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Lawyers unite in defending Bankova St journalist victims


While the president’s signing on Monday of an “amnesty” bill may (or may not) lead to dubious criminal proceedings against at least two journalists, one of whom was beaten by the Berkut riot police, being dropped, lawyers are also actively working to ensure that violence against journalists does not go unpunished.  

A group of human rights lawyers are working on measures to ensure the prosecution of those guilty of beating up journalists on Bankova St on Dec 1.   They discussed the end of the first phase of their campaign on Monday during a discussion panel held at the LIGABusinessinform information agency.  A representative of LIGABusinessinform explained that an agency photographer had been injured in the events, but that given the scale of the violations, the agency had understood that it could not simply defend its own journalist. 

Over 40 members of the press were injured on Dec 1, including a LIGABusinessInform photographer, most by Berkut riot police.  The prosecutor’s office has initiated criminal proceedings under Article 365 of the Criminal Code (exceeding official powers) and Article 171 (obstructing journalists carrying out their work).  It was noted during the discussion that there are an unprecedented number of police officers (26) involved in the case.

According to Artem Afyan from the law firm Yuskutum, the human rights lawyers’ work is divided into three stages.  The organizational phase has now ended, and they are moving into the criminal investigation phase which will be following by the court proceedings.

Afyan explains that a working group on legal accompaniment for journalists has been formed.  It remains open and willing to share material with other colleagues representing victims.  In fact, however, one of his colleagues qualified that, saying that a number of issues were involved, including confidentiality, and only certain information can be shared.

He says that they understood from the outset the difficulty of their task given that the law had been broken by a large number of people whose faces were masked.  This is one of the main factors which they must overcome in order to ensure that the law is upheld.

The lawyers are planning to seek compensation for damages incurred, including the cost of equipment broken, of treatment as well as unearned salaries while recuperating.

One of the lawyers, V. Tytych explained that the Bankova Case would create a new precedent in that they will be applying a new feature of the 2012 Criminal Procedure Code.  This enables the victim’s party to initiate and take part in investigative activities.

Ihor Cherezov from the law firm Cherezov and Partners said that he couldn’t remember a case which had so united lawyers as the Bankova Case. He says that without any calls to unity, the lawyers had simply joined forces on this project.  “Something really is happening in the consciousness, in the minds of lawyers”.

The lawyers have called on all those who witnessed the events to contact their initiative group, since witness testimony will be vital in bringing the culprits to justice. They stress that they guarantee total confidentiality. 

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