Tax Code Protest prosecutions reminiscent of 1937 cases
In a recent interview, lawyer for the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Oleh Levytsky spoke of the case which has taken up most of his time over the last months. This is the prosecutions brought against alleged participants in the small business owners’ protest on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] in Kyiv against the Tax Code in November and early December last year, some concessions were made but then the protesters’ tent camp was forcibly dismantled almost the next day. As well as one person remanded in custody for alleged damage to a car during the protest, there have also been arrests and a criminal investigation into alleged “deliberate damage to the State of more than 200 thousand UAH. (roughly 18 thousand Euro)”. The claim is that the accused drove metal pikes into the granite stone on Maidan.
Oleh Levytsky says that the case of the Tax Code Protesters’ Maidan is unique in his legal and bar lawyer practice. He notes that the regime has after 20 years of Ukraine’s existence as an independent entity ventured to concoct what is effectively a 1937-type case (1937 being the worst year of Stalin’s Terror). “For the first time in our history the regime has found a collection of down-and-outs and people who wanted to earn a few kopecks by holding a banner and has accused them of damaging granite covering. This is after the Party of the Regions itself in 2008 erected tents on Maidan, a fair number, if not the most in Maidan’s history, which can even be seen on photographs from the party’s official website.
Now they’ve collected up some innocent people and are stating to the whole world that they’ve found people who entered into a criminal conspiracy to damage the granite stone in the centre of a European capital.
I was shocked when these people were called criminals because they picketed after the Orange and Donetsk revolutions on Maidan. However somebody up there decided that they should be behind bars. The courts without a word remanded them in custody for a month or two, then extended this to 4 months. I told the first instance court that this was insane but nobody listened to me. It was only in the court of appeal that I was able to provide that they were committing a crime by keeping innocent people behind bars. I did nonetheless manage to convince the court and my clients are presently free. Overall there are 7 people charged: three involved in this case, and four who are innocent. When I decided to represent my client, I had no idea that the case was so absurd. Later I took on the defence of two others charged over it. This is probably a unique case where my client, a down-and-out, was released on an undertaking not to abscond. Something tells me that Ukrainian jurisprudence has not seen such a case before. On the one hand for the first time in Ukraine’s legal practice people are facing criminal prosecution for exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. On the other, one can be please that a down-and-out is released on an undertaking not to leave when it’s not clear where. The Kyiv Court of Appeal ruling says “from the place he is staying”.