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Human Rights in Ukraine. Website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
№11
2012

Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights)

Elections

05.11.2012

Cherkasy election district results remain in limbo

   

OPORA reports that the situation at District Election Commission [DEC] No. 194 in Cherkasy remains unresolved despite the fact that by 3 November two protocols had been signed and stamped, and the results officially announced. However the final documents have not been taken to the Central Election Commision [CEC] because, firstly, the head of the DEC Olha Kozko has been taken by ambulance to hospital and only she knows the secret password for completing the final documentation. Secondly, the new chair Vasyl Mykolenko, member of the DEC from the Ukrainian People’s Party [Lytvyn’s party and part of the ruling majority in the old parliament – translator) has still not held a meeting. Since the head of the DEC must take the documents to the CEC, and he needs to receive CEC legiitimization, the DEC has sent the relevant application and is now awaiting the response.

MP (from BYUT) Lesya Orobets has also reported a violations of electoral legislation to the Prosecutor General against the head of the DEC which stopped the vote count in the electoral district.

According to the CEC website,   DEC No. 194 had processed all 100% of the protocols from precinct election commissions on 1 November, however there was an intense battle between Mykola Bulatetsky [from Batkivshchyna or the United Opposition) and Valentina Zhukovska, with the latter, according to the CEC website having 12, 373 less votes.  

Worth mentioning that on the evening of 2 November when the ambulance was called for the head of the DEC, Olha Kozko, it was decided to take her to hospital (with high blood pressure and poor cardiogram results “however the head first hid the stamp and the keys from the safe and didn’t want to hand them over. Therefore when they wanted to take her out on a stretcher, those present tried to block the doors. Police officers broke the door down and the electricity went off”.  OPORA notes then that fortunately the situation did not result in a fight, Kozko was taken to hospital and the stamp and keys were found.  Not, however, the password….

Elections

15.11.2012
source: imi.org.ua

185 infringement of journalists’ rights during election campaign

   

Monitoring carried out by the Institute for Mass Information has found that from 30 July to 31 October  there were 185 infringements of journalists’ rights, with 115 of these directly linked with the parliamentary elections and / or with those infringing their rights candidates or MPs.

The number of infringements during the pre-election period was much higher than during any months prior to that in 2012. In January 6 infringements were recorded; in October – 85, i.e. 14 times more.

The most widespread infringements were obstructing journalists from carrying out their professional duties (98 cases). There were also:

37 cases where journalists were assaulted or intimidated;

32 law suits against the media;

13 cases of indirect pressure on media workers;

3 cases where journalists were unwarrantedly detained;

2 civil suits by media publications against election playwers.

There were a lot of occasions up till the elections on 28 October when journalists were not allowed into meetings between candidates and voters, or to large-scale events organized by them, or where they were prohibited from taking photos or videoing the even.

8 August Kateryna Samoilyk from the Communist Party prohibited Kherson journalist Tetyana Zhuchenko from being present at the even and photographing and videoing it.

10 September  Oleksandr Vasylyev, candidate from the Party of the Regions for No. 59 (Donetsk oblast) rudely prohibited journalists from the Capri TV Channel from filming his meeting with voters. Iryna Prylepska, Chief Editor says that Vasylyev threatened to smash their cameras if the journalists didn’t stop filming, while his guards also threatened “to meet with them again” in the town where their office is located.

12 September a journalist from the newspaper “Point of view” [a play on the name of the election watchdog OPORA – translator] Yury Mochaev was pushed out of the premises where Party of the Regions candidate and former Governor of the Rivne oblast was speaking.  Somebody also threatened to hurt both him and his video camera.

17 October a Channel 5 film crew was unable to get to a concert organized by Party of the Regions MP Vitaly Zhuravsky.

Journalists investigating voter bribery came under particular pressure.

