A search at a journalist's home, the interference of the SBU in elections, the arson of an activist's car. March 4th-11th, 2019

A search at a journalist's home, the interference of the SBU in elections, the arson of an activist's car. March 4th-11th, 2019

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OPINION

On the eve of the elections, the security bodies of Ukraine will initiate new criminal cases against journalists. Thus, on March 5th, in Kiev, the Security Service of Ukraine spent 14.5 hours searching the apartment of the journalist Vladimir Skachko, known for his oppositional and critical remarks about the authorities. After the search, Skachko was handed a summons for interrogation and a notice of suspicion of encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine (Part 2 of Article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). The case against Skachko is connected to the case of the journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, who was detained in May 2018 on suspicion of state treason and continues to be held in a detention center in Kherson. After the journalist Skachko was searched, his computer equipment and bank card were confiscated. The journalist called the search "a ban on the profession". More about the situation with the search of the journalist can be read here. After the search, Skachko was hospitalized. On March 11th his lawyer was interrogated by the leadership of the Security Service of the Kherson region appeared.

On the same day, March 5th, Kirill Vyshinsky, the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine”, was handed an indictment and a register of pre-trial investigation materials. The case will be considered by one of the district courts of Kiev for further consideration. On March 6th the Kherson Court of Appeal once again rejected the complaint of the journalist’s defenders concerning the extension of the term of his detention. The journalist will be transferred to Kiev to attend a court session in the Supreme Court on March 20th.

On March 6th in the Korolevsky Court of Zhytomyr the measure of restraint in the form of around-the-clock house arrest imposed on the journalist Vasily Muravitsky was once again extended for another 2 months - until May 3rd. Recall that the journalist was detained by the SBU in August 2017 on suspicion of treason. More details about this case can be read here.

On March 6 the final hearing concerning the case of the journalist Pavel Volkov took place in the Shevchenkovsky court of the city of Zaporozhye. During the hearing, the court continued to investigate the evidence of the prosecutor's office, in particular the telephone and notebook of the journalist. During the debates, the prosecutor demanded for the journalist 15 years of imprisonment without confiscation and with the recovery of the cost of numerous examinations in the amount of more than 38,000 hryvnia. The lawyers asked for the acquittal of all charges. Sentencing is scheduled for March 27th 2019. The details of the case of Volkov can be read here.

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The Security Service of Ukraine banned the Austrian journalist from the “ORF” channel Christian Wehrschütz fromentering the country. According to media reports, the journalist planned to interview two presidential candidates. The European Union and OSCE urged the Ukrainian authorities to refrain from imposing any unnecessary restrictions on the free flow of information and freedom of the media.

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New facts of physical aggression against journalists were recorded. Thus, on March 7th, not far from Kiev, unknown persons beat up the camera operator and journalist of “Radio Svoboda”. After an examination at the hospital, doctors diagnosed the camera operator with a concussion. Criminal proceedings were initiated under Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("obstruction of the lawful professional activities of journalists"). According to the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, during the first 2 months of 2019, 13 cases of physical aggression against journalists were recorded.

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New facts of pressure by exerted by the Security Service of Ukraine were reported by the editors of independent media. Thus, on March 11th, journalists from the regional television and radio company “Avers” (Lutsk) announced, citing their own sources, that the SBU plans to initiate a criminal case against the TV channel about inciting ethnic hatred. The reason for the close attention of the special services in relation to “Avers” was a published interview with the well-known Ukrainian blogger Anatoly Shary. The administration of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Volyn region said that the department did not initiate any proceedings against the employees of the “Avers” shopping and entertainment center.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATIONS

On March 8th a March of Women, organized by feminists and a LGBT society, took place in Kiev. About 1,000 activists took part in the march. In parallel, representatives of right-wing radical organizations (“Traditions and Order” and others) held a counter-rally for traditional values and against feminism. Verbal skirmishes and clashes flared up several times between the sides. Right-wing radicals also threw a petard of zelenka in the direction of the march. At least four people were detained as a result of clashes with the police. The order on the march was guarded by several hundred policemen and soldiers of the National Guard.

