March of UPA, attacks on “activists”, and Hungarians on “Mirotvorets”. Review of violations of civil and political rights in Ukraine. 8-21 October 2018

The “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform continues to report on violations of civil and political rights and freedoms in Ukraine.

First of all, we present to your attention the results of the quarterly monitoring of the observance of political and civil rights and freedoms in Ukraine for July-September 2018, prepared by the human rights platform “Uspishna Varta”.

Human rights activists recorded 68 instances of violations of political and civil rights and freedoms in the third quarter. This is 17% more than in the previous period. Journalists and bloggers (41% of violations), individual media agencies (10%), as well as political parties (15%), and religious organisations (13%) remain the most vulnerable to violations of rights in Ukraine. The leader in the number of human rights violations remains Kiev - 25 cases, and in second place is Odessa - 12. More details about the report can be found here.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OPINION

The new language law adopted by the Parliament at the first reading on October 4 may entail the closure of a number of Ukrainian media outlets. If the law comes into force, the only possibility to issue printed publications in the non-state language in Ukraine will involve the simultaneous release of a Ukrainian version. The “Kyiv Post”, the only fully-fledged separate English-language media in Ukraine, has already stated that it has a lack of resources for the release of a second newspaper. In the Lvov region the Russian-language magazine “Sho” is under the threat of no longer existing. The magazine may no longer be sold in the Lvov region, as the Lvov Regional Council decided on a moratorium on “Russian-language cultural products”.

Pressure is still being systematically put on independent media companies.On October 18 the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Andrey Parubiy signed resolution No. 9157, which stipulates that the introduction of sanctions against the “NewsOne” and “112 Ukraine” TV channels will be submitted for the consideration of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC). In addition, on October 11, the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting appointed an unscheduled inspection of the “NewsOne” TV channel, and on October 16 - the “112” TV channel, for allegedly spreading “clichés of Russian propaganda”. During the meeting on October 18 the National Council indefinitely postponed consideration of the results of the unscheduled inspection of “NewsOne”. The issue of the “112” channel, including the extension of licenses, was also postponed due to the court's decision to secure an administrative claim.

The employees of the “NewsOne” TV channel published an open letter that included an appeal to deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, members of the National Security Council, members of the National Council, and officials of all levels to exclude any political motives and to guarantee objectivity when considering any matter concerning the channel. In the letter, the “NewsOne” team reports thatpressure is constantly being put on it, and attempts to interfere with the editorial work of the channel are regularly made by various political forces and “aggressive pseudo-activists”.

Against the background of the situation with TV channels, journalists from these media agencies continue to be subjected to violence whilst performing their professional duties. Thus, on October 10 during clashes between nationalists from “C14” and policemen outside the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kiev, unknown persons in masks poured white liquid, allegedly kefir, on the correspondent of “NewsOne” AnastasiyaPshennchnaya and the TV channel's camera operator. Law enforcement bodies detained the perpetrator, but they were released two hours later.This is the second attack on a “NewsOne” journalist in the last month. As a reminder, on September 17, during clashes between radicals and police officers outside the building of the Prosecutor-General's Office, ice and eggs were thrown at the journalist of the “NewsOne” TV channel Darina Bilera, and then she was hit in the face. The nationalist who attacked the journalist was notified of suspicion only after significant public outcry and numerous requests from lawyers. On October 5 the court released under a personal commitment all 3 “activists” from the “C14” group who participated in clashes outside the Prosecutor-General's Office of Ukraine on September 17.

The representatives of “C14” who on September 28 attacked the lawyer Andrey Gozhy and the journalist Andrey Laktionov in the hall of the court in Zhytomyr still haven't been brought to justice. According to the representative of the police, the identity of the attackers has been established, and they are under investigation. The National Police justified the presence of armed members of “C14” and “National Corpus” at the hearing by referring to the rights to freedom of movement and speech. A video of the conflict is available on the YouTube channel of “Uspishna Varta”.

Regional journalists were also physically abused. Thus, on October 4 in the Druzhkovka City Council the mayor Valery Gnatenko refused to communicate with journalists from the “ZIK” TV channel and attacked the film crew with his fists.

The editor-in-chief of “RIA Novosti-Ukraine” Kirill Vyshinsky, who was detained by the SBU on May 15, 2018 continues to be kept in a pre-trial detention center in Kherson. On October 10, the Prosecutor's office said that the investigation into the case of Vyshinsky hadn't been completed, and the examination continues. At the same time, the Prosecutor refuted the information of the SBU from September 25 about the completion of the investigation into the case of the journalist. Vyshinsky's defence will insist on an independent medical examination of the journalist. During his stay in jail his illness has worsened.

