Ukrainian political prisoner, perhaps, with the most touching story, athlete, and former champion of Ukraine in taekwondo Darya Mastikasheva gave an interview to “ukraina.ru” directly from the pre-trial detention center of Dnepr through the lawyer Valentine Rybin.
The young woman and mother has been detained for more than two years on charges of state treason (article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine), which implies 12 to 15 years of imprisonment. The indictment says something egregious, namely: commission… “of actions that do not in themselves constitute a public danger, but by a combination of certain signs may be similar to actions aimed at preparing a terrorist act or sabotage”.
On August 15 2017 Darya Mastikasheva was abducted by masked armed men and taken to an unknown destination, where she was tortured for several days and threatened with the death of her mother and young son if she did not confess to cooperating with the Russian special services. A video recording of her confession was shown by the head of the Security Service of Ukraine Vasily Gritsak at a press conference in Kiev on 17.08.2017 before the official detention of Mastikasheva.
In 2 years and 3 months of detention, Mastikasheva’s case never started to be heard in court in fact.
Darya, you filed a complaint with the court of appeal regarding another illegal extension of your detention. Was there a result?
“Oh, it is impossible to understand without some alcohol. The appeal, which was written by my lawyer Rybin on August 30th, was not closed until December 3rd. Why? The hearing was scheduled for September 12th. And since then, for some reason, judges who have already participated in the pre-trial investigation in my case were several times appointed to the appeals collegium. I.e., judges who cannot participate in the appeal. The presiding judge stated that she was aware of this, which means that everything was done purposefully to cover the illegal decisions of the Krasnogvardeysky District Court. While all this leapfrogging lasted 3 months, I have already had time to extend the measure of restraint again, and we filed another appeal, which was considered on December 3rd.”
So, in 3 months we nevertheless got to the meeting. And what happened there?
“The court became acquainted with our complaint and recused itself, stating that the new collegium and the date of consideration will be set on December 6th. But there is no decision on the website of the Judiciary on December 6th, 9th or 10th. However, in some surprising way, on December 11th, the day of the extension of the measure of restraint, the lawyer Rybin was notified that the court hearing is scheduled for December 19th. On December 12th, I received notice of the withdrawal of the appeals collegium – still the old one. At the same time, so far no one has brought me a paper on the opening of the appeal proceedings, on the appointment of a new collegium. And in it, looking at the auto distribution on the site, there is Judge Sklokvenko, who on September 23rd declared to recuse himself because he participated in the pre-trial investigation. He has no right to participate in the appeal, and the automated system should have excluded him from distribution altogether. But this time Judge Sklokvenko also participated in the collegium. By the way, the reserve panel from which Sklokvenko was elected consisted of judges who had already participated in the case at the stage of pre-trial investigation. This is already too far, it already cannot be called anything other than an organised criminal group. As for the Prosecutor, in the appeal he managed to declare that all witnesses have been interrogated, that already all proof has been studied. I say to him, ‘don’t take another sin on your soul. Why are you now saying all this on audio and video recording?? In fact, it is not the case’. Unfortunately, he cannot even be prosecuted. More precisely, it’s possible, but pointless.”
The situation with the appeal is generally clear. And something is going to be considered in relation to the collegium of Krasnogvardeysky court? After all, there is even more illegal appointments, it is documented.
“The collegium of the Krasnogvardeysky court is such nonsense that probably didn’t happen before in the history of Ukraine. On January 18th 2019 my measure of restraint once again expired. I was taken to an appeal at the speed of light, which took the case to the Krasnogvardeysky Court. This was already illegal, because it was necessary to choose the nearest court in location to Babushkin court, which considered the case before, and it is not Krasnogvardeysky. On the same day, the judge stated that the decision would be delivered at 3:00 p.m. However, it was delivered at 14:00, the papers were handed over to the prosecutor, the prosecutors Gula and Belyansky at the speed of light came to the Krasnogvardeysky court, where Belyansky has direct ties with the president of the court Druzhinin. At 16:35, when the court had already closed, the judges are distributed using an automated system, which states that all judges, except Druzhinin, have no specialisation.”
In criminal cases?
