Conflicts over temples, "black PR" in the elections, and the trials of journalists

Conflicts over temples, "black PR" in the elections, and the trials of journalists. 25 February-3 March 2019

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OPINIONS

The Parliament of Ukraine once again did not impose a moratorium on media audits during elections. The corresponding draft resolution was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on February 26th, but the deputies did not have time to consider it.

Selected media agencies continue to report that they are being put under pressure by law enforcement bodies. Thus, the online publication “strana.ua” declared a series of DDOS attacks on its website over the past week. The publication claims that the attacks are carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine and are associated with the journalistic materials of the publication.

After there was significant resonance, including statements made by international organizations, on March 1st the Kiev Appeal Court partially satisfied the complaint of the newspaper “Novoye Vremya” and did not allow the General Prosecutor's Office to gain access to the mail and documents of a journalist.

The Security Service's practice of detaining users of social networks remains. Thus, on February 26th the SBU announced the arrest of a resident of Dnepr who created and administered a group on a banned Russian social network. In this group he allegedly spread public calls to change the boundaries of the territory and state border of Ukraine. According to the department, the detainee conducted electronic correspondence with a resident of Russia who was trying to obtain information about the communications network that ensures the holding of presidential elections in Ukraine. Criminal proceedings were initiated under Article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

New facts of physical aggression towards journalists have been recorded. On March 2nd in Odessa the journalist of the "Dumskaya" publication Aleksandr Novitsky was attacked. The journalist and the attacker were injured with varying severity. According to law enforcement bodies, the attacker was in a condition of strong alcoholic intoxication.

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND WORLDVIEW

In a number of regions of Ukraine observers continue to record conflicts over Church parishes, as well as cases of priests and parishes of the UOC being forcefully evicted from their premises. Such attempts were initiated by "activists" of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Constantinople Patriarchate), as well as by representatives of right-wing radical groups and local officials.

- On March 1st in the village of Trebukhovtsi (Ternopol region) supporters of the OCU surrounded the Church building and tried to illegally evict the Abbot of the UOC and his wife. Earlier, in December 2018 the Trebukhovtsi Village Council took the decision to move the community to the jurisdiction of the OCU, but the parish of the UOC "defended its right to pray".

- Conflicts in a number of villages of the Rovno region continue with the active participation of local officials. On March 1st in the village of Bushcha the head of the Zdolbunovsky district administration Sergey Kondratuk knocked down the door of the temple of the UOC. On March 2nd Kondrachuk also came with a group of "activists" in the Church of the village of Novaya Moshchanytsya. Pushing out the faithful of the UOC of the temple, they took possession of the building. Locals say that reinforcements of OCU supporters arrived there via two buses along with representatives of "Right Sector", and also a large number of drunk men, some of who are local residents and some are not. Law enforcement bodies didn't intervene in the conflict, and only observed. Earlier, the same official attempted to enter the UOC Church in the village of Buderazh.

- A temple of the UOC in the village of Kurozvany (Rovno region) was captured on March 1st with the participation of state administration officials, without permits, under the guise of an inventory. As a result, supporters of the OCU broke the fence surrounding the church, went to the temple, and cut off the locks. All of this happened in the presence of police officers, who observed but didn't take any action. After the capture of the temple, the "activists" of the OCU went to the house of the Abbot, who has served in the village for 30 years, and demanded that he immediately move out of the house.

- On March 3rd supporters of the OCU, with the help of "Right sector" fighters, captured the Svyato-Preobrazhensky temple in the village of Gnezdychne in the Zbarazhsky district of the Ternopol region. The believers of the UOC who went into the temple for negotiations were beaten and kicked out into the street. According to the Information-Education Department of the UOC, the whole process was led by a cleric of the UOC-KP. According to eyewitnesses, the capture of the temple involved 15-20 fighters from the group "Right Sector", who blocked the temple, yet held talks.

- On March 2nd, during a service in the temple of the village of Berezhonka in the Chernovtsi region, representatives of the UOC of the Kiev Patriarchate and activists from "Right Sector" staged a brawl in an attempt to "transfer" the temple to the OCU. According to parishioners, the inhabitants of other villages, about 100-150 people, among who there were also people in balaclavas from "Right Sector", tried to capture the temple. Earlier, on February 24th, during the Sunday service in Berezhonka, UOC believers did not allow the activists of the OCU to carry out a provocation in the temple.

