Odessa activists released after spending 5 years in prison without a court verdict. Civil and political rights in Ukraine. August 4 - 18, 2019

Odessa activists released after spending 5 years in prison without a court verdict. Civil and political rights in Ukraine. August 4 - 18, 2019

RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OPINION

The factor of freedom of speech remains excessively politicised in Ukraine. Thus, former president Petro Poroshenko announced that an attempt to raid and takeover the “Pryamoy” TV channel was ongoing. As a reminder, earlier Poroshenko denied his involvement in this television channel, which takes an extremely complementary position towards him. The statement was made after an interrogation at the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). The director of the department said that the bureau is not trying to seize the TV channel, and that the former president has turned into a politician who is engaged in a “substitution of concepts”. The SBI also noted that the bureau does not have any proceedings that would concern the activities of the channel, but there are proceedings regarding possible tax evasion when selling this channel. Experts, including representatives of the National Union of Journalists (NUJU), recall that it was precisely the former President Poroshenko who has been at the forefront of the persecution of freedom of speech in Ukraine over the past 5 years. In relation to the former President Poroshenko and his entourage, more than 12 criminal proceedings concerning corruption, abuse of power, and illegal enrichment are currently under investigation.

Meanwhile, one of the main obstacles to freedom of speech in Ukraine remains physical violence against Ukrainian journalists and the media. According to the head of the NUJU, Sergey Tomilenko, in 2017-2018 there were 175 cases of attacks on journalists. According to him, the persons who attacked media employees, in essence, receive a formal punishment in the form of fines in the amount of 1,000 hryvnia.

In the case of the journalist Ruslan Kunavin, who was attacked in August 2017, justice was achieved. Earlier, the Korolevsky District Court of the city of Zhytomyr found the attackers guilty of an offense under Part 2 of Article 187 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“Robbery committed by a group of persons”), and sentenced everyone to 5 years in prison with a 3-year delay in executing such a sentence without the confiscation of property. The Court of Appeal toughened the sentence of the attackers; now each of them has been sentenced to 5 years in prison with the confiscation of half of the property. They are also obliged to compensate the journalist for moral and material damage. The interests of the journalist in court were represented with the support of the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform.

RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND CONFESSION

After the former president Petro Poroshenko’s defeat in the election (April 2019), we can generally speak of a significant reduction in the level of state intervention in religious matters. Thus, on August 8th, following a meeting between the new President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul, a joint statement was not signed, and the President’s Office emphasised that “the government should not interfere in church affairs”.

In addition, an electronic petition appeared on the website of the President of Ukraine to annul the decision to transfer the Andreevsky church to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was implemented in 2018 at the suggestion of the former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

At the same time, in the Western regions of Ukraine, the practice of forcibly capturing UOC churches and issuing threats to believers continues.

Thus, in the village of Pyatigory in the Rovno region, “activists” of the OCU gave the oncological abbot of the previously taken UOC temple 1 month before he would be evicted along with his family from the church house in which they lived for 27 years. The capture of the temple itself took place on April 20th; a deputy of the local Zdolbunovsky district administration headed it.

Believers and the clergy of the Volyn and Vladimir-Volyn dioceses of the UOC urge President Vladimir Zelensky to protect their constitutional rights. Believers report that after the creation of the OCU, the "activists" of this organisation develop this structure exclusively at the expense of the property of the UOC. It is noted that the "activists" of the OCU, most often with the support of administrative resources and the military influence of paramilitary radical groups, ruin temples and capture real estate - both churches and priestly housing of the UOC. Believers emphasised that, despite their appeals to law enforcement bodies, crime investigations are sabotaged or conducted improperly.

MONITORING HUMAN RIGHTS CASES

In Ukraine, processes aimed at releasing political prisoners are still ongoing. Actual impetus was given to them after the decision of the Constitutional Court from June 25th 2019, which recognized part 5 of Article 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine as unconstitutional (see the review of “Uspishna Varta” for July 1-7). Politically accused people who had been detained for 1 to 5 years with no alternative and without a court sentence were given the opportunity to go on house arrest or another measure of restraint.

Thus, on August 16th 2019, after spending 5 years in a pre-trial detention center without sentencing, the court changed the security measure imposed on the Odessa activists Sergey Dolzhenkov and Evgeny Mefedov to bail. Both have been in custody since May 2014. Initially, they were charged with organising riots in the case of May 2nd 2014 in Odessa. After their acquittal in 2017, they were charged with new - calls to overthrow the constitutional order - for organising the rally Odessa-Nikolaev on March 28th 2014. During this entire time Dolzhenkov and Mefedov, despite the work of the lawyers aimed at changing the measure of restraint, have been in jail without an alternative. At the court hearings in Nikolaev there were representatives of local right-wing radical groups, who repeatedly put pressure on the court and the defence. On August 16th the Central District Court of Nikolaev ruled that Mefedov and Dolzhenkov had the right to be released on bail for 153,000 hryvnia each.

However, a number of political prisoners are still in custody.

Thus, the journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, who was charged with committing state treason for publishing on the “RIA Novosti” website, has remained in custody since May 2018 without an alternative measure of restraint. The hearing of the Kiev Court of Appeal was rescheduled for August 20th, where the complaint of Vyshinsky’s lawyer concerning the extension of his detention should be considered. Earlier, on July 19th, the court found no reason to change the measure of restraint imposed on the journalist and extended his detention even before September 19th. More details about the case of Vyshinsky can be found here.

On August 14th the Korolevsky Court of Zhytomyr extended for another 2 months the measure of restraint in the form of house arrest imposed on the journalist Vasily Muravitsky. During the hearing, the court also upheld the prosecutor's motion to re-examine the journalist’s guilt. Muravitsky’s lawyer suggests that re-examining the materials of the journalist’s case may take another 2 years. Recall that Muravitsky was detained by the SBU in August 2017 on charges of state treason because he entered into a standard labour contract with an international Russian editorial office, where he published his analytical column. The journalist has been in jail for 11 months and has been under house arrest for more than a year. More details about the case of Muravitsky can be found here.

For two years now the athlete Dariya Mastikasheva has remained in custody without a court sentence. She has been charged with state treason, and court hearings are being delayed. On August 8th the Dneprovsky Court of Appeal did not approve the lawyer's request to change the measure of restraint imposed on Mastikasheva and left her in custody. The next hearing is scheduled for August 30th. More details about this case can be found here.

The trial of the entrepreneur Andrey Tatarintsev in Zaporozhye is also being delayed. The court hearings on his case that were scheduled for August 13th and 14th did not take place due to the employment of the military prosecutor in other trials. The businessman was detained in the autumn of 2017 on charges of financing terrorism - due to the transfer of fuel to a children's hospital in Lugansk. Lawyers have repeatedly stated that Tatarintsev is not provided with the medical care he requires. More about this case can be found here.

The 85-year-old Mekhti Logunov, who was detained by the SBU on August 17th 2017 on charges of state treason for allegedly collecting for Russia classified information about Ukraine’s defence orders, reported about torture in a Kharkov prison. On July 30th 2018 Logunov was sentenced to 12 years in prison under Part 1 of Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. The consideration of his appeal was postponed twice already; the next hearing is scheduled for September 3rd 2019. In his open appeal to international human rights organizations, Logunov asks to pay attention to the abuse and torture of prisoners by law enforcement bodies in Ukraine.

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We are pleased to announce that on July 23rd the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN granted special consultative status to the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform. Thanks to this status, the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” will receive more opportunities to directly communicate with UN structures, to participate in discussions and organise their own events at UN sites, and also to inform the international organisation about the human rights situation in Ukraine.

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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