Selective criminal prosecutions are the hallmark of an undemocratic regime
2010 has been marked by an increase in prominent criminal prosecutions for crimes allegedly committed with the use of official position.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group would like to be able to welcome efforts by the authorities to fight corruption, misuse of power and impunity among members of the State apparatus.
However concern is elicited by the fact that the criminal prosecutions are aimed exclusively at members of opposition political parties. We have in mind the initiating of criminal cases against Yulia Tymoshenko, Bohdan Danylyshyn, Yury Lutsenko and others. Under analogous circumstances criminal cases against representatives of the current government have not been initiated.
In some cases members of the opposition are accused of actions which members of the present government are engaged in now with impunity. For example, in one case the charge is of not returning a deposit made during the privatization of the Odessa Port Factory, although this deposit has still not been returned with liability for this being borne by the official presently occupying this post.
With the entrenched tradition of lawlessness and abuses, disregard for the law and governance through individual dictate which has been typical of the authorities over many years, selective criminal prosecutions solely aimed at members of the opposition spell the effective use of criminal court proceedings for political ends. Such practice runs counter to democratic values based on equality of all before the law and undermines the foundations of criminal justice.
This seems especially unacceptable given the unpunished assault on opposition National Deputies in parliament and attempts by the government to block the work of branches of opposition political parties.
Selective application of legislation is a typical weapon of undemocratic regimes. Fearing defeat in conditions of fair political competition and political freedom, the regime in such countries removes opposition figures with the use of criminal prosecutions. This can be compared to the selective presentation of news when somebody decides which news to circulate, this resulting in the lack of full information and a distorted impression of what is going on in society.
Furthermore, when members of a political party that has come to power at each step carry out unlawful actions with impunity, while their political opponents are prosecuted for the same actions, this compromises justice and establishes dictatorship of force. It also undermines any public faith in the honesty of the regime’s intentions and its adherence to the rule of law.
In conditions where there is an established court system and tradition dating back over many years, one could hope that the courts would stand in the way of manipulation of the criminal process. However the judicial reform carried out this year has made judges highly dependent on politicians.
The President and the majority in parliament which are at present part of one political force effectively have the opportunity, via the High Council of Justice, to exert influence on judges. This body of power plays a key role in the appointment and dismissal of judges and in bringing disciplinary proceedings against them.
The Prosecutor General stated immediately after his appointment that he would implement any order of the President. Later utterances clearly demonstrate his total dependence on the President.
A member of the Party of the Regions has been appointed Head of the High Court on Civil and Criminal Cases, while his deputy is the Prosecutor General’s brother.
All of this gives rise to well-founded doubts that the court proceedings in these political cases will be run in keeping with the standards of the right to a fair trial.
The President constantly asserts that his aim is to build a European-style democratic State. The best proof of this would be to stop the prosecution of the political opposition under the guise of fighting misuse of power.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group call on the authorities to put an end to selective criminal prosecutions and the sharp decline in political freedom in the country.
Executive Director, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Co-Chair, Kharkiv Human Rights Group