- On March 3rd in the village of Kovpyta (Chernigov region), during worship, activists and a "priest" of the UOC-KP tried to break into the temple of the UOC for "prayers". According to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, the main part of the attackers came by minibuses together with priests of the UOC-KP. Later they were joined by about 50 people from the village. The police who arrived at the scene of the incident led the supporters of the OCU out of the temple. Representatives of the Kiev Patriarchate declared that the UOC community serves in the temple illegally, since the decision of the Village Council left the temple in the hands of the territorial community. However, according to the clergy of the UOC, the act of reception and transfer has not yet been signed.

- On March 3rd in the village of Lobachovka (Gorokhovsky district, Volyn region) supporters of the OCU kicked down the door of the temple of the UOC and stormed it. As was reported by local residents, after the service, believers and priests of the UOC sealed off the temple to prevent its capture. The police arrived at the scene of the incident. The community changed the locks.

In some cases, the UOC communities defend their rights to temples in court. Thus, on February 26th the Borznyansky district court of the Chernigov region postponed the consideration of the case concerning the capture of the temple of the UOC in the village of Olenovka on March 6th in connection with absence of the defendant. The claim over the illegal "transfer" of the religious community of the village of Olenovka to the OCU was filed by the Abbot of the temple. Vladimir Bryukhovetsky (Chairman of the "Svoboda" faction in the Bakhmatsky District Council) on his Facebook page urged his colleagues to gather outside the building of the Borznyansky district court in order to fight the "outposts of the 'Russian world'" in the Chernigov region.

The Security Service of Ukraine continues to put pressure on the UOC. Thus, on February 26th the SBU carried out searches at the office of the security company "STELS-1", as well as at the place of residence of its owner - a priest of the UOC. This company provided assistance in the protection of the temples, church events, and religious processions of the UOC. In addition, representatives of the SBU continue their practice of inviting the clergy of the UOC for so-called "private conversations". The latest such case was reported on March 1st in the Khust diocese of the UOC (Transcarpathia). As was reported by the Union of Orthodox journalists, the SBU suggested to clerics to agree to alternate divine services with "clerics" of the OCU.

2019 ELECTIONS. THE RIGHT TO ELECT AND BE ELECTED

Observers of the public organization "Uspishna Varta" are concerned about the fact that President Petro Poroshenko during his electoral trips to regions uses his official position. This was announced during a round table on February 28th by the representative of the organization Nataliya Natalina. Observers are also concerned about the threat of voter bribery and the interference of right-wing radical groups in the electoral process.

Human rights activists presented an interim report on the monitoring of the electoral process for January-February 2019 concerning preparations for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections and violations that may affect the free will of citizens and the results of the elections.

The event was attended by official observers from "Uspishna Varta" from different regions of Ukraine, who discussed the main violations of the electoral process that were recorded in the first two months of the campaign, as well as recommendations to ensure that the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections are competitive and transparent.

More details about the presentation of “Uspishna Varta” can be read here.

Following the results of observation of the electoral process during the period of February 25th to March 3rd, the following facts were recorded:

Legislation

- On February 26th President Poroshenko signed the Law "On amendments to some laws of Ukraine on monitoring the electoral process in Ukraine", which prohibits citizens of the Russian Federation from being observers at the Ukrainian elections, including as a part of international missions. These changes concern the laws "On Ukrainian presidential elections", "On Ukrainian people's deputies elections", and "On local elections".

- Last week 4 draft laws on strengthening criminal liability for violations of electoral legislation were included in the agenda of the Parliament. In particular, government draft law No. 8270, which stipulates tougher sanctions for providing voters with illegal benefits and the falsification of documents - up to 6 years in prison, as well as strengthening the role of law enforcement bodies in the electoral process. None of these draft laws have been put to the vote.

Conditions for campaigning

- Observers continue to document the facts of damage being done to external electoral campaign billboards, which in their majority belongs to representatives of oppositional forces. Thus, damage to the campaign billboards of the candidates Evgeny Murayev (Ternopol), Oleg Lyashko (Kiev), Aleksandr Vilkul (Kiev, Kherson, Chernigov, and Zhytomyr regions), and Yuliya Tymoshenko (Rovno, Kropivnitsky) was noticed. On February 24th a video was posted on the Facebook page of the “National Corpus” group showing an unknown person throwing a molotov cocktail at an advertising billboard of the candidate Vilkul. The police reported that they haven't yet received statements about damaged campaign products in Vyshneve.

- On March 1st “activists” from “National Corpus” attempted to disrupt the meeting of the candidate Vilkul in Kharkov. According to the information published by the candidate, more than 100 “activists” blocked the building where the meeting with voters was taking place. Some of them were not able to enter the hall.

