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Free Philip Kostenko!

December 30, 2011

activist, artist and organizer Philip Kostenko

Voina member and human rights activist Pusha (Philip Kostenko) has been on hunger strike since his arrest on December 6, 2011.  Activist Victor Demynanenko, also wrongfully arrested, has joined Pusha in his hunger strike. Their demand is to release all activists jailed as a result of the December 4-6 protest rallies.

Pusha was arrested near Gostiny Dvor in St. Petersburg during a peaceful rally against electoral fraud. He was charged under Article 19.3 (non-compliance with police orders). The case was heard by judge Alexei Kuznetsov, who is notorious among the opposition for accepting false police statements and for handing down harsh punishments.

Pusha is currently also facing criminal charges under Articles 214 (vandalism), 318 (using violence against a public official), 319 (insulting a public official).

Pusha (Philip Kostenko) is an activist, artist and organizer/participant in numerous protest actions. He is a member of the human rights organization Memorial and is active in the Food Not Bombs movement. Philip, who is an orphan, has faced regular harrassment from the law enforcement because of his protest activity. In 2011 alone, he was subject to 8 unlawful arrests. Philip was recently forced to abandon his home in St. Petersburg due to repeated searches and physical threats from the police.

We call on everyone to help support Philip Kostenko by spreading this information.

UPDATE: January 3, 2012  The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention on behalf of Philip Kostenko. Please write to the authorities of Russian Federation urging them to end the politically-motivated prosecution of this human rights activist. Details here.

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More information about Philipp Kostenko’s case here:

Kostenko Loses Release Appeal
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
December 28, 2011

An appeals court on Monday refused to free Philip 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.

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memorial.spb.ru and chtodelat news report:

The Persecution Continues: Filipp Kostenko Sentenced to Another 15 Days in Jail

December 22, 2011

On December 22, Judge E.K. Yermolina of the 153rd Judicial Precinct [in Saint Petersburg] sentenced Filipp Kostenko, an activist and employee of the human rights organization Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, to another fifteen days of administrative arrest. For his involvement in mass protests against the rigged elections, Kostenko had already served fifteen days in jail, but in violation of procedure he was not released [as scheduled, on December 21].

As we have previously reported, the decision for Kostenko’s compulsory delivery to court was sent to the administration of the detention facility [where he was serving his first sentence] a few minutes before his anticipated release. This decision was made due to the fact that Kostenko had failed to appear in court [on December 9], although at that time he was serving fifteen days of administrative arrest.

This time, the activist was charged under Article 20.1.1 (petty disorder) for allegedly using foul language two months ago, on October 16, outside the 43rd Police Precinct. According to witnesses, on this day Philip had brought food parcels for detainees [at the precinct]. He was arrested and taken into the precinct building, although he had not disturbed the peace. There are a number of witnesses who can confirm this, and a video of his arrest also exists.

The court hearing lasted four hours, including recesses. An officer from the Extremism Prevention Center [Center “E”] was in attendance as a “spectator” the entire time, and from the very outset there was the sense that the most adverse ruling was a preordained outcome. For no reason at all, the judge rejected all motions made on behalf of the defendant, including motions to give the defense adequate time to prepare its case and to call witnesses. The judge granted only one motion by the defense: to admit V.V. Kostyushev, a professor at the Petersburg branch of the Higher School for Economics, as a public defender.

Because, in the court’s opinion, there were no grounds for “not trusting the reports filed by police officers that Filipp Kostenko had disturbed the peace by expressing a clear disrespect for society, which was accompanied by swearing in a public place,” the judge also rejected a motion to summon the [arresting] officers to verify their testimony and cross-examine them. In contrast to the reports filed by the police officers, the oral testimony of defense witnesses, who personally appeared in court, was not acknowledged as credible by the judge.

Despite numerous procedural violations, the lack of any real evidence (except for the evidence of the police reports, which Judge Yermolina found “compelling”), and an energetic defense, it was obvious to all present that the judge would give Kostenko the maximum possible sentence. The judge was not even troubled by the presence in the courtroom of numerous spectators and journalists (who, incidentally, were strictly forbidden from photographing anything or even making audio recordings).

Consequently, Judge Yermolina sentenced Kostenko to another fifteen days of arrest, and he has again been delivered to the detention facility at Zakharievskaya, 6. In the coming days, his attorney will file an appeal against this decision, as well as filing a new complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in connection with this new, illegal arrest (a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights) [see below].

After this latest court decision was announced, Kostenko ended his sixteen-day hunger strike because all those detained during the post-election demonstrations in Saint Petersburg had been released, with the exception of Kostenko himself.

In the absence of an independent and impartial judiciary, the continued detention of Filipp Kostenko is obviously politically motivated. For all intents and purposes, [the state] is continuing to persecute Kostenko for his involvement in protest actions.

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Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights reads as follows:

1.In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgement shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

2.Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

3.Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;

(b) to have adequate time and the facilities for the preparation of his defence;

(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;

(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;

(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

To follow this case and support Philip Kostenko please see Free Voina and chtodelat news.

UPDATE: On Thursday, January 5 2012, human rights activist Filipp Kostenko was released from detention in St. Petersburg, after a show of solidarity from the local community and international observers. He declared: “To evaluate the situation, I would call the events that happened to me political repressions. In spite of them, the fight will go on.”  Read more here. 

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