• Topics / Freedom of peaceful assembly
• Topics / Law enforcement agencies
UHHRU: Stop persecution of human rights activists!
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union is disturbed by a sharp increase in unlawful actions against human rights and civic activists. The number of such cases over the last six months is far in excess of the total number of similar incidents during the previous five years.
Events in Lviv
On 12 October 2010 between 11.30 and 12.40 the civic organization Vartovi zakonu [Guards of the Law] held a picket outside the Lviv Prosecutor’s Office demanding investigations into abuse in the housing and services sphere, under the banner “Down with Prosecutor corruption!”. They had already held several such pickets on previous Tuesdays.
The picket organizers – the Head of Guards of the Law, Oleksy Verentsov and Ihor Tanyachkevych had provided notification of the planned peaceful gatherings twice – first several months earlier about a series of pickets with specific dates given (No. 2-9477 from 17 August 2010) and two days before the 12 October picket.
The Executive Committee of the City Council on 11 October applied to the Lviv District Administrative Court for a ban on the peaceful assembly, however the court only began proceedings in the case, not yet issuing any ruling. It was only on 13 October that the court banned Guards of the Law from holding pickets each Tuesday of the Prosecutor’s Office, starting from 19 October 2010. This means that at the time of the peaceful gathering on 12 October there was no court ban of the event. Considering the later ruling to be unlawful and unwarranted, the organization lodged an appeal.
During the peaceful assembly, there were no recorded infringements of public order with this confirmed by numerous video recordings of the event. Despite this, the police demanded that the picket be stopped and that the organizers be taken to the police station. They explained this by claiming that the organizers did not have a permit for the peaceful assembly. However according to Article 39 of the Constitution organizers must inform of an event, but do not have to receive permission. Therefore the organizers refused to implement a clearly unlawful demand from the police officers. It is notable that the Deputy Head of the District Police Department personally appeared to stop the peaceful assembly.
On 14 October the two organizers of the picket - Oleksy Verentsov and Ihor Tanyachkevych – were detained by the police, taken to court which sentenced them to three days administrative arrest for wilfully disobeying the lawful instruction of the police and infringing the procedure for organizing a peaceful gathering (Articles 186 and 185-1 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The court hearing took place with clear infringements of the right to a fair trial: the judge rejected the application to include a defender, stating that Verentsov was a human rights activist and therefore did not need the help of a lawyer, refused to hear the accounts of witnesses of the event as the accused requested, and also refused to watch a video recording of the event claiming technical problems with the computer. The court in its ruling also demanded a permit to hold a peaceful assembly from the organizers in contravention of a direct norm of the Constitution. The organizers of the peaceful gathering were released after serving their sentence on 17 October. The next day they lodged an appeal against the court ruling holding them to administrative liability.
On 27 October the court of appeal rejected the appeal lodged by Verentsov. Its ruling is final and not subject to appeal. The court also refused to hand the ruling to Verentsov. Oleksy Verentsov, assisted by UHHRU, has lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights alleging violation of the right to a fair trial and of the right of peaceful assembly.
Events in Vinnytsa
On 15 October a police search was carried out of the flat of Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group, Dmytro Groisman, on the basis of a warrant from the Leninsky District Court in Vinnytsa from 22 September 2010, as part of a criminal investigation regarding circulation of pornography.
The criminal investigation is over the posting by Groisman on his Live Journal blog of a video clip (http://di-mur.livejournal.com/129792.html) which is freely accessible on Youtube. The video clip which was shown on Russian television presents scenes taken by a concealed camera supposedly with the participation of well-known Russian opposition figures. The clip was posted on many resources and was not especially circulated by Groisman. The latter says that it was posted to show how they can interfere in the private life of opposition figures and activists in order to discredit them.
On completion of the search, the police officers expressed the wish to view the office of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group in the next door flat. Without any court warrant they approached the owner of the premises and asked to be allowed to view it. The owner did not object but stated that the premises are rented by an organization, that there are only the organization’s things and that its permission is also needed. Having entered the office of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group, the police immediately carried out a search and removed documents and equipment which they deemed suspicious. This included all computers and information drives, all financial documentation of the organization, confidential information about clients and refugees, correspondence between the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group and the European Court of Human Rights regarding the cases of Kulik v. Ukraine; Zabolotni v. Ukraine and Aleksei Makarov v. Ukraine. The documents removed had no relation whatsoever to the case which the search was carried out as part of.
By law a search may be carried out during the day, yet this search lasted right up till 2 a.m. in the worst tradition of the Soviet KGB. It is also surprising that the search warrant had not been enforced for almost a month, but carried out on a day when Groisman was on a work-related trip in another city and could not be present. It is also interesting that the search was carried out by police officers investigating crimes regarding human trafficking although the imputed crime should be investigated by specialists on cybercrime.
After the search Groisman was summoned several times for questioning although a considerable number of the questions did not concern the investigated criminal case, but the activity of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group. Several members of the organization were also questioned.
