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80-year-old Ukrainian charged with trying to overturn the government via a Facebook repost

22.12.2020
Halya Coynash

Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] have initiated criminal charges against 80-year-old retired teacher, Volodymyr Tereshchenko over a picture and caption he merely reposted on Facebook over two years ago.  While the SBU claim to see calls to overthrow the constitutional order in the pensioner’s reposting of a social media image, Tereshchenko and his lawyer are convinced that this is persecution for his civic position.  He is represented by the Cherkasy Human Rights Centre and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU).

Tereshchenko was a teacher of geography for over forty years in Chyhyryn and two other cities of the Cherkasy oblast,, and also created an academic society in Chyhyryn.  He was involved in the Revolution of Dignity (Euromaidan) and has generally always taken an active part in civic life in the Cherkasy oblast.  Since 2014, he and other activists from the People’s Council of the Cherkasy Oblast have been involved in (successfully) fighting plans to build a poultry factory in the area, and in protest over barbaric felling of trees, some of them 200 years old, in the city’s parks and forest area.

The SBU informed Tereshchenko of the charges on 10 December 2020, although he reposted the picture and caption back in 2018.  So much time has elapsed, that he cannot even remember why he reposted the image, which shows a person with a Maxim gun.  The text is certainly strong enough, saying that we need a state coup, our own (Chilean dictator Augusto) Pinochet, including our own stadium (as Pinochet used) to “shoot all the scum”.  It ends, however, without any call to achieve this at a particular time and place and without any proposals on obtaining weapons, just the modest words: “That’s my opinion”.

According to TV24, there were 2,5 thousand reposts of the image and caption, however the SBU do not appear to have sought either the author of the post or others who shared it on Facebook.

Taras Shcherbatiuk, from the Cherkasy UHHRU Public Reception Office , is concerned about time for another reason.  If there really was some kind of offence, then there should have been investigative measures, etc. back in 2018, not now.   

In fact, Shcherbatiuk’s colleague, Lyudmila Herashchenko, who is representing Terashchenko, says that the criminal case was first registered a year ago, with the text then sent for an ‘expert assessment’.  The latter, it seems, was carried out by an SBU ‘expert’ with a languages and literature education.  This individual concluded that the words on the image constituted a call to overthrow the government, with this falling under Article 109 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code.

The 80-year-old denies the charges, which his friends told TV24 they believe to be in revenge for his participation in local civic organizations, fighting corruption in Chyhyryn.

According to his lawyer, the SBU seem to have decided that Tereshchenko is part of some radical movement aimed to change the government through violent means.  No evidence has been provided of this.  As Herashchenko says, Volodymyr Tereshchenko  has a firm civic position and is active in the struggle for justice and environmental rights, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest plans to take up arms and to try to overthrow the government.

The case has now been handed to the prosecutor’s office, with Mykola Martyniuk, from the Cherkasy Regional Prosecutor’s Office claiming that “while for one person these calls can be merely an innocent repost, for another it could be an active spur to acts against the state authorities and that could negatively impact upon citizens safety and destabilize the state from within”.  The same can probably be said, among many other works, of certain poems by the Cherkasy oblast’s most famous son, the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. 

Here, however, Volodymyr Tereshchenko could, if convicted, face a three-year prison sentence with confiscation of his property.

 

 

 

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