OSCE HDIM 2018 Uspishna Varta Side Event. Freedom of Speech and Opinion in Ukraine: Threats and Opportunities

Freedom of Speech and Opinion in Ukraine: Threats and Opportunities side event was organized by Uspishna Varta on 11 September 2018. The event took place in the framework of the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), held by the OSCEOffice for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw between 10 and 21 September 2018.

The participants of the event discussed the freedom of speech situation in Ukraine in order to search jointly for ways to decrease the pressure on independent media and remove obstacles to the freedom of online exchange of information; these emerged as a part of declared "fight against the Russian hybrid aggression".

Ukrainian journalists, human rights campaigners, nongovernmental activists and Ukrainian media representatives spoke at the event.

Below you may find full video report and speeches by the participants of the roundtable.

Natalia Natalina, Uspishna Varta Chair, and Olga Semchenko, Vesti Ukraina Media Holding CEO, were moderators of the side event.

Natalia Natalina: "The last four years saw the introduction of several amendments to the Ukrainian legislation, which severely limited the freedom of information exchange, as well as created conditions for disproportionate sanctions against independent media. Among the recent draft laws, bill #6688 provides for extrajudicial blocking of websites; the bill is to be considered at the current parliamentary session".

Vladimir Chemeris, a famous Ukrainian human rights campaigner and the Head of Respublika Institute, told about the freedom of speech and choice in Ukraine, stressing that it is possible to hold such a roundtable in Warsaw, but not in Kiev. Any such event is subjected to attacks by ultra-right groups, vividly demonstrating the level of freedoms in Ukraine.

Vladimir Chemeris: "I'd like to comment on the freedom of expression in Ukraine. Even this event demonstrates the situation in Ukraine. Before this event, Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine (that is also called the Ministry of Truth in Ukraine) already told what would be discussed here, and condemned our event per se.

Actually, I'm not going to comment on the Deputy Minister's Facebook post. I'm not going to talk about violations of freedom of speech and assembly in the Russian Federation. There are no less or even more violations there than in Ukraine. There are huge violations there. Nevertheless, we discuss the current situation in Ukraine.

The publication that we're discussing is illustrative of thesituation in Ukraine. After all, even the discussion of the question whether there's freedom of expression in Ukraine immediately raises huge resistance from Ukrainian government circles.

Regrettably, I think that such an event, had it taken place in Ukraine, would be immediately attacked by ultra-right or liberal supporters of the incumbent government. You see, indeed, propaganda does exist in Ukraine, and, indeed, there are yet limited opportunities to express one's opinion.

I speak of propaganda because of the following reason. Mr. Désir [Harlem Désir,the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media - UV] in his brochure "Aide memoire. Bureau of OSCE Representation" actually speaks about the difference between propaganda and freedom of speech. He also said that a dialogue is needed. You see, we're not offered a dialogue in Ukraine. We are offered a vision where there's the official point of view and the other point of view that is instantly labeledthe point of view of the fifth column, of the Kremlin etc. Therefore we must speak about it. Indeed it's easier for us to talk here, outside Ukraine, because it's unsafe to speak about that in Ukraine.

The freedom of expression includes freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of choice. As regards the freedom of assembly, we see the changing trend since the 2014 events at Maidan. While we saw court injunctions [of peaceful assemblies - UV] earlier, nowadays there are no such injunctions de facto. However, if you want to hold any action contradicting the point of view of the government or the ultra-right openly Nazi formations, you won't be able to do so. You will be attacked while thepolice won't interfere or even display connivance; you won't be able to express your opinion.

For example, Eduard Kovalenko was sentenced to five years in prison and serves his sentence now for merely expressing his opinion regarding the 2014 mobilization. He was officially indicted under the Criminal Code article named counteraction to the armed forces, while he was charged because of the statements he made at a rally. In fact, you can get a five year imprisonment for speaking at a meeting. By the way, Eduard Kovalenko is on a hunger strike now.

I want to comment on the freedom of speech. There were already some comments made here today regarding the bills aimed at curtailing the freedom of speech. Several websites were blocked by apresidential decree, even in the absence of relevant legislation. Now two bills have been submitted for parliamentary consideration. One of them provides for extrajudicial blocking of websites, contrary to the Constitution. The second bill has not been made public yet, but it is named the so-called "information security initiate".

In reality, they intend to tell you what you may say, withcriminal prosecution for saying the prohibited things. 388 cases have been opened against people who wrote social media posts disliked by the Security Service of Ukraine. There's criminal prosecution of these people. As a rule, they end with plea agreements in exchange for probation terms. This means that these people cannot refer to the European Court of Justice because it's assumed that they recognized their guilt.

