Yesterday, the long awaited legal process regarding Eston Kohver went into motion at Pskov Oblast courthouse. The Estonian security police (the Kapo) officer stands accused in espionage, illegal border crossing, firearm possession and the smuggling thereof.
As the court session was about to begin, journalists were served a sour surprise: the new judge Yulia Ulanova decided to keep all media outside the hall. Also, taking photos of Mr Kohver before the trial was forbidden.
The appointment of the new judge has triggered talk about her being more severe. Mr Kohver’s lawyer Yevgeni Aksyonov begs to disagree. He admits, though, that he does not know Ms Ulanova’s background, having no colleagues in Pskov he would know so as to ask about that.
«No-one will tell you anything about Ms Ulanova. She has not participated in big cases,» said Deniss Kamalyagin, editor-in-chief of the independent Pskov newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, according to whom the oblast’s court system is very tightly closed and it is next to impossible to obtain information about judges.
Mr Kamalyagin added that Ms Ulanova’s appointment as judge over Mr Kohver came as a huge surprise. «We have other judges dealing with political cases.»
Two weeks till judgement
The court session started by interrogation of Mr Kohver. Mr Aksyonov disclosed no details about that, as the case has in Russia been declared extremely confidential. He hinted, however, that the accused had been questioned «actively». After that, witnesses were called forth. Also, they reviewed the result of expert assessment.
Mr Aksyonov said the precise evidence against Mr Kohver has become clear during the legal process.
The next session is held today. The lawyer said the process will continue until the decision is proclaimed. He promised to remain in Pskov during the whole time.
According to Mr Aksyonov, the decision may come during two weeks. He does not believe the process will be drawn out or delayed. «If it (the process – edit) were political, it would end faster,» claimed the lawyer.
Mr Kamalyagin claims the opposite. He says even the court representatives are saying that it is attempted to delay the process. «In this, FSB representatives play the main role,» thinks the newspaper editor.
Defence without witnesses
On top of the delay, there are other signs pointing to a show trial: the defence has not invited a single witness to court to give testimony in defence of Mr Kohver.
As explained by Mr Aksyonov, it is not a matter of them unable to say anything, but that they have no-one to invite. «Who to invite? The Kapo staff? Perhaps they have other things to do, and who of Mr Kohver’s bosses would show up?» asked Mr Aksyonov, surprised at the question by journalist.
According to inhabitant of Pskov, former Russian human rights commissioner Viktor Ivanov, the Estonian side should now find out why witnesses of the defence were not invited, and how that would fit with international laws and regulation.
He agrees: this is a show trial. Mr Ivanov thinks that the current relations between Russia and Estonia also play a role in the process. «For this reason, (the Russian – edit) court system is demonstrating its power on a person who illegally crossed Estonia-Russia border,» added the Russian, according to whom it is being stressed in Russian media that Mr Kohver is a spy and diversionist who was apprehended on Russian territory.
As for Mr Aksyonov the lawyer for Mr Kohver, he remains optimistic regarding the end result. «I hope it will be a good administration of justice and that my arguments will be accepted,» he added. Asked by Postimees, if it would be till triumphant end, the Russian lawyer replied: «I would not say «till triumphant end», but simply «till court judgement».»