Hearing of Kyiv Court of Appeals held on January 21 caused no excitement, even though it ought to, as explained in The Day’s No. 3 of January 21, 2014. Journalists, of course, came to cover it, but as a common event, not a stage of the high-profile 14-year-long case. On that day, the court considered the appeal from sentence imposed on the former head of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s external surveillance department Oleksii Pukach. Let us note right away that the hearing resulted in start of the consideration of the case’s merits postponed to 11 a.m., March 12. We will cover details of the court session next week, as it is really important to show the characteristic behavior of each party to the trial. For now, we will focus on some very revealing statements made by the parties.
Except for the fact that the hearing actually began with judges and prosecutors entering the courtroom first and together (!), and other parties were allowed to do so only later on (even though they enjoy equal standing with the prosecution under law), the trial has left, if I may say so, a good impression so far. The court granted a motion for filming and photographing by journalists (reporters had been allowed in earlier). Another news was request of a victim in the case, civic activist Oleksii Podolsky, who asked the judge to let Oleksandr Yeliashkevych, MP of two convocations, to represent him at the trial. The court granted the request.
One of the salient points of the hearing was decision on the trial’s closed or open nature. We know that Pechersk District Court heard the case behind closed doors. Our readers have probably heard enough on the importance of this case for the public and press. Everyone understands everything already. Could there be a state secret in a high-profile case where essentially the entire state system is on trial? Perhaps, but only in certain cases. Let us learn what the parties to the trial think on the matter.
Representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office: “We believe closed hearing of this case to be justified. It has been classified as Top Secret, based on the decision by an expert on state secrets. In addition, the convict Pukach is under state protection. We hope to see this case go on in closed session.”
Myroslava Gongadze’s representative Valentyna Telychenko: “The trial at first instance court was completely closed. Though I was then and am still convinced that this first trial could be partly opened, now we are at the stage of appeal, and I see no reasons for this trial to be even partially open. Otherwise, we would break legal procedure. Despite great public interest in the case, the trial should be closed.”
Victim Podolsky: “I disagree with Telychenko. I continue to insist that 95 percent of the case do not contain any state secrets. The only reason to close the trial is to ensure that the public would not learn the circumstances of the case and compare them with what is happening today: the use of the Interior Ministry’s external surveillance department and some secret law-enforcement agencies in the political struggle. Interestingly, it turns out that the only thing that contains state secrets is the names of witnesses who continue to work in the police and are in need of protection as they are still serving operatives. There was no justification for more than 10 closed hearings. There are no secrets anymore in the case’s documentation. This hearing clearly should be open.”
Podolsky’s representative Yeliashkevych: “It would be an extremely important step if, despite all, the Court of Appeals will make this trial open. I want to remind you that the former president Viktor Yushchenko personally promised the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that it will be open. I also want to draw your attention to the fact that this case is closely followed not only by the European institutions, but the Helsinki Commission of the US Congress as well. You bear great responsibility. I call on you to approve the right decision and open the trial to the public. This is especially important at a time when violence has swept the capital.”
Pukach’s lawyer Hryhorii Demydenko argued for closed trial, but it was difficult to hear his arguments, as he was speaking very quietly.
Pukach’s statement made during his talk to journalists during a break in the proceedings was a key event of the hearing. He said: “Only the victim Podolsky is telling the truth. He wants and seeks truth, like Heorhii Gongadze’s late mother Lesia did. Everybody else is lying, including witnesses. I recognize only what Podolsky is saying as truth. When he tells it, I am ready to kneel before him and cross myself. I agree with him in that I am guilty of his sufferings.”