Legal Case of the Week: Dutch prosecutors request life sentences for four suspects on trial in absentia for 2014 downing of MH17 over Ukraine

Week-ending 24 December 2021

The aircraft involved, 9M-MRD, pictured in 2011 by Alan Wilson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On 22 December 2021 Dutch prosecutors requested life sentences for four suspects – three Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko – on trial in absentia on charges of launching a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine that hit flight MH17 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.


The Moscow Times, 20 December 2021: Dutch prosecutors said Monday that four suspects accused of downing a Malaysia Airlines flight with a surface-to-air missile were seeking to serve “their own military interests,” as they launched closing arguments in the closely-watched trial.  Four suspects are being tried in absentia for launching a BUK missile that hit flight MH17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board. 

RFE/RL, 20 December 2021: Dutch prosecutors said on December 20 that the 298 victims of the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine “didn’t stand a chance” once a rocket hit the aircraft, as they began their closing arguments in the closely watched trial. MH17 was shot down on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine, killing all passengers and crew. The four suspects — Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko — are being tried in absentia for involvement in the tragedy. Only one of the suspects, Pulatov, is represented by lawyers at the trial.

RFE/RL, 22 December 2021: Dutch prosecutors have requested life sentences for three Russians and a Ukrainian on trial in absentia on charges of playing a role in downing a passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.

Other cases:

RFE/RL, 19 December 2021: A Russian court has handed a three-year suspended sentence to Yury Zhdanov, the father of Ivan Zhdanov, a close associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, in a corruption case critics say is politically motivated. Zhdanov, who spent several months in pretrial detention, was released from custody after sentencing, his lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, announced on Twitter on December 19.

RFE/RL, 20 December 2021: A retired Moscow police officer has been detained after holding a picket in the Russian capital’s Red Square to demand the release of imprisoned opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Former police Major Oleg Kashintsev was holding a poster saying “Free Navalny. Putin Is A Killer” when police detained him near the Kremlin on December 19.

The Moscow Times, 20 December 2021: Russian authorities have forced several news organizations to delete their coverage of a blacklisted outlet’s investigative reports on President Vladimir Putin’s alleged extramarital daughter and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s alleged second wife. State media watchdog Roskomnadzor notified the independent Dozhd broadcaster that it must delete 30 articles and videos based on the Proekt investigative outlet’s reporting. “The notifications say that there is one day to inform the website owner about the blocked materials, after which they must be immediately deleted,” Dozhd said.

Human Rights in Ukraine, 20 December 2021: At least two Crimean Tatars were seized by the FSB in Russian-occupied Crimea last week after early morning armed ‘searches’ of their homes.  Both Kurtumer Chalgozov and Nariman Ametov were, purportedly, interrogated as witnesses or over possible involvement in the alleged act of sabotage that Russia is using to imprison renowned Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Nariman Dzhelyal.  The only grounds would appear to be that they too are Crimean Tatars and Ametov has shown support for political prisoners.  It is, however, increasingly the case in Russian-occupied Crimea that no more is required, with the FSB using such methods either to torture out false testimony or as a form of terror, reminding Crimean Tatars that nobody is safe.

Human Rights in Ukraine, 21 December 2021: Russia has brought criminal charges against Nabi Rakhimov many months after its enforcement officers killed the Uzbek refugee, who was living peacefully in occupied Crimea with his wife and two underage children.  The FSB are claiming that Rakhimov “used force against representatives of the authorities carrying out their duties’ (Article 318 of Russia’s criminal code) and was killed in the confrontation.  There was, however, no reason for the armed operation against Rakhimov and his family, let alone for him to have shown any resistance against a large contingent of armed officers.

Meduza, 21 December 2021: A Russian court has rejected a petition from the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to transfer student journalists Alla Gutnikova and Vladimir Metelkin to a remand prison. The two editors from the student journal Doxa have been under pre-trial restrictions since April, and are only allowed to leave their homes for two hours per day (between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.). 

RFE/RL, 23 December 2021: A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of the former leader of a regional organization for jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny in Bashkortostan. The Basmanny district court ruled of December 23 that Lilia Chanysheva must stay in pretrial detention at least until April 9, 2022.

The Guardian, 24 December 2021: A Moscow court has said it is fining Alphabet’s Google 7.2bn roubles (£73m) for what it says is a repeated failure to delete content Russia deems illegal, the first revenue-based fine of its kind in Russia. Moscow has increased pressure on big tech this year in a campaign that critics characterise as an attempt by Russian authorities to exert tighter control over the internet, something they say threatens individual and corporate freedom. Google said in an email it would study the court ruling before deciding on further steps.

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