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Ukraine: Amnesty Criticizes Kuchma Over Death Penalty Comment

London, 27 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma violated the principle of the independence of the judiciary by saying a man accused of more than 50 murders should receive the death penalty.

Anatoly Onupriyenko went on trial this week in the city of Zhytomyr, charged with murdering 52 people between 1989 and 1996 in what's said to be one of the worst cases of serial killings on record.

Commenting on the case, Kuchma reportedly said in a media interview on Tuesday (Nov. 24): "As a human being, I cannot see any punishment for him other than death."

In a statement released in London last night, AI said Kuchma's comments -- coming while trial proceedings are underway -- were "a violation of the constitutional principle of the independence of the judiciary." AI said Kuchma had also violated "the right of the accused to be presumed innocent before the court issues its verdict."

The human rights organization said Kuchma's comments were "especially dangerous in the context of Ukraine, where the judiciary is far from being independent from executive orders and influence."

AI opposes the death penalty in all cases and circumstances, regardless of the crimes for which it has been applied.

AI is calling on Ukrainian authorities to initiate an independent psychiatric examination of the 39-year old Onupriyenko, who allegedly said during the pre-trial investigation that he heard voices telling him to carry out the killings. AI said it has received reports that Onupriyenko may be suffering from a mental illness.

Onupriyenko reportedly said in court that he had been previously treated in a psychiatric hospital.

AI has also expressed concern about the case of Yury Mozola, who reportedly died during interrogation about multiple murders now attributed to Onupriyenko. Mozola was arrested in 1996 by officers of the Lviv Regional Directorate of the Security Services.

AI says Mozola was detained in the isolation prison of the directorate where, according to information provided to AI, "he was tortured to death while being interrogated about the crime."

AI has expressed concern for years about the reported torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by Ukrainian police seeking to obtain confessions of guilt.

AI said it had information that another man was arrested in Lviv, was tried, and sentenced to death in connection with other murders now attributed to Onupriyenko. He was reportedly released only after Onupriyenko's arrest.

AI says it believes this (unnamed) man is still alive only because of the existence of a moratorium on executions in Ukraine, given as one of the commitments made on accession to the Council of Europe.

At least 345 prisoners remain under sentence of death in Ukraine, 81 of whom were sentenced in the first six months of this year. In January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted its third successive resolution strongly condemning Ukraine for continuing to impose the death penalty.

The deadline for full abolition of the death penalty set by the Council of Europe on Ukraine's accession in 1995 was November, 1998. In September, Ukraine's parliament passed a new draft Criminal Code, introducing life imprisonment as an alternative. But the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, Oleksandr Tkachenko, told a Council of Europe delegation, also in September, that it was too early to speak about the full abolition of the death penalty.