POLITICAL AND CIVIL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS IN UKRAINE. Monitoring observance in April – June 2018

According to the results of monitoring in April-June 2018, the human rights platform "Uspishna Varta" recorded 56 violations of political rights and freedoms. From these, 37 cases (66%) were related to the violation of the right to freedom of speech and opinion; 10 cases (18%) - right to peaceful assembly; and 9 cases (16%) - the right to freedom of association.

25% of all recorded violations of political rights and freedoms involved right-wing radical organizations, primarily C14, "National Druzhina", "Bratstvo", "Right Sector", etc. In 20% of cases (11) a violation of human rights and freedoms was committed by the Security Service of Ukraine. In general, the collective actions of law enforcement agencies (SBU, the Prosecutor General's office, the State Border Service, and the National Police) led to the violation of political rights and freedoms in 29% of recorded cases.

45% of the recorded cases (25) violated the rights of journalists - both Ukrainian and foreign; in addition, the rights of some media companies were also violated (8 cases, 14%). Among the categories of persons whose rights are violated it is also necessary to mention political parties and/or individual politicians (mainly the left-wing ideological agenda), as well as public activists (14% and 9% of the recorded facts, respectively).

Among the regions, Kiev is the leader in terms of the number of violations (34); the Dnepr (5) and Odessa (4) regions are also distinguished.

The infringement of fundamental rights and freedoms directly affects the democratic/civil and political space. If such restrictions are not removed, they could undermine the integrity and competitiveness of the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2019. Impunity to commit violations in both political and other categories of rights and freedoms is a systemic problem in Ukraine, especially in cases where extreme rightwing groups or law enforcement agencies have been involved.

Significant restrictions on the right to freedom of speech may arise in the event of the adoption of bill No. 6688, which was submitted to Parliament in June and proposes the possibility of the extrajudicial blocking of websites. Ukraine is pursuing a consistent policy to limit the freedom of information exchange on the Internet. Thus, more than 200 information websites, including Ukrainian ones, were blocked in June in connection with the decree of President Poroshenko (May 14) on sanctions against a number of companies and individuals.

Through the attacks of right-wing radical organizations and the penalties of the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting, pressure continued to be systematically put on a number of major TV channels that held an independent position in relation to the government (“Inter”, NewsOne, 112).

Representatives of law enforcement agencies used the situation with the staging of the “murder” of the journalist Babchenko to force journalists to censor themselves. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine (PGU) read out some "black lists" of journalists - those who can be attacked and those who criticized the authorities in connection with the staging of the journalist’s murder.

The practice of not allowing foreign journalists to enter Ukraine continues (cases of May 2, June 26, and July 10). During the monitoring period the SBU reported two cases where users of social networks were detained for "anti-Ukrainian materials" (26 April and 24 May).

In addition, the SBU still maintains the practice of detaining and arresting journalists and bloggers under the so-called "separatist" Articles of the Criminal Code (treason, assisting terrorists, etc.). As a rule, detainees have no alternative to staying in jail, and court hearings on their cases are deliberately delayed. Contrary to the calls of international organizations for the release of these persons as prisoners of conscience, the leadership of the state of Ukraine refuses to recognize the existence of political prisoners in Ukraine.

"Uspishna Varta" positively assesses the decision of the Korolevsky court of Zhytomyr on June 27 to change the preventive measure imposed on the journalist Vasily Muravitsky after 11 months in jail to house arrest. Also, human rights activists welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal of Lvov on May 29 to return to the Prosecutor's Office the indictment in the case of the blogger Ruslan Kotsaba. However, the journalist Pavel Volkov, who was detained for his publications on the Internet, has been in jail in Zaporozhye since September 2017. On May 15, the editor-in-chief of RIA Novosti Ukraine Kirill Vyshinsky was also detained and is under arrest.

The most urgent problem is the impunity in cases of physical violence against journalists and obstruction of their journalistic activities. The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJ) recorded 22 attacks on journalists in the second quarter of 2018. According to the statistics for 2015-2017, 96% of crimes against journalists in Ukraine remain unpunished.

There is no progress in the investigation into the murder of the journalist Pavel Sheremet, the courts are being delayed and the prosecution of suspects in the murder of the journalists Oles Buzina and Vyacheslav Veremiy. As of the end of June 2018, no progress had been made in the criminal investigation into the case against the “Mirotvorets” website.

The right of citizens to peaceful assembly remains limited by the lack of legislative regulation. Despite the numerous recommendations of international organizations, the Ukrainian Parliament has not adopted a special law on peaceful assemblies.