Let me comment on the freedom of choice. Next March we'll have elections. Before these elections, our President spouts several bills, including amendments to the Constitution etc. These amendments are designed to consolidate the right-leaning electorate around his person. Our Constitutional Court has recongnized the Law on Referendum unconstitutional. De facto, a referendum cannot take place in Ukraine. This means that they won't ask the people about their opinion regarding certain matters.

However, I deem another question most important. Several years ago in Warsaw, I had a meeting with a representative of Ukrainian law enforcement. I told him that Ukraine was different from Russia because Russia wanted to be a gendarme. Ukraine's strength is its democracy and, most importantly, freedom.

Regrettably, the situation is completely different now. We used to have freedom thanks to civic society. The following happened to our civic society. There are people in this room who spent time in jail or were accused not because they committed some violent acts, but merely because they expressed their opinion. People who call themselves human rights campaigners or journalists are unready and unwilling to support them. They say it's alright, they are properly imprisoned. They say that Nadia Savchenko, a famous Ukrainian MP, was wrongly jailed in Russia, but properly jailed in Ukraine. This creates a huge problem in the current situation, when the civic society is not ready tooppose totalitarian initiatives of the government and the ultra-right. I want my speech and today's discussion to motivate the civic society to oppose the developments in Ukraine. There's no other way to resolve this problem".

Amidst total state censorship of Ukrainian TV channels and media, independent YouTube channels and bloggers conducting own journalist investigations become the main source of information for many Ukrainians. The channel of media expert Anatoly Sharij is one of the most famous. Anatoly Sharij's colleague Olga Sharij, Chief Editor of sharij.net website and a popular YouTube blogger, told about the Internet freedom of speech and the attempts to block popular opinion leaders.

Olga Sharij: "I cannot recall a single month, let alone a year, of Petro Poroshenko's rule without pressure on us as journalists. Me and my husband Anatoly Sharij [a famous Ukrainian blogger and founder of "Anatoly Sharij" YouTube channel - UV] possess YouTube channels, our own news site, and we have some of the most popular pages in Ukraine's social networks.

One of our latest investigations led to exposure of a neo-Nazi consul who worked [at Ukrainian ConsulateGeneral - UV] in Hamburg. The investigation draw the attention of global press, resulting in the recall and dismissal of the consul by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

We also revealed that a political prisoner depicted by the presidential administration as a hero was, in fact, a criminal who fled from Ukrainian justice into Russia. As a result, the presidential administration cancelled its PR campaign of Alexander Kostenko, and Ukraine's Security Service made a special statement in this regard. These are just some examples of our recent investigations.

I don't mention our daily exposures of the Ukrainian government and the fakes produced by the Ukrainian media. Therefore, regrettably, it's not surprising that, in their opinion, such a popularity in Ukraine must work for thebenefit of the government or not work at all..

Our investigations are quite inconvenient and dangerous for Poroshenko on the eve of elections. Two new criminal cases were opened in Ukraine against my husband, who happens to be the first Ukrainian journalist who received asylum in the EU. These two cases joined the two other criminal cases unresolved during the last seven years.

Thus, in 2017 the Kiev branch of the National Police registered the following report - I quote: an unidentified person in Solomensky District of Kiev at unestablished time could have committed actions related to debauchery of youth; they wanted to check whether Anatoly Sharij committed the crime. Despite the investigator's decision to close the case in February 2018, he was ordered by a court to reopen the case in several weeks, because the investigator had failed to check whether citizen of Ukraine Anatoly Sharij committed a crime under Article 156 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

In September 2018 the investigator closed the case again because no criminal offense has taken place. Several days later,and it was reopened again. They don't care that my husband has not been in Ukraine for the last seven years, that we are law-abiding citizens in Europe, and that such overt pressure on a journalist who is also a member of the IFJ can have negative impact on the government's image. They don't bother.

In June 2018, another statement stating has been written on Anatoly Sharij in in which has been indicated that he incited inter-ethnic enmity and hatred, under Article No. 161.

In August 2018 we learned of a quiet court order by which the Ukrainian prosecution requested YouTube to provide location data of Anatoly Sharij. It's a pure nonsense to act like this with regard to a refugee. In addition to that, for several last year's the Ukrainian government tried to reach understanding with Lithuania, who is a big friend of Ukraine now. It was Lithuania that gave political asylum to Anatoly Sharij in 2012. In 2015 Lithuania stated it would revise the status of Anatoly Sharij as no threats existed anymore. Later they recognized that his life was still in danger and the status was completely justified.

Now we see people affiliated with the Ukrainian presidential administration sending a letter to the Lithuanian migration department and requesting again the revoke of refugee status of Anatoly Sharij. You know, I left Ukraine in 2015. I never returned there. Not because I didn't want to. It happened after my personal bank account was blocked. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) sent a letter to the bank inquiring whether I visited the occupied territories of Ukraine, whether I knew Anatoly Sharij and what sort of relationship I had with him.

