Political and civil rights in Ukraine

Beatings during Poroshenko's rallies and the Security Service of Ukraine in election commissions. March 12-17, 2019

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OPINION

On March 12th another draft law aimed at restricting freedom of speech was registered in the Parliament of Ukraine (No. 10139). Its author (a deputy from the “People's Front” party) intends to establish criminal responsibility for the dissemination of false information in the media and on the Internet, regardless of whether it is disseminated deliberately or as a result of an error. In the first case, the author of the draft law proposes to punish the "perpetrators" with a fine (up to $1900), or correctional labor for up to 2 years. It is also proposed to ban the broadcast of programs and shows in which "the participation of the aggressor state in the armed aggression against Ukraine is denied or justified."

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On March 12th the SBU announced that they were once again detaining social networks users for publishing information. According to the Security Service, an “agent network of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia”, which distributed calls on social media “from allegedly patriotic forces to carry out anti-government actions” aimed at fighting corruption and impeaching the current president on the eve of elections, operated on the territories of Donbass controlled by Ukraine. Four "agents of informants" were detained and are in custody. Recall that in Ukraine protests are being carried out by representatives of the right-wing radical group “National Corpus”, which demands an investigation into corruption in the environment of President Poroshenko.

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The State Committee of Ukraine for Television and Radio Broadcasting banned 23 more books from the Russian Federation. Among them are books about corporate culture, networking, business benefits, children's books, and a book about PR, which, according to the department, “popularizes the Russian social networks Odnoklassniki” and the service website “Yandex”. On March 14th an entrepreneur from Kiev was fined nearly $1,500 for selling books from Russia. In total, in 2018 last year, the State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting refused 97 times to issue a permit to import 477,000 copies of books in Ukraine that are allegedly anti-Ukrainian.

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On March 14th it became known that a Canadian journalist who was accredited by the Central Election Commission and went to cover the elections was banned from entering Ukraine for 3 years. The reason for the refusal was information that the journalist visited the Crimea. The Ukrainian ministry considered that the journalist posed a threat to national security.

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 before, such attempts were initiated by “activists” from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) Patriarchate of Constantinople), as well as representatives of right-wing groups and local officials.

The long conflict over the temple of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the village of Baranovka in the Sumy region continues. On March 10th another attempt was made to seize the temple, but the UOC believers managed to repel the attack. On March 12th a deputy of the local council (representative of the Radical Party, Oleg Lyashko) and his supporters organized a gathering of local residents for an action to capture the temple. Believers appealed to law enforcement bodies, demanding to protect the church from "OCU supporters", but the police reported that they did not have information about an upcoming capture attempt. On March 13th the Baranovsky city council voted in favour of the “transition” of the temple to the OCU and recognized the actions of the Abbot of the temple, archpriest of the UOC Roman Klim, as “anti-state and illegal”.

Other incidents were also recorded:

- In the village of Rudom in the Kiev region supporters of the OCU stopped the procession of believers of the UOC. According to the attackers, the refusal of the abbot of the local church to switch to the OCU, which is a betrayal, is one of the reasons for the attack on the UOC believers.

- On March 13th in the village of Selets in the Rovno region, supporters of the OCU cut the locks off the doors of the St. Nicholas temple, did not allow UOC parishioners to go to church, and intimidated the Abbot. The UOC emphasizes that the religious community has all the documents confirming their ownership of the temple and the land. The head of the Dubrovitsky district state administration, who is a resident of the village, helps supporters of the OCU capture the temple.

- On March 15th in the village of Kurozvany of the Rovno region,"activists" of the OCU made an attempt to capture the house of the Abbot. Earlier, a UOC temple was captured in the village.

- On March 16th supporters of the OCU disrupted divine services in the Spaso-Preobrazhensky temple of the village of Luka-Meleshkovskaya (Vinnytsia region) and blocked access to the temple.

- On March 17th in the village of Pogreby in the Kiev region aggressive-minded activists once again tried to capture the UOC temple. Representatives of the territorial community, who are not members of the temple, voted on its “transition” to the OCU and entered the church during the divine service. After arriving at the scene, the police led everyone out of the temple.

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The persecution of the priesthood and parishioners of the UOC by the SBU continues. Thus, on March 12th, one of the hierarchs of the UOC of the Rovno Diocese was summoned for interrogation by the SBU.

On March 13th in Cherkassy, officers of the National Police and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) searched the home of the writer Oleg Slepynin due to the publication of articles that criticise the provision of Tomos of Autocephaly to Ukraine. According to the police, investigative actions vis-a-vis the writer were carried out on the basis of criminal proceedings under article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

ELECTIONS 2019. THE RIGHT TO ELECT AND BE ELECTED

Electoral campaign of the current president

During the past week, the current president and presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko conducted several campaign trips to regions, despite the fact that by law candidates are prohibited from using their official position and official powers to conduct an electoral campaign. In particular, Poroshenko visited Zhytomyr (11th March), Chernigov (13th March), Volyn region (14th March), Transcarpathia (15th March), Poltava (16th March), and also held a campaign rally in Kiev (17th March).