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION

Over the past week in a number of regions of Ukraine observers continued to record conflicts over church parishes, as well as cases of priests and parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) being forcibly evicted from their premises. Like in the past, such attempts were initiated by “activists” of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU; Patriarchate of Constantinople), as well as representatives of right-wing radical groups and local officials.

The following Ukrainian Orthodox Church temples became hot spots: Nativity of the Virgin Mary temple in the town of Baranovka, Zhytomyr region; the Svyato-Pokrovsky temple in the village of Berestye, Dubrovitsky district, Rovno region; the church in the village of Berezhnitsa, Vizhnitsky district, Chernovtsi region; and the St. John theological church in the village of Bokhoniki, Vinnytsia region. The conflict situation vis-a-vis the temple in the village of Kovpyta in the Chernigov region and a number of other settlements persists (more details – here).

A number of UOC religious communities continue to assert their rights in the courts. Thus, on March 7th the Starovizhevsky court recognized the facts of inciting inter-religious hatred against the religious community of the village of Myzovo and ordered the police to initiate a criminal case. At the same time, the Borznyansky District Court of the Chernigov region refused to recognize the capture of a temple in the village of Olenovka as illegal for formal reasons (the lawsuit was allegedly filed against an “inadequate defendant” - to a physical person, not an official). The head of the church and the UOC community have the right to appeal the decision of the Borznyansky district court.

ELECTIONS – 2019. THE RIGHT TO ELECT AND BE ELECTED

The “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform received registration with the CEC as an official observer during the 2019 presidential election. All information collected by us will be included in our reports, which will also be published on our website. https://uspishna-varta.com/

Management of the electoral process

In the timeframe stipulated by law, the Central Election Commission (CEC) approved the form and text of the ballots for the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine on March 31st 2019 for voting on election day and the form of the ballots for re-voting. After the de-registration of 5 candidates for the presidency of Ukraine, the ballot papers on election day will contain the names and surnames of 39 candidates for the presidency.

Observers are worried about the fact that members of precinct election commissions will have to deliver ballots to district election commissions (DECs) with the help of improvised means. The CEC explained that the current situation is connected with the cancellation of the tender for the purchase of archival boxes for the delivery of bulletins. Because of the limited time left before the elections, the purchase of transport services and stationery by the district election commissions is also under threat. The absence of specially provided boxes for the transportation of bulletins can lead to the risk of documentation being falsified and manipulated.

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In general, district election commissions have fully begun their work and register confidants of candidates and official observers. At the same time, the representatives of DECs who were interviewed by the observers of “Uspishna Varta” identified a number of difficulties in the work of the commissions. Thus, the process of financing commissions remains unresolved, there is a shortage of blank ID cards and office supplies.

The observers of “Uspishna Varta” note that at the entrance to some DECs there are no signs (for example: No. 77 in Zaporozhye; No. 171 and No. 172 in Kharkov) and information boards (DEC No. 75 in Zaporozhye).

A significant problem for a number of commissions is also low attendance at member meetings and constant changes in the composition of the leadership. For example, in DEC No. 174 of Kharkov, out of the declared 41 members of the commission, 20 members were not sworn in. At DEC No. 134 (Odessa), during a meeting on March 6th, only 29 were present out of the 37 members required by law.

On March 6th in Lvov, during an extraordinary meeting of DEC No. 117, members of the commission expressed their distrust in the current leader, and also ordered him to report violations to the CEC and report on their elimination as soon as possible.

Problems with communication with the CEC servers, frequent shifts in the composition of the commissions, and an increase in the workload of the DEC in connection with the tenders for the procurement of material support wererecorded by observers in Dnepr (more details – here).

During their registration at the DEC of Lutsk and Zhytomyr, the observers of “Uspishna Varta” did not uncover any significant disturbances in the work of the district commissions. All DECs work normally.

Interference of law enforcement in the electoral process

As it became known to the official observers of “Uspishna Varta”, by the order of the CEC, working groups that includes representatives of the SBU were created in district election commissions (DECs) in order to ensure the safety of the “Vybory” information system. Information about this came from the observers of "Uspishna Varta" in cities such as Kiev, Lvov, Kharkov, and Kramatorsk. Thus, on March 7th, members of DEC No. 48 (Kramatorsk, Donetsk region) voted for the creation of such a working group, which included 7 employees of the Security Service of Ukraine (a copy of the document can be seen here).