September 27 marked exactly one year since the Ukrainian journalist Pavel Volkov was first jailed in a detention center in Zaporozhye. The courts prolongs his measure of restraint every two months. In an interview with the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform Volkov spoke about the conditions of detention and why the case against him is connected exclusively to political motives.

On October 16, the Borodyansky District Court of the Kiev Region held a preparatory hearing on the case of the journalist Dmitry Vasilets and his colleague Evgeny Timonin, who were previously sentenced to 9 years on charges of informational complicity with terrorism. The verdict was challenged in the Court of Appeal. At a hearing on October 16, the court granted the claim of the defence and returned the indictment to the prosecutor's office for revision, citing numerous violations during the pre-trial investigation and the inconsistency of the indictment with the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Code. In comment to the coordinator of “Uspishna Varta”, Dmitry Vasilets stressed that his9-year sentence was illegal and influenced by purely political motives. More details about the Vasilets-Timonin case can be read here.

In Ukraine the persecution of users of social networks for published posts continues. According to the prosecutor's office, a resident of the Lugansk region will be tried for making public anti-Ukrainian appeals on the social network “VKontakte”. Most of those arrested on such charges agree to reach a deal with the investigation and admit their guilt in exchange for a suspended sentence. During July-September such cases were recorded in Lutsk, Mariupol, and Melitopol.

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION

On October 11, at the Synod, the Ecumenical Patriarchate removed the anathema from the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) Filaret and the head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) Archbishop Makariya. Also, the Synod declared illegal the annexation of the Kiev Metropolitanate by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1686. According to President Poroshenko and a number of high-ranking state officials, this decision marks the beginning of the process of granting autocephaly (Tomos) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Two churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are asking the Supreme Court to declare illegal the decision of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which supported President Poroshenko’s appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with a request to grant Tomos (decree) of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. On October 5, the Cassation Administrative Court received a complaint from the religious community at the church of St. Nicholas of the Berdyansk Diocese of the city of Berdyansk, Zaporozhia region. The Gorodnitsky St. George Stavropegic Monastery of the Zhytomyr Diocese of the UOC also appealed to the court. The Supreme Court initiated proceedings and decided to consider the case in a simplified manner, i.e., without summoning the parties and within 60 days (before December 9).

At the same time, on October 18, the Parliament adopted draft law No. 9208, which was introduced by President Poroshenko as an urgent one. According to the law, the architectural monument of national importance St. Andrew's Church of the “Saint Sophia's Cathedral” national reserve is to be transferred to the free permanent use of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for worship, religious rites, ceremonies, and processions. According to lawyers, the transfer of specific state-owned objects is not within the powers of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which is defined by the Constitution of Ukraine. The management of state property is a constitutional prerogative of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

On the eve of the Intercession of the Theotokos of October 14, among the parishioners of the UOC there were concerns about the seizure of churches by representatives of nationalist groups. The Interior Minister Arsen Avakov publicly urged to refrain from provocations and violence motivated by religious hatred and promised that the ministry would firmly respond to offences. Contrary to fears, no such incidents were recorded on October 14. The exception was the situation at the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, where unknown persons attempted to stage a provocation. Police officers detained a group of unknown persons. According to eyewitnesses, the detainees weren't wearing any symbols.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

On October 14 in Ukraine a number of mass events took place for the official celebration of Day of the defender, as well as a number of religious gatherings, including with the participation of President Poroshenko. According to the National Police, more than 250,000 citizens attended them. According to the coordinators of the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform who carried out monitoring, there were no gross violations of the order or violations of the right to peaceful assembly. At the same time, a number of incidents and attacks involving nationalist organisations were recorded in Kiev.

  • Thus, in the afternoon of October 14, in Mariinsky Park, representatives of the “OUN” nationalist organisation made an attempt to demolish the monument to the Soviet General Nikolay Vatutin, who liberated Kiev in 1943. During the march of “OUN”, clashes with the police at the monument to the January Uprising were also recorded. Police pushed the nationalists away from the monument.
  • Near Independence Square protesters fought with the police because of an attempt to set up a tent. Activists tried to carry the tent to Independence Square, but the police took it away. As a result, a skirmish took place at the beginning of Mikhailovskaya Street.
  • On the evening of October 14, members of the “C14” and “Tradition and Order” nationalist organisations attacked the building where the office of the SDPU(o) Party, which was headed by Viktor Medvedchuk for many years, is located. The head of the “C14” public organizationEvgeny Karas stated that “Medvedchuk's office” had been attacked.

