The Ukrainian Parliament adopted a law prohibiting Russians from being observers at the presidential elections in Ukraine in March 2019. On February ...
The administrative pressure that is being put on the clergy and parishioners of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has increased significantly in connection with the so-called "unification Sobor" and the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) with the active support of President Poroshenko. In the Western regions of Ukraine the first conflicts arose over the confessional affiliation of churches, and the summoning of priests to the SBU and the voicing of hate speech towards the UOC by state officials continues. New facts of peaceful assemblies being disrupted by right-wing radical groups, as well as attacks on offices of party organizations and media editorial offices, were recorded. The deportation of an opposition journalist and the violation of citizens' rights at the start of the electoral campaign in Ukraine are covered in more detail in the review of the "Uspishna Varta" human rights platform for December 17th 2018 – January 13th 2019.
On December 26th martial law in 10 regions of Ukraine came to an end, but some prohibitions of martial law can be extended. This was stated by President Poroshenko during a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council. In particular, the President proposed to the State Border Service to extend certain measures introduced during martial law. During the period of martial law the Ministry's employees did not allow about 1,650 citizens of the Russian Federation, including 6 journalists, to enter the territory of Ukraine. More details about the recorded facts of civil rights being restricted during martial law can be found here.
On December 15th the so-called "Unification Sobor" took place in Kiev, during which the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) announced the creation of a single local Church - the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). On January 5th the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos of Autocephaly of this religious organisation in Istanbul.
The process of preparing for the unification Sobor and the reception of Tomos was accompanied by considerable administrative pressure being put on the clergy of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) in order to persuade its hierarchs to participate in the Sobor. However, on December 17th, at an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod, representatives of the UOC stated that they did not recognize the creation of the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine, and that the decision of the unifying Sobor for them has no value.
On December 20th the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted for draft law No. 5309 (law 2662-VIII) on changing the name of religious organisations. The new law obliges “churches included in the structure of a religious organization, the center of which is located in the state that committed military aggression against Ukraine, to indicate such an affiliation in its name”. In fact, only one religious organisation in Ukraine - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - falls under the law. According to the new law, the renaming should take place within three months. If the religious organization is not renamed, then the parts of its Charter defining its name will be annulled. On December 22nd the law was signed by President Poroshenko.
Two more Church draft laws - No. 4128 (on changing the subordination of religious communities) and No. 4511 (on the special status of religious organisations) – were also included on the agenda of the Parliament for January 17th. According to the human rights activists of "Uspishna Varta", these draft laws are discriminatory against the canonical UOC and violate the equality of denominations before the law. These laws contribute to the direct pressure being put on the UOC and may lead to a violation of religious and civil peace in Ukraine. The UOC intends to appeal law No. 5309 in the constitutional court of Ukraine.
On January 10th the Cabinet of Ministers instructed the Ministry of Culture to check the registered statutes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church before the end of January. Experts suggest that the purpose of the planned examination is to determine whether the UOC has a religious center abroad. If it is established that a religious organisation is being managed from another state, then according to law No. 5309 it will be obliged to display this information in its name. The list of such organisations will be published by the "government courier", after which they will have three months to make changes to their own statutes.
Instances of UOC communities being demanded to enter the OCU and facts of UOC communities being evicted from temples have already been documented:
- On December 28th the clergy of the Vinnytsia and Tulchinsky diocese of the UOC received samples of protocols on the transition of their churches to the newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). Officials from the Vinnytsia regional state administration (a governmental body that is separated from the Church according to the Constitution of Ukraine) is involved in mailing these documents in the regions.
- On January 5th the community of the Vinnytsia Church of St. Aleksandr Nevsky (UOC) reported that they had to leave their premises because of the law on renaming the Church and the reluctance of its parishioners to side with the schism. "At the end of December we were shown the door, having being referred to draft law No. 5309 adopted by the Parliament. Legally speaking, we were told that if we do not move to the OCU, if we remain as we are, then, according to paragraph 5 of the law on renaming the Church, the agreement with us will be terminated and we must vacate the premises," said the rector of the Church Viktor Parandyuk. According to the rector of the Church, the community is ready to look for and equip a new room.
- On January 11th supporters of the OUC in the village of Vorsovka in the Zhytomyr region, with the support of the village council and activists from "Svoboda", held a gathering for in favour of transitioning to the newly formed structure. St. Nicholas Church was sealed off, and the rector was hospitalised due to a hypertensive crisis. Near the temple the skirmish continued. According to journalists, the UOC community did not let the crowd into the temple. The police were on duty at the scene and prevented clashes. The head of the village council insisted on sealing off the Church, allegedly so that "Moscow priests do not take away anything valuable". According to journalists, one of the priests was invited to have a conversation with the SBU.
