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21.09.2010 | Halya Coynash

Learned Impunity

   

It is not only children who learn better from visual aids. Things we see with our own eyes are always more convincing than any reports or commentaries. What they convince us of depends on the divide between what was seen and those accounts. As well as on where such information is available.

Youtube, unlike the State-owned UTV-1, does not perceive a burning need to provide positive and pro-government content. Nor does it belong to the Head of the Security Service and media magnate, V. Khoroshkovsky, or other members or friends of the ruling regime.

It is on Youtube (and on one Ukrainian TV channel, STB) that you can see how police officers either used violence themselves or did absolutely nothing when thugs in black attacked peaceful defenders of Gorky Park in Kharkiv. You can appreciate the grotesqueness of a situation where the police detained the victims of this lawlessness. For want of any real excuse, they accused them of wilfully disobeying a police officer.

You can also see a fair number of attacks on Ukrainian journalists, including that by a Presidential guard on STB journalist Serhiy Andrushko in June this year.  The latter has not been forgotten. We are even told about the apparent indignation of the President who “considers that this cannot just be left like that – the culprit must be punished”.  Hard to take such indignation seriously when on 13 September the Kyiv Prosecutor refused Andrushko’s application to have a criminal investigation initiated, and handed the application to the Prosecutor General’s Office “after a full and comprehensive check of the journalist’s application.”

On the very next day, Youtube, as well as our legal awareness, was embellished by yet another incident. Although not everything got filmed, it is worth looking here first, since any description of the occasion has its counter-description. That’s of course if you won’t watch television alone, in which case the gapping divide between the authorities’ version and what your eyes see need not concern you.

The Head of the Kherson Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] and journalist from the newspaper “Vilny vybir” [“Free Choice”], Dementy Bily wanted to hear the report of Kherson’s Mayor, Volodymyr Saldo, and report on its content to the newspaper’s readers and other voters. It is, after all, those voters whom the Mayor should be reporting to.  Yet it transpired that the authorities not only know what others need to be told, but also who would like to hear the report. It is unclear how exactly they selected “members of the territorial community of Kherson – teachers, doctors, scientists, businesspeople” etc.  However a large number of voters, as well as two opposition deputies, who themselves decided they needed to hear the report were not admitted, even though we can see from the video clip that there were a lot of empty seats.

“After the intervention of the Head of the Kherson Regional Administration, Andriy Yatsenko, he was admitted into the hall, yet the guards refused entry to other journalists, as well as deputies from the City Council”

I am quoting the CVU, an organization which does not have the reputation, either at home or abroad, of engaging in hooliganism or provocation.

Thanks to the video, we are ourselves witnesses of the concern expressed by the Head of the Kherson Branch of CVU over disrespect for the rights of normal, not specially selected, voters and the total lack of any aggression on his part. We observe how he is shoved out into the foyer, and while the filming then stops, Dementiy’s wife and colleagues ran out and saw what happened.

Regrettably we also have the report on the official website of the City Council concerning the same Dementy Bily.  “Having gone out into the foyer, he clearly provoked one of those opposite him to conflict, used foul language and then hit him with his camera on the head. The person opposite was Kherson businessman Viktor Shevchuk who received a head injury and lacerations as a result.

A very different version of the incident can be gleaned from the statement issued by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, another organization not known for hooliganism.

Most disturbing in all this is once again the role of the police officers. The City Council website asserts that they were called, yet it is difficult to imagine that at an event of that kind, they were not there in force. Dementiy and witnesses are adamant that the police only watched, not intervening while he was being hit in the face. It was when Dementiy’s camera hit his assailant on the nose that they rushed out, called an ambulance and took the “victim” to hospital. This is presumably why we can see Dementiy Bily’s bruised and battered face on the photograph here http://www.vgoru.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=9553 , but have no photo of that one-minute guard, another – “Kherson businessman” who, in his own words, “did not hit (Dementiy) because he’s a journalist”.   Dementiy was questioned by the police until he felt so ill that an ambulance needed to be called. It was not, as the City Council statement asserts, he who insisted on hospitalization, but the doctor.  The police officers, who during the conflict stood not far away, wrote up an administrative offence protocol against Dementiy Bily over hooligan activities at a public function.

The next day, 15 September, the Suvorovsky District Prosecutor in Kherson initiated a criminal investigation over the inflicting of mild bodily injuries to the Head of the Kherson Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters and Editor of the newspaper “Vilny Vybir”.

One would like to believe that the case will not be quietly shelved, and that hard-hitting questions will be asked as to why the police once again, as in Kharkiv, served the authorities, not citizens. It wouldn’t hurt to also ask who exactly the authorities think they are there to serve. 

There are,, unfortunately, no grounds for optimism  with all too many examples of lawlessness and impunity having accumulated.

In Kharkiv despite international criticism and outrage over the totally unlawful tree-felling and construction work, and the no less unacceptable actions and failure to act of the police, neither the Ministry of Internal Affairs nor the prosecutor’s office have found any violations by police officers. Nor should this be viewed as merely a case of colleagues at local level closing ranks. The Minister of Internal Affairs, A. Mohylov actually called the decision of the Kharkiv authorities regarding the Park lawful, and effectively justified all actions by the police.

At the present time the local authorities in Kherson have issued scurrilously defamatory claims about Dementiy Bily, television channels have kept the whole subject quiet and those in power are pretending they know nothing.

There is surely no need to remind the authorities that impunity spreads like a disease. Unless of course they are endeavouring to catch up with and overtake neighbouring Belarus, then it is to be hoped that they will prove capable of understanding that there is always a limit to lawlessness, as well as to people’s patience.

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