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Olexandr Kostenko case: how justice is becoming absurd in modern Russia

August 26, 2015 22:00 0 5840 Laptiiev Artem, QirimInfo
Russian court has sentenced Olexandr Kostenko, a Ukrainian citizen, who was living in Crimea, for a crime he committed in the capital of Ukraine against another Ukrainian citizen even before Russia invaded Crimea. Russia is not limiting itself to Kostenko: his father disappeared, while other members of his family are under pressure.

Olexandr Kostenko was accused by the Russian prosecutor’s office of Crimea of throwing a rock at Berkut officer Vitalii Poliyenko in Kyiv in February 2014, during the Revolution of Dignity.

The revolution ended with the fall of Viktor Yanukovych’s regime. New government disbanded Berkut, whose batons the old regime used to fight the protesters. Russia then invaded Crimea, where both Kostenko and Poliyenko were living.

Kostenko was charged with “intended light bodily harm motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or enmity”. He was sentenced to 50 months in prison with the term later shortened by three months. Most of his term is for possession of weapon parts.

Russia was trying to make a demonstration out of Kostenko’s case. Most notably, during the trial the prosecution was represented by Russian Prosecutor General of Crimea Natalia Poklonskaya. There is no doubt that in Crimea there is a fair amount of criminal cases, which are more complicated and important for public security than a rock thrown at a Berkut officer. In Russia “revolution” and “Maidan” have become swear words, and protests in Ukraine are the reason for that. Both Kostenko and Poliyenko were on Maidan, but they were in different camps. Thing is, Ukrainian society believes the former, the party accused, was fighting the good fight against evil, while Russians think it was the latter, the offended party, who was in the right.


Kostenko case timeline


February 5-6, 2015

According to Olexandr Kostenko’s father, his son was kidnapped near his house on February 5.

Fedir Kostenko: “Approximately at 5 PM a couple of people in civilian clothes attacked my son, Olexandr Kostenko, near the entrance to our house in front of a large number of witnesses. They used brute force against him, shoved him into a car without making any official accusations and drove off.”


Investigators say that Kostenko voluntarily came to the Crimean office of FSB on February 6 and confessed about his crime.

A report by Crimean Human Rights Field Mission: “Olexandr allegedly came to the Federal Security Service (FSB) office for Crimea and Sevastopol voluntarily on February 6 and said that “he was involved in the events on Maidan and has inflicted light harm to Poliyenko’s health”.


February 8, 2015

Kyiv raion court of Sevastopol decided to keep Kostenko in custody as a measure of restraint for the time of investigation on the charges of bodily harm to an officer of Berkut.

Spokesperson of the Russian prosecutor’s office of Crimea: “Olexandr Kostenko is being charged with an offence under Article 115 § 2.b of the Russian Criminal Code (“intended light bodily harm motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or enmity or for the same motives in relation to a social group”).”


March 11, 2015

Kostenko was also charged with violating Article 222 § 1 of the Russian Criminal Code (“unlawfully obtaining, keeping or carrying the main parts of a firearm”).

Kostenko’s lawyer Dmitry Sotnikov: “Expert determined that the small bolt-like piece of metal with a hole is a receiver for Makarov pistol.”


April 4, 2015

Kyiv raion court of Sevastopol extended Kostenko’s detention until June 3.

Russian Prosecutor General of Crimea Natalia Poklonskaya: “The trial is scheduled for April 20. Detention was extended by two months for the case to be investigated.”

May 8, 2015

Kostenko’s trial in Kyiv raion court of Sevastopol ended.

Spokesperson of the Russian prosecutor’s office of Crimea: “Today the Kyiv raion court of Sevastopol has finished trying the case of Olexandr Kostenko, who is being charged with inflicting bodily harm to an officer of Crimean Berkut division during the mass protests in Kyiv in February 2014. He was also keeping a rifled barrel at his home without a permission stipulated by law.”


May 15, 2015

Kostenko was sentenced to 50 months of prison.

Spokesperson of Kyiv raion court of Sevastopol: “On May 15, 2015, Kyiv raion court of Sevastopol has passed a sentence for Olexandr Kostenko. According to the sentence, Kostenko has been found guilty of offences specified by Article 115 § 2.b and Article 222 § 1 of the Russian Criminal Code.

According to the Article 69 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code, by partial summation of penalties the final sentence for Olexandr Kostenko is 50 months of imprisonment at a general regime colony.”


Physical pressure on Olexandr Kostenko

February 2015

Kostenko claimed FSB officers have physically hurt him.