In each region the President held a Regional Development Council meeting, which representatives of local government and executive authorities also took part in. According to the law (part 1 of article 64), the implementation of campaigning by these persons is prohibited.

In addition, the observers of “Uspishna Varta” have recorded numerous cases of local officials illegally campaigning in favour of the candidate Petro Poroshenko. Thus, voters are given a campaign package in support of the president with a proposal to write a letter to the President as the head of the Regional Development Council. This package includes an appeal from the Governor of the corresponding sphere in support of the initiatives of the President. Such cases were recorded, as a minimum, in the Zaporozhye, Rovno, Vinnytsia, and Kiev regions. "Uspishna Varta" appealed to the police and election commission in Zaporozhye with a complaint about the illegal carrying out of campaigning by the chairman of the local administration Konstantin Bryl in favour of the candidate Poroshenko.

Campaign materials in favour of the candidate Poroshenko were also revealed by the observers of “Uspishna Varta” in the Vasilkovsky District Court (Kiev region). The police were notified about the offence.

As a rule, the campaign rallies of the candidate Poroshenko are carried out with the centralized transportation of participants. Only people included in pre-compiled lists can enter the specially fenced off and guarded area. Ordinary voters, as well as journalists and official observers from “Uspishna Varta”, are not allowed to access Poroshenko’s rallies. For example, in Transcarpathia on March 15th the police did not let a group of Ukrainians, who came especially to meet the president, enter the place where Poroshenko met with the residents of Transcarpathia. Along the entire route their cars were stopped by the police. A video of the incident can be found here.

During the week, incidents were recorded where people who tried to ask Poroshenko inconvenient questions were forcibly removed from the electoral rally by representatives of the police and even beaten up by unknown persons. The police at the same time did not intervene in what happened.

- On March 14th the police detained a journalist from the “Avers” channel in Kovel, Volyn region, who was covering the rally of President Petro Poroshenko.

- On March 16th at a campaign rally of the candidate Poroshenko in Uzhgorod (Transcarpathia) unknown persons beat up a man who was shouting an inconvenient question at the president and forcefully took him away in an unknown direction. Law enforcement officials were at the rally, but did not react to the beating. During the incident the candidate Poroshenko continued his electoral speech from the stage.

- On March 16th, before the campaign rally of President Poroshenko in Poltava, the police detained and beat up representatives of the right-wing radical group “National Corpus”, who threw soft toys in the form of pigs at police officers. A video of the incident can be seen here.

- On March 17th, during a Poroshenko rally in Kiev, unidentified persons attacked a group of people who were protesting against the policies of the current president. The attack took place in the presence of police officers. A video of the incident can be seen here.

Interference of law enforcement in the electoral process

In district election commissions (DECs), at the order of the CEC, working groups that include representatives of the Security Service of Ukraine were created in order to ensure the security of the “Vybory” information system. This information, in particular, has already been confirmed by the observers of “Uspishna Varta” in Kiev, Lvov, Kharkov, and Kramatorsk.

According to observers, such groups are not created in all DECs. CEC Chairperson Tatiyana Slipachuk said at a press conference that working groups that include the SBU would complete their work by March 29th. However, at the disposal of “Uspishna Varta” is a resolution of the DEC from which it follows that SBU working groups are required to be included in commissions during the transfer of information about the progress and results of voting. "Uspishna Varta" sent an appeal to the CEC for clarification. Human rights activists are extremely concerned about the situation with the presence of SBU officers at polling stations on election day.

In addition, as it became known to “Uspishna Varta”, in Zaporozhye the SBU massively summons representatives of the “Batkivshchyna” party (candidate Yu. Tymoshenko) for interrogation, citing the need to investigate the creation of a voter bribery network. The party claims that to date 73 members of the political force have been summoned for interrogation. However, a case has not been opened in connection with the creation of a voter bribery network, nor has information been entered into the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations.

At the same time, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasily Gritsak, at a briefing on March 12th said that his department was ready to ensure the fair will of citizens during the election. The Interior Ministry reported that order on the streets of Ukraine and in all regions during the electoral process on election day will be ensured by 134,000 law enforcement officers.

As was noted by human rights activists in the interim 2019 election observation report, there is a trend where law enforcement bodies (the Security Service of Ukraine and the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine) carry out actions and make statements in the interests of the current president, Petro Poroshenko, as a part of the electoral campaign.

Management of the electoral process

Last week the Central Election Commission adopted a number of decisions that may affect the electoral process.In particular, on March 14th the CEC adopted a decision “in an exceptional case” to organize 80 special polling stations in the military units of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Lvov regions. Considering that the territory where the polling booths were created has restricted access, voting there can become closed off and non-controlled. According to representatives of the CEC, about 47,000 servicemen will vote at these polling stations. In addition, the CEC reported that more than 100,000 citizens will temporarily change the place of their voting for the presidential election in Ukraine. Among these voters are citizens of Ukraine from Crimea, the Kiev, Donetsk, and Kharkov regions, and other regions of Ukraine.