On October 11, representatives of the nationalist organization “Freikor” in Kharkov blocked the holding of the “Coming Out Fest” event in support of the LGBT community. According to the organisers of the event, the police did not intervene and did not offer effective solutions. Clashes were avoided. The police escorted the groups who came to “Coming Out Fest” to the subway.

During the monitoring period new cases of attacks on public “activists” were recorded. Thus, on the night of October 10 in Kiev, unknown persons threw a grenade into the apartment of the coordinator of the “C14” group Sergey Mazur. The police are investigating the attempted murder. Recall that in July Sergey Mazur was suspected of the pogrom of the Romani camp on Lysa Gora in Kiev on April 21. Mazur also took part in a number of attacks on public activists, human rights activists, and people who have an alternative point of view. In particular, on September 28, Mazur was present at the beating of the lawyer Andrey Gozhy and the journalist Andrey Laktionov in a courtroom in Zhytomyr, where a hearing on the journalist Vasily Muravitsky's case was being held.

On the night of October 15, unidentified persons set fire to the cars of an employee of the Kotsyubinsk village council (Kiev region) Dariya Aleksandrova and her husband. The victim assesses the incident as an attempt to put pressure on her in connection with her campaign to protect the Belichansky Forest from deforestation.

On October 19, in the Poltava region the journalist and politician Dmitry Gnap, who came to a session of the regional council, was doused with feces. Police found two men who attacked the journalist. Administrative material under Article 173 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences (petty hooliganism) was written against the violators, who will be sent to court in the future.

The investigation into the attack on the adviser to the mayor of Kherson and the activist Ekaterina Gandzyuk is continuing. The investigation suspects that five former ATO participants and members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, led by Dmitry Yarosh, were attacked. At one time these volunteers received state awards from President Poroshenko. The police reported that four of the five suspects in the attack on Gandzyuk confessed to committing the crime.

As a rule, representatives of nationalist organizations receive extremely “soft” sanctions for offences committed. Thus, the Desnyansky District Court of Kiev freed from criminal liability and granted bail to the participants of the pogrom of the market at the Lesnaya metro station (May 2017) Roman Shevchenko and Pavel Moroz. Another offender, Yaroslav Tkachenko, was sentenced to a minimum sentence of 1 year of probation.

DISCRIMINATION, HATE SPEECH, AND KINDLING HATRED

On October 9, more than 300 civil servants and deputies of Transcarpathia were added to the database of the “Mirotvorets” website. The first residents of Transcarpathia to receive Hungarian passports were even added to the database of the scandalous website on September 21. The Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, whose data was also entered into “Mirotvorets”, said that claims that the state of Ukraine is not related to this website are a lie. The minister added that the lists of the website contain personal data that cannot be found in open sources, and can only be obtained from the special services or sources in the government. Also, the minister was perplexed by the fact that one of the directors of a NGO, who led the “Mirotvorets” website, worked for the Ukrainian security service. According to the minister, Petro Poroshenko agreed to stage a “campaign of hatred”, thus trying to increase his popularity before the upcoming elections.

On October 18, the Verkhovna Rada supported via 234 votes the inclusion in the session’s agenda of two draft laws prohibiting the propaganda of the “Russian world” in Ukraine. Draft law No. 9200 stipulates a ban on the “imperial ideology of the aggressor state”, and in draft law No. 9139 it is planned to introduce the term “condemnation of the Russian world”. According to the lawyers of the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform, the adoption of these draft laws will pave the way for a groundless ban on the use of the Russian language and culture and a ban on the Orthodox faith, referring to the alleged ideas of involvement in, and commitment to, Russia, which contradicts the norms of the Constitution of Ukraine and international judicial practice.

MONITORING OF HUMAN RIGHTS CASES

The coordinators of “Uspishna Varta” monitored the following trials.