On 15 October Kost Kovalenko who writes for the information agency HolosUA and other publications reported having been beaten up in Berdychev where he was investigating voter-buying in No. 63 single-mandate electoral district. He asserts that after arriving in Berdychev, he managed to get information about vote-buying by Petrenko.  He says that he passed this information on to the civic network OPORA and international observers on 14 October.  The next day, he asserts, he .was confronted by 21-30 burly men who proceeded to beat, intimidate and torture him. He says that he informed OPORA on 16 October and reported the incident to the police the following day.

On 22 October a film crew from the Kirovohrad Regional State TV channel were held by force in the headquarters of a Batkivshchyna candidate O. Tabalov where an attempt was made to remove their video camera and cassettes. Prior to this they had been gathering evidence suggesting bribing of voters, falsification of electoral documents and other infringements.

On 22 October journalist from a Transcarpathian newspaper Oleh Podebriy had his car smashed up after he investigated possible voter bribery by a Party of the Regions candidate Vasyl Kovach.

Not infrequently journalists face physical force, assaults and damage to their equipment.  It is usually the charges of candidates or “unknown individuals” who are constantly near candidates.

In the Luhansk oblast it was a candidate who resorted to violence. Valery Moshensky from Lytvyn’s bloc hit journalist Ivan Zheved for videoing his meeting.

On 20 October in Brovary on the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Azarov two journalists – Alina Dyachenko and Amdriy Kachora – were assaulted and had their mobile telephones on which they’d been recording their attempt to get into the polling station smashed.

Indirect pressure

The search in the editorial office of the Internet publication Glavnoye (see http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1346163713).

The questioning of the Chief Editor of the TV Channel Avers and Chief Editor of Avers Press

IMI writes that law suits lodged by candidates against the press can be considered pressure on the media before the elections.

For example, a court suspended issue of the Irpin newspaper Osobysty Pohlyad [Personal View] following a law suit by City Council Deputy Dmytro Voitsekh.

Other local publications were also under threat of closure.

See, for example, Party of the Regions fails to close popular Rivne weekly

On 14 September candidate from the Party of the Regions for No. 149 Oleksy Lelyuk filed a suit against the Poltava editorial office of Gazeta po-ukrainsky over an interview with a member of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] who had alleged that Lelyuk handed out sweets and flour from the State Reserve,

On 5 October an independent candidate for No. 123 in the Lviv oblast Taras Batenko filed a suit against the publication Varianty, also over allegations of beneficence at the state’s expense.

The State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee says that as of 29 October 120 court rulings on cases involving alleged infringement by the media of electoral legislation on the basis of civil suits had been passed.  In 48 cases the court allowed the claim.

They were most often against the printed press and involved complaints about refusing to publish advertising material; publication of untruthful information, etc.

The largest number was lodged by the opposition Batkivshchyna Party – 31, of which 17 were allowed.

Infringements on Election Day 

As already reported, on on Election Day there were 16 reported cases where journalists were obstructed when carrying out their work. There was also one attack on a journalist and a case involving indirect pressure.

Most often journalists were not allowed into polling stations either during voting or the vote count, or else they were thrown out.

In Yarevyshche in the Volyn oblast the head of the Precinct Electoral Commission [PEC] from the Party of the Regions Ludmila Hrinchuk threw out journalist Volodymyr Voloshyn who was recording the spoiling of ballot papers.

In Dyula in the Transcarpathian oblast the Village Mayor Oleksandr Shopi took journalists ID away and pushed them away from PEC No. 210089.

Journalist from Halytsky Korespondent Markiana Prokhasya and several other journalists and observers were not admitted to the morning sessions of PEC No. 260430 in Kosmachi, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast.

In Krasny Luch, Luhansk oblast, Oleh Yatsenko from the newspaper Ukraina Moloda was thrown out of PEC No. 440898 (No. 108 electoral district) as he “got in their way”. The members of the committee did not provide a copy of the decision to remove him.

There were also cases where journalists were prohibited from videoing electoral commissions’ work.

The Head of the District Electoral Commission [DEC] No. 156 Serhiy Loskutov in the Rivne oblast stopped Georgy Oliynyk from taking photographs and threw him out of the building.

