Saturday, August 25, 2012

Appeal in relation to the Olaolu Sunkanmi Femi trial

"Losing life or spending it in jail": a choice offered to foreign student by Ukrainian Justice

Appeal in relation to the Olaolu Sunkanmi Femi trial

Twenty-six years old Nigerian Olaolu Sunkanmi Femi arrived to Ukraine in 2007 to pursue higher education. He graduated from the three full courses of Taras Shevchenko National University of Luhansk. This year like his classmates Olaolu Femi was supposed to get a bachelor's degree. But when the other Nigerian students participated in solemn graduation ceremony – he already was in prison for more than six months. Classmates are trying to help his friend, and the rector of Luhansk National University confirms that the University does not abandon its student. However tragic, an incident that happened to Olaolu, can wipe off not only his bachelor's degree, but the whole life. And it certainly might cause doubts among international students who ever considered an option of coming to Ukraine to study.

Femi and his friend Eniola Sudadi will remember the night of November 5, 2011 for their whole lives. This is when they became victims of racially motivated attack commited by five young people at the entrance of a building where an apartment was rented by another Nigerian student. Attackers, fuelled by alcohol, first insulted Nigerians, and later knocked them down, starting to kick and punch them. Eniola was unable to rise from the ground. Only Femi could defend him and his friend, confronting attackers with a broken glass bottle's neck. As a result, three attackers - Vitaliy Haman, Dmytro Lemenchuk and Artem Loboda - received cuts of their hands, necks and heads, and the attackers’ friend Iryna Pashkova, who participated in the incident, received facial and head bruises.

The next day Olaolu Femi was detained, and by the court decision imprisoned in Luhansk pre-trial detention center where he still stays at the moment of writing.

Olaolu Femi was charged under Article 115 Part 2, and Article 296 Part 4 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine - the attempted premeditated murder with the motive of hooliganism. According to investigators, he "with the motive of clear disrespect for society" carried out the attack with a prepared crime instrument - a broken glass bottle. Investigators failed to come up with other, more comprehensible and explicable motives of alleged night attack, commited by a Nigerian student against a group of local youngsters. Despite the fact that the injuries received by the attackers were officially considered "light injuries", and the fact that the type of injuries indicate they were inflicted during self-defence, not the attack , - despite all this, Femi is charged with "completed act of" an attempted murder, and therefore might face life imprisonment.

The only evidence for these charges are testimonies of the “victims”. Investigating authorities declared that it is impossible to find and interrogate the taxi driver, who drove Nigerian students to the building and, according to Nigerians, saw the beginning of the incident. Results of the medical expertise, which indicated that Haman, Lemenchuk and Loboda were in a state of alcohol intoxication, were not added to the court file. The number of "victims" in the investigation was strangely reduced from 6 to 4. Unexpectedly for the defence, in the case file appeared certain "unidentified firearms" from which, according to the testimony of "victims", Femi allegedly made a shot in the leg of lying Vitaly Haman - already after using the bottle's neck against the "victims" before leaving the scene. Neither the weapon, nor traces of a firearm shot were found on clothes of the “victim” by the expertise. The testimonies of the defendant and the witness - Eniolu Sudadi - regarding the racist motive for the attack against them, as well as regarding insults and threats (including threats to use a traumatic gun against them) received by others from the “victims” yet before 05 November incident, were ignored. The fact that the mother of one of the “victims” works at the Leninsky district police department, whose staff conducted pre-trial investigation of the case, might have influenced the qualification of the citizens of Ukraine involved in the incident as "victims", as well as the entire course of the investigation.

The investigating authorities made some gross violations during the pre-trial investigation. Though Olaolu Femi is not fluent in Ukrainian or Russian, investigation procedures were carried out in the absence of a qualified interpreter. During the pre-trial investigation Femi did not receive procedural documents on the case in the comprehensible language. He was able to see the translated documents only after his case was transferred to the court.

The hearing of the criminal case was postponed few times over several months due to the fact that the prosecution could not provide an interpreter. Only in May the court hearings started. However, at the next session of the court the prosecutor requested a replacement of the judge with the panel of three judges. The motion was granted and the new composition of the court is going to start hearing of the case on substance in September. The defendant is detained for more than 9 months already. We are afraid that the case is delayed deliberately in the hope that Femi, pressured by the prison conditions and length of stay in the pre-trial detention center, would at some point admit guilt in the crime he's accused of.

We appeal to the Ukrainian human rights organisations and activist groups to disseminate information and draw attention to the situation of Olaolu Femi. Every Ukrainian might accidentally become a victim of injustice, cruelty and corruption, deeply rooted in the law-enforcement authorities of Ukraine. Each one of us might appear in Olaolu’s place.

We appeal to the foreign diplomatic missions with the request to monitor the progress of the Olaolu's trial, keeping the situation under scrutiny. Students from many countries are studying in Ukraine. Unfortunately, many of them are victims of discrimination and racist aggression. Other countries host many international students, including those from Ukraine, and judging from their own experience can evaluate, if international students are protected from discrimination in Ukraine.

We appeal to the international community and international organisations to take all possible measures to highlight the situation and put pressure on the Ukrainian government, demanding the immediate restoration of Olaolu Femi's rights - his release from custody, and another, transparent and effective investigation of his case's circumstances.

Please write to Prosecutor General of Ukraine demanding the investigation into the allegations concerning breaches of the law during the pre-trial investigation, and whether charges filed against Olaolu by prosecution are reasonable. Write to the Minister of Interior of Ukraine demanding to investigate whether police officers acted in accordance with the law in the pre-trial investigation. Send the copies of your letters to the President and the Ombudsman of Ukraine. Also send copies of your letters to diplomatic missions of Ukraine in your country (the list of addresses can be found at MFA of Ukraine's website: )

Prosecutor General
Viktor Pshonka
Vul. Riznitska 13/15
01601 Kyiv, Ukraine
Fax: + 380 44 280 2851
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General

Minister of Interior
Vitaliy Zakharchenko
Vul. Akademyka Bohomoltsya, 10
01024 Kyiv, Ukraine
Fax: + 380 44 256 1633
Salutation: Dear Minister


President Viktor Yanukovych
Vul. Bankova, 11
01220 Kyiv, Ukraine
Fax: +380 44 255 6161
Salutation: Dear President

Valeriya Lutkovska
Vul. Instytutska 21/8
01008 Kyiv, Ukraine
Fax: +380 044 226 34 27
Salutation: Dear Ombudsman

Initiative "Justice for Olaolu"

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