“In everything. But since he cannot hold a meeting alone, a panel of 3 judges is needed, someone from the court apparatus is again introduced into the automated system and adds specialisation to Judge Knysh, and then Judge Bilyk. This is how the panel that extended my measure of restraint was drawn up. When the prosecutor read the indictment, my lawyer Rybin filed a motion that I should not be in the court cell, but next to my lawyer, I asked for it. But Judge Druzhinin said that he does not solve this issue – it is decided by the head guard of the National Guard. I was deprived of all rights, banned from being near my lawyer, all motions of my lawyer about the alleged witnesses were rejected. If the actual hearing even takes place, we will only question prosecution witnesses. Well, the prosecution, having lied to the court, managed to put my mother as a witness, who was never interrogated at all.”
Why don’t they set bail?
“In June 2019 the infamous provision of Article 5 of the Criminal Procedure Code on the non-alternative detention of people accused of state crimes was declared unconstitutional, which allows me to change my measure of restraint to an alternative – house arrest, bail, personal obligation. But the district court ignores the Constitutional decision. Judge Druzhinin categorically does not want to hear that the unconstitutional provision of the Criminal Procedure Code has been repealed and people who are not accused of murder can now be released on the same house arrest. He extends the detention with the words: ‘Well, let’s just extend it for another four months, and then we’ll see’.”
On what grounds?
“There are no grounds. The prosecutor doesn’t even need to say anything. He simply refers to two articles of the Criminal Procedure Code concerning the election of a measure of restraint. That’s all the prosecutor has been saying for over two years. And no matter what court it is, Krasnogvardeysky, Dneprovsky, Zavodskoy, there is no difference. And the court just automatically prolongs me. Every time before the hearing on the extension of the sanctions, two people come to Druzhinin’s office – prosecutor Belyansky, and the name of the second one we will not voice yet. They leave the office where prosecutor Gula is already waiting for them. They say to him, ‘Well, everything is decided’. Next, Judge Bilyk, who is constantly rushing somewhere, tells the prosecutor: ‘Let’s hurry, I have little time’. And I hear it all when I come up the hall, nobody hides anything. So counting on something here makes no sense, the system can do everything.”
If the collegium is illegal, then what can you do at meetings? After all, any of its decisions, even acquittal, will be overturned by the highest court.
“Yes. Therefore, the lawyer will come to the hearings concerning the extension of the sanctions. There’s no point in doing anything else. And each time there is an extension the lawyer will declare that this composition of the court is illegal, and after each extension applications have to be submitted to Judge Druzhinin on illegally issued decision.”
But after all, the record can spin like this indefinitely.
“This will continue indefinitely. It seems that the Dnepropetrovsk region is a separate state to which the law is not applicable. Everyone’s covering for each other, and I doubt the government knows about it. But thank God, after the latest extension Valentine Rybin after all managed to achieve through the court the initiation of a case in the State Bureau of Investigations under Part 1 of Article 376-1 on an illegal introduction into the automated judge distribution system. The lawyer testified, I sent a statement and I was recognised as the victim in this case. But for the Krasnogvardeysky court it does not change anything, because Judge Druzhinin has very big connections. Accordingly, this case is not likely to be investigated by anyone.”
On December 11th Rybin was unable to come to the hearing. There was an extension without him?
“I asked to postpone the hearing and this could be done, considering that there was still a week left before the extension, but my request was ignored. From the approximate 3 hours we spent in court, the hearing lasted 5 minutes. The court came, the prosecutor asked for free legal assistance, the court agreed. I stated that since the trial is illegal, he has no right to appoint anyone at all and to make any decisions. That, too, was ignored. We were not given time to talk to a free lawyer at first, then we were given 5 minutes after all. We did not agree with him, and I said that I would refuse him because he did not want to challenge this panel. When the judges walked into the room, Presiding Judge Druzhinin asked the lawyer if he had a recusal. The lawyer refused to recuse himself, and no one asked me anything. I interrupted Judge Druzhinin with the words ‘You don’t want me to accidentally ask me about a recusal? I have one, because we didn’t agree with the lawyer. I’m asking you to appoint me another free lawyer’. In response Judge Druzhinin asked: ‘Do you have everything? Well that’s all, we keep going’. And how are we going to consider the prosecutor’s motion if the lawyer wasn’t even given it? Here the prosecutor sharply fussed, gave a piece of paper, but the lawyer, without looking at it, said something vague, literally a couple of words. I said the court was violating the procedure. But the court withdrew in order to make a ruling. That’s where it ended. Prosecutor Belyansky did not even read his motion in the hearing.”
