Zhovtis and Feygin on Ablyazov’s hearing
“Mukhtar is defending himself strongly, formulating his arguments very well (…) but to me, he has lost weight again and looks exceptionally tired” – said Yevgeniy Zhovtis, who participated as an observer in the most recent hearing involving Ablyazov in Lyon.
On 25th September, a hearing was held in the Court of Appeal in Lyon, during which a request from Ukraine was to be heard concerning Ablyazov’s extradition. Due to the extensive nature of the material, the Court was compelled, however, to adjourn the hearing until 17th October. Meanwhile, the Kazakh human rights defender Yevgeniy Zhovtis and the Russian defence lawyer Mark Feygin, who were present in the court room, spoke about the 12-hour hearing which ended after 9 p.m.
Zhovtis arrived in Lyon having come straight from Warsaw where the annual conference of the OSCE, monitoring the state of observance of human rights by the organisation’s member states, was hosted. Interviewed by a Kazakh newspaper, he talked about the course of the hearing. He was alarmed by the very sight of the handcuffed Ablyazov and the escort which accompanied him on his way to the court – the cars, with sirens blaring, were tailed by two helicopters, and there were very many policemen armed to the teeth. In the room where the hearing was taking place, the dissident was continuously accompanied by three armed men in balaclavas. It is not clear though whether this enhanced security detail was to serve to defend Ablyazov himself or the other way round? This question kept resurfacing during the hearing. As Zhovtis reported, the prosecutor was to explain that in view of the information about possible attacks, Ablyazov needed protection. Ablyazov said that he had no idea who, in actual fact, was being protected because he had the impression that it was not he. Ablyazov’s words – as Zhovtis claims – indicated that Ablyazov had been tied to the car seat during his journey to the hearing.
What surprised the Kazakh defender of human rights very much was that the atmosphere in the French court was quite relaxed – people were coming in and going out as they pleased, and the defence lawyers could consult one another. All hearings were also open to the public, no identity documents were even required at the entrance to the Court but only detailed controls were applied. The standards in Kazakhstan are completely different – “like heaven and earth” – says the Kazakh. Zhovtis also noted the room layout – four judges and two prosecutors participated in the hearing, sitting in a circle. On one side were Ablyazov’s defence lawyers and the advocates representing Ukraine were on the other. Behind the Ukrainians sat representatives of the Russian Embassy and its Prosecutor’s Office.
Zhovtis also mentioned the confusion relating to Ukraine’s representatives – during the session, Ablyazov’s defence lawyers presented documents which proved clearly that the lawyers of the Winston & Strawn law firm had no power of attorney to represent the country and Melnik, the investigator, had unlawfully issued a permit in this case. Having familiarised itself with the documents, the Court ultimately allowed the motion of Ablyazov’s defence lawyers and prohibited the advocates from representing Ukraine. There was consternation when a woman appeared claiming to be Ukraine’s Consul. As Zhovtis mentions, she did not know Ukrainian but used Russian and French instead. Ultimately, the Court did not recognise her as Ukraine’s official representative.
Zhovtis also speaks of the participants of the hearing – in addition to accidental guests and family members, support for Ablyazov was demonstrated inter alia by representatives of the Open Dialog Foundation and a defender of human rights from Ukraine.
During the hearing itself, the defence lawyers moved for the introduction of mitigating measures which the Court adjourned until 6th October (when it refused to release Ablyazov on bail), then Ukraine’s request for extradition was heard. In addition to speeches by the defence lawyers, Ablyazov himself spoke too, denying all allegations. The dissident proved, amongst other things, that he had not perpetrated the crimes on the territory of Ukraine of which he is accused. In the opinion of Zhovtis, the dissident’s arguments were very convincing, unlike those of the prosecutor who only assured that in Ukraine, Ablyazov could count on a fair trial and would not be subjected to torture. The judge asked the dissident why he thought that he faced a threat in Ukraine, as the authorities there had just been replaced. Ablyazov emphasised that the changes in Ukraine had only just started and, giving Poroshenko who was previously a minister in the government of Yanukovych as an example, he argued that people from the previous system still remained.
Also Mark Feygin was optimistic about the hearing. In his opinion, it was the first time that the judges listened to the arguments of the defence which pointed out the political nature of Ablyazov’s persecution. Until then, as the lawyer claims, all arguments had been rejected in advance, but this time the judges were listening with great interest to the story of the dissidents’ persecution. Feygin also referred to the Court’s decision on dismissing the Winston & Strawn lawyers and the presence of the Ukrainian Consul, who was French by origin, noting that the entire burden rested with the prosecutors. As a result, the Court could finally listen to all arguments presented by Ablyazov’s defence lawyers. Feygin also expects that Russia might do even worse – in the current situation, the country cannot warrant Ablyazov’s safety and security in the event of extradition.
The next hearings will be held on 17th October – concerning the Ukrainian application, and on 24th October concerning the Russian application.
Source: article in «Газета новости» of 3.10.2014; ablyazov.org
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