- On January 13th the Svyato-Mikhailovsky temple in the village of Krasnovolya in the Manevitsky district (Volyn region) blocked off by activists of the OCU, who didn’t allow the ruling Bishop and the Abbot to enter the Church. In addition, according to eyewitnesses, the activists, disrupting the service, brought the priest of the Kiev Patriarchate along and declared him the new Abbot. Earlier, on December 30th, a group of activists organized a "gathering" in the Svyato-Mikhailovsky temple of the UOC, which they are not related to, and voted for its transition to the OCU. The rector of the Svyato-Mikhailovsky temple of the UOC of the village of Krasnovolya in the Manevitsky district, Archpriest Andrey Genalyuk, announced that it will contest in court the results of the illegitimate assembly.
- On January 13th the Orthodox community of the UOC of the village of Gnezdychnoye in the Zbarazhsky district (Ternopol region) had to defend their right to pray in their own Svyato-Preobrazhensky temple. At the moment there is no acute conflict in the village, the community of the UOC and the supporters of the "transition" to the OCU are approximately equal, with the latter possessing a small advantage. The villagers agreed to serve in turn: in the morning the UOC community with the rector and the Secretary of the Ternopol diocese Archpriest Stefan Balan will come to the Church, and after them the supporters of the OCU will serve. The community cannot divide property; there is no additional room where one of the parties could go.
- On January 13th the clergy of the Chernovtsi Diocese appealed to the local authorities with an open letter in which they call to put an end to the persecution of UOC clerics. The authorities exert pressure on the clergymen of the Gertsayevsky deanery (Chernovtsi diocese), inclining them to campaign for the OCU. The clergy asks the government of Ukraine to ensure their security and to defend their human rights.
All of these processes were accompanied by cases of vandalism against the churches and religious buildings of the UOC. Thus, in the night of December 26th to 27th in the village of Semenovka in the Belgorod-Dnestrovsky district of the Odessa region unknown persons organised a pogrom in the Church of the UOC, stole donations, and desecrated the Church premises. On January 10th in Uman, vandals desecrated the temple in honor of the icon of the Mother of God “Gorgoepikoos”. The attackers painted the inscription "ROC FSB?" on the building.
On December 17th the “People's Front” party called for the adoption of draft law No. 9068, which is aimed at "strengthening information security in Ukraine and countering the aggressor state". But in the previous sessional week the draft law was not included in the agenda. As a reminder, draft law No. 9068 stipulates fines and the deprivation of TV-radio broadcasting licenses for statements aimed at inciting hatred and enmity. According to human rights activists, if the draft law is adopted the National Council will have virtually unlimited opportunities to put pressure on, and even close, TV and radio companies that are undesirable for the authorities.
Before leaving for the New Year holidays, the Verkhovna Rada did not impose a moratorium on the carrying out of media checks during the 2019 presidential elections. This situation arose for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine. This was reported by the head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine Sergey Tomilenko, who said the current composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is hostile towards journalists. Earlier, on December 5th, the introduction of the moratorium was supported by the parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy.
On January 2nd 2019 employees of the SBU detained the founder of the "Glavnovosti" news website Pavel Karnazytsky. He was deported to Belarus and banned from entering Ukraine for 3 years. The SBU claimed that Karnazytsky conducted destructive activity in Ukraine, spreading anti-Ukrainian propaganda and fake information. The lawyer of Pavel Karnazytsky, Andrey Domansky, noted that his client was forced to leave Belarus because he was politically persecuted as a journalist and has thus lived in Ukraine since the late 90's. More about this situation can be read here.
The persecution of social network users. The SBU reported that during 2018 they were able to identify and block 360 cyber threats. 49 administrators of social networks, 29 of which were presented suspicion, were brought to justice for so-called "anti-Ukrainian propaganda", and 20 court sentences have already entered into force. As the human rights activists of "Uspishna Varta" previously reported, users of social networks who are detained for their posts are incriminated under political articles - state treason, calls to overthrow the constitutional system, and attacking territorial integrity. Under these articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine people can be sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment. Thus most detainees make a deal with the investigation and plead guilty in exchange for a suspended sentence.
On January 12th the SBU reported about another fact of someone being detained for posts of an “anti-Ukrainian character” on social networks. A resident of Odessa was detained when she returned to her city from Russia. Policemen searched her apartment and seized a computer and mobile phones, which allegedly contained “separatist materials”. It was also reported that the woman made posts on social network pages on the basis of materials from "Russian propaganda Internet publications and militant websites". The woman is charged under part 1 of article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (calls to change the state border and constitutional system of Ukraine).
