors from helping him.
Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union says that the case looks like an attempt to scare foreigners, especially people from Arab or African countries. It’s not enough that neither the State nor the police defend them, he says. Now they’re preventing them from defending themselves. “This is a real message which frees the hands of racists, skinheads or other gangs. Or just idiots who don’t like foreigners.”
In August the Human Rights Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska and Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka stated that they were taking the case under their personal control.
The Luhansk Regional Prosecutor’s Office asserts that no violations were found during the criminal investigation. Radio Svoboda also quotes an Interior Ministry spokesperson, V. Starchenko as saying that it is the court which must decide. If it finds no infringements they will not carry out any further checks.
Oleh Levytsky, UHHRU lawyer says that if Olaola Femi is found guilty, then the case will need to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. He points out that there was a similar case in 2008 in Kyiv when the victim of an attack, also from an African country, was “turned into” the assailant. Then the case was closed, however Oleh Levytsky says that if necessary he will revive it, issuing a suit against the claimant who knifed the young man back then in the chest. In that way both cases could end up in Strasbourg together.
A petition in support of Olaola Femi can be signed here
New information reported by the Radio Svoboda Ukrainian Service