Sanctions against the “NewsOne” and “112”, the hunger strike of Sentsov and Kovalenko, the fight against the “Russian world”. Review 1-7 October

The human rights platform “Uspishna Varta” continues to report about violations of civil and political rights and freedoms in Ukraine. The details of the Parliament's vote for sanctions against the two most popular news channels in Ukraine and other legislative initiatives that threaten freedom of speech, political prisoners in Ukrainian prisons, and new facts of aggression against the parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are in the review for October 1 – 7, 2018.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OPINION

On October 4, the Parliament voted for resolution No. 9157, which stipulates the imposition of sanctions on the “112 Ukraine” and “NewsOne” TV channels in accordance with the consideration of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC). This concerns the blocking of assets, the cancellation or suspension of licenses, the prohibition of the use of the radio frequencies of Ukraine, and the prohibition of transferring technology, intellectual property rights, and others. The NSDC has already stated that it is ready to consider the decision as soon as they receive the relevant documents. If sanctions are imposed, 2 of the most popular and independent news channels may disappear from the Ukrainian airwaves. According to the assessment of human rights defenders, the resolution of the Parliament contradicts the Constitution (articles 15, 34) and a number of international documents ratified by Ukraine (article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Helsinki Declaration of 1975).

The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine called the decision of deputies illegal and recalled that the activities of the media are regulated by the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting, as well as the courts, but not politicians.The OSCE representative for freedom of the media Harlem Desir expressed deep concern over any future decision to terminate or potentially block the regular functioning of the media in Ukraine. "I urge the Ukrainian authorities to refrain from taking disproportionately restrictive measures against the media without due process of law, because it will have a negative impact on free access to information and prevents the expression of a diversity of opinions," said Harlem Desir.

Earlier, on October 3, the Rada Committee on freedom of speech considered the instances of a number of Ukrainian media outlets being pressured. During the meeting of the Committee, in the presence of representatives of law enforcement agencies, the facts of pressure being put on “NewsOne”, the Internet newspaper “Strana.ua”, as well as journalists whose rights have recently been violated, were announced and considered.

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In addition, a number of initiatives have been adopted or registered in Parliament that will have a direct impact on the functioning of the media and the work of journalists. Thus, draft law No.5670-d “On ensuring the functioning of Ukrainian as the state language” was submitted for the first reading. It stipulates that the printed media must be published in Ukrainian - it can be published in other languages if the content is completely identical to the Ukrainian-language original. Electronic media should have a page in Ukrainian, which should be loaded by default as the home page. According to the preliminary estimates of representatives of the media, if this law is adopted, a number of Ukrainian media agencies may be closed due to a significant increase in financial costs.

The Verkhovna Rada Committee on Information Policy and Freedom of Speech recommended that the Parliament adopt at the first reading draft law No. 9068, which stipulates the imposition of fines and the cancellation of licenses of TV and radio channels for broadcasting statements that aim to incite hatred and enmity.According to human rights activists, if the draft law is adopted the National Council will have a virtually unlimited amount of possibilities to put pressure on TV and radio companies that are undesirable for the authorities, and to even close them down.

Draft law No. 9139 on the condemnation and prohibition of the "Russian world" in Ukraine was also registered in the Parliament. According to its author, the document proposes to recognize the ideology of the "Russian world" as “fascist, chauvinistic, and misanthropic and to ban it in Ukraine”.

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The international organisations “Amnesty International”, “Human Rights Watch”, “Freedom House”, and “Frontline Defenderscalled to take action concerning the attacks against activists and human rights defenders in Ukraine. According to these organizations, more than 50 attacks on activists and human rights defenders have been recorded over the past 9 months. Among the victims of the attacks are people working in the areas of defending LGBTQ rights, environmental protection, and anti-corruption. The President of “Freedom House” Michael J. Abramowitz during his visit to Kiev also stated that paramilitary, right-wing groups, and other illegal formations in Ukraine are using beatings, killings, and the intimidation of civic activists as a tool to silence undesirable people.

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According to the National Union of journalists of Ukraine (NUJ), seven incidents involving the use of force against journalists happened in September. Most of the victims are women. In general, according to the NUJ, since the beginning of the year in Ukraine 64 manifestations of physical aggression against journalists have been documented.From the recent incidents: in Kiev on the night of September 29 journalists from the “ICTV” TV channel were attacked during a police operation to identify drunk drivers. One of the detainees attacked journalists, damaged the camera, and then punched a journalist. As a result of this criminal proceedings were initiated.

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On September 29, unknown persons carried out an arson at the house of the head of the public human rights organization “Mi Razom” and journalist of the newspaper “Legal control of Ukraine” Artur Zhurbenko. According to the human rights activist, the fire in his house in the Zhytomyr region happened at night on September 29. On the eve of the Starobilsk court hearing he actively studied the activities of judges involved in the case of the politician Aleksandr Efremov.