- In Ukraine the facts of using "black PR" technology against presidential candidates were recorded. Thus, during February an article against Vladimir Zelensky was posted in a number of printed regional publications. The material about the assessment of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine shows all the signs of being custom-ordered. Also, on the night of February 21st-22nd in a number of cities in the Donetsk region posters appeared on the streets with the words “Donbass Yulya” and a picture of barbed wire.

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/

RIGHT-WING RADICAL GROUPS

The Kiev Court of Appeal for the fifth time postponed its consideration of the case concerning the legality of the suspicion handed to the coordinator of the “C14” group Sergey Mazur in relation to the pogrom of the Romani camp on Lysaya Gora in the capital. The examination was postponed for various reasons, in particular, due to the non-appearance of prosecutors. The next court hearing is scheduled for March 20th. Recall that on April 21st 2018 “activists” of the “C14” group carried out a pogrom of the Romani camp on Lysaya Gora. They destroyed the Romani's tents and burned one of them. A number of international human rights organizations called for an investigation into this case and to punish the perpetrators. At the end of October 2018 the “C14” group once again attacked a Romani camp, near the capital’s railway station.

***

The Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that the nationalist organization “C14” cooperates with the Security Service of Ukraine. In an interview with “The Babel” the head of the Interior Ministry said: “We unexpectedly recorded cooperation between the Security Service and ultra-right radicals from 'C14'. Hiding behind the right slogans to investigate the Gandzyuk case, and in cahoots with SBU employees, 'C14' implemented very unseemly deeds,” he said. According to him, the campaign materials for the “C14” members who took part in the rally concerning the Gandzyuk case on February 9th, when they were detained by police, were handed over by officers of the SBU.

MONITORING OF HUMAN RIGHTS CASES

On February 25th the Supreme Court decided that the trial of the politician Nadezhda Savchenko and the former head of the Prisoner Liberation Center "Officers' Corps" Vladimir Ruban will be held in the Solomensky District Court of Kiev. Prior to that, the Chernigov district court was supposed to consider the proceedings. Recall that Savchenko and Ruban are suspected of planning a violent coup, seizing state power, and encroaching on the lives of officials and public figures.

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On February 26th the Supreme Court considered a cassation appeal on the verdict in the case of the public figure Eduard Kovalenko. Despite the fact that the witnesses in the case were not questioned, the court took the side of the prosecutor, leaving the sentence in force. Recall that Kovalenko was convicted by the Genichesky District Court for 5 years under Article 114-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine "Impeding the legitimate activities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations" for making appeals against the mobilization of the armed forces.

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The Court of Appeal of Ivano-Frankovsk, which in July 2016 recognized the well-known journalist and blogger Ruslan Kotsaba as innocent, decided to start considering his case anew. Thus, the court took the side of the prosecutor's office. Recall that Ruslan Kotsaba was arrested by SBU officers on February 7th 2015. He was accused of state treason and disrupting mobilization because in January 2015 on his Youtube channel he urged to ignore the illegal mobilization. The journalist spent 524 days in jail without an alternative.

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On February 26th and 27th the Shevchenkovsky Court of Zaporozhye held two hearings on the case of the journalist Pavel Volkov. The collegium of judges examined the material evidence provided by the prosecutor that was confiscated from the accused during a search. "Activists" of the "C14" and "National Druzhina" groups attended the hearings. They exerted psychological pressure on the court, lawyers, and the family of the accused. Recall that the journalist Pavel Volkov was arrested on September 27th 2017 and spent more than a year in jail. For his professional activities he is charged under Part 2 of Article No. 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine - encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine (by a group of persons) and article No. 258-3 - giving other assistance to terrorists.

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On March 1st a regular hearing on the case of the athlete Dariya Mastikasheva took place in the Krasnogvardeysky court of Dnepropetrovsk. Her lawyer, Valentin Rybin, asked the court for permission to access the printout of phone calls and declared the witnesses for the defence. Earlier, in August 2017, the lawyer obtained the initiation of criminal proceedings on the fact of the kidnapping of his client, who had incriminated herself under torture before her official detention by representatives of the SBU. According to the lawyer, the investigation has been sabotaged for two years. The lawyer appealed to the court in order to gain access to information concerning the abduction of Mastikasheva. The collegium of judges announced a break.

Download Political and civil rights in Ukraine. 25 February - 3 March 2019


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