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Justice at long last in the Zaporizhya Church bomb case ("Справа паламарів")

Halya Coynash

Three young men are to be released under the amnesty law for political prisoners after spending almost 4 years in custody charged with a crime that nobody ever believed they committed.  The first young man was taken into custody the morning after President Yanukovych demanded arrests within the week.

Amendments to the original law No. 4271 on the Release of Political Prisoners were passed on March 11 with a majority of 235.  These changes to the bill were made on Feb 27 and then reviewed by a parliamentary profile committee.  They included the three young men convicted of the Zaporizhya Church bomb in July 2010 who had not been included in the original law passed on Feb 23.  . 

The full list is not yet available however Olga Dyomina, mother of two of the men – Anton Kharytonov and Serhiy Dyomin – is returning to Zaporizhya and hoping to take her sons home after their four-year ordeal.

Questions can legitimately be raised about the use of such a law, rather than proper judicial review of cases which arouse concern.  They are probably also warranted with respect to the criteria applied in deciding who should be amnestied.  Some names have probably not been included through oversight, while in some cases although the sentences were doubtless too severe, it is not clear that the offences were not committed.

These are all issues for discussion, yet not now and most certainly not in the case of three young men whom Ukraine’s justice system let down so badly.  

It was with good cause that one of the appeals for a review of their case was entitled “A Trial with Grave Consequences”.  It was signed, among others, by former political prisoners, lawyers and human rights activists.  

The trial of these three young men was gravely flawed and one of the most shameful under the Yanukovych regime.  

Yanukovych’s “personal control” of this case coincided almost to the day with adoption of a “judicial reform” law which had, as predicted, disastrous consequences, including the grave erosion of judges’ independence and increasing interference by public officials and politicians in the justice system. 

While the world watched with dismay as Yanukovych had his main rival Yulia Tymoshenko, former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko and others imprisoned, the list of victims of interference in the work of the law enforcement bodies and courts was much greater. 

As reported (repeatedly), the first young man was taken into custody the morning after Viktor Yanukovych, on nationwide television, ordered the enforcement bodies to arrest “the culprits” within a week.  He was informed just as publicly 6 days later that the culprits were all in custody and the case solved.

Most of those who took part in the investigation and prosecution received awards for their swift work.  Those above them had boasted that the crime had been solved, and nobody wanted to admit having arrested the wrong people.  There is no evidence that the other leads in the crime were investigated at all.  Once Anton Kharytonov had been detained, and then his brother, the process just went on.   Seven “confessions” were extracted and no attempt was made to investigate the men’s allegations, once they finally received real lawyers, that they had made them under duress.  The list of infringements at all levels, including those committed by judge Volodymyr Minasov, is enormous.  

The Zaporizhya Regional Court of Appeal noted many of these irregularities which, according to Ukrainian legislation, demanded that a mistrial be declared.  It even seemed at the penultimate hearing that this was the inevitable outcome.  Whether the judges came under pressure is not clear however on Oct 25, 2013, they upheld the original verdict, only reducing each sentence by one year – to 13 and 14 years imprisonment. 

Please see the links below for more details about the case.  Information in Ukrainian, here and in the links below.

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