“On February 5-6, 2015, FSB officers Andrei Tishenin, Artur Shambazov and others have illegally imprisoned me in a basement of an unknown building and during that time repeatedly beat me up and tortured me. As the result I have numerous bodily injuries and a displaced fracture of my left elbow joint”, wrote Kostenko in his statement.

Kostenko wrote an open letter telling about the insults and torture coming from his cellmates and threats of a man in civilian clothes.

“I, Olexandr Kostenko, imprisoned for political reasons, ask for help with constant abuses by my cellmates Bulba, Bazhenov and Guzeev. I am too afraid to file a complaint to the administration of the prison because of the threats made by a man in civilian clothes, who sometimes visits me”, Kostenko wrote in a letter that was published by Crimean Human Rights Field Mission.


Pressure on Olexandr’s family

March 4, 2015

Fedir Kostenko disappeared.

Fedir Kostenko, Olexandr’s father, stopped answering his phone. He was planning to meet with some journalists in Kyiv and then return to Crimea. To this moment his relatives can’t find him and are afraid that he was kidnapped to be used for leverage against his son, said Dmitry Sotnikov, Olexandr Kostenko’s lawyer.


July 1, 2015

A suit was filed against Evgenii Kostenko, Olexandr’s brother.

“As Evgenii told me today, on July 1 a suit was filed against him under the Article 297 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code (“insulting a judge”)”, Sotnikov said.


Position of Kostenko’s defence

Kostenko is represented by Dmitry Sotnikov, a young lawyer from Moscow. He received his lawyer’s status in 2012 and is a member of the Chamber of Advocates of Moscow oblast. Here is Sotnikov’s position regarding some of the aspects of the case.

 Адвокат Дмитрий Сотников

About the tortures

“During the main trial prosecutor Poklonskaya claimed that a suit against unknown people was filed on the basis of the testimony Olexandr gave. He gave that testimony under torture. As prosecutor said, Olexandr received bodily injuries during a fight with unknown people in a park.

Zheleznodorozhny raion department of Ministry of the Internal Affairs has filed a suit regarding the fight, but the investigation has not achieved much.

After Olexandr said that FSB officials have beat him up and used electricity to torture him, I have filed complaints to military investigators. The thing is, according to the Russian laws, FSB officers are considered military operatives. There is an ongoing investigation.

I have gathered statements from Kostenkos’ neighbors, since the beating up started during the kidnapping. He was shoved into the car and taken to an unknown location, where kidnappers continued torturing him. His neighbors are eyewitnesses and have given their statements to me, but military investigators are refusing to review them. Military prosecutors refused to check them as well, saying that the witnesses do not point at specific officers of FSB.

Currently a complaint on the inactivity of military prosecutors and local policemen is pending. Also an appeal regarding the refusal to consider this complaint at North Caucasus district military court in Rostov was filed.”

About the disappearance of Olexandr’s father

“Fedir Kostenko disappeared on March 3 and his family has not heard from him since then. On March 2 he left for Kyiv to hold a press conference, but later learned that law enforcers were preparing to search his apartment. He was expected to return to Crimea on March 4, but he disappeared. According to his younger son, Evgenii, his father disappeared in Russia, [Crimea,] when he left the roaming zone.

We have some questions regarding the reasons for his disappearance. There are some objective reasons. When Kostenko’s apartment was searched, a weapon part was allegedly found. Kostenko was charged with “possession of weapons” and got most of his term, four years, for that. Without that crime they would not able to sentence him to anything more strict than correctional work.

Neither of attesting witnesses present during the search confirmed that the “barrel” was found, but they noted numerous violations of law during the search. According to Russian laws, an apartment can be searched without a warrant only with the tenants’ consent. Olexandr did not give the permission, while Fedir, his father, allegedly did, but the witnesses arrived after the permission was obtained. And the courts did not specify how it was obtained.

According to law enforcers, who searched the apartment, when they found the “barrel”, Fedir said that it belonged to his son. But this statement was not recorded or taped.

Moreover, Fedor Kostenko has seen the kidnapping of his son. He wrote a complaint to law enforcers about FSB officers kidnapping Olexander. He also wrote a complaint to Poklonskaya about his appeal not being considered. Unable to achieve any results, he went to Kyiv to give a press conference and disappeared on his way back. His family informed law enforcers right away, but they are not looking for him at the moment.”


About the suit filed against Evgenii Kostenko

“Two months after Olexandr’s sentence was passed, a suit was filed against his brother, Evgenii Kostenko, under Article 297 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code (“insulting a judge”). This article makes no provision for a real prison term.”

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