Ukrainian police, anonymous witnesses and the European Court

On 21 October the European Court of Human Rights announced its judgment in the Case of Kornev and Karpenko v. Ukraine. This important case regarding the use of anonymous witnesses used in drug-related crimes was won by Kharkiv resident Larissa Karpenko and her son Denis Kornev.
For seven years Ms Karpenko tried to prove her son’s innocence both in Kharkiv and in Kyiv. She once even attempted self-immolation in the Prosecutor General’s Office, demanding Denis’ release.

It all began when in 2000 after talking to a female classmate, student Denis Kornev was, without any explanation, detained by the police, shoved into their car and taken to the police station. As he recounted to Deutsche Welle, “Along the way they hinted they it would cost 2 thousand dollars to get out of this mess”.


The young man did not agree, and he says that he was then beaten and forced into signing some papers. Representatives of the prosecution stated in court that the student had admitted to the female student, in fact a police agent, that he had sold 4 grams of cannabis. In the file material it was stated that during a search of his flat, another 20 grams had been found. Denis was threatened with 5 years imprisonment.  He spent one year and seven months in SIZO [a remand unit], with the case so far having been examined by three Ukrainian courts.


Not one of these courts saw fit to accede to the defendant’s request and question the main witness – the buyer of the drugs. The prosecution kept citing a programme for protection of judges.


The European Court of Human Rights found this a serious violation of the right to a fair trial.


Lawyer Arkady Bushchenko explains: “That’s the methods, when people don’t have the possibility of questioning a police agent – at every step. And this matter in general needs review of both court and police practice”. Bushchenko is also the legal expert of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group which provided legal aid to the family from 2004.


The Court awarded 2 thousand Euro compensation and called for a re-examination of the case.   It found also that there had been an unfair court trial against Larisa Karpenko. Due to conflict with a judge when trying to defend her son, she received a 15 day administrative arrest sentence. Arkady Bushchenko explains that in the hour and a half between the writing up of the protocol and the court hearing she was not given the chance to find a lawyer and prepare her defence.


He explains that the Court’s judgment is to come into force in three months, after which Ukraine must not only pay pecuniary compensation, but must also revoke the court rulings issued as a result of an unfair court examination and examine the case again. The family however doubts that the tape recordings from the court hearings and file material have been kept. They do however plan to fight on, in order to prove that Denis Kornev committed no drug offence back in 2000.

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