Questionable “witness” in the ever more questionable Olaola Femi trial

In the trial of Nigerian student Olaola Femi who is charged with attempted murder after attempting to defend himself against a racist attack the pace has increased considerably. The panel of judges wanted to continue the next day, but allowed the application from the defence and the next hearing is scheduled for 13 November. The Prosecutor should at that hearing be ready to announce a change in the charges which he was unable to do at the last hearing since the relevant procedural document had not been translated into English.

At the 8 November hearing the court proceeded to question a “witness” who had suddenly appeared, just over a year after the incident and Olaola’s arrest. The man in question was presented as the taxi driver who drove the two young men – Olaola Femi and Oniola Sudadi. Denis Yevteyev could provide no information about when he had left the taxi firm in question for whom he supposedly freelanced, without any mention in his work record. He stated that he had collected three or four “Africans” from the medical institute and couldn’t say definitely that the accused and the main witness were among them, since they all look the same to him. He claims, however, that he remembers the events of that evening very well because his passengers were aggressive and noisy. He says there was a strong smell of alcohol and that the passenger in the front kept gesticulating, making it hard for him to drive.

He was unable to explain what this “aggression” consisted of and who it was directed at. He asserts there was a dispute, seemingly about who was to pay him, and that they abused him in foul language which despite his “school level English” he could understand.

He asserts that when the passengers in the back seat got out he thought they spoke with somebody, supposedly addressing somebody loudly, but he says that he didn’t see anybody. He then says that later several mail voices “asked” the Africans in Russian to quieten down. After the person in the front seat (who paid him) got out, he asserts that they all headed in the direction of the apartment entrance. He said that he doesn’t know what happened next since he drove off. He added that this was his last journey for the evening and that even if they’d asked him to take them further he would have refused “fearing for his own safety”.

Both the Prosecutor and the defence asked where he’d been for a year. He claimed that he’d heard about the case a week later but hadn’t known that they were looking for witnesses. He said that after the court hearing on 7 November a person who identified himself as a police officer came up to him while he was waiting for customers, and starting questioning him about how long he’d been a taxi driver, whether he might have seen anything.

And lo and behold …

Both Olaola Femi and Eniola Sudadi before the man was questioned stated categorically that he was not the man who drove them back. Unfortunately they remember only that the driver seemed tall, with dark hair. Both also denied any suggestion that they weren’t able to pay the (actual) taxi driver.

Denis Yevteyev was not only unable to give specific details of where he allegedly collected the young men from, but even details about the colour of the car he was supposedly driving.

As reported here, the charges against Olaola Femi could carry a sentence ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment. He is accused of attempted murder of a group of Luhansk residents. The prosecution is claiming that he attacked three young men and a young woman with a broken bottle in his hand and tried to kill them. His lawyers (and a number of civic organizations) are adamant that he was defending himself against a racist attack.

On 5 November 2011 Olaola Femi and the young man he was with – Oniola Sudadi – were set upon by five young people who shouted racist insults and pulled them to the ground, beating them. Oriola lost consciousness, but Olaola managed to get up and began defending himself with a broken bottle. In defending himself he lashed out with the bottle, hitting his assailants. Three young men – V. Haman, D. Lemenchuk and A. Loboda received cuts to the arms, neck and head, while Iryna Pashkova who also took part in the incident was hit on the face and head. Olaola Sunkami Femi was arrested 12 hours later and has been in detention ever since.

Human rights workers have pointed to a number of infringements during the pre-trial investigation and the trial itself. For half a year the court could not find an interpreter for the accused, nor was one provided during Olaola’s medical examination following the incident which prevented the doctors from helping him.

Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union says that the case looks like an attempt to scare foreigners, especially people from Arab or African countries. It’s not enough that neither the State nor the police defend them, he says. Now they’re preventing them from defending themselves. “This is a real message which frees the hands of racists, skinheads or other gangs. Or just idiots who don’t like foreigners.”

In August the Human Rights Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska and Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka stated that they were taking the case under their personal control.

The Luhansk Regional Prosecutor’s Office asserts that no violations were found during the criminal investigation. Radio Svoboda also quotes an Interior Ministry spokesperson, V. Starchenko as saying that it is the court which must decide. If it finds no infringements they will not carry out any further checks.

Oleh Levytsky, UHHRU lawyer says that if Olaola Femi is found guilty, then the case will need to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. He points out that there was a similar case in 2008 in Kyiv when the victim of an attack, also from an African country, was “turned into” the assailant. Then the case was closed, however Oleh Levytsky says that if necessary he will revive it, issuing a suit against the claimant who knifed the young man back then in the chest. In that way both cases could end up in Strasbourg together.

A petition in support of Olaola Femi can be signed here

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