Loskutov also obstructed the work of journalists from the local TV channel RTB, lunging at a video camera and trying to grab the lens.

In Brovary, Kyiv oblast near the building housing DEC for District No. 97 somebody smashed the video camera belonging to Andriy Kachora, journalist from the Internet publication You have the right to know. The journalist was filming a member of the DEC Oleksandr Hrytsai giving comments to the State-owned UTV-1  and saying that the situation in Brovary was even calmer than they’d expected.  The police who were present did not react.

There were a number of DDoS attacks on Internet publications and the sites of NGOs monitoring the elections or reporting such monitoring.

There were also “troll attacks” on the mobile telephones of various journalists and media lawyers.

There were less calls than in 2004 to journalist help-lines which Roman Holovenko from IMI suggests may be because journalists are better prepared for work on Election Day and more aware of their rights.

“For the first time we noted that during incidents of obstruction or misunderstandings at polling stations, journalists mainly turned to the police and not to the CEC or DEC. A duty police officer helped journalists in negotiations with members of the PEC, but refused to record violation of their rights. That did not apply to the situation in Kyiv where police officers pretended that they didn’t see the conflict”.

Part of monthly monitoring by the Institute for Mass Information with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy

Politics and human rights

19.11.2012 | Halya Coynash

Constitutional Fiddle

   

The timing of the Law on Referendums could have seemed merely inappropriate coinciding as it did with the protracted vote count and infringements which made the parliamentary elections anything but fair and democratic. In today’s Ukraine it appeared sinister. With 264 deputy cards (with or – mostly – without the relevant MP) the ruling majority suddenly passed a law which paves the way for changing the Constitution without such irritating restrictions as are provided by that same most fundamental document.

The page with details about the draft bill makes the abruptness of this move fully apparent.  All versions, analysis and comparative table are from 2010 when the law was sent back for amendments to be made before being submitted for a repeat second reading.  No amendments were made at all, however on 6 November 2012 the same draft law was adopted.

Attention abroad was largely focused on the increasingly dubious vote count, however there have been warning voices about this law within Ukraine.  The following is largely based on analysis by Ihor Koliushko and Yulya Kyrychenko, as well as others where cited. 

They believe the timing of the bill is no accident.  President Yanukovych did not get a constitutional majority (300 out of the 450 MPs) and they suggest he does not want to leave the fate of constitutional changes up to the new makeup of the Verkhovna Rada.

The situation, even given some of the moves taken over the last two and a half years, is unprecedented with the procedure for amendments to the Constitution being adopted in breach of Section XIII of the Constitution itself.

The draft law makes it possible to pass a new version of the Constitution; make amendments to the Constitution; revoke parts of it, etc, by putting the question to a national referendum. Neither the Verkhovna Rada nor the Constitutional Court is assigned a role in this.  “In the procedure for amendments to the Constitution established by the draft Law, entirely new people with authority appear, namely the President and the Central Election Commission. A declarative subject of constitutional law also appears – the Ukrainian people, while political parties and national civic organizations are not recognized as subjects of a national referendum.”

Lest the words suggest that this is a step towards power of the people, the authors point out that whether such a referendum is an instrument for people power or usurping of power by totalitarian dictators depends on two issues: what is put to the vote and how; and what the procedure is.  If a Constitution appears from somewhere, not having been adopted by a competent body, and is then, at the President’s decision, put to a vote in a referendum, this is an example of the latter, or power being usurped.

For a referendum to be called, there need to be 3 million signatures from two thirds of the country’s oblasts, with no less than 100 thousand signatures in any one region. The time scale seems breathtaking with the local authorities having five days to collect the requisite number of signatures and the Central Election Commission having five days to check the signatures and the documents, and to form commissions whose makeup is proposed by the authorities.  After this the President announces a referendum, the results of which are binding.