It is clear that all these procedural actions and the items removed had nothing to do with the artificially initiated criminal investigation but were aimed at removing proof of violations of human rights and paralyzing the work of the organization.
The document removed has still not been returned to the organization. Those documents include some concerning the court cases of people whom the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group provides legal aid to. This places the timely implementation of procedural actions in jeopardy. The police are thus obstructing access to the courts or to efficient participation in the examination of many people.
Events in Kherson
On 14 September Dementiy Bily, journalist and Head of the Kherson Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (which is a member of UHHRU was assaulted by three people. The attack took place during a report in the Kherson Theatre by the City Mayor Volodomyr Saldo, who is standing for re-election for the third time from the Party of the Regions. Bily called for transparency of the event and for all those wishing to attend, including opposition deputies, to be admitted. The preparation of the report was a closed event with entry according to special invitation. Thee people pushed Bily into the foyer where one began inflicting blows. It later transpired that one of the assailants is a businessman and person close to the Mayor, another – a member of staff of the Executive Committee. The third person’s identity has not been established. The police standing nearby did not intervene. It was the first of the people mentioned who inflicted the blows. Bily was admitted to hospital where he was diagnosed as having “an internal skull injury and concussion of medium severity”. One of the assailants was also injured when Bily’s camera lacerated him on the face. The police initiated criminal proceedings over the beating, however the person who inflicted the blows has appealed against the decision which is delaying the investigation.
Events in Yevpatoria
On 8 October the Head of the Yevpatoria Department of the Police in the Crimea, O. Osadchy sent a demand to the Head of the Ukrainian civic organization of Disabled Users of Psychiatric Help “User”, R. Imereli to send him copies of the financial and accountancy documents of the organization, as well as documents on the project carried out by the organization, supposedly in order to check for what purposes the money received for the project was spent. This involved a project monitoring violations of human rights in psychiatric institutions in the Crimea which had recorded serious violations. It was after publication of previous results of this project by the head of the project, Andriy Fedosov, that the latter was beaten up and received a series of threatening telephone calls.
None of these cases has been investigated despite numerous appeals from human rights groups. Instead one sees from this letter that the police have begun investigating the human rights organization. It is not known on what grounds this is being done and what offence Fedosov is suspected of. It is clear that such actions are aimed at intimidation and stopping further implementation of the project and actions of the organization as a whole.
Events in Kharkiv
Previously, in May-June this year unlawful actions were on a number of occasions taken against civic activists defending Gorky Park against tree felling by the local authorities. During peaceful demonstrations the police repeatedly unlawfully detained activists, made attempts to stop peaceful gatherings or simply watched on while activists were beaten by men in black with badges saying “Municipal Guard”.
On 18 June Amnesty International declared two activists detained and sentenced to 15 days administrative arrest, Andriy Yavarnytsky and Denis Chernegy prisoners of conscience. This is the first time that Ukraine has had prisoners of conscience since 2004. Despite protests from human rights groups, the men were not released. No police office has been punished over the unlawful actions during the protests.
Pressure on activists
UHHRU has on a number of occasions received evidence that officers of the SBU [Security Service] or police are carrying out undeclared meetings with civic activists aimed not only at gathering information, but also at intimidating them and dissuading them from engaging in protest. For example, police officers ask people to sign a document warning of criminal liability for unlawful actions during peaceful assembly. Such preventive [“prophylactic”] conversations are often aimed at intimidating organizers of events so that they decide against such activity.
There have also been numerous cases where the administration of higher educational institutions has been enlisted to place pressure on young activists to encourage them to give up their activities. There have been such cases, for example, in Simferopol and Kyiv.
All these cases, while not linked with each other, arouse concern and indicate that the work of human rights and civic activists is becoming ever more dangerous. In such conditions the government should
In view of these events, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union demands:
that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Prosecutor’s Office immediately stop their persecution of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group and its Coordinator, Dmytro Groisman, return all items and documents removed during the search, terminate the criminal investigation and bring to account those responsible of carrying out the unlawful search and removal from the office of the human rights organization;
that the Ministry of Internal Affairs conclude its criminal investigation and pass the case concerning the assault of Dementiy Bily to the court;
that the Ministry of Internal Affairs stop its persecution of Andriy Fedosov and the Ukrainian Civic Organization of Disabled Users of Psychiatric Help “User”, as well as properly investigating all cases of threats against them;
that the President ensure unwavering enforcement by the State of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Duties of People, Groups and Public Bodies called upon to defend and help exercise universally recognized human rights and fundamental Freedoms (also known as the Declaration of Human Rights Workers’ Rights);
that the Security Service stop putting pressure on human rights defenders and activists.
We ask the international community, international organizations and foreign embassies to influence Ukraine’s policy to stop persecution of human rights activists for their activities.
UHHRU also calls on the European Union and EU countries to more actively apply the Guiding Principles of the EU on the protection of human rights and to draw up a plan for inculcating these in Ukraine.
UHHRU Executive Director
Head of the UHHRU Board