Viru County Court bans press from Ossipenko hearing

Hearing at Viru County Court. Pictured: Delfi journalist Karoliina Hussar, lawyer Jüri Leppik and District Prosecutor Alan Rüütel.
Hearing at Viru County Court. Pictured: Delfi journalist Karoliina Hussar, lawyer Jüri Leppik and District Prosecutor Alan Rüütel. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Despite having previously authorized it, Viru County Court banned journalists from the hearing of Kohtla-Järve businessman Nikolai Ossipenko this week, justifying the reversal on contradictory grounds.

This week, a hearing was held at Viru County Court in Jõhvi to discuss the possibility of taking Ossipenko, 64, into custody. The Prosecutor's office suspects him of bribing a slew of Kohtla-Järve politicians, investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress writes (link in Estonian).

Delfi and ERR journalists arrived at the Jõhvi courthouse on Wednesday, having previously been granted authorization by the court to cover the hearing, including to take photos. The journalists arrived at the courtroom, where the district attorney and a lawyer were also already present.

Immediately prior to the start of the hearing, however, the journalists received a phone call from a court official informing them that their authorization to cover the Ossipenko hearing had been revoked.

ERR Viru County correspondent Rene Kundla told ERR's online news portal that a court spokesperson had authorized his presence at the hearing, even asking him to arrive a little early.

"The hearing was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.," Kundla recalled. "I was the first to arrive at around 3:40 p.m. Then a court employee came and set things up. Then came the defense lawyer, who said incredulously, 'You're joking, right?' to which I responded, 'I don't joke on the clock.'"

Kundla then got a call from the court spokesperson, who said they can't provide authorization after all, and that in this stage, only the Prosecutor's Office can grant authorization, and that the hearing is actually closed after all.

According to the ERR correspondent, once the media had gotten their initial materials and photos, the judge then requested anyone not connected with the hearing leave the courtroom.

Attorney Jüri Leppik told Ekspress that declaring the hearing a closed one didn't come up during the hearing at all, adding that had the prosecution proposed that the hearing be declared closed, he would have proposed they do the opposite and keep the hearing open.

Asked by Express for an explanation, Viru County Court explained that this wasn't the type of hearing to which the principle of a public hearing would apply.

The principle applies to hearings in which the court has an indictment, the court explained in its response. "Currently, the court doesn't have an indictment; things are only at the procedural acts stage, and only parties to the proceedings are involved," the court added.

On Friday, however, Ekspress received an entirely different response from the county court.

"The court hadn't managed to read the contents of the application in full prior to the start of the hearing," Viru County Court told the paper. "Having previously authorized outside individuals to participate in the hearing, the court had not anticipated that sensitive personal info would be provided, including medical info."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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