“Uspishna Varta” is extremely concerned about the situation with the presence of SBU officers at polling stations on election day. As was noted by human rights activists in the interim 2019 report on election observation, there is a trend where some law enforcement bodies (the Security Service of Ukraine and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine) carry out actions and statements in the interests of the current president, Petro Poroshenko, as a part of the electoral campaign. Accordingly, the presence of representatives of the SBU at the time of the transfer of voting results to the CEC can lead to abuses of official position and interference in the results of vote counting.

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The SBU continues to carry out secret investigative actions against candidates who are the main opponents of President Poroshenko in the elections. Thus, on March 4th the police found a listening device in the office of presidential candidate Vladimir Zelensky, who, according to opinion polls, occupies a leading position in the approval rating of candidates. The SBU confirmed the information about the building where the office of the candidate Zelensky is located being bugged. In early February Zelensky reported that strangers were watching him and wrote a statement to the police about this. On March 7th the candidate said that a criminal case for money laundering had been initiated against him and the “95 Quarter” studio, and in the future they are planning to initiate another case concerning a road traffic accident.

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On March 6th it became known that the investigators of the Prosecutor General's Office, the State Bureau of Investigations, and the Security Service of Ukraine had detained two people who were trying to give money (US dollars) in the equivalent of 5 million hryvnia to the presidential candidate Yury Tymoshenko in exchange for his refusal to run. This person is called a technical candidate of Bankova Street. Due to the similarity of his name, he can pull away votes from Yuliya Tymoshenko, whose surname rests next to him on the ballot. According to the security authorities, allegedly Yuliya Tymoshenko’s people are involved in giving the bribe.

On March 11th, as a counterattack, the National Police of Ukraine stated that they are investigating a case in connection with the presidential candidate Yury Tymoshenko allegedly borrowing money for the security deposit in the CEC in the amount of more than one million hryvnia collected by people from one of the villages of the Odessa region.

Thus, the leadership of law enforcement and security of Ukraine was involved in the electoral process on the side of various presidential candidates. Earlier, this trend was already was observed on February 21st-22nd, during the mutual denunciation of schemes using the so-called “Electoral pyramids” that are allegedly used by these candidates.

The current president Poroshenko using his official position for campaigning

In February-March, President Poroshenko held 10 working visits and meetings of local regional development councils (Odessa, Kirovograd, Mariupol, Zaporozhye, Lvov, Nikolaev, Dnepr, Cherkassy, Zhytomyr). The Presidency of the Head of State was actively used at meetings of local regional development councils for election campaigning. At the same time, all these visits are indicated on the President’s website as his business trips.

1On March 1, Uspishna Varta monitored the campaign trip of the current president, Poroshenko, to the Zhytomyr region. On the President’s website, this visit is listed as working. Poroshenko held a meeting of the Regional Development Council of Zhytomyr region with the participation of representatives of local government and executive power. Campaign material on Poroshenko’s visit is posted on the website of the Zhytomyr Regional State Administration. In violation of the law, the official observer from “Uspishna Varta” was not allowed by the police to be near the rally of the candidate.

In Zaporozhye a campaign package in support of the president was sent to the homes of residents along with a proposal to write a letter to the President as the head of the Regional Development Council. The letter states that a discussion of the development plans of the city of Zaporozhye is supported by the head of the regional state administration Konstantin Bril. It should be noted that at the national level, the Regional Development Council is an advisory body under the President of Ukraine, while the local state administrations by their orders created a council at the appropriate level. At the local level, measures are being taken to implement the Decree of the President of Ukraine “On additional measures to ensure reforms to decentralize power”, which was signed by the head of state on December 6th 2018. During the electoral campaign, observers recorded a number of cases of public discussions about future development plans being used for electoral campaigning in favour of the candidate for the post of President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

Also relevant is the problem of security agencies harassing citizens who, during electoral meetings with President Poroshenko, ask him questions that he considers to be inconvenient. Thus, the head of the organization “Poton” (which fights against the sale of drugs to adolescents) Yakov Dneprovsky reported that his car was set on fire by unknown persons. The activist links the arson with the meeting with Petro Poroshenko on the eve of his visit to Dnepr, during which he tried to ask the president a question. For this he was detained and taken away by the guards. According to the activist, one of the men who drove him to the exit photographed the license plates of the car, and a few hours later the activist's car was on fire.

