News Society, 02/10/2020

Kharkiv Lawyers Apply to European Court Defending Volunteers’ Rights

Recently the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) confirmed they had received an application from Ukrainian military volunteer Andriy Antonenko (nicknamed Riffmaster) over violations of his rights to a fair trial and liberty. 

The document was sent by Kharkiv Sense Consulting company’s lawyers on June 23, 2020. The application got a registration number 29341/20. Earlier, Taras Bezpaliy, Yulia Kuzmenko’s lawyer, stated that the ECHR had also registered his application on her case with number 23002/20.

Ukrainian patriots were stirred up when on December 12, 2019, three prominent activists – military volunteer and musician Andriy Antonenko, pediatric surgeon Yulia Kuzmenko and paramedic Yana Duhar were publicly charged with murder. Pavel Sheremet, a journalist, was blown up in his car in June 2016. Antonenko and Kuzmenko were detained and Duhar was placed under house arrest. The detention was preceded by a very pompous public press conference attended by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, together with the Prosecutor General and Head of Police. Ukraine’s leaders impressively claimed that “the case had been solved” and the volunteers had been proved guilty by investigators. Their speeches were broadcast live by key Ukrainian media. During the event, the presenters showed the photos of the above-mentioned suspects.

Kuzmenko told later that what upset her the most was the fact she had been in the operating theatre during the public announcement which “turned her into a killer” and ended her career as a pediatric surgeon.

The evidence was mainly doubtful, the charges were generally baseless and some of them were frankly grotesque like the statement that Antonenko, being half-Jew, “was seized by ultra-nationalist ideas, cultivating the supremacy of the Aryan race, the division of society on the basis of ethnic identity, wanting to make his views the matter of public attention” and therefore created an organized group to murder the journalist. Also, the accusations were radically changed during the investigation. Despite all that inconsistency, the suspects were held in prison for a long time – Yulia Kuzmenko until August 11, 2020, when she was placed under house arrest, while Antonenko is still held in detention.

 The Kharkiv Sense Consulting law company immediately took the case. “All of our lawyers are Russian-Ukrainian war veterans who fought for Ukraine on the front. We just couldn’t stand aside and watch,” says Leonid Maslov, the Sense Consulting’s founder and director. “Especially with such prejudice and an outrageous breach of human rights when people are announced publicly as guilty before the trial. Also, pre-trial restrictions appeared to be excessive as the accused did not have a criminal record and contrary, they used to have a positive social image as volunteers and Ukrainian patriots. Their reputation was compromised.” Therefore, the main aspect which the defense has focused on in their ECHR application was the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to a fair trial. The improper pre-trial restrictions and imprisoning without sufficient decent evidence also have become a reason for the ECHR application.

Leonid Maslov also pointed out the extreme incompetence of the police detectives. Maslov highlighted that the books cited in the Ukrainian assessments refer strictly to psychology, with no reference to biomechanics or gait analysis. “They refer to methods on how to analyze a person’s thinking and, based on this method, claim to identify two people in video footage,” the director of Sense Consulting states. He underlines the amateurish level of the investigation approaches and rogue methods of their work. Like private telephone conversations which are used as main proofs of guilt, or some documents that are concealed or slipped into the files. “From the other side, all evidence of innocence provided by Antonenko, Kuzmenko and Duhar are sound and reliable,” the defenders say.

“Although the ECHR solution may take up to five years, the reputation recovery is worthy of time and effort,” the Kharkiv lawyers are convinced. “The target number one of our application to ECHR is to give a proper assessment to the actions of the officials, participants of that infamous ‘show’ sooner or later and to make sure that none of them avoid punishment, at least moral,” Leonid Maslov explains. “That should not be repeated with other people. Another purpose is to limit the situation in time as the Ukrainian trial could be dragged for five years with Antonenko being held in prison all this time. Also, it is necessary to get satisfaction for abuse when it’s all over and to prove that our arguments are reasonable and substantial.” 

Text: Olena Sokolynska

External sources: Kyiv Post, Human Rights in Ukraine

Photo: Kharkiv Sense Consulting company