Reprisals against the Tax Code Protesters
In an article for the authoritative newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Roman Zinoviev asks whether one can believe the words of Ukraine’s Guarantor of the Constitution, the President, and answers that now the fourth President is confirming that a negative answer must be given. The entire country heard Yanukovych’s promise that there would be no persecution of the Tax Code Maidan (the mass protest on Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square. His word was not kept long: three weeks after the Tax Code Maidan the authorities began real political repression.
First four of the protesters were arrested. The Shevchenkivsky District Court in Kyiv remanded three in custody while one was released on a signed undertaking not to leave the place. They were accused of “deliberate destruction or damage to others’ property which caused large-scale damage according to prior conspiracy between a group of people”.
Then came a several wave of arrests and court hearings. In the end, by the beginning of March, the “criminal gang” of defenders of small business owners’ rights had risen to seven with two held in custody.
A week ago, on 2 March, investigator Y. Seperovych charged an organizer of the small business owners’ Maidan – the Head of the Board of the Coalition of Participants in the Orange Revolution, Serhiy Melnychenko with the offence under Articles 28 § 2 and 194 § 1 of the Criminal Code “deliberate destruction or damage to others’ property which caused large-scale damage”
According to the police resolution: “From the evening of 21 November 2010 to 3 December 2010, carrying out their criminal intentions, aimed at damaging property not belonging to them on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square], according to prior agreement with R. Fedchuk, O. Akhtyrsky, A. Mandych, I. Garkavenko, O. Zaplatkyn and V. Hruzynov, erected for the protesters 8 military tents. In the course of erecting these, 132 metal stakes, 50-60 cm in height, were beaten into the joints between the granite slabs”.
The author quotes one of the protesters as saying with irony that from this it follows that Melnychenko, with his criminal intent of damaging the granite slab on Maidan Nezalezhnosti entered into a criminal conspiracy and then called on up to 100 thousand business owners from different regions of Ukraine. Thus the police and particularly the Minister of the Interior Anatoly Mohylyov, as well as the outstanding investigator Mr Selerovych have finally succeeded in uncovering the true intentions of the people who stood for 12 days on Maidan Nezalezhnosti demanding that the President veto the new Tax Code.
Serhiy Melnychenko recently stated on TVi that they had originally accused him of deliberately damaging the granite slab together with others. However they couldn’t prove this, and thought up a new variant – that he was the organizer of a criminal gang, the 6 others there to carry out the task. He added that he does not even know what half of them look like. Serhiy Melnychenko said that he himself had once worked in criminal investigation and he was not satisfied that the investigators were refusing to let him see the material which formed the basis of the charges. He says that he has been shown only the resolution to initiate criminal proceedings and the protocol with the statement and that the investigator is ignoring all submissions from himself and the other accused.
The author points out the absurdity of the charges since Maidan Nezalezhnosti has been the site of civil protest since 2000 and how can one calculate how many metal and other stakes have been beaten into the slabs since then? These included, he underlines, the numerous tents erected under blue and white (Party of the Regions) flags in 2007.
This demonstrates selective application of the law. Oleh Levytsky, lawyer representing Ihor Garkavenko, one of the activists, calls the criminal case against his client political persecution. He stresses that in many years of practice there has been nothing like it before. Garkavenko’s previous lawyer turned down the case after emerging from the investigator’s office. Then for almost 20 days Oleh Levytsky was not merely prevented from seeing his client, he wasn’t even given access to the file material. They’re also bringing in a new investigator supposedly due to the other’s leave. Levytsky stresses that the investigators are not questioning important witnesses who could confirm that at the time that the tents were erected Garkavenko was actually in Kharkiv. Among these witnesses are important political figures, like the ex-candidate for Mayor of Kharkiv whom it is simply impossible not to trust.
According to media reports, 36-year-old Ihor Garkavenko was driven to seek a personal audience with the Human Rights Ombudsperson at the Kyiv SIZO [pre-trial detention centre]. The latter apparently initiated proceedings, and took measures aimed at getting him released from custody.
Then, at parliamentary hearings on 16 February the Human Rights Ombudsperson stressed the need to stop persecuting participants in the Tax Code Maidan, including Ihor Garkavenko who had, she was convinced, been arrested on trumped-up charges.
At the press conference on 1 March, Oleh Levytsky explained that five of those facing charges did not take part in the small business owners’ protest at all, while two others arrived at the scene only after towards the end of the protests. He asserts that the investigators are entirely ignoring the arguments presented by the defence, and the courts have extended Garkavenko’s remand in custody “despite the facts, the law and sheer commonsense”. In his view the confidence with which the investigators are violating procedural and legal norms suggests that the case has been ordered by high-ranking officials, and is political persecution, aimed at discrediting the anti-Tax Code protests. “We are seeing some kind of actions planned from above which is supposed to prove to the entire country that there was a “criminal face” behind the “Tax Code Maidan”. This could be a purge of the civic-political field in Ukraine. I can find no other explanation”,
He adds that he will not stop defending Ihor Garkavenko who is well-known for his critical publications in the Ukrainian and Russian Internet. Asked how such “control in the criminal procedure sphere” is taking place, Oleh Levytsky replied “There are simply temnyky for investigators and police officers “ (in Kuchma’s time, “temnyky” were instructions to media outlets on what to cover, what not, and how reports should be provided.
As reported here, on 1 March Ihor Garkavenko declared an indefinite hunger strike, and, oh miracle, on 3 March already the Kyiv Court of Appeal released him from custody. The Head of the Association for the Defence of Ukrainian Citizens’ Rights got signatures from 7 National Deputies, affirming that they would stand as guarantors. A number of other civic organizations have also made submissions.
On 4 March the Central Department of the Ministry of the Interior completed the investigation into the alleged damage to a granite slab on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Seven people are charged with six also presented with the charges, while the seventh is wanted for questioning.
The minimum punishment under Article 194 § 1 is a fine of up to 50 times the average income minus tax.
Maximum would be a term of imprisonment of up to 3 years.
The accused in yet another “unique” case is Serhiy Kostakov who has been held in custody in the Lukyanivsk SIZO No. 13 since 1 December 2010. He is accused under Article 296 of hooliganism. It is claimed that on 22 November he damaged a car driving along a street which the protesters had blocked. The bizarre thing is not even the fact that Kostakov is charged with single-handedly causing the damage. The main unique feature is the lack of any proof aside from the assertion of the car’s driver. The latter did not initially recognize Kostakov among over 200 people, but only “recalled” (or more likely invented this at the instigation of the investigator) a week later.
The point is that the witness-driver according to the angle at which the car was placed, could not have seen Kostakov.
His lawyer, Mykola Biryuk adds that fundamental norms of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated, with Kostakov’s appeals not reaching the court. On 22 February this year the Kyiv Court of Appeal rejected his claim of unlawful detention. “What awaits are more and more court hearings. And we all understand that in a country where there really is legal arbitrary rule, the release from custody of Ihor Garkavenko, getting cases in general to the court, constitute only a small victory over those who respect Stalin’s methods”
The totalitarian nature of the current regime does not allow them to make compromise and dialogue with “alien” individuals. That was how it was under Kuchma (9 March 2001 that continues to this day.
Abridged from the original by Roman Zinovyev here