The practice of double standards in the application of criminal liability vis-a-vis the participants of the protests of the socalled "Maidan" and "anti-Maidan" in 2013-2014 remains. For example, General Aleksandr Shchegolev, who is accused of illegally obstructing peaceful meetings in February 2014, has been in jail for 3 years without a sentence. At the same time, in May the participant of protest actions Ivan Bubenchik, who publicly admitted to murdering two employees of "Berkut" on Maidan, was released on the bail of the people's deputies from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko.

The human rights group "Uspishna Varta" carried out monitoring during all major peaceful demonstrations and gatherings in Ukraine for the period of April-June 2018 in Ukraine. In general, according to the results of the monitoring, with the exception of some incidents, they took place without large-scale conflicts.

The largest number of attacks against peaceful assemblies during the monitoring period was recorded by the right-wing radical group C14. In particular, the representatives of this organization attacked a gathering of veterans at the Vatutin monument in Kiev on 13 April; they assaulted the organizer of the protests against autocephaly Valentin Lukiyanik (26 April, Kiev); they carry out systematic attacks against gatherings and meetings on LGBT topics.

The police generally don’t charge the attackers. Thus, 56 representatives of C14 who participated in skirmishes with participants of the march of equality in support of the LGBT community on June 17 in Kiev were released after detention. In order to avoid clashes with the opponents of this procession, security and law and order provided 5,000 law enforcement officers in the streets.

Only after a significant public and international response on July 10 did the police report suspicion to the C14 coordinator Sergey Mazur concerning the pogrom of the Romani settlement on Lysa Gora in Kiev on the night of April 20 to 21. On July 18 the Goloseevsky court of Kiev elected a measure of restraint in the form of around-the-clock house arrest for two months. Police inaction and the absence of punishment for ethnic pogroms and attacks could continue to generate a new wave of xenophobia and hate speech in Ukraine not only towards Romanis, but also other minority groups, including internally displaced persons from Donbass and Crimea.

The right to freedom of association is limited by the fact that opposition political parties continue to face obstacles during their activities created by the state at both the level of the Ministry of Justice (the “Uspishna Kraina” party) and via searches and the application of pressure by law enforcement agencies (the Nadezhda Savchenko charitable foundation, M. Saakashvili's “Movement of New Forces”, Tymoshenko's “Batkivshchyna”).

During monitoring the human rights platform "Uspishna Varta" also recorded facts of the systemic application of pressure by law enforcement and right-wing radical organizations on Ukraine’s left-wing organizations and parties. On the eve of the Victory Day celebration on May 9, 2018, the SBU conducted a series of searches at the Communist Party, and attacks by right-wing radical organizations against the offices of left-wing parties in Kharkov and Chernigov were recorded.

The legal framework for elections in Ukraine (the right to vote and to be elected) after 2014 remains fragmented and contains gaps and inaccuracies. During the 8th session, the Parliament did not adopt the Electoral Code at the second reading and did not approve the new composition of the Central Election Commission (CEC). The issue of voting rights for internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Donbass and Crimea also remains unresolved. Instead of addressing these important issues, attempts have been made to legislatively increase accountability for violations of the electoral law (draft law No. 8270).

Elections in 40 joint territorial communities (April 29) and early elections in the village of Tsebrykovo in the Odessa region (June 3) demonstrate an increase in the number of cases of voters being bribed, pressure being put on the candidates of opposition parties, and the use of new power technologies to disrupt elections, including the raids of law enforcement officers at polling stations under the pretext of mining or the threat of poisoning. In view of the approaching presidential elections in Ukraine in March 2019, these trends cause human rights activists and observers to be seriously concerned.

The right to freedom of speech and religion. The statements made by the President of Ukraine and the decisions of the Parliament on the topic of autocephaly and the creation of a United local Church, active political and administrative pressure being put on priests and believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in order to force them to adopt the project of the establishment of the EOC in a format that is considered correct by presidential political circles is unacceptable interference by state officials in the internal affairs of the Church, which is not only separated from the state, but also has the right to maintain its status, including legal and canonical.

Human rights activists welcome the decision of the Kiev district administrative court (June 10), which recognized the illegal inactivity of the Ministry of Culture regarding the registration of the statutes of 11 religious organizations of the UOC. At the same time, lawsuits over the canonical ownership of churches and religious buildings of the UOC community (more than 50 cases) located on the territory of Western Ukraine (the Rovno, Ternopol, and Volyn regions), as well as in other regions, continue to be filed.

Given the fact that the 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections are approaching, it is extremely important to increase the level of attention of the Ukrainian and international community in relation to the situation with political rights and freedoms being the most important basis for the functioning of a democratic system in Ukraine.

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