Political prisoners in Ukraine started to be released

Political prisoners in Ukraine started to be released. Political and civil rights in Ukraine. 24-30 June 2019

The “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform welcomes the decision of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which declared as unconstitutional the provision of part 5 of article 176 (“General provisions on preventive measures”) of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine. This provision stipulated that persons suspected under the articles on terrorism, crimes against the foundations of national security of Ukraine, and obstruction of the activities of the Armed forces could not be subjected to a milder measure of restraint except for detention.

Now, under these articles, a measure of restraint in the form of detention is not mandatory. I.e., the suspects can be sanctioned in the form of house arrest or bail. Recall that over the past 5 years, human rights activists have recorded more than 500 cases where people were kept for long periods in detention without an alternative on charges of treason, attempts to overthrow the constitutional system, espionage, and other articles. As a rule, these articles were applied to journalists, politicians, and public figures that expressed alternative views in relation to the political situation in the state that were different to the government’s. We are talking about the politician Aleksandr Efremov, the journalists Kirill Vyshinsky, Vasily Muravitsky, and Pavel Volkov, the camera operator and director Oleg Sagan, the social activists Evgeny Mefedov and Sergey Dolzhenkov, and many others.

Human rights activists assess the decision of the Constitutional Court as the first step towards justice for political prisoners in Ukraine.

Although the decision of the Constitutional Court determines future law enforcement practices, immediately after its issuance there has been significant progress in the cases of political prisoners who have been in prison for a long time. Thus, on June 26th the court softened the measure of restraint imposed on General Aleksandr Shchegolev, changing it to house arrest. He spent almost 4 years in jail on charges of illegally obstructing peaceful assemblies and abusing power during the events of February 2014. During all of this time the hearing of his case continued, and in 4 years less than half of the 136 victims were interrogated. The details of the case of General Shchegolev can be found here.

Another positive signal is the decision of the Appellate Court of Zaporozhye from June 27th, which upheld the acquittal of the journalist Pavel Volkov. As a reminder, the journalist spent more than a year in jail on charges of encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. “We can't judicially punish someone because of a lack of patriotism,” reported the judge. More details about the case of Pavel Volkov can be read here.

At the same time, other Ukrainian political prisoners continue to be in prison. Thus, June 27th marks exactly one year since the Zhytomyr journalist Vasily Muravitsky has been under around-the-clock house arrest. Earlier, he spent 11 months in jail on charges of treason for his publications. The court ignores the arguments of his lawyers and refuses to cancel the measure of restraint imposed on the journalist. The human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” decided to offer a reminder about the details of this resonant case, which once again discredits law enforcement and the judicial system of Ukraine, which is already deprived of the trust of citizens.

On July 2nd the next hearing will be held in relation to the case of the official Stanislav Ezhov, who has been in a pre-trial detention center for 1.5 years on similar charges (since December 2017). Kirill Vyshinsky, editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine”, has also been in jail without an alternative measure of restraint for more than a year; the next hearing on his case will be held on July 3rd. The human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” call on the Ukrainian and international public to pay maximum attention to these cases in order to help ensure fair justice for Vyshinsky, Ezhov, and other people who have been in custody for a long time without court sentences or substantiated charges.

THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND OPINION

In addition to the criminal prosecution of journalists who possess an alternative point of view, impunity for committing physical attacks against journalists and media outlets remains one of the main threats to freedom of speech in Ukraine.

Thus, the media holding company “Vesti Ukraine” declared that the police extremely slowly investigate the facts of the vandalism, theft, and deliberate destruction of the holding company’s property, and also the hindrance of journalistic activity as a result of the capture of the agency’s office in February 2018. In addition, as it became known to the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta”, the entrepreneur Lyudmila Rusalina - whose company has a direct relationship to the attack against, and capture of, the “Vesti” media holding company - registered as a candidate for people's deputies in district number 197 in the city of Zolotonosha and Kanev in the Cherkassy region. Observers have already recorded the facts of indirect voter bribery carried out by the team of Rusalina.

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The defendants in the attack on the Kharkov journalist Vadim Makaryuk (June 7th) were arrested and placed under house arrest. Investigators reported a notice of suspicion to three persons involved in the attack against the journalist. According to the Prosecutor's office, on June 7th in Kharkov two local citizens at first threatened Vadim Makaryuk, then pursued and beat him up. In addition, one of the suspects, a 37-year-old man, picked up the victim’s camera and broke it. As a result of the incident, the victim was hospitalised. Doctors diagnosed a haemorrhagic stroke that happened as a result of a brain haemorrhage after being beaten up.