New facts of physical violence against journalists and media editors related to their professional activities were recorded. On December 21t in Lvov "activists" with smoke bombs tried to break in to the editorial office of the Zaxid.net website. According to the publication, the picket and attempts to capture the editorial office were caused by publications about abuses in the allocation of land to ATO participants. "Activists" from the organisations "Development of Society", "National Corpus", and "Ukrainian Community of ATO participants" took part in the attack on the editorial board. The participants of the incident were accompanied by the police, who did not intervene or impede their actions.
Right-wing radical “activists” from the “C14” group attacked a number of offices of opposition political parties. The facts of such attacks were reported by C14 through their own resources. Thus, on December 19th “C14” attacked the representative office of the party "Nash" (headed by E. Murayev) in Dnepr. As proof they posted a photo showing unknown persons trample on the signs of the political force.
On January 4th representatives of “C14” painted offensive inscriptions on the entrance to the office of the Communist Party of Ukraine in Zhytomyr. Judging by the post of “C14”, the attack was the group’s reaction to the declaration of the Communist Party leader Petro Simonenko about his intention to participate in the 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine.
On January 10th in Krivoy Rog an attempt was made to murder the Deputy of the regional council from the "Batkivshchyna" party Vadim Mirzoyan. The attackers used a gas spray then strongly struck the Deputy’s head with a steel pipe. The Deputy was hospitalised with a cranio-cerebral trauma and numerous fractures. Information was entered into the Unified register of pre-trial investigations with a preliminary legal qualification under part 4 of article 296 (hooliganism), part 2 of article 15, and point 7 of part 2 of article 115 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (attempted murder). According to representatives of the "Batkivshchyna" party, the incident was politically motivated.
On January 11th in Kiev "activists" from "C14", the Kiev City Union of ATO veterans, and the "Azov" regiment tried to disrupt the Congress of the all-Ukrainian Union of Public Associations of Participants of Military Operations, Veterans of Military Service, and Law Enforcement Bodies. The participants of the event, who were mostly elderly people, were supposed to consider proposals from public activists and a number of public organizations to prevent the creation of a Ministry of Veterans and to return state funding to veteran organizations. "Activists", led by one of the leaders of the " C14" group Sergey Mazur, arrived at the event and tried to provoke the audience into a conflict. Security guards intervened in the dispute, but the representatives of radical groups refused to leave the meeting hall.
The "Right Sector" group prevented LGBT activists from coming to court. On January 11th the Kiev district administrative court continued its consideration of the case on the claim of the LGBT organization "We Exist" against the Chernovtsi regional council. However, the complainants refused to attend the hearing due to the presence of "activists" from the "Right sector" group. Earlier, in May 2018, the Chernovtsi regional council decided to ban the gay parade in the city. The organization "We Exist" filed a lawsuit demanding to recognize the actions of the Chernovtsi regional council as illegal and such that "incite discrimination based on sexual orientation and harassment."
On December 23rd the first elections of deputies and heads of United Territorial Communities (UTCs) were held in 78 United Territorial Communities in 13 regions. 345 local councils (9 city, 19 town, 317 villages) are included in the structure of 78 UTCs. There were no serious violations and restrictions of electoral rights during the elections. Among the violations – the use of administrative resources and the unlawful distribution of campaign materials. Initially, the elections had to be held in 125 United Territorial Communities. However, the Central Election Commission cancelled the elections in the regions where martial law was introduced.
On December 31st the electoral campaign for the March 2019 presidential elections was launched. The first facts of the electoral rights of citizens being restricted were established. Thus, the Central Election Commission moved 5 polling stations from the territory of the Russian Federation to the embassies of Ukraine in Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Finland in accordance with the corresponding resolution No. 274 from December 31, 2018. As was stated in April 2018, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavel Klimkin, Russia is home to about 3 million Ukrainians. Accordingly, the electoral rights of these citizens will be significantly limited during the 2019 presidential campaign.
In addition, on January 9th the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavel Klimkin said that observers from Russia would not be allowed to vote for the President of Ukraine. It is also reported that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry invited the OSCE to send an observation mission to the country.
There have been new instances of attacks on lawyers and human rights defenders representing defendants in crimes against national security and under other political articles. Thus, on December 24th the lawyer Valentin Rybin reported that unknown persons set fire to his car, which was parked in an underground car park near his house in Kiev. Rybin is sure that it was a deliberate arson designed to informally warn him about his activities in Ukraine. The lawyer Valentin Rybin participates on the side of the defense in a number of high-profile cases, such as the case of Nadezhda Savchenko and Vladimir Ruban, Stanislav Ezhov, Dariya Matikasheva, and others.
