Party of the Regions comes clean on Amnesty Law
As feared, a day after Viktor Yanukovych signed a supposed amnesty bill, there is no evidence that it will stop the prosecutions of protesters, while the ruling Party of the Regions is claiming that the law applies equally to police officers guilty of actions against demonstrators.
The draft bill “On removing adverse effects and preventing persecution and punishment of people as the result of the events during peaceful gatherings” was adopted by parliament on Dec 19. The opposition hailed this as a victory and stressed that they had withstood Party of the Regions pressure to make sure that those guilty of brutally beating peaceful protesters would not be covered by the amnesty.
Volodymyr Oliynyk who often presents Party of the Regions views to the media has told Interfax Ukraine that two categories people are covered by the bill: “people taking part in protests and participants in mass events”. He asserts that while the police cannot be considered to be participants in protest actions, they and other members of the public can be called participants in mass events.
He also says that the law is flawed and does not take into account the Criminal Procedure Code and the Amnesty Act. It also – he asserts – does not free from liability people who refuse to leave premises, and who continue to infringe laws after the law comes into force.
It should be noted that high-ranking public officials have constantly tried to justify the brutal treatment of peaceful protesters on Maidan Nezalezhnosti on Nov 30 by claiming that the people were not obeying a court order to leave the square and enable the municipal workers to erect the New Year tree.
A number of lawyers have also added their voices to those who criticized the bill a week ago. Yevhenia Zakrevska, for example, considers that articles 2 and 3 of the law state that all criminal cases initiated over the protests must be terminated, and no new ones started. She believes that this means no limitations on who faces such charges, and can therefore include those responsible for the violent measures to disperse protesters.
It is likely that the opposition were not deceived, but did know that the Party of the Regions would only support a law which offered loopholes. As reported last week, former justice minister, Roman Zvarych, immediately slammed the bill as illiterate and non-specific. He said that the term “participant” is not clearly defined in Ukrainian legislation meaning that it could be applied selectively.
Even if we ignore the ominous statements from Oliynyk, and believe the assurances that the law will not be used to whitewash those guilty of the violence against peaceful protesters, the bill is at very least likely to seriously obstruct proper investigation (details in Whose Amnesty? )
Eight of the nine original Bankova St prisoners who were arrested after being beaten, some very seriously, by Berkut riot police on Dec 1 and then charged with organizing mass disturbances have been freed. Two admitted a lesser charge incurring a fine in order to get the criminal charges terminated. The others still have criminal charges pending, and the youngest of them, 21-year-old Yaroslav Prytulenko, remains in custody. More details here Bankova Prisoners release from custody - welcome but insufficient
It seems likely that these charges will in fact be dropped, at least against the men released. The prosecution has an interest in stopping them since there is no evidence that any of them was involved in the disturbances and every indication that they were themselves the victims of shocking violation of the law.
Lawyer Valentina Telychenko says that the law will not cancel out sentences already passed, meaning that the fines imposed on Yury Bolotov and Vladislav Zahorovko, and then later on Lviv photographer Oleh Panas, may remain in force.
Three other men remain in custody and it is worrying that their appeals against 2-month detention orders were rejected after the draft bill had been adopted by a clear majority in parliament.
The charges against Road Control journalist Andriy Dzyndzya and his lawyer Viktor Smaliy seem preposterous. The first is accused of involvement in commandeering the bulldozer brought to Bankova St on Dec 1 when there is every indication that he was there as a journalist reporting the events. His lawyer has been charged with "attempted murder" of the judge who remanded Dzyndzya in custody for 2 months. The criminal proceedings against the two men also coincide with vicious attacks on other members of Road Control and look suspiciously like a campaign to destroy this police watchdog that has been a thorn in the side of the traffic police and prosecutor’s office for some time (more details in Full Frontal Offensive on Road Control)
The charges against Volodymyr Kadura who remains in custody are also extremely worrying.
The law allows the authorities 10 days to withdraw criminal charges, etc, and the above will possibly be updated in more positive key. Developments over the last weeks have unfortunately given little grounds for optimism, and even less for believing any promises given by those in authority.