There's also pressure on our journalists working on the ground in Ukraine. A journalist of or media was abducted by two unknown men in the center of Kiev in 2017; she was dragged in a car and taken to an undisclosed location. Later they turned out to be SBU operatives. After the incident, SBU press service reported that they invited an assistant to a pro-Russian propagandist. According to SBU, her stories are used by the propagandist to discredit Ukraine in the interest of the Russian special services. Of course, no evidence of pro-Russian activity or discreditation in the interest of Russian special services were provided by SBU.

In February 2018, our journalist was attacked at a protest rally. Representatives of C14 radical organization, who just recently burnt down a Roma camp in Kiev, surrounded our journalist and threatened her. Subsequently, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned both the attack against the journalist by the radical groupand the inaction of the police present at the scene. In June 2018, our journalist was attacked; unknown chemical liquid was poured on her face. The attack was carried out by members of a nationalist organization who even published a video of the attack not hiding their faces. Naturally, we complained to the police, but recently we learned that the investigator quietly closed the case, not even letting us know.

Just a couple of days ago, Lviv Oblast Court of Appeals put under house arrest Mr. Markian Verbovy, amember of C14, who stabbed a police officer with aknife. In light of this, what sort of justice can we expect insituations like ours? In addition, government representatives excert permanent psychological pressure on us.

For example, many people know the legendary story when Anton Geraschenko, a member of parliament and advisor to the Minister of Interior, wrote in social media that everyone who likes Anatoly Sharij would be documented and his IP address would be identified. It was a true epic fail, ridiculed by both social media users and the press. But it looks funny only to onlookers, because in the last five years people's deputies called us "douchebags", "dogs" and "bonker balls". Mayor of Dniepr city promised my husband to "drive him to the roof" and to "beat him like a rubber horse".

The same people's deputy Anton Geraschenko claimed that my husband sponsors international terrorism; the message was broadcast by all mass media. TV channels affiliated with the presidential administration call my husband a criminal, their news tell about some criminal cases allegedly opened against him in Europe. By the way, they received an instruction to accuse him of sex crimes.

All of that happens because of one reason: all these people want to keep the power, and we thwart that. What can we say when today the Ukrainian delegation could notstand our speeches. Oxana Romanenko, a member of the Committee of Journalist Ethics, wrote that we are "Putin's puppets" and said that my husband Anatoly Sharij should worry because a Russian delegate misspoke by calling for investigation of the murder of Pavel Sharij instead of Pavel Sheremet. This phrase overjoyed the Ukrainian delegation, Ukrainian delegates, so much that they've been discussing it all day long. Journalist Anastasia Stanko was surprised to see me at this conference. What do you have to do with journalism, she asked. My answer to her is that I'm a member of IFJ and a member of the Union of Journalists of a European country, not a propagandist. My audience comprises hundreds of thousands of people, and their opinion is more important to me than yours".

The Ukrainian government exerts pressure mostly on independent media companies broadcasting alternative viewpoints on the situation in Ukraine. The facts of 2014-2018 give grounds to say that a complex of measures is used by the government to suppress independent media. These include searches and criminal prosecution, as well as the threat of withdrawal of licenses for failing to comply with linguistic quotas, and the attacks and harassment by right-wing radical organizations. Naturally, there's also hate speech and rhetoric of hatred at the top level - as we all could see just last week, when representatives of the two coalition factions used the parliamentary tribune to accuse a major opposition TV channel of anti-Ukrainian position. Oxana Omelchenko, Chief Editor of Vesti newspaper, told about all the "amenities" of being an independent media in Ukraine. She represents Vesti Ukraine media holding and the collective of brave journalists who've been fighting for their right to talk and speak for their viewers and readers since spring 2014.

Oxana Omelchenko: "I want to share with you the story of unprecedented pressure on Vesti Ukraine media holding that I represent. In the five years of our existence, we've survived five attacks by law enforcement agencies. Probably, the number of attacks by right-wing radical organizations was double that figure. Two of our journalists we're murdered. Their names were Vyacheslav Veremiy and Pavel Sheremet. In both cases, nobody was brought to justice for these crimes, and there are even no suspects.

What is Vesti Ukraine media holding? It includes Vesti, the largest newspaper in Ukraine. It also includes ukr.com news website, UBR business portal and Vesti Radio, which was deprived of it's broadcasting licenses in Kiev and Kharkov, now broadcasting in Dniepr only. The licenses were withdrawn under a vain pretext; it was one of the elements of the attack against the media holding.

Let me stress that our work is based on nonpartisanship, fact checking and pluralism of opinion. We're not afraid to produce hard-hitting reports. We're not afraid of making investigations. It happened so that every our investigation was followed by "guests". These "guests" were somehow related to the investigations. The last incident took place in February 2018, when our office was commandeered. The journalists we're prevented from getting to their workplaces, and the equipment and personal belongings we're blocked by law enforcement agencies, primarily by ARMA.