The CEC also reported that there will be no video surveillance at polling stations during the presidential election on March 31st, since this is not stipulated by law.

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During March 10th-18th the observers of “Uspishna Varta” monitored DEC meetings in regions of Ukraine. In the process of creating precinct election commissions (PECs), a number of problematic situations were recorded that negatively affect the quality of management of the electoral process.

- The creation of a PEC is complicated by a fairly large number of cases where the candidacy of one person is submitted to members of the PEC from several presidential candidates ("clones"). At the same time, a number of DECs allow such PEC candidates to choose only one candidate to represent. In some cases, the DEC does not include such people in the commission at all (Kramatorsk, Odessa)

- Not all DEC members have a clear idea of the procedure for appointing the management of a PEC on the quota of candidates. Thus, on March 11th in Kharkov, at a meeting of DEC No. 174, a conflict arose over the procedure for allocating quotas for the PEC leadership.

- Situations involving the failure of the automated information system “Vybory” during the entrance of information about the composition of the PEC (Slavyansk) and problems with access to the Internet (Dnepr) were recorded.

- Personnel understaffing, lack of quorum, and the replacement of representatives of commission candidates remain a constant problem in the work of DECs. In a number of commissions there is no lawyer.

In Lvov “Uspishna Varta” submitted a complaint to the CEC about the Chairperson of DEC No. 117 along with a request for his resignation in connection with the intentional concealment from commission members of information received from the CEC. In the past, members of the DEC said they did not trust the Chairperson of the commission.

Conditions of electoral campaign implementation

While monitoring the electoral process the observers of “Uspishna Varta” interviewed representatives of regional candidate headquarters and attended electoral campaign events. The main problems voiced by HQ representatives are the “grid” used by Petro Poroshenko’s headquarters for bribing voters and the large number of DEC members from technical candidates who also work in the interests of the current president. The headquarters also fear rigging on election day during the counting of votes. More detailed comments about the HQs of the presidential candidates A. Vilkul, V. Zelensky, Yu. Tymoshenko, and Yury Boyko can be read here.

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Also, instances of the agitators of the current President Poroshenko working on a fee basis in regions, which is prohibited by law, continue to be recorded. Thus, in Kharkov an observer of “Uspishna Varta”, while communicating with such volunteers, found out that for each working day they receive up to 1,000 hryvnia (about $37).

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The observers of “Uspishna Varta” filed an appeal with the police and the CEC after hidden campaigning for the incumbent president, who at the same time uses “black” PR against his main opponents, was revealed. This concerns advertisement billboards in Kiev, Kharkov, Chernigov, and other cities. At first glance, they depict an advertisement for a musical group. The words of a song that are displayed on the campaign materials indirectly urge not to vote for Yuliya Tymoshenko and Vladimir Zelensky, but to support the current president. According to “Uspishna Varta”, this advert is “black” PR, is of a compromising nature, and is aimed at worsening the image of candidates.

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Observers continue to record the facts of damage being done to outdoor electoral campaigning, which in most cases belongs to representatives of the opposition forces. For example, several billboards of the candidate Yury Boyko were smeared with red paint in Odessa. This was reported by the "C14" group. The observers of “Uspishna Varta” called the police to the scene of the offence and made a statement.

MONITORING HUMAN RIGHTS CASES

On March 13th, during a preparatory hearing on the case of the former People's Deputy Nadezhda Savchenko and the head of the Prisoners' Liberation Center "Officer Corps" Vladimir Ruban, the court granted the motion of the lawyers to disqualify the collegium of judges in criminal proceedings. An objection was made due to procedural errors. Now the court must form a new panel concerning this case. Recall that Savchenko and Ruban are accused of allegedly preparing a series of terrorist attacks in the capital. The case is based on the records of conversations of the accused, the supply of weapons from the non-controlled territory of the so-called "DPR", and the testimonies of "classified" witnesses from among active military personnel. More about the Savchenko-Ruban case can be read here.

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On March 14th the collegium of judges of the Vasilkovsky district court of the Kiev region, during a hearing concerning the case of the journalists Dmitry Vasilets and Evgeny Timonin, once again returned the indictment to the prosecutor because of its inconsistency with the norms of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine. The court has not been able to proceed with the consideration of the case for more than a year. Recall that the journalists were sentenced to 9 years for state treason and spent more than two years in a detention center. More details about the Vasilets-Timonin case can be here.

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On March 15th the court extended the measure of restraint in the form of detention imposed on the politician Aleksandr Efremov for another 2 months - until May 13th. The politician is accused of state treason, encroaching on the territorial integrity of the state, creating a terrorist organization, and capturing state buildings. He was detained on July 30th 2016 and has been in jail for more than two years. Judicial hearings are held in the Starobelsky Court of the Lugansk region. More about Efremov's case can be read here.


Download Political and civil rights in Ukraine. 12 - 17 March 2019


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