Kostenko Loses Release Appeal
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
December 28, 2011
An appeals court on Monday refused to free Filipp Kostenko, who after serving 15 days in prison was sentenced to another 15 days last week in what his lawyer describes as a “political reprisal.”
Originally, Kostenko, an activist and employee of the human rights organization Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, was arrested amid spontaneous protests against electoral fraud near Gostiny Dvor on Dec. 6. The following day, the court sentenced him to 15 days imprisonment for an alleged failure to follow a police officer’s orders, the maximum punishment for such an offence.
On Dec. 21, Kostenko was not released after serving his term. As around 20 friends were waiting for him outside the prison on Zakharyevskaya Ulitsa, upon leaving his cell he was detained again by officers from the counter-extremism agency Center “E”, who took him to a police precinct, his lawyer Olga Tseitlina said.
Kostenko’s political views have been described as anarchist and anti-fascist, which would make him a “person of interest” to Center “E”.
The arrest was made on the basis of the fact that Kostenko did not appear in the court for a prior alleged offense, although at the time he was actually in custody.
This other case involved charges that Kostenko allegedly used foul language when bringing food parcels to arrested friends on Oct. 16.
During the hearing the following day, Judge Yelena Yermolina did not agree to summon the police officers on whose reports the sentence was based to testify as witnesses and be cross-examined, according to Tseitlina.
The testimonies of defense witnesses were dismissed by Yermolina, who said that she trusted the police officers’ reports.
In doing so, Yermolina deprived Kostenko of the right to a fair court hearing, which is a fundamental violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Russia is a signatory, Tseitlina said.
“The entire prosecution is based on the policemen’s reports,” she said. “If a prison term is a possible punishment [for a crime], one of the fundamental rights is to examine the witnesses who testify against you.”
Tseitlina described the charges as “absurd.”
“Why should Kostenko come to a police precinct and swear in public?” she asked.
“Also, it was 11 p.m., with nobody around, so how could he have disturbed the peace? If we look at judicial practice, such an offense is never punished that strictly. Usually, it is punished with a fine.”
For the first 16 days of his detention, Kostenko held a hunger strike, which led to deteriorated eyesight. He ended it when the people who were in prison with him on the same charges were released.
“This is revenge, political reprisal and a measure to stop Kostenko from his protest activities,” Tseitlina said.
“Even if we allow that Kostenko did use foul language – which is not the case, because he’s not that type of person – the punishment is disproportionate. And we cannot rule out that something like this will happen when he is released next time.”
In a recent statement, Memorial described the continued detention of Kostenko as “obviously politically motivated.”
“For all intents and purposes, [the state] is continuing to persecute Kostenko for his involvement in protest actions,” it said.
Tseitlina would not give the expected date of Kostenko’s release, but said that he would see in the New Year in custody.