In the Goloseevsky Court of Kiev hearings continue to take place on the case of Stanislav Ezhov, the translator of the Prime Minister of Vladimir Groisman, who was charged with high treason. During the court hearings on October 8, 10, and 19, the prosecutor’s office presented a number of pieces of proof of the suspect’s guilt, some of which the court returned for revision. Thus, on October 8, the prosecutor showed the documents found at Ezhov's house with the planned activities of the Prime Minister, evidence of Ezhov's visit to St. Petersburg and Minsk, and screenshots of correspondence with the user “elenaprekrasnaya@mail.ru”. At the hearing on October 10, the prosecutor’s office provided a disk with a copy of the data from the defendant’s phone and a copy of the disk from his home laptop as evidence. The prosecutor also attached to the evidence a transcript of Stanislav Ezhov's home conversations with his wife and parents, where the defendant mainly discussed domestic issues, and also argued with his parents on historical topics. On October 19, the prosecutor read out on camera conversations between Vladimir Groisman and EU Commissioner Federica Mogherini, which allegedly contained valuable information for Ukraine and which, according to investigators, was disclosed by Stanislav Ezhov. Also, the prosecutor read out printouts of articles by Ukrainian analysts and political scientists that had allegedly been forwarded by the accused. The prosecutor did not provide any evidence that the read information was of a classified nature. The next court session is scheduled for October 26. Ezhov has been in jail since December 2017. More detail about Ezhov's case can be read here.

In the Starobelsk court of the Lugansk region, the interrogation of the prosecution's witnesses concerning the case of the politician Aleksandr Efremov continued. On October 16, four witnesses again did not appear for the hearing. Efremov was detained on July 30, 2016, and since then he has been detained in a remand prison for more than two years. The politician is accused of treason,encroaching on territorial integrity, creating a terrorist organization, and capturing state buildings.

On October 11 and 18, in Kiev's Shevchenkovsky court, the questioning of the victims in the case of General Aleksandr Shchegolev continued. Like in previous hearings, none of the persons interrogated knew the General personally and did not report anything that corresponded to the essence of the charges. At the same time, the judge once again refused to protect the defendant by changing the measure of detention to house arrest or bail. General Aleksandr Shchegolev has been in jail for more than three years. He is charged with illegally obstructing the holding of peaceful assemblies, rallies, and demonstrations and abusing his powers during the events of February 2014. In total, the case of the General involves 136 victims, and less than 30 of these victims have been questioned in three years.

On October 17, in the Shevchenkovsky Court of Kiev, a hearing was held on the case of the former head of the counterintelligence department of the SBU Vladimir Bik. The prosecutor’s office refused to re-arrest the accused, and the order of the case was changed. Vladimir Bik was detained by the SBU in November 2014 on charges of treason and has been in custody in a pre-trial detention center for 3 years. In October 2017 the preventive measure was changed to 24-hour house arrest. The courts sessions continue, and witnesses are being heard in the course of the case.

On October 12, in the Nikolaevsky Central Court, a meeting was held on the case of Sergey Dolzhenkov and Evgeny Mefedov, who are accused of organizing an Odessa-Nikolaev motor rally on March 28, 2014. Recall that Sergey Dolzhenkov and Evgeny Mefedov were imprisoned for more than 4 years without a court sentence. Initially, they were accused of organizing mass riots in the center of Odessa on May 2, 2014, for which they were threatened with imprisonment for a term of 5 to 8 years. In September 2017, all 19 defendants in the “May 2” case were acquitted, including Sergey Dolzhenkov and Evgeny Mefedov. But the SBU officers in the courtroom immediately charged them with new charges and re-imprisoned them in the pre-trial detention center. During the hearing the court heard three prosecution witnesses, who were able to confirm only the demonstration of symbols that weren't yet banned in the spring of 2014. During the testimony of witnesses several dozen “activists” entered the hall, mainly representatives of the “National Corpus” and “Azov” nationalist groups. They shouted and in every way hindered the work of the judicial panel. According to lawyer Valentin Rybin, the purpose of this case is to “show the citizens of Ukraine their force, thus influencing other members of society who do not support the current course of state authorities in Ukraine.” Read more in this interview.

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And a few words about our activities. We are pleased to announce that the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has included the recommendations of the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform in the final report on the results of the 2018 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw. Recommendations regarding the removal of restrictions on freedom of speech and opinion are addressed primarily to the President of Ukraine, the Parliament (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine), the National Council of Ukraine for Television and Radio Broadcasting, the Security Service and the National Security and Defense Council, the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Their implementation will ensure political pluralism and the principle of competitiveness on the eve of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

Remember that you can contact the human rights defenders of “Uspishna Varta”:

by calling the toll free hotline number: 0 800 20 40 04;

by sending an email to: info@uspishna-varta.com

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