'Milky Way' rocker faces execution on trumped up charges
Igor Koktysh, a rock musician, social activist and supporter of the political opposition in Belarus, is being held in Ukraine and is facing extradition to Belarus, where he could be executed on charges that Amnesty believes are entirely fabricated.
Launching an appeal for him today, Amnesty has named him as a prisoner of conscience, held for the peaceful expression of his beliefs. The organisation is asking people to go to www.amnesty.org.uk/priorities and write urgently to the Ukrainian authorities, demanding his immediate and unconditional release.
Igor, aged 29, has been detained in Ukraine since 25 June 2007, facing extradition over a baseless accusation that he carried out a murder in Belarus in 2001. He is charged with "premeditated, aggravated murder", which carries the death penalty.
He was charged with the murder in January 2001 but was acquitted and released because he was able to prove that he was in another city when the murder took place. In custody he was allegedly tortured and ill-treated, including by being beaten and locked naked in a very cold cell, to try to force him to confess.
In an unusual move the Belarusian Prosecutor General appealed against the verdict and the case was returned to the lower court for a retrial, after Igor had moved to Ukraine with his Ukrainian wife, in April 2002.
Amnesty International Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:
“It’s clear that Igor Koktysh is being persecuted for his political views. Igor hasn’t advocated violence – he is locked up just for speaking his mind.
“This man could ultimately be executed - shot in the back of the head – just for the politics of his music and his activism. It’s scandalous that the Belarusian authorities have fabricated a murder charge against him.
“Anyone who believes in free speech should join us and take a stand on this case. We’ve got to demand that the Ukrainian authorities release him immediately and ensure that he is not forcibly returned to Belarus.”
In Belarus Igor was a musician in the banned rock group Mlechny Put (Milky Way), and was socially and politically active. He was a founding member of a youth group financed by the Catholic Church, which aimed to rehabilitate young drug users. Igor organised rock festivals to publicise the message "No to drugs and violence". At these festivals opposition flags and slogans were displayed. Igor was also an active member of the now-disbanded youth opposition movement Zubr and took part in a number of political campaigns.
In 2000 Igor tried to start an independent youth organisation, the Informal Youth Movement, but the authorities refused to register the group. Shortly afterwards, the head of investigations of the local police department came to Igor Koktysh's house and, in front of witnesses, stated that he would find a reason to arrest him. The police immediately put Igor Koktysh under surveillance and he was subjected to interrogations, searches and criminal charges. He was detained in connection with the murder of a close friend's relative, even though a senior police officer allegedly told him that he knew he was not guilty of the crime.
In Ukraine, Igor continued to be actively involved in supporting the Belarusian opposition candidate during the presidential election campaign in Belarus in 2006. He created videos, website banners and composed songs supporting the candidate. He also created a website for the unregistered Informal Youth Movement which contained opposition leaflets and posters.
The European Court of Human Rights is considering a complaint brought by Igor Koktysh, challenging his extradition and detention. The Court has requested that Ukraine does not extradite him until it has decided on the case.
Belarus is the last country in Europe and the former Soviet Union to still carry out the death penalty.