KIEV, Ukraine -- Don’t do the crime if you can’t serve the time is a simple warning that works in civilized countries, but not in Ukraine. Here, you can be innocent and still spend up to 18 months of your life in prison
Even now, nearly 20 years into independence, Ukraine has preserved the medieval barbarism also prevalent during the 70 years of Soviet rule, a place where human lives mattered little.
Suspects can sit for months in jail before a trial. The law also permits that, “in cases involving exceptionally grave offenses, the prosecutor general may petition a judge of the Supreme Court to extend the period of detention up to 18 months.”
These provisions are being abused in President Viktor Yanukovych’s sham “crackdown” on corruption. Truth in labeling requires this to be called what it is – persecution of political enemies.
The administration has no intention of ending corruption or investigating wrongdoing since so many of its supporters are implicated in some of the nation’s worst crimes.
But it’s OK to go after people who served in ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s government. Four former top-level officials are in pre-trial detention while their activitives are investigated.
They include Anatoliy Makarenko, former head of the state customs service; Ihor Didenko, former deputy head of state-owned energy monopoly Naftogaz; Tetiana Hrytsun, first deputy head of the State Treasury; and former acting Defense Minister Valeriy Ivashchenko.
Former Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshyn, who vanished from public view after a warrant was issued last month for his arrest on corruption charges, could become the fifth. Former State Treasurer Tetiana Sliuz, currently on the run, could be the sixth, and so the list goes on.
If these people committed crimes, they should be speedily prosecuted in a fair, public trial. Until then, they should be freed on bail if they are not a flight risk. This never happens in Ukraine.
During the decade of authoritarian President Leonid Kuchma, politicized law enforcers abused pre-trial detention to crush business competitors, extract bribes, obtain worthless confessions and, in general, teach political enemies a lesson.
One of the best documented cases involved Sloviansky Bank boss Borys Feldman in 2000. Secretly recorded conversations – the so-called “Mykola Melnychenko tapes” made by Kuchma’s former bodyguard – allegedly show Kuchma and now Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, then head of the tax administration, arranging Feldman’s conviction on trumped-up charges. That cost Feldman 18 months of his freedom.
Of the 145,715 people behind bars as of Jan. 1 in Ukraine, 34,148 were being held in pre-trial detention, according to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Most of them deserve to be free on bail pending trial.
Let us hope that the civilized world finds its voice and loudly protests this inhumanity and injustice that ruins lives every day.