ARMA is the agency to identify, search and manage assets from corruption and other crimes. It's an institution established recently to fight corruption in Ukraine. It's important to note the high level of support of ARMA by international institutions. However, after the publication of our coverage of corruption inside the agency, its representatives visited our office several days later. They were accompanied by representatives of the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office, who were also subjects of our numerous investigations. In addition, as I said, they were joined by law enforcement officers and, so to say, sporty youngsters without any insignia. In our country, such youngsters are often called "titushki". Their behavior was shocking. When the journalists attempted to break through to their workplaces, they were sprayed with tear gas. Our news feed editor received second degree burns.

I want to stress that we occupied the office absolutely legally. It was confirmed by several court instances. Nevertheless the representatives of ARMA and Chief Military Prosecutor's Office paid absolutely no attention to that. They even ignored the questions raised by our journalists and other journalists who arrived to the scene to support us in the shocking situation.

The February incident was not a single case. As I already said, we experienced five searches and similar seizures. Another unprecedented incident happened in summer 2017. It was a sort of action movie special forces raid, and the whole downtown could watch it, as we're located in the center of Kiev. Military vehicles were brought by the Military Prosecutor's Office to attack journalists, mostly women. There were more than a hundred masked men carrying assault rifles who blocked our office with journalists and media holding staff inside. They were confined by the armed officers until 3 AM. In addition, they behaved, to say the least, obtrusively, taking freedom to dig in journalists' personal belongings and cellphones, commenting on personal photos, videos and chats etc. It was not a single incident either.

I want to emphasize the active support by international organizations and human rights organizations, both in February and in summer. Many media wrote that the situation regarding Vesti Ukraine media holding is outrageous. EU gave us second level of threat based on the summer incident. We have the support of the National Union of Journalists and of foreign journalist organizations, including New York Journalist Committee.

It all started long ago, just as the holding emerged. It was in 2014. A year after the holding was established, there was the first search, masked policemen in our office, seizure of equipment; it all happened a couple of days before the presidential elections. Not only we, but also our colleagues viewed these developments in light of the unprecedented pressure on the journalists on the eve of the presidential elections to make them speak, do and write only what was favorable to the defacto government - at the time not legalized yet.

There were also attacks by right-wing organizations who threw stones at our office and mailed threats to me and our journalist staff. In addition, there were attacks against newspaper promoters and delivery vans.

We are facing unprecedented pressure. Under such conditions, we keep on working, writing and producing headline-making materials. There are concerns, however, that the closer we get to the election campaign, the worse the situation will become and the harder will be the pressure. Therefore we don't rule out new attacks against us".

Imagine yourself in a maternity clinic where your wife just gave birth to a baby. That's the moment when SBU officials break in and accuse you of treason. Because you have a labor contact with a Russian information agency.

Starting from 2015, SBU broadly adopted the practice of criminal prosecution of journalists and bloggers under "separatist" articles of the Criminal Code. As a rule, detainees are kept in jail without a bail, and the court proceedings are intentionally protracted. Contrary to the appeals by international organizations to release these individuals as prisoners of conscience, the Ukrainian leadership refuses to acknowledge the fact of existence of political prisoners in Ukraine. Zaporozhye journalist Pavel Volkov has been kept in jail since September 2017. It's been already four months since journalist Kirill Vyshynsky was put in Kherson jail. Last week, his preventive arrest was extended by two months. Zhitomir journalist Vasily Muravitsky found himself in a similar situation; he was arrested in a maternity clinic where his wife was giving birth. He managed to see his wife and the newborn baby only eleven months later, when his preventive measure was changed to house arrest due to efforts of lawyers, human rights campaigners and international community.

Dmitriy Vasilets, along with colleague Yevgeniy Timonin, was arrested by SBU on 24 November 2015 on the charges of information accessory to terrorism because of their four-day trip to Donetsk in July 2014; they spent unreasonable 820 days (2 years and 3 months) in a jail. Dmitriy Vasilets told the participants of the roundtable about his criminal prosecution and his personal account of "unprecedented" freedom of speech in Ukraine.

Dmitriy Vasilets: "I want to tell you how the regime uses the articles of single opinion pre-trial custody to fight dissenters. In essence, anyone can be put into jail indefinitely using these articles [so called "separatist articles" 109, 110 and 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine - UV] if the prosecutor's office merely charges him or her.

I faced this situation in practice. It's impossible to imagine that in the 21st century an individual can be jailed without any evidence of his guilt (they are supposedly secret), and labeled with some sort of anti-Ukrainian activity. Ultimately it turns out that no evidence exists.

They simply put an individual into a jail and the pre-trial custody is extended monthly. Ultimately, the individual receives the sentence of nine years of imprisonment for - according to the official charge - setting up a YouTube channel.

