Frontline: Assault on human rights defender and journalist, Mr Dementiy Bily
On 14 September 2010, human rights defender Mr Dementiy Bily was brutally assaulted while attending a speech by the Mayor of the city of Kherson, during which he criticised the Mayor for not allowing members of the opposition to attend the meeting.
Dementiy Bily is Head of the Kherson Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, and is a journalist with “Politichna Khersonshchyna”, a local Kherson publication.
On 14 September 2010, Kherson City Mayor Mr Volodomyr Saldo, who is currently running for re-election as Mayor for a third time, held a meeting at Kherson Theatre to present a report on his work as mayor. The event had not been publicly advertised and it was rumoured that only a select audience had been invited, which reportedly did not include members of civil society organisations. Two guards placed at the door of the theatre admitted only those who held invitations to the event.
Dementiy Bily sought to attend the event, first as a citizen and voter, but later presenting identification as a member of the press. Neither he nor members of other organisations were allowed to enter the theatre, the guards refusal reportedly being overseen by Mr Saldos Deputy. They were eventually allowed inside the theatre when the Deputy Head of the Regional Administration intervened. After Mr Saldo began his speech, it was noticed that the guards would not admit two opposition members of Kherson City Council. Dementiy Bily intervened but failed to convince Mr Saldos Deputy that this was illegal, as Mr Saldo was required to publicly report on his work.
Afterwards, Dementiy Bily walked to the centre of the theatre, and using a microphone interrupted the proceedings to demand that Mr Saldo stop his speech and allow the admission of all those who wished to hear his report. He repeated this request several times until Mr Saldo stopped, at which point the moderator at the event called upon the audience to “Lets support our mayor”. Many in the audience reportedly began clapping.
Dementiy Bily was pushed out of the theatre into the entrance lobby by Mr Saldos Deputy along with four men in plainclothes. Three of them held his arms behind his back while the fourth began to beat him around the face and head. It has been reported that police stood by and watched the assault without intervening. At one point Dementiy Bily broke free and tried to fight back, during which a camera hanging from his arm hit the person who had been beating him on the forehead, causing a cut. The police immediately responded, calling an ambulance for the man who had suffered the cut and taking him to hospital.
Dementiy Bily was suffered serious injuries during the assault. Following the beating he gave a statement to the police, but reported feeling unwell and was taken to hospital. He was later found to have suffered an injury to his skull and medium severity concussion. He was held in hospital for observation.
Front Line is concerned regarding the assault of Dementiy Bily and believes that it was directly related to his human rights activities, in particular voters rights and public accountability of government. In particular, Front Line calls for the transfer of the case to the jurisdiction of the authorities in Kiev, as the involvement of local government figures and the inaction of the city police lead to the implication that the assault would not be fairly or impartially investigated by the Kherson authorities.