Monitoring of the case of Nelia Shtepa (hearing of January 20, 2021)

On January 20, 2021, a hearing was held in the Ordzhonikidze District Court of Kharkov in the case of the ex-mayor of Slavyansk Nelia Shtepa. She is accused of committing crimes under Part 3 of Article 110 (encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine, resulting in the death of people) and Article 258-3 (creation of a terrorist group or terrorist organization) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

This criminal proceeding was transferred to the Ordzhonikidze District Court of Kharkov in 2018 and began to be considered from the beginning for the fifth time. Previously, the case was held in the Chervonozavodsky, Kominternovsky, Leninsky and Oktyabrsky district courts of the city of Kharkov, however, due to the constant recusations and self-recusals of members of the panel of judges, non of the judges was able to pass a verdict.

At previous hearings, the prosecutor filed a motion to select for the accused a measure of restraint in the form of round-the-clock house arrest. It became necessary to interrogate witnesses A. Pivovar (who at the time of this monitoring had already been questioned) and his wife, E. Pivovar.

The accused has been in custody since July 13, 2014. On September 20, 2017, the court changed the measure of restraint to round-the-clock house arrest, which expired in January 2018 and no further measure of restraint was applied before this hearing.

The hearing began with the interrogation of witness E. Pivovar via videoconference from the hall of the Slavyanskiy City District Court. The witness indicated that in 2017 she applied to the court stating that threats were being made to her. She claims that, people called her from an unknown number and threatened her with a demand to withdraw her testimony due to the fact that her husband, A. Pivovar, was a witness in this criminal proceeding.

The defense lawyer of the accused drew attention to the fact that the statements of A. Pivovar and his wife are identical, even the punctuation marks are the same. It also seemed strange to him that the witness could not give a clear answer to the lawyer’s clarifying questions, even to the question “How did the statement end up in court?” (that is, who submitted it), since according to the information received by the lawyer, both statements (of her and her husband’s) were brought to court by the prosecutor.

Also, in confirmation of the risks indicated in the petition, the prosecutor asked the court to add to the case file:

  • An extract from the Register on the fact of a statement by one of the witnesses that on April 13, 2014, N. Shtepa, together with other persons, committed the murder of an Security Service of Ukraine officer and at the moment this case is in criminal proceedings No. 120200505100084 (on May 29, 2020, statements were entered into the Unified Register of pre-trial investigations of Ukraine);
  • An extract from the Register on the fact of the statement of one of the witnesses in this case about the commission of a crime under Art. 386 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (obstruction of the appearance of a witness, victim, expert, specialist, forcing them to refuse to give evidence or an opinion) on April 22, 2019, the statements were entered into the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations of Ukraine.

According to the prosecutor, these documents confirm the risk of the accused’s illegal influence on the witnesses and are one of the grounds for choosing a measure of restraint in the form of round-the-clock house arrest. The court attached all the documents provided to the case file. In response, the defendant argued that the proceedings were closed in the case with illegal influence on the witness. Regarding the case of the officer’s murder, she is a victim, not a suspect / accused. She also indicated that in order not to see any of the witnesses, she changed her place of residence, that is, she moved to another district of Slavyansk.

It should be noted that, in accordance with the case-law of the European Court, house arrest, taking into account the degree of restriction and the degree of expression, is considered to constitute a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of Article 5 of the Convention (“Mancini v. Italy”, para. 17; “Lavens v. Latvia”, paras. 64-66; “Nikolova v. Bulgaria”, para. 60 (no. 2); “Ninescu v. The Republic of Moldova”, para. 53; “Deliyorggi v. Albania”, para. 75).

The defense and the accused herself asked the court to refuse to satisfy the prosecutor’s motion, as they believe that there are no grounds for choosing a measure of restraint.

As a result of the hearing, the court partially satisfied the prosecutor’s petition and chose a measure of restraint in the form of house arrest at night from 10:00 pm to 05:00 am until March 19, 2021.

Also, the court completed the preparatory hearing and scheduled a hearing on the merits for 01.28.2021.

The International Society for Human Rights will continue to clarify the details of these criminal proceedings.