Viktor Musiyaka, one of the authors of the original Constitution, is scathing of the claim that this draft law meets the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission requirements.  The Venice Commission, he points out, recommends a limited number of issues so that people know what they’re voting for.  The law just passed states:

3.2  “Several issues from one or several of the subjects of an all-Ukrainian referendum may be put to referendum“.  These could be (one or several) of the following: adoption of a new Constitution; on change in territory of Ukraine; on adopting or revoking a law.

Legal analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, for example, thinks that Yanukovych could use a referendum to galvanize support during the next presidential elections.  A referendum, for example, could be held on adding another State language (clearly Russian). 

Worth repeating that this would bypass parliament and the Constitutional Court, while the outcome would be binding. 

It is also of great relevance to note that the CEC was responsible for some of the mechanisms which led to very worrying developments during the parliamentary elections, especially with the makeup of election commissions.  In fact, though, even without such concerns, it is difficult to understand how any body could do more than rubber stamp a petition of 3 million signatures in 5 days.  Koliushko and Kyrychenko, for example, ask whether the CEC would need to take into consideration such constitutional norms as the prohibition in Article 157 on amendments to the Constitution which restrict human rights and civil liberties, or that encroach upon Ukraine’s territorial integrity. If so, then 5 days to do what has up till now been the prerogative of the Constitutional Court is clearly absurd.  The same authors note the undemocratic procedure for the formation of district and precinct commissions for administering the referendum.  These would be formed by the CEC on the basis of submissions from the authorities at the particular level.  There is no procedure for changing the makeup of a commission at all, with this left to the CEC, although this must be stipulated by law. The degree to which the makeup of such commissions can be manipulated and the extent to which this may have affected the vote count in such electoral districts was all too clear during and immediately after the parliamentary elections.

One of the other aspects of the run-up to the latest elections which made it impossible to consider them fair was the degree to which the ruling party effectively controlled the media, including the State-owned UTV-1.  The authors note, without going into details, that there are no guidelines on campaigning etc.  With the present grip on the media, it is difficult to imagine how the majority of the population who glean information from television and perhaps local newspapers would have any chance of understanding the issues they were being asked to vote on.

It is very much to be feared that this is precisely the aim of this sudden legislative spurt 

Politics and human rights

28.11.2012 | Halya Coynash

Bypassing the Constitution

   

Among the numerous calls to veto dangerous laws ignored by President Yanukovych this year alone, the Law on National Referendums signed into force on Tuesday may seem innocuous enough.  What, after all, could be more democratic than referendums?

Democratic or manipulative

If asked in a referendum to decide whether the death penalty should be reintroduced, the reader will have a clear opinion.  If asked in one referendum to say yes or no to changes to the Constitution written in difficult legalese, as well as a few other equally complex issues, the majority of citizens will experience difficulties. If then, the campaign leading up to the referendum is run solely by the local authorities with no guarantee that both sides of each issue will get equal airing, and the increasingly submissive media presents only one side, can we consider the result to reflect the will of the people?  Especially when the said popular vote is to be assessed by the Central Election Committee which will have complete responsibility for appointing precinct and district election commissions to organize the vote and vote count?

These are just some of the objections to the Law on National Referendums which President Yanukovych signed on 27 November.  Authoritative analysts including one of the authors of Ukraine’s Constitution, Viktor Musiyaka believe the law to be unconstitutional and very dangerous.

With likely deviousness, but also supreme irony, the law was “passed” in blitzkrieg fashion on 6 November as both Ukrainians and the international community followed the dubious vote count in elections which fell far short of democratic standards with mounting concern.

The sudden re-appearance of this draft law should have raised alarm bells. All documentation was from July 2010 when the draft law had been sent back to be reworked and then submitted for a repeat second reading since some of its norms were in breach of the Constitution.  They remain in breach, no propositions were taken into consideration, yet the same law was pulled out and hastily “passed” in November 2012. 

According to this new Law, the Constitution can now be amended or a new version introduced on the basis of a referendum alone, with the Verkhovna Rada simply not involved.  This is clearly in breach of Part XIII of the Constitution, but conveniently avoids the need to get a constitutional majority, i.e. two thirds of the MPs.  The Party of the Regions has made no secret of its wish to secure such a majority, but remains far from the requisite number. 