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Despite the general liberalisation of the policy towards journalists possessing an alternative point of view, in Ukraine users of social networks continue to be persecuted for their published publications. On June 25th the SBU reported the detention of a resident of Mariupol (Donetsk region), who allegedly called to change the borders of Ukraine on banned social networks, promoted Russian politicians for personal gain, and incited protests. As in most cases related to the prosecution of users of social networks, the SBU did not disclose the identity of the detainee, but only published his video confession. Within the framework of open criminal proceedings, the resident of Mariupol was handed a notice of suspicion for the commission of a crime under part 1 of article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“Encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine”). As a rule, in such cases, the “suspects” are put under pressure and agree to make a deal with the investigation and to receive suspended sentences. Earlier, the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” reported that in June there were 3 instances of users of social networks being persecuted because of their posted publications. Detentions for expressing one’s own opinion on one’s social network pages took place in Zaporozhye, Odessa, and Kiev.

THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION

Supporters of the church structure “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), which is subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and was established under the auspices of the former President Petro Poroshenko during his electoral campaign, continue to attack the temples and church houses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). Thus, last week threats made to the priest of the UOC by representatives of the OCU community in the village of Buderazh in the Rovno region (June 27th) were recorded. The UOC has also announced yet another attempt to capture the temple in the village of Luka-Malesevskaya in the Vinnytsia region (June 30th).

In addition, there is a trend involving the “activists” of the new church of the OCU also taking over the temples of the UOC of the Kiev Patriarchate. These processes began immediately after the head of the UOC-KP Filaret, who had earlier campaigned for the OCU, sharply criticised the new church and its head Epifany, and also questioned the autocephaly received from Constantinople. One of such high-profile incidents happened in Odessa, where on June 25th, in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, during a conflict, supporters of the OCU blocked the church and sprayed gas at members of the UOC-KP who were trying to get inside.

ELECTIONS 2019. THE RIGHT TO ELECT AND BE ELECTED

In Ukraine the process of registering candidates for participation in the early parliamentary election on July 21st 2019 has been completed. 22 parties, on the lists of which there are 2,760 candidates, as well as 3,174 candidates in the majority districts, will attend the election. The process of preparing for the election takes place in accordance with the timeframe and requirements of the legislation.

One of the main violations at the moment is indirect voter bribery by candidates through charity events and the distribution of gifts in their districts. According to the National Police, as of June 2oth 203 violations have been reported since the start of the electoral campaign. Among them most of all there are voter bribery - 50 reports - and violations of the established rules of campaigning – 111 reports. According to these reports, police investigators have initiated 6 criminal proceedings.

It is also known that on June 26th, the Pechersky district court of Kiev decided to dismiss the mayor of the city of Vasilkov in the Kiev region Vladimir Sabadash for bribing voters during the presidential campaign.

During the parliamentary campaign acts of violence against individual candidates and attacks on the offices of the parties involved in the electoral process were also recorded. Thus, on June 27th unidentified persons attacked the office of the party “Opposition Platform - For Life” in Kharkov. On the same day in Konotop in the Sumy region, the former mayor of this city and candidate for people's deputies Artem Semenikhin was attacked. The politician is known for his radical nationalist views and actions.

MONITORING HUMAN RIGHTS CASES

In the Kommunarsky district court of Zaporozhye, due to the unavailability of the judge, the hearing appointed for June 25th on the case of the Makeevka drivers didn't take place. As a reminder, Sergey Sergeyev and Andrey Gorban are accused of financing terrorism by transporting pensioners from Donetsk to Zaporozhye so that they could receive pension payments. On April 24th 2019 the court released the drivers from custody. Prior to this, they spent 2.5 years in jail without sentencing. After the court decision, Sergeev and Gorban for a month and a half have not been able to retrieve their documents. And if for some reason this does take place before July 8th, they will remain without documents at least until the autumn, because the judges go on vacation from the end of July to the beginning of September.

The details of the case of the Makeevka drivers can be read here.


Download Political and civil rights in Ukraine. 24 - 30 June 2019


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