Judge heavily implicated in persecuting Maidan activists chosen for trial of ex-President Yanukovych
The presiding judge in the trial by absentia of fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovych gained notoriety during Euromaidan for knowingly unwarranted rulings against peaceful activists. Most worryingly, this is probably no oversight, but a quite deliberate choice of judge.
Vladyslav Devyatko became President of the Obolon District Court in Kyiv during Euromaidan, replacing Iryna Mamontova. She was forced out of that post becaiuse she refused o place four students in detention and to instruct other judges to strip all drivers who had taken part in Automaidan protests of their licence. After her enforced departure, Devyatko and other judges passed numerous wrongful sentences against Maidan activists.
Roman Maselko, a member of the Public Integrity Council involved until February 2018 in the official judge assessment procedure, recalls the Obolon District Court’s involvement in cases linked with one of the first brazenly punitive actions carried out by Berkut riot police. As reported, on 23 January 2014 over 20 activists were lured into a trap by Berkut officers who proceeded to savagely beat them up and destroy their vehicles. The activists were then detained and accused of having attacked a Berkut unit.
A number of the applications for activists to be remanded in custody were considered by judges from the Obolon District Court. Maselko stresses that all of the detained activists had evidently been beaten and the charges against them were simply absurd. This did not stop Devyatko, for example, from remanding Lviv activist Oleksiy Salyha in custody for two months.
Maselko is dismissive of Devyatko’s later claim that he also released people from custody in court. Yes, he did change another badly beaten activist Serhiy Symonov’s detention to house arrest. This, however, is hardly much to boast of when there was no evidence against the activist at all, making even house arrest wrongful deprivation of liberty.
Devyatko had also considered cases against activists who took part in the protest trip to Mezhyhirya (then Yanukovych’s sumptuous and illegally appropriated residence) on 29 December 2013. All of these cases were based on falsified reports from the traffic police, with evidence of the falsification presented in court. Unlike his predecessor as Court President, Devyatko had no problem with illegally stripping activists of their licence. One of the cases was particularly shocking. An activist had pleaded to not have his licence removed as his small daughter was very ill and he needed the car to take her for treatment. This was simply ignored, and the man’s licence taken away.
In another case, a person had not even taken part in the trip to Mezhyhirya, and the falsification of the protocol was demonstrated in court. Maselko notes that during Devyatko’s later assessment interview, the judge lied about this latter case, claiming that the person had later acknowledged having taken part in the trip.
While the other judges willing to pass illegal rulings bear the main responsibility for their actions, it is noticeable that the surge in such rulings came after Devyatko replaced Mamontova who had refused to order the judges to pass such rulings.
Kateryna Butko, Coordinator of the PROSUD court watchdog, notes that Devyatko and others like him should have faced lustration under the law on overhauling the judiciary in force since October 16, 2014. This did not happen in part because the court rulings had illegally not been entered into the Single Register of Court Rulings. This is particularly shocking since, as President of the Court, Devyatko signed the documents for other judges assessing whether they should face lustration.
In July 2018, the Public Integrity Council set out all the facts regarding previous involvement as judge and president of the court in the persecution of Maidan activists and gave their assessment that Devyatko does not meet the necessary criteria of integrity and professional ethics.
Maselko notes that there was an application with the High Council of Justice for Devyatko’s dismissal, however the latter postponed its consideration of the application several times until ‘suddenly’ the timeframe for holding him to answer had ended. Maselko is convinced that this was quite deliberate and believes that this was connected with the trial of Yanukovych.
As reported, there have long been concerns about the trial in absentia on state treason charges of the former President now in hiding in Russia. The fear is that a sloppy law on trial in absentia and other failings could result in a conviction that will be overturned later, possibly by the European Court of Human Rights. The trial began in June 2017 and has now ended with the prosecutor demanding a 15-year sentence.
Maselko has articulated accusations voiced over the last year by many lawyers and activists campaigning for real accountability for Maidan. He suggests that the Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko is concerned primarily to get a high-profile conviction of Yanukovych at any cost, in order to boast that he and President Petro Poroshenko have kept their promises. They are not concerned about other Maidan trials, which are, in fact, being sabotaged. They do, however, need a tame judge, who can be controlled, and Maselko directly alleges that Devyatko has averted the danger of dismissal in exchange for convicting Yanukovych. The fact that Yanukovych should be tried and convicted cannot justify using a discredited judge, he stresses.
The Public Integrity Council announced back in February that it was suspending any involvement in the official process by the High Qualification Commission of Judges for assessing judges which it saw as a charade aimed at retaining judges in their posts, while reporting “successful completion” of reforms.
With only eight out of 92 Maidan judges having been found to deserve dismissal, questions do certainly seem warranted as to what criteria were applied when making such assessments.