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No washing our hands of this case

Halya Coynash

(left to right) Anton Kharytonov and Yevhen Fedorchenko

On the eve of Good Friday in most Christian Churches, Anton Kharytonov, one of the three young men accused of the 2010 bomb blast in the Svyatopokrovsk Orthodox Church in Zaporizhya called on the judge to not be like Pontius Pilate.   In his final words, he said: “I think you have long understood that we are innocent and did not commit this crime”

Judge Minasov has stated that the verdict will be passed on 2 April at 10.00.  

The final act has been postponed now a number of times and for good reason.

Three young men stand charged with a crime for which the only “evidence” is multiple confessions which all have retracted and say were obtained through torture, threats and other forms of pressure.

No attempt has been made to properly investigate these allegations and neither the Prosecutor nor the judge have seemed deterred by the excessive number of contradictory “confessions”, the gross irregularities with which they were obtained and many other infringements of the right to a fair trial. Judge Minasov has refused to summon the forensic psychologists from authorized institutes who confirmed that the young men had been placed under serious psychological pressure.  He also accepted the prosecution’s amendments to the indictment when after almost two years of unsuccessfully trying to break all three men’s alibis, the Prosecutor simply removed the time frame, together with numerous other discrepancies.

Two and a half years ago, speaking on television, President Yanukovych demanded arrests within the week.  The first young man was taken into custody the next morning. 

Two young sacristans from the Church and the brother of one of them were not high-profile figures with connections.   It seems likely that sentences were supposed to have been passed long ago in this case and the men left to serve long sentences despite the total lack of evidence and serious grounds for considering at least one other much more plausible version for the crime.

The case was, however, too brutally cynical and indicative of all the problems plaguing the Ukrainian justice system.   Those speaking out on behalf of the three young men have included a former Prosecutor of the Zaporizhya oblast, independent defence lawyers, former political prisoners and very many others.  Their appeal can be read here (scroll down for English) while more information about the concerns are presented here.  

If the Prosecution’s demand for sentences of 14 and 15 years is heeded, Judge Minasov will be convicting three men who are very widely believed to be innocent. He will be ignoring evidence of violations of the prohibition on torture and of the right to a fair trial which in analogous cases have led the European Court of Human Rights to find that a trial was unfair.  

Too much is at stake for us to wash our hands of this case.  

Judge Minasov and those higher up must be made aware that all eyes are on them.  

Anton Kharytonov’s Final Word on 28 March 2013

“Your Honour, I am addressing my final words to you, to Judge Victoria Vasetska; to the esteemed People’s Assessors. I would like to call on you to show justice in this criminal trial. I would ask you to heed the voice of conscience. After all conscience is God’s voice inside us. You can’t deceive it, you can’t bribe it or make deals with it.  I think you have long understood that we are innocent and did not commit this crime.

The one thing I would ask of you is to acquit the three of us – my brother Serhiy Dyomin; myself – Anton Kharytonov; and my friend and former fellow sacristan Yevhen Fedorchenko.  That is the only just and correct judgement on your part. We did not commit this crime and that has been confirmed by numerous facts presented here many times.

Your Honour, please do not be like Pontius Pilate who wrongfully handed an innocent man to his death. I understand that you are facing civic responsibility and civic choice, but it is better to release innocent men from prison. That will be better for everybody – for you, for us, for the investigators. It is not only our lives and fate that are now in your hands but those of our relatives and family.

Your Honour, I would ask you to show justice and treat this case with seriousness and to release us. We are innocent.


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