I.e. Because all the courts took challenges and the composition of the current one is illegal, there has not been a single hearing in fact for more than 2 years?
“There wasn’t and will not be. We don’t mind holding them, in the volumes of my case there is evidence of innocence. But who to hold them with? This court does not accept the challenge. And the indictment states that I am a suspect, not an accused, which does not allow for any decision at all. And 5 courts understood this and one by one returned the indictment to the prosecutor. But the Court of Appeal, upon the complaint of the Prosecutor, finds this indictment lawful and sends it to another court of first instance. That’s 5 times already.”
So during this time the prosecutor could simply correct an error in the document.
“That’s the thing. Just one word to replace – ‘suspected’ with ‘accused’ – and there will be no questions. Wherever we go, everyone turns a blind eye. Nobody wants to get involved. Corruption is around. People put on robes and consider themselves unpunished. What happens to me is unbearable, and what to do next, I don’t understand.”
How are things going with the investigation into the abduction and torture?
“As for the investigation of the State Bureau of Investigations concerning abduction and torture, it is more difficult than would be desirable. For two years the case was initiated 3 times and closed 3 times. We have secured its opening once again, but the investigation is not well under way. It was opened in the State Bureau of Investigations in Poltava, then sent to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Dnepropetrovsk region, then – to the Novokovsky State Department of the National Police of the Dnepropetrovsk region. And that’s where it’s been hanging for about 9 months. We got a court order to investigate it. On December 2nd, a police investigator came to me in the pre-trial detention center, took from me another testimony in order to redirect it for investigation to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Dnepropetrovsk region. Thus, no investigation is carried out. All evidence is transferred by my lawyer to the Novomoskovskoye main department of the National Police. But as the investigator herself said, she is not allowed to investigate the case. It’s not allowed for obvious reasons. How is is possible that an ordinary citizen dared to say that they were abducted by the SBU? So no one does anything, and they won’t do anything, most likely. There is no law in this country. However, it seems that it is necessary to bring a case under Article 51 for illegal placement in a psychiatric institution.”
If the situation is so hopeless, then maybe there can be a prison exchange?
“Given that I’m left with no choice, yes. They already came to me, I signed the documents. In the documents that I was given to sign by the officers of the SBU there are such bullet points: consent to the case being considered without you and consent to pardon. These paragraphs contradict each other. If you agree that case was considered without you, you automatically after exchange are put on the wanted list. But I don’t have a choice. I have no desire to sit in jail for 15 years for reasons unclear.”
How now are the conditions of detention?
“Nothing has changed. If you want to improve something, you do it at your own expense. There is no heating. There is no hot water for women either. Repair works are allegedly carried out, but this is allegedly. And in fact, the cold is terrible and damp. As for medicine, since my arrest, there have been 3 chief medical officers replacements here and that’s it. They do some examinations sometimes, but that’s where it ends. You don’t know your test results. Although the results of the ultrasound say, but it is not possible to prescribe treatment. When you address the therapist on this issue, he says: ‘You have no kidney stones, so you will not die’. If something hurts, the only remedy you can achieve here is either acetyl or Pepto. Nobody needs anything here, because the medical unit does not belong to the pre-trial detention center, but to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, and the management of the pre-trial detention center cannot influence the doctors in any way. By the way, the Krasnogvardeysky court allowed itself to make a decision on taking me to hospital for medical examination, but this is also illegal and in the pre-trial detention center it is well understood. That’s why no one’s taken me to the hospital so far.”
Do they allow visits for relatives?
“For 2 years and 3 months, I have never seen my family because I am either thrown from court to court, who endlessly refuse me, or, like now, the composition of the court is illegal. Who to ask when you can’t even just get out of the court cell?”
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