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According to the statistics for 2015-2017, 96% of the crimes committed against journalists in Ukraine remain unsolved or judicial proceedings are delayed. Thus, on October 2, in the Korolevsky district court of Zhytomyr the next court session concerning the case of the assault committed against the Zhytomyr journalist Ruslan Kunavin (alias “Ruslan Moroz”) took place. The examination of the evidence was completed and the next court hearing, scheduled for 23 November, will already involve a debate and a verdict. “Uspishna Varta” is providing legal protection of the journalist’s interests. As a reminder, the attack and robbery were carried out in June, 2017, the suspects were detained, but the court hearings were postponed for more than a year.

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The editor-in-chief of the Internet newspaper “Strana.ua” Igor Guzhva was granted political asylum in Austria. He left Ukraine in early 2018. The journalist himself reported this. Immediately after this news broke the Shevchenkovsky district court of Kiev received a claim from the Prosecutor's office to change the measure of restraint of Igor Guzhva. Prosecutors demanded to take him into custody concerning the case of extortion, but the court refused to satisfy this claim.

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Ukrainian Director Oleg Sentsov, serving a 20-year term in Russia, stopped the hunger strike that he started back in May. This was stated by the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia. The hunger strike lasted 145 days. He named the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia as a condition for its termination. As a reminder, Sentsov was detained in May 2014 in Simferopol on charges of preparing a terrorist attack. International organisations and the government of Ukraine consider the verdict politically motivated and call for the release of Sentsov.

Meanwhile, the political prisoner Eduard Kovalenko, who is in prison in Kherson, has been starving for already 50 days and demanded that the Ukrainian authorities release all political prisoners who are in Ukrainian prisons. Kovalenko was sentenced on May 15, 2017 to 5 years in prison for participating in an anti-mobilization rally in Genichesk (Kherson region) in January 2015, where he voiced statements against mobilization and against the war in Donbass.

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The journalist Kirill Vyshinsky continues to be in prison in Kherson. His lawyer said that the next hearing of the Court of Appeal, scheduled for October 2, was cancelled in connection with the liquidation of the court. Vyshinsky was detained by the SBU on May 15, 2018 and accused of treason for his journalistic activities. From the moment of detention to the present day no alternative to detention has been provided. On September 25, the Security Service announced the completion of the investigation of criminal proceedings, and that the materials are being prepared for transfer to the court.

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On October 1 in the Ivano-Frankovsk branch of the SBU the journalist Ruslan Kotsaba and his lawyer familiarized themselves with the materials that allegedly update the cases of high treason and disrupting mobilisation. Previously, the court returned the proceedings to the Prosecutor's Office as being non-compliant with regulatory requirements. According to the journalist, the charges have not changed, the evidence also remained the same, but all of this litigation is necessary only to prevent the case being considered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As a reminder, Ruslan Kotsaba was arrested by the SBU on February 7, 2015. He was accused of high treason and disrupting mobilisation for the fact that in January 2015 on his YouTube channel he called to ignore illegal mobilisation. The journalist had no alternative but to stay in jail for 524 days. In the spring of 2016, the court sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison. But in the summer, July 14, 2016 the Court of Appeal fully acquitted and released the journalist. Since that time the case has repeatedly moved to different instances until it was returned back to the Prosecutor's Office.


FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION


Tension in society concerning the issue of autocephaly and the creation of a united local church persists. On October 2, in Rovno, four representatives of a right-wing radical group in balaclavas threw stones at a bus transporting Ukrainian Orthodox Church parishioners, who were traveling to Kiev for a standing prayer in defence of canonical Orthodoxy. Women and children who were already inside the bus were very frightened by the events. According to eyewitnesses, the male pilgrims tried to detain one of the attackers, but he used tear gas and managed to escape. Despite the obstacles, the followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church managed to hold a standing prayer, having reached Kiev in private cars.

THE RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE IN POLITICAL LIFE

The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine registered draft law No. 9097, which stipulates the deprivation of the right to vote in elections for "committing crimes against the foundations of national security", as well as for persons who "opposed democracy". The author of the initiative is the Deputy Ruslan Sidorovich ("Self-Help" party). Human rights defenders from “Uspishna Varta” note that draft law No. 9097, in its current form at least, contradicts article No. 70 of the Constitution of Ukraine and is discriminatory.


MONITORING OF HUMAN RIGHTS CASES

On October 4 a hearing took place on the case of the athlete Darya Mastikasheva, who has been in a pre-trial detention center for more than a year.The lawyer asked the judges to hold hearings on the case of the accused every day, since the current composition of the judges expires in 2 weeks. The judges rejected it, citing excessive employment. The judges also refused to change the preventive measure to house arrest, extending her detention for another 2 months. Recall that the SBU suspects Mastikasheva of recruiting veterans of the ATO in the East of Ukraine to simulate terrorist attacks in Russia, which the Russian security services could then use to discredit the Ukrainian authorities. The lawyer of Mastikasheva has repeatedly proclaimed that the charges are false and that his client was kidnapped and tortured. Darya has been in prison for more than a year and has not been able to see her little son. More details about the case Darya Mastikasheva can be read here.

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On October 5, after a week of daily sessions on the case of the politician Aleksandr Efremov, the Starobilsk court extended the measure of restraint in the form of detention for another 2 months, until December 3. The official wording of the court decision states that despite the presumption of innocence, there is a state interest in the case of Aleksandr Efremov, as well as a military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which outweighs the right of personal freedom.


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