23.12.2010 | Halya Coynash

Criminal Charges against Human Rights Activist Dmytro Groysman


Dmytro Groisman, Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group, has had criminal charges issued against him under two articles of the Criminal Code.  He is accused of “desecration of State symbols” (Article 338 § 1 of the Criminal Code) and disseminating pornography (Article 301 § 1).  Among the many worrying aspects of this case is the fact that the charges are based on material posted on his LiveJournal blog. 

As reported, the police appeared with a warrant to search Dmytro Groisman’s flat on 16 October.  They also, without any warrant, searched the office of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group next door. 

Although the search was carried out on suspicion of circulating pornography, the police officers removed financial and other documents, including material regarding asylum seekers whom the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group is assisting. 

Despite such glaring infringements, over two months later there has been no response to an official complaint to the Vinnytsa Regional Prosecutor’s Office and Prosecutor General.

Instead, on 21 December, Dmytro Groisman received official notification of the above mentioned criminal charges.

“Desecration of the State emblem”

The photo deemed an offence dates back to July 2009. Before viewing it, some context seems called for.  In June many human rights activists joined media organizations in calling on the President (Viktor Yushchenko) to veto the planned amendments to the Criminal Code criminalizing possession of pornographic material for the purpose of sale or circulation.  The law was criticized for a) failing to achieve its stated purpose of fighting child pornography since the law does not, as it should, criminalize possession of such material if for a person’s “personal use”; and b) for unwarrantedly restricting freedom of expression.  Doubts have consistently been expressed over the lack of clarity and difficulty of knowing what is deemed an offence. The definition of pornography leaves far too much scope for subjective opinion, as was seen most notoriously with the banning as pornographic of a novel by Oles Ulyanenko. There are also no clear guidelines as to how police are to determine the aim of selling, and what circulation involves.

The President ignored calls and signed the amendments into law.  In the photo here the document pointed to is the law introducing the amendments, and clearly carrying the State emblem.

It should be stressed that this image is on a personal blog, not the front page of a newspaper.  The investigators argue that it is on free access, and this is indeed true.  However the scope for criminal prosecutions, or more likely persecution, if circulation is deemed to include personal blogs, is huge, especially given the unclear terminology in the iniquitous Law on the Protection of Public Morality.

If convicted, D. Groisman could face a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years.

Article 301 Pornography

There are two charges under Article 301 § 1, with the first relating to Dmytro’s entry here   The entry would seem to many in dubious taste, as is the clip showing people similar to some well-known Russian figures which is freely available on YouTube. 

The second can be assessed for its criminality, shock value, etc here:

The third, relating to material posted on 16 October, falls under Article 301 § p 3 (repeat offence) and could carry a seven-year sentence.  The images in question are from a German Foundation fighting AIDS however the words on top are added. They read: Ukrainian police officer! When communicating with the boss and citizens, observe safety rules!”. It seems best to simply quote the expert” assessment: “The image of a man’s face, which a male sexual organ is directed at and the image of a condom and label “GEL” together with which is the sign “Ukrainian police officer! When communicating with the boss and citizens, observe safety rules!” constitutes an image of a pornographic nature”. 

The mental acrobatics required for understanding this last charge which supposedly relates to pornography, not riling police officers, are considerable. 

The questions that this case, with its serious irregularities, dubious charges and implications given the focus on personal blog material, raises are very serious and need to be addressed.

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