Political persecution is no election tactic
Despite President Yanukovych’s New Year bravado, the only thing his regime has moved fast on since he came to power in February 2010 is its hatchet job on democracy. The relentless assault on the justice system has taken many forms, but has especially damaged Ukraine’s standing in the world through the appearance of political prisoners: members of the former government either remanded in custody or, as with the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.
Three prosecutions show clear politically motivation. Tymoshenko’s long sentence is for a political decision, the gas accords with Russia signed to break the deadlock and halt in gas supplies to Ukraine and Europe in the winter of 2009., Former Internal Affairs Minister Yury Lutsenko and former Acting Defence Minister Valery Ivashchenko have both been held in custody for more than a year over supposed offences, many of which are being committed with impunity by those now in power, while others require serious mental effort to see as offences at all.
It is also worth noting that there was a fourth person whose case showed the same signs of political motivation. Yevhen Korniychuk, former Deputy Minister of Justice is the son-in-law of the former Head of the Supreme Court Vasyl Onipenko who was known to be a thorn in the side of the President’s Administration. Korniychuk’s charges were unexpectedly reduced and he was then amnestied in December, during the same week that Onypenko announced that he would not be standing for re-election as Supreme Court Head, and the court which had placed a ban on this election lifted its order.
Ukraine’s courts are notoriously corrupt and there are very many victims of a rotten system whose cases urgently need public attention and pressure on the authorities. In an appeal launched on 1 January, we focus specifically on the politically motivated trials because such overt political commissioning could set the development of law-based democracy in Ukraine back a long way. Ukrainians are seeing the ruling party’s opponents imprisoned on charges that nobody can even understand, let alone take seriously. There have been flagrant infringements of procedural norms, noted by foreign as well as Ukrainian observers, and yet Ukraine’s Lady Justice has proved less than reassuringly blind to this. The prosecutions are also widely seen in Ukraine and abroad as aimed at removing strong political rivals from the scene prior to October’s parliamentary elections.
While, therefore, we can easily name many more victims of miscarriages of justice in Ukraine, these three politically motivated trials demonstrate unwillingness to follow the rules of play through honest elections and readiness by the Prosecutor and the courts to follow political orders. The ramifications are clear since any country with puppet courts is a danger to all, including those considering investing in the country.
We are therefore inviting people within Ukraine and abroad to endorse our open appeal to the President demanding that an end be put to political persecution and the destruction of Ukraine’s democracy. This was not what he was elected for and cannot be tolerated.