Ukraine must comply with Court ruling on Belarusian rock musician
Amnesty International has urged the Ukrainian authorities to comply with a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling calling for the release of Belarusian opposition activist and musician Igor Koktysh. Igor Koktysh has been detained in Ukraine since June 2007, when Belarus requested his extradition over an accusation that he committed murder in Belarus in January 2001. Amnesty International believes that the charges were fabricated due to his social and political activism. The organization considers Igor Koktysh to be a prisoner of conscience. In October 2007, Igor Koktysh filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge his threatened extradition to Belarus and his detention in Ukraine, pending extradition. In its judgment on 10 December, the Court ruled in his favour on both counts. The judgment stated that the extradition of Igor Koktysh to Belarus would violate the prohibition of torture as he would be at serious risk of torture or ill-treatment if extradited to Belarus. The Court said that he could also face capital punishment together with the prospect of an unfair trial in Belarus. Amnesty International spoke to Igor Koktysh's wife Irina after the ECHR ruling. She said that her husband told his lawyer that "for the first time in a long time his wings have grown. He was disappointed when he heard that the General Prosecutor intends to hold him for another three months, but all the same he is happy now. Even if he has to wait, it won't be long." Irina said that she is approaching anybody she can and everybody is offering support. Igor is also writing letters from prison. She told Amnesty International: "Our lawyers aren't sleeping either". She also said: "I understand what a contribution you are making towards our liberation. It is impossible to overestimate. I am very grateful to you for this. Both Igor and I are in excellent spiritis. We are optimistic and ready to fight." According to the Court, the detention of Igor Koktysh constitutes a violation of the right to liberty in several regards. The Court stated that there is no legal basis for Igor Koktysh's detention in Ukraine and that he has been denied the possibility to challenge the lawfulness of his detention. The prison conditions in which Igor Koktysh has been - and still is - detained were found to amount to ill-treatment in the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights. In line with the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, Amnesty International has called on the Ukrainian authorities to release Igor Koktysh immediately and unconditionally and to ensure that he receives full compensation in accordance with the Court’s judgment. The organization also called on the authorities to ensure that Igor Koktysh is provided with effective and durable protection against return to any country, including Belarus, where he would be at risk of the death penalty, torture or other grave human rights violations. Igor Koktysh is charged with the "premeditated, aggravated murder" of a close friend's relative, under Article 139 of the Criminal Code of Belarus, which carries the death penalty. Igor Koktysh was held in detention in Belarus from January 2001 until his trial that December. While in custody he was allegedly tortured and ill-treated. This included being beaten and locked naked in a freezing cell, as well as being deprived of necessary medication for his asthma, in order to force him to confess. Igor Koktysh told Amnesty International that during his detention in Belarus the head investigator of Brest district told him that he knew he was not guilty of the crime, but that he was under pressure from his superiors. The investigator refused to repeat these words in court. Able to prove that he was in another city when the murder took place, he was acquitted and released. This verdict was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Belarus on 1 February 2002. After his release, Igor Koktysh moved to Ukraine where he registered to live and work and met his future wife. In April 2002, the Belarusian Prosecutor General appealed against his acquittal and the case was returned to the lower court for a retrial. Belarus's request for his extradition followed and Igor Koktysh was detained by the Ukraine authorities on 25 June 2007.