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Court cancels the sentence to former Berkut officer who assaulted the journalist Maria Lebedeva

12.01.2024, 12:07
Ruslan Marchuk (to the right) with his lawyer. Photo: the Advocacy Advisory Panel on Facebook
Ruslan Marchuk (to the right) with his lawyer. Photo: the Advocacy Advisory Panel on Facebook

The Kyiv Court of Appeal overturned the ruling convicting former Berkut officer Ruslan Marchuk and ordered a new trial regarding his actions in the suppression of the Maidan protests on November 30, 2013. The term for prosecution in this case expired at the end of 2023, which means that Marchuk is unlikely to be brought to justice, reports the Advocacy Advisory Panel.

They noted that at the time of the Maidan protests Ruslan Marchuk was the deputy commander of the platoon No. 1, company No. 3, of the Kyiv Berkut.

According to the investigation, he and another officer of the now disbanded special unit "Berkut", approached journalist Maria Lebedeva, who was recording the crackdown on her phone while holding her journalist ID card. Marchuk demanded that she stop the recording, then grabbed her by the hand holding the phone and tried to knock it down. Then he started shoving her and kicked her, which can be seen at 50:25 in the video.

Other victims in the case were Yelyzaveta Zharikova, Lyubomyra Kepler, Tetyana Kuyemzhi, Serhiy Melnychenko (Serhiy Melnychenko) and Dmytro Fortunatov (died in 2018).

On July 12, 2023, the Shevchenkivsky Court judge Andriy Trubnikov convicted Marchuk of excess of authority or official powers accompanied with violence (Part 2 of Article 365 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine), willful preclusion of legal professional activities of journalists (Part 1 of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine) and illegal interference with peaceful assemblies (Article 340 of the Criminal Code).

The court issued a suspended sentence to Marchuk, sentencing him to five years in prison with a two-year probation period and barring him from holding positions in law enforcement bodies for two years.

Only the penalty for excess of power was enforced. As for the other two articles, by the time the judgement was passed, the term of prosecution had expired.

"It was this sentence that was canceled by the court of appeal today. But it is unlikely that a new trial in the first instance court will yield a new ruling. On the 10th anniversary of the Maidan crackdown  (11/30/23) the statute of limitations for prosecution under the most serious article in this case has expired. This means that Marchuk Marchuk can file a motion in the first instance court to close the proceedings. He is not acquitted, but he will face no responsibility," the Advocacy Advisory Panel noted.

On January 11, 2024, the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn announced that the Committee was preparing a hearing on the investigation of crimes related to preclusion to journalistic work.

"There was an almost 80% drop in investigations of crimes against journalists in 2022 compared to 2021. The war may explain everything, but as a country that is entering the European community, which considers freedom of speech among its core values, we definitely should not allow this," he said.

In December, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn said that his work as the chair of the Freedom of Speech Committee has three priority vectors: releasing the Ukrainian journalists captured by Russia, investigating cases of preclusion to journalistic work, and creating competitive and high-quality access to information for journalists.

Speaking about the investigation into preclusions to journalists' work, Yurchyshyn said:

"As the fourth branch of power, journalists have very clear guarantees regarding their professional work. Since Ukraine is a developing democracy, the investigation of such cases has not always been smooth. And war is always a certain relief for the law enforcers, there is always something to do, we will be addressing your cases."

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