war crimes in Ukraine

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Checking Commitment to European Values?

17.10.2013    source:
Halya Coynash
Acceptance that three young men are “doomed” and that nothing can be done to prevent 14 and 15 year prison sentences because of an order issued by Viktor Yanukovych back in July 2010 will indicate that it is not only politicians who have a problem with selective justice.

An appeal court hearing in the Zaporizhya Church bomb trial has been scheduled for Friday, Oct. 18, though what can be examined there is anybody’s guess. On Oct. 1 it transpired that there was no indictment in the case file. Put most bluntly: three young men have received 14 and 15 year prison sentences.  Decide yourself why.

The appeal court judges pointed out that the lack of an indictment stopped them in their tracks. They asked what exactly the defence was appealing against if the indictment, changed at the end of November 2012, was not in the court material. After more than three years of total contempt for the law in this notorious case, the court’s bemusement was positively cheering.  Their next step, however, was disturbing. Instead of declaring a mistrial, as the law demands, they allowed the prosecutor’s application for a “check”.

A check is undoubtedly required.  It should examine why three young men have been in detention for over three years although there isn’t a scrap of evidence to suggest involvement in the bomb blast in the Svyatopokrovsk Orthodox Church in Zaporizhya on 28 July 2010.  Why the first sacristan, Anton Kharytonov, was taken to the police station the morning after President Yanukovych was seen on national television ordering that the culprits be arrested within the week, yet his presence there was only formalized minutes before midnight and his first “confession”.  Why there are only three defendants, yet seven contradictory confessions which all have retracted. And, of course, why there has never been a check into their allegations that the confessions were extracted through torture, threats and psychological pressure, even though two forensic psychologists from fully certified institutes in  Donetsk and Luhansk concluded that the evidence had not been given freely.

For these and other reasons, the “case of the sacristans” was widely reported .  The indictment with its bizarre mishmash of unconvincing motives, evidence “corroborating” entirely different versions (“confessions”) and generally tenuous link with reality came under the spotlight. 

Then on 29 November 2012 the Prosecutor suddenly “applied” to the court to change the indictment against the three defendants.  Absolutely all parts of the procedure set out for such cases (in Article 227 of the Criminal Procedure Code) were infringed, and no “check” can change that.  Here we’ll look at just one: the prosecution had to explain why they had changed the indictment.

It was clear that this would be extremely difficult. After all, the prosecutor had in a number of places removed specification of time meaning that all three defendants’ absolutely unbreakable alibis were rendered meaningless.  In the original version, Serhiy Dyomin, the brother of one of the sacristans, was supposed to have been running around Zaporizhya in June or July buying the bomb “from an unknown individual”.  Since Dyomin had had his foot in plaster all of June and was still walking with difficulty in July, the story was adjusted. The first version claimed Dyomin to have been driven by “a wish for revenge”.  This was so absurd given Dyomin’s total lack of contact with the church, that it got changed to “family relations”.  What is meant by the latter is quite unclear, yet that did not stop Judge Volodymyr Minasov sentencing him to 14 years.  The prosecution also edited out such undoubted gems as the testimony of one priest who claimed that the fact that the second sacristan, Yevhen Fedorchenko, had read such undesirable literature as Lev Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” indicated that he could have committed a crime.

In a word, the prosecutor’s motives in changing the indictment are clear, as was his reluctance to broadcast these.  The latter proved to not be required. Judge Minasov asked no inconvenient questions about the reasons for changing the indictment or about the numerous other infringements. The court was not provided with a copy of the amended indictment. On 14 February this year the defence asked for the prosecutor’s removal from the case because of the infringements when changing the indictment. Minasov turned the application down, calling it unwarranted and fictitious.

There has been no investigation into the violations of the right of three young men to a fair trial, and it is unclear what they have now “checked” with record pace.  

EU representatives have been regularly informed about the trial, and there have been reports in English language media. The Human Rights Ombudsperson is also aware of the concerns over this case, and it is to be hoped that Valeria Lutkovska will be present in person at the court on 18 October.  The presence of representatives of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations is also vital, as is media attention.

This is happening before our eyes at a crucial time for Ukraine. Any assumption that the three young men are “doomed” and that nothing can be done because of an order issued by Viktor Yanukovych back in July 2010 will indicate that it is not only politicians who have a problem with selective justice. 

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