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Statement on the unacceptability of political pressure on the investigation into attacks on public activist Serhiy Sternenko

We, human rights organisations, call upon law enforcement authorities to investigate fairly the circumstances of attacks on Serhiy Sternenko. We would also ask politicians, officials and other parties not involved in the proceedings to refrain from interfering in the investigation.

Serhiy Sternenko is an Odessa civil activist, lawyer and blogger. He stands against corrupt local authorities involved in seizing land and illegal development in Odessa. Sternenko has been a victim of criminal prosecution and survived three murder attempts in 2018. 

First attempt: On 7 February 2018, two unidentified men opened the doors of the car in which Sternenko was driving and began to hit him with a baseball bat with blades embedded in it. In the attack, the activist suffered a concussion and a hip wound. Police have still not identified the initiator or perpetrators of the attack. At the same time, Serhiy was denied state protection and since criminal proceedings have been initiated against him he cannot carry a weapon to defend himself.

Second attempt: On 1 May 2018, an unknown man shot Sternenko twice in the neck with rubber bullets. Serhiy ran after the attacker and handed him over to law enforcement. The man turned out to be a former policeman from Kazakhstan, Abzal Baibukashev. He refused to cooperate with the investigation, which actually lasted only two weeks. The organiser of the attempt has not been identified. Despite the threat to his life after the attack, Sternenko was denied state protection for a second time.

Third attempt: On 24 May 2018, two unknown assailants attacked Sternenko outside his house and stabbed him several times. In the assassination attempt, Sternenko suffered a concussion, a laceration to his arm, and several bruises. He was hospitalised and discharged four hours after the operation. Private clinics refused to admit him, so Serhiy had to be transported to Kiev, where he underwent surgery again. Kyiv doctors noticed that in the Odessa hospital, for unknown reasons, two of the patient’s nerves had been damaged and the tendon that bends the brush had not been stitched. 

One of the attackers, Ivan Kuznetsov, died as a result of Sternenko’s self-defence. The second attacker, Alexander Isaikul, was wounded and later detained. A third possible assailant, Oleksander Podobedov, who, according to Sternenko, coordinated the actions of Kuznetsov and Isaikul, was interrogated by the police. However, none of the attackers was charged with an offence. After the third attack, the activist was denied state protection due to a “lack of threat to life”.

Instead, the police provided state protection to one of the perpetrators of the third attack, Alexander Isaikul, who later fled Ukraine and is now hiding outside the country.

The Odessa police, instead of investigating the attacks on Sternenko or identifying their organisers alleged in May 2019 that they had “lost” physical evidence of the attacks on Sternenko. Thus, there are serious reasons to believe that the Odessa police are involved in sabotaging the investigation into the attacks. As a result of the persistent refusal to provide Serhiy Sternenko with state protection and the complete inaction of the police, the Security Service of Ukraine was entrusted with the investigation of the case.

However, after the appointment of Irina Venedikova as a General Prosecutor, there was a danger that Serhiy Sternenko, instead of being the victim, could be made a suspect. Thus, the following message was posted on the official websites of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s Office: “First of all, the authorities agreed to carry out the necessary investigative and procedural actions in a number of resonant criminal proceedings, in particular, regarding the murder of Ivan Kuznetsov.”

The characterisation of Ivan Kuznetsov’s death by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s Office as murder is of particular concern. Attention is focused on this aspect of the case, not considering that Ivan Kuznetsov was trying to kill the activist, and Kuznetsov’s death was due to Serhiy Sternenko’s self-defence.

Although the cases concerning the attacks on Serhiy Sternenko, as well as the case concerning the death of one of the perpetrators of his assassination, Ivan Kuznetsov, are being investigated by the Security Service of Ukraine, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov is coordinating investigative and procedural actions in this case with the General Prosecutor.

We consider the discussion of the investigation between the General Prosecutor and the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as statements by particular officials, as pressure.

We consider such actions unacceptable and call upon:

  • the Minister of Internal Affairs, People’s Deputies and representatives of other authorities to refrain from political pressure on the case investigation;
  • the Security Service of Ukraine and the Prosecutor General’s Office to ensure a fair and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the attacks on Serhiy Sternenko.

Coalition members in the defence of civil society:

  1. Association UMDPL
  2. Charity foundation “East-SOS”
  3. Open Dialogue Foundation
  4. “Who assassinated Katya Gandziuk?” Initiative
  5. Human Rights Education House – Chernihiv
  6. Information Centre on Human Rights “ZMINA”
  7. NGO “School of Mediapatriots”
  8. Centre for Civil Liberties

Other initiatives:

  1. NGO “Public Council” People’s Initiative
  2. NGO “Transparency International Ukraine”
  3. NGO “Tomorrow’s Lawyer”
  4. NGO “Save Protas”
  5. Human Rights Centre “DІJA”
  6. NGO “Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Centre”
  7. NGO “Smart Media”
  8. Media Initiative for Human Rights
  9. NGO “Svitanok”