News about the cases that are constantly monitored by the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform:
On December 17th-18h the Shevchenkovsky court of Kiev hosted a regular hearing on the case of the Deputy Nadezhda Savchenko. On December 17th consideration was postponed due to the emergence of information about the court building being mined. On December 18th the court granted the motion of the Prosecutor for a 60-day extension of the measure of restraint imposed on Savchenko. The details of the trial can be read here.
On December 17th and 18th hearings were held in the Goloseevsky court of Kiev concerning the case of the "translator" Stanislav Ezhov. The Prosecutor tried to re-submit evidence allegedly confirming the guilt of Ezhov that he had previously submitted in court: a fragment of correspondence in which separate parts were corrected by a proof reader. The court expressed the need to understand the provided materials in the deliberation room, after which it will be able to assess the possibility of their use as evidence in the case of Ezhov. In addition, the court decided to leave Stanislav Ezhov in custody for another 60 days, until February 15th 2019. As a reminder, Ezhov was detained on December 20th 2017 and since that time he has been in custody in the Lukyanovka jail in Kiev without an alternative. He is accused of state treason (part 1 of article 111 of the Criminal Code). More about Ezhov's case can be read here.
On December 27th the Kherson city court extended the arrest of the editor-in-chief of RIA "Novosti Ukraine" Kirill Vyshinsky for one month. The journalist remains in custody until 27th January 2019.The defense intends to appeal the court's decision to extend the arrest. As a reminder, Kirill Vyshinsky was detained on May 15th by the Security Service of Ukraine during searches in his apartment and in the editorial office of RIA “Novosti Ukraine”. He is charged under article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (state treason), which does not stipulate an alternative measure of restraint other than detention. More details about the case of Vyshinsky can be read here.
On January 9th court hearings resumed in the Shevchenkovsky court of Zaporozhye concerning the case of the journalist Pavel Volkov, who spent more than a year in jail on charges of encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The trial collegium partially granted the defense’s motion to declare 7 of the 9 declared protocols as inadmissible evidence. According to the lawyer, this court decision contradicts the decision of the previous collegium, which recognized all 9 protocols as inadmissible evidence. The next hearing is scheduled for January 21st 2019. More details about the case of Volkov can be read here.
On January 10th another court hearing on the case of the journalist Vasily Muravitsky took place in the Korolevsky Court of Zhytomyr. The court decided to extend the measure of restraint imposed on the journalist in the form of around-the-clock house arrest for another 60 days. The next hearing will be held on February 25th. Recall that Muravitsky was detained by the Security Service of Ukraine on August 2nd 2017 on charges of treason, promoting terrorism, and attacking territorial integrity. After spending 11 months in a pre-trial detention center, on June 27th 2018 the court changed his measure of restraint to around-the-clock house arrest. More about the case of Muravitsky can be read here.
On January 2nd 2019 the public activist Oleg Litvinenko was sentenced to 3.5 years of imprisonment for his participation in a rally. The sentence of the Kamenka-Bugsky district court of the Lvov region was the result of a deal between the Prosecutor and the accused, in accordance with which Oleg Litvinenko admitted the guilt. After being in jail for more than 20 months - since March 30th 2017, the accused had actually served his sentence and thus the court released Oleg Litvinenko (under "Savchenko’s Law"). More details about the case of Livtinenko can be read here.
On December 17th the Kramatorsk city court changed the measure of restraint imposed on Nikolay Sidorenko to around-the-clock house arrest. As a reminder, on April 21st 2017 strangers, posing as police officers, kidnapped Nikolay Sidorenko from his workplace. During the period from April 21st to 24th they illegally detained and tortured him (they put a bag on his head, bound his hands with tape, and beat him on the back, head, and legs). After this he confessed in writing to committing a crime in 2014. Officially, detention was issued on April 24th 2017. Sidorenko was charged with committing serious crimes, including under article 260 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (creating paramilitary or armed groups that are not enshrined in the law). Nikolay Sidorenko spent almost 1.5 years in jail without an alternative.
Igor Dzhadan was detained by unknown persons on April 29th 2015 in Kharkov near the exit of the hospital where he worked as a doctor. During his arrest he was beaten. After three weeks of his freedom being illegally restricted, on May 21st Igor Dzhadan was taken to the SBU for questioning via an ambulance, where he was detained. After this the investigating judge elected a measure of restraint in the form of detention. The case of Igor Dzhadan has been without a court decision for more than 3.5 years. He has spent all this time in jail without an alternative.
The coordinator of "Uspishna Varta" managed to communicate with Igor Dzhadan during the last court hearing on his case. The full text of the interview, in which he spoke in detail about the prosecution and the progress of his case, the time spent in detention, as well as the state of his health and the conditions of detention in jail, can be read here.
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