Now the issue can be put to a referendum with other issues also included.  This runs counter to Council of Europe recommendations which suggest strictly limiting the number of questions in any referendum so that people have a chance to fully understand the issue they are voting on.

Other recommendations are just as disturbingly flouted with no regulation of the subject and procedural suitability of the texts to be voted on, nor public funding and campaigning for the referendum.  There is no guarantee of equal access to the media of all interested parties.  The State authorities and bodies of local self-government will exert enormous influence at almost all levels. Moreover the makeup of the election commissions will be at the submission of bodies of local self-government, with political parties not involved at all. 

All of the above and other concerns are clearly only important where the issues in question are contentious, involving constitutional changes, changes to how the President is elected (or for how many terms), State language, etc.  Given the haste in passing the bill, the timing (with the old, reliable ruling majority still in office), as well as the irregularity with which a version rejected for constitutional infringements was brazenly pushed through, there seem ample grounds for concern. 

Politics and human rights

30.11.2012 | Halya Coynash

What now?

   

“Ukraine fatigue” is palpable in the wake of the parliamentary elections. It is in a sense even understandable, after all what do you do when all the assurances have proven entirely empty and Ukraine’s leaders stubbornly continue trampling on democratic values?  What can be done is for the EU, PACE and other structures to determine behind closed doors however two highly dangerous laws just signed into force by the President make it amply plain that turning away cannot be an option. 

Following a rather unconvincing pretence of applying his power of veto and demanding minor amendments to the notorious draft Law on a Unified State Demographic Register, President Yanukovych has now signed it into force.   This is a major victory for Vasyl Hrytsak, the Party of the Regions author of the bill and the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System] which he is linked with.  It is a major blow to all Ukrainian citizens who will face crippling costs in organizing 13 biometric documents.  It is also a grave threat to Ukraine’s democracy since the register will store an unlimited amount of private information about Ukrainian citizens which will be shared between different ministries and authorities.  The register is also more than likely to end up on the black market since there are no safeguards envisaged for highly sensitive information.

This mixture of corrupt dealings, scope for mass snooping on opposition figures, civic activists etc, as well as likely descent into chaos and incompetence, is presented as being in compliance with Ukraine’s obligations under the EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization Action Plan.  This is pitifully unconvincing since the EU requires only that Ukrainians have biometric passports for travelling beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Two days earlier, President Yanukovych signed the Law on National Referendums which is in grave breach of the Constitution and provides a set up which could enable “the people” to decide that there are no restrictions on the number of presidential terms; that the President can be elected by parliament; that Russian should be a second State language, etc.  The arrangement would be similar to that for the organization of the October parliamentary elections and vote count, only without even the guarantees of equal opportunities for all parties.  There is no indication of a minimum turnout, yet the results of this “referendum” would be binding.  More details can be found in Bypassing the Constitution and in the links below that.

In both cases the President has ignored calls from authoritative civic and human rights organizations, legal experts, as well as Ukraine’s Constitution and recommendations from Council of Europe bodies.  2012 has already broken all records for dangerous legislative acts which do all of the above.  Most notorious were, of course, the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy which effectively gives Russian near-State language status (see Language Law vs. Ukraine’s Constitution) and a Law on Public Procurement which removes State enterprises from any tender system whatsoever.

Even more calls have been heard for the release of Ukraine’s two most prominent political prisoners – former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko.

They were also heard for free and fair elections although it was obvious from the outset that political opponents should be fought on the election trail, not via the courts.

The problem is that we shout over and over again that laws, politically motivated trials, etc, are in breach of the Constitution and Ukraine’s international commitments, that the President is ignoring widespread calls to veto dangerous laws, that the elections must be fairly run, etc   They don’t cease to be relevant nor is the danger any less. In fact it is much greater precisely because of the repetition – people switch off. Let’s hope that behind those closed doors tangible measures will be