Conditions for the implementation of election campaigning

The observers of “Uspishna Varta” recorded such violations as the placement of the political campaigning of a candidate that lacks primary data (the materials of Ruslan Koshulinsky in Zaporozhye - a statement was filed with the police). In Odessa and the Odessa region, observers recorded facts of damage being dealt to candidates' campaigning products (Y. Tymoshenko, Y. Boyko). Also, there are constant reports of impending voter bribery. According to the chairman of the Saratsky district administration (Odessa region), on the territory of the district unknown persons on his behalf distribute leaflets with information about the administration’s issuance of a reward in the form of 5,000 hryvnia to every local resident aged 18 to 80 who in the upcoming presidential election will vote for a particular candidate.

Election observers

The Central Election Commission appealed to the Security Service of Ukraine and the National Police because of a statement made by a representative of the “National Druzhina” organization about the likely use of force by its observers if they notice falsification during voting. It should be noted that this right-wing radical organization started to be criticised by the official authorities only after the right-wing radicals openly demanded that President Poroshenko bring to justice the officials close to him involved in corruption schemes.

Thus, on March 9th in Kiev “National Corpus” and “National Druzhina”, in masks and with tear gas, stormed the administration of Petro Poroshenko, and then disrupted his meeting with voters in Cherkassy. This is the fourth such action in two weeks dedicated to the corruption scandal in the army, in which the closest circle of the current president, Petro Poroshenko, and the president himself are involved. After the rally a number of representatives of “National Corpus”, as well as journalists covering the event, were added to the “Mirotvorets” website.

The human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” have repeatedly expressed concern about the possible use of force by right-wing radical groups at polling stations on election day, and called on law enforcement officers to limit their participation in the electoral process.

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Proposals for the imposition of sanctions on individuals - citizens of foreign countries - who on March 18th 2018 acted as international observers in the Russian presidential election in Crimea were approved by the Ukrainian government and submitted to the National Security and Defence Council for its consideration. According to the Deputy Minister for the Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons Georgy Tuka, observers from Germany, France, Sweden, Israel, USA, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Finland, Serbia, Norway, and Great Britain fell under the sanctions. The official said that a final decision on the imposition of sanctions should be taken by the NSDC.

MONITORING OF HUMAN RIGHTS CASES

As a part of the Supreme Court, the Cassation Criminal Court will analyse the information sent by the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform about the use of the “Mirotvorets” website by the courts of Ukraine. Recall that in the Unified Register of Judicial Decisions the legal team of “Uspishna Varta” found 101 court decisions in criminal proceedings where in the reasoning part the materials of this website are cited as an evidence base. As a rule, it is in litigation related to the conflict in Donbass. A part of such decisions is made in the framework of a pre-trial investigation carried out in absentia - in the absence of the accused and the possibility of representing their interests in the courts. Sentences were found in a number of court decisions where data from the “Mirotvorets” website concerning persons not related to the military conflict (the sentence handed to the journalists Dmitry Vasilets and Evgeny Timonin) was used.

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The wife of the activist Evgeny Morents (“Belaya Balaklava”) detained on February 18th 2019, who is in jail on suspicion of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, said that he had been beaten. She also added that she is unable to contact her husband, and she is not allowed to see him. Evgeny Morenets is known as “Belaya Balaklava” - a previously anonymous activist who in the autumn of 2018 on YouTube called for the organization of a “Third Maidan” in order to overthrow the current government. The deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Viktor Kononenko, at a briefing on February 19th said that the activist, in accordance with instructions from the FSB, was preparing to use activists-patriots to deprive the heads of state authorities of their powers.


Download Political and civil rights in Ukraine. 4 - 11 March 2019


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