This relates not only to my situation. Similar situations are widespread in Ukraine. This happens to journalists and common people; they use such articles against them in a similar manner. If the individual doesn't have a minimum publicity than nobody knows about him or her at all. Such people are induced to plea bargains - they explain that there's no alternative, there's no way to fight the system and therefore the plea bargain is the only option. For those who afford minimum resistance, the government offers an exchange every three or four months; the situation looks like this: people spend years in jail and then SBU officers approach them and offer - you want freedom? - let's exchange you then.

That's how it happens in our country.

A monopoly of patriotism emerged in the state. Some journalists claim that they appoint patriots. That there are non-patriots. They divide people according to that principle and put sort of labels. I realize why they act like this. The government of our country also has the habit of privatization of patriotism, dividing everyone into government supporters - read patriots, and government opponents or critics - read "Putin's agents", "separatists", "Kremlin agents". It's a nonsense.

In this case, we hear stunning messages from the journalist community. Frankly, I am surprised by the speeches of the Ukrainian delegation - no speaker mentioned Ukraine's political prisoners, and indeed there are hundreds and thousands of them. Nevertheless all of them for some reason spoke about Oleg Sentsov case. Naturally I want him to be freed as soon as possible and return to the motherland, and I wish all the best for him. I want all the political prisoners, both in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation, to return home, and I want to see this travesty of justice end. Nevertheless I cannot but stress this extreme cynicism.

When people come and explain this, provide facts, they are again labeled "Kremlin agents". Such privatization of patriotism raises eyebrows, and I cannot understand why there's some caste of journalists who will nominate patriots and non-patriots, who is pro-Ukraine and who is not. I'd like to have a discussion with my colleagues in this regard. I have many unanswered questions".

Journalist Ruslan Kotsaba was charged with treason for publishing a video calling against military mobilization. On 7 February 2015 Kotsaba was arrested by SBU officers; he spent 524 days in jail without a bail. During the roundtable Ruslan called on the colleagues to renounce propaganda cliches and stop seeding hatred in the Ukrainian society.

Ruslan Kotsaba: "I see today a gathering of people indifferent to the Ukrainian topic and the future of Ukraine. I think we should not divide people into "vatniki" [Russian patriotic rednecks - UV] and "vyshyvatniki" [Ukrainian patriotic rednecks - UV] , we should speak as adequate people instead. I expect a frank conversation. It's a pity that it's impossible to have it in present day Ukraine, because Vladimir Chemeris was right to say that the "Nazis" [right-wing radical nationalists - UV] would give us a thrashing. You know, the Nazis' intellect is smaller than that of nightingale.

I tried to communicate with them repeatedly, I told them I had my TV show. I said please come and explain your position. The people want to hear your economic platform, they want to learn how to resolve the Donbass question etc.

We all witnessed, as we all were present at the plenary in the adjacent room, the clear clash between Russia and America. I don't care about Russia or America. Nevertheless the Ukrainian delegation looked like clowns in that discussion. They left the room, then they returned. What a show off! On top of that, we're in Poland, and our diplomatic relations are not most pleasant now.

I'm not glad, but everyone recalls that I spent 524 days in jail. Nothing helped. You see, I visited Brussels four times, I visited Poland and spoke at the Bundestag. What's the point of that? We, the journalists, must decide among ourselves whether we want to play footsie to politicians or even to state-mongers, or not.

If we agree that indeed we want to live in Ukraine and we want our kids to live there then let's use this opportunity without any propaganda cliches. It's one thing when someone receives his salary and comes here to earn his living otherwise he'd lose his job and so on, and such people don't know how to earn money in any other way. It's another thing when someone takes the matter personally, irrespectively of his position.

I was in Crimea. I said, indeed, Crimea is Ukraine. However, I wasn't wearing camouflaged fatigues, I was unarmed, and I used my right to come to the annexed territory with a video camera, to film whatever I wanted and to show it at my YouTube channel. After all, our duty in the conflict situation - there's a conflict, everyone sees it, some say it's a war - is to use the opportunity to obtain, as journalists, the information many people cannot obtain. We must do this. Because, even BBC teaches that it's necessary to show two sides of a conflict, preferably with an expert opinion. That's why we have the current situation".

Ukrainian lawyers took the floor after the journalists. Lawyer Yelena Lyoshenko told as, beingthe defense counsel of Dmitriy Vasilets, she encountered the term "information terrorism", whichsimply doesn't exist in criminal law practice.

Yelena Lyoshenko: "I'd like to start by saying that I am not a lawyer only. I am also the chair of subcommittee on human rights of the Bar Association of Ukraine.

Our case of Dmitriy Vasilets started last year, when the whole jural society and the professional community of lawyers were absolutely shocked by the 9-year imprisonment sentence for absolutely nonviolent actions. No one was murdered, robbed or raped. Nine years nevertheless. It was horrible.

Of course we started looking at the case and wondering why the 9-year sentence was imposed. It was hard to control myself after I read the verdict. It was laughter through tears, it was absolutely amusing. That was the time when the notion of "information terrorism" entered our legal practice.

As lawyers, we had never imagined that such things could happen, but we had to see it. You know, the court interpreted the law absolutely frivolously; it interpreted the Criminal Code of Ukraine absolutely frivolously. There are no such notions there, no such notions as "information terrorist" and "information terrorism", or "information accessory to terrorism". There are no such notions there [in the Ukrainian law - UV]. The court invented these notions, naturally, on the basis of indictment by the Security Service of Ukraine.

Of course, having examined the materials of the case, we identified many other violations. Because of that, the verdict was revoked by the court of appeals. The pre-trial custody was changed as well, which was also unprecedented, because these people [Dmitriy Vasilets and his colleague Yevgeniy Timonin - UV] were jailed for two years and three months at Zhitomir pre-trial detention center in absolutely inhumane conditions. Their pre-trial custody was replaced with house arrest. As far as the term of house arrest expired, these people were freed.

This happened only because the court of appeals studied the case in detail and established violations. This opinion is shared by all international organizations and experts. The practice of European Court of Human Rights says this as well. I am a lawyer representing many people at the ECHR. These people appeal not only against Ukraine, but against other countries too. For lawyers, it's unimportant who violates human rights. This should be made clear. We react when there are violations, irrespectively of the country. Yes, we're Ukrainian citizens, and our country, our justice, our reforms and our developments are priority for us.

Therefore the Vasilets case is presently under consideration at the ECHR under Article 5 of the Human Rights Convention, related to custody, Article 10, related to the freedom of speech, and Article 18, related to political persecution. These elements are clearly evident in the case, and in many other cases that we're going to discuss today.

I want to mention a special point. We've won a suit against the Security Service of Ukraine last December. What we did? In a similar manner, we charged SBU with Article 258 part 3 - accessory to information terrorism. After all, having promoted that case and having used everything they used, they provided information accessory to terrorism in the same way.

Why not?

After all, they invented and endenizened this. So the table has turned. The court supported us fully, because SBU didn't want to investigate itself, and we won the case. Now SBU absolutely clearly ignores all our lawyer requests, pretending not to notice us. There's a great article in our Criminal Code for nonfeasance of court decision. We know what to do. We're lawyers. We'll deal with it.

Nevertheless, you gathered here as journalists and human rights campaigners, and your task is to inform honestly and from both sides about the things we don't see today and about present-day developments. They claim that "Kremlin agents" are on one side and someone is on the other side.The things should be like this. A dialogue is needed and the situation needs to be resolved in a legitimate manner. You see, everything must be done legally.

Indeed, we have colossal justice problems. My colleague present here will tell you more about the situation in the judiciary. Nevertheless if we consolidate our efforts, probably we'll manage to build a law-abiding state in the future, and everything is not so bad in our country. Probably. We'll hope".

Police inaction and impunity of attacks and even murders of journalists led to a wave of violence by right-wing groups against media representatives considered "separatist" by the "nationalists". Law enforcement agencies don't interfere with pogroms and attacks by such groups, they don't bring any perpetrators of such crimes to justice. Despite the outrage of international organizations, Myrotvorets website still operates.

Lawyer Valentin Rybin told about the right-wing groups in Ukraine, the reasons of police inaction and even about lawyers who become victims of the aggression. As the Chair of Odyssey Fund, Valentin protects the interests of those who are deemed separatists not deserving justice by the radicals - Raphael Lusvargi, Daria Mastikasheva, Mr. Dolzhenkov and Mr. Mefyodov - charged with regard to the 2 May tragedy in Odessa. Because of that, Valentin himself was repeatedly attacked and persecuted.

Valentin Rybin: "Thank you for inviting me to this event. I had an opportunity to be present at the session proper, and I had an opportunity to see the denuded nerve of the Russian-Ukrainian relations. Regrettably, we see such a standoff at all platforms.

Neither freedom of speech, nor freedom of thought, formulation and expression of opinion are impossible in a violent environment. Unfortunately, we see statesmen of two former brotherly nations - maybe deep down inside they remain brotherly, because not everyone supports the state policy implemented by the incumbent Ukrainian government - almost openly declare mutual hostility. Undoubtedly, this doesn't promote neither dialogue, nor an opportunity to resolve the current conflict situation that, regrettably, exists today.

Commenting on the topic of this event, I have to come back to the roots of developments in Ukraine in 2013-2014. I maintain my point of view and I am ready for a discussion. I believe that the people who seized the power by violence are incapable of listening and cannot perceive their opponents without such violence. After all, having once resorted to violence and having received quite interesting results, they will use violence permanently. We see violence against journalists, lawyers and common people supporting different opinions. This is the reality of modern Ukraine. Unfortunately I must tell you this.

As far as the physical violence against journalists is concerned, I think it makes no sense to speak about it, because it's not a news, it's not even a topic for discussion. We see it almost daily. We see journalists jailed for making their work, we see violence against journalists. We see the recent attack on Vasily Muravitsky, who was splashed with brilliant green paint as he exited the courthouse. What else can we discuss?

I am certain and I repeat myself that people resorting to violence are incapable of dialogue. That's the point I want to make for the international community: when you watch the developments in Ukraine, you should not allow such manifestations in your developed democracy countries. Please don't let violence happen. It leads to colossal catastrophic consequences both for democratic institutions and human rights as such. We should recall the purpose of adoption of relevant international conventions and of creation of the relevant European Court.

Dear colleagues, I'd like to tell you about what happens in reality. It's a very simple scheme. People suffering from violence inflicted by the government or by government's henchmen are afraid to speak. They don't want more violence against them and they try to keep silence.

Those who find the courage to speak encounter absolutely clear, direct and cynical method of influence. For example, radical organizations, such as the Right Sector or C14, feel absolutely comfortable to approach an individual on street - the victim may be targeted by special services or chosen by them independently and instinctively - and subject him or her to violence.

What is more, this means scurvy and bully behavior towards the whole society. They spray tear gas in people's faces in the streets, they pour brilliant green paint on people's heads. It's done anti-humanly. It's done namely for the purpose of making people silent, make them stop talking about what they think. When a man stops expressing his opinion, soon he stops thinking as well. That's the most important point.

The incumbent Ukrainian government wishes everyone to think the way the government wants. While I, as a lawyer by profession and as the attorney of those subjected to colossal pressure, want to ask the following question to the representatives of the official Ukrainian delegation wearing #freesentsov T-shirts etc. Why don't you wear a single T-shirt supporting the freedom of Daria Mastikasheva, abducted and tortured by SBU officers? A video with her confession extorted by torture was demonstrated by SBU Head himself. Where's your T-shirt supporting the freedom of Yevgeniy Mefyodov who is jailed for more than four years? There are no such T-shirts. You demonstrate a partisan position supporting the government's course. Regrettably, I have to observe that the government's course is neither constructive, nor democratic in Ukraine.

Coming to the end of my short speech, I'd like to comment on the Myrotvorets website and explicitly as regards the violation of the right to protection of personal data. My personal data are placed at Myrotvorets website. I'm not a journalist, I'm a lawyer. I defend people. If someone doesn't like it, I don't mind.

Myrotvorets is actively used squarely to show the pro-patriotic community who is the enemy of such pro-patriotic community and to provide certain guidelines. If you want to find such a person, if you want to do something to him or influence him somehow, even violently, you'll be unpunished.

I'm telling you this as someone who has endured violence fromthe Right Sector representatives when I was defending Mr. Mefyodov in Odessa. I was attacked, they sprayed tear gas in my face. Nothing special, it happens to all of us. However, as a law-abiding person, I submitted a complaint to the police and demanded the investigation of the fact. A year has passed. Nothing has been done. Recently I experienced a similar attack by C14 representatives in the foyer of the Kiev Court of Appeals. What would you think? No reaction from the authorities. This shows that we can be subjected to violence. The perpetrators will encounter no proper response from the authorities. This demonstrates the level of social respect for the right to freedom of speech and opinion. Elements who possess no functions of law enforcement agencies use violence and, in essence, provide destructive impact on the development of our society.

I avail myself of this opportunity to request the representatives of the international community to prevent violence in your countries and to take great care of human rights, including the right to freedom of speech and opinion - they turned out to be so fragile. I want to thank the organizers and the attendees of today's side event".

Galina Chaika, head of Lviv office of Uspishna Varta human rights platform, knows first-hand about the fight for the right to have one's own opinion and increased "attention" of right-wing groups. She actively protects the rights of Lviv veterans; she also protects the Monument of Glory from repeated attempts to take it down. Galina herself suffered from attacks, hate speech and intolerance. In early August 2018, Lviv "activists" from a local branch of OUN Volunteer Movement published a list of human rights campaigners, journalists and activists who, in their opinion, represented "the fifth column of Moscow in Lviv". The list included Uspishna Varta representative Galina Chaika, blogger Pavel Khomiv, theater artist Nikolai Sanarzhevsky and priests from Lviv eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Galina Chaika: "The city [of Lviv - UV] declares itself a European city and advances European values and standards, democracy and respect for human rights and freedoms in accordance with the Construction of Ukraine and the European Convention on Human Rights, but in real life practice all these turn out to be empty declarations.

Let's examine several episodes of violation of human rights using examples from life of common residents of Lviv:

Nikolai Sanarzhevsky - "soloist-separatist", main soloist of Lviv Solomia Krushelnytska Opera and Ballet Theater. In 2015, he was added to Myrotvorets database for allegedly anti-Ukrainian views. On the basis of that, and also based on denunciation by activist Yelena Dobrovolskaya, SBU started investigation. In January 2018, Nikolai Sanarzhevsky was accused of supporting and financing the Donetsk People's Republic. Based on that fact, SBUinitiated a case under Article 258-3 (Creation of a Terrorist Group or Organization).

The artist viewed the events of 2014 in Ukraine as a coup, he considered that the sharp turn to European integration would lead to impoverishment of the Ukrainian people. Between 2013 and 2014, he maintained an Anti-Maidan page of a social network. Here are the results of his prosecution for these views by the Ukrainian government:

  • He lost his job;
  • International projects on which Nikolai Sanarzhevsky and his students worked many months were closed and lost;
  • His reputation was damaged;
  • He suffered from heavy depression and psychological damage.

No investigation resulted in judicial proceedings, his guilt was not proved, but the media that picked up and blew up the information about the artist, in fact, ruined his life; nobody was held accountable for that.

Pavel Khomiv, Lviv blogger and publicist. He suffers from systematic attacks by former veterans of the Anti-Terrorist Operation because of his civic position, namely, disagreement with the policy of the President of Ukraine, criticism of volunteers and war profiteers. Threats of battery, murder, suffering the same fate as Oles Buzina, murdered in Kiev, are just some elements of the daily routine faced by Pavel Khomiv.

The police and SBU ignore official complaints by the blogger; they don't see anything criminal in those threats. For them, they even fall short of hooliganism.

On 1 August 2018, the Volunteer Movement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists published article named "Vataleaks - the faces of Moscow's fifth column" at its Facebook page. The publication contained personal data of 27 individuals, including me, as well as public call for displaying "negative attitude" towards the listed people by any means.

That post by representatives of the Volunteer Movement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists called for illegal actions, namely: "On meeting them, every Ukrainian should display his or her negative attitude by any convenient means. We should make their lives unbearable". That was the Facebook message of the right-wing radical organization to Ukrainian citizens. The 27 members of the Vataleaks list who should be stigmatized include women, 70+ year old people, clerics, representatives of Russian cultural organizations in Lviv, as well as civic activists who protect people from attacks by right-wing nationalist radical organizations. Following the publication, members of the list started receiving threats like "can we get some sulphuric acid for these bastards?".

There are psychological violence, intimidation, calls to Lviv residents to cause physical and psychological damage to people not sharing radical views of the Volunteer Movement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, to people having alternative views on the historical processes in Ukraine and Galitsia, to people who don't consider UPA warriors and Stepan Bandera heroes. There are threats and humiliation of people who hold in honor the fallen warriors of the Great Patriotic War, who protect and try to prevent the destruction of monuments to the Soviet soldiers who fought against fascism. Ultimately, there's prosecution of people for their Russian language, for their support of their own culture and traditions.

I filed formal complaints to both the Lviv prosecutor's office and SBU requesting to take measures and prevent possible illegal actions towards the person's listed in Vataleaks. Unfortunately, Ukraine's law enforcement agencies don't see components of crime in the actions of OUN. No preventive measures were taken regarding the members of the organization. There's still free access to the Facebook publication with photos of people "whose life should be made unbearable". As we see, "law-abiding state of Ukraine" is merely a declaration; as a matter of fact, residents of Western Ukraine, as well as of the whole country, continuously suffer from intimidation, harassment and violence by members and activists of right-wing radical nationalist organizations used by the government to fight against dissidents, to fight against their people who don't support the policy implemented by the Ukrainian government.

People are turned into enemies extrajudicially through controlled media and civic organizations; they are labeled as "separatists", "vatniks", "Putin's agents".

You are enemy if you criticise the president, you are enemy and separatist if you have your own point of view on the developments in the country, you are enemy and Moscow's fifth column if UPA and Stepan Bandera are not your heroes.

I call on the international community to pay special attention to human rights and freedoms in Ukraine, and to monitor closely the respect of freedom of speech and opinion. In Ukraine's reality, people are being prosecuted, intimidated and even murdered for their opinion, with tacit approval of the government".

Olga Semchenko, Head of Vesti Media Holding, summarized and thanked the attendees for their principled position.

Olga Semchenko: "Thank you very much for gathering here and for expressing your points of view. Regrettably, representatives of the official Ukrainian delegation left us step by step and didn't express their opinion. I think essentially this demonstrates their attitude to any sort of dialogue with people representing alternative opinion. This shows their interest in dialogue in general. Therefore, I want to stress that we're all normal people here and we wish Ukraine only the best. Because of that, we're all endangered somewhere; nevertheless we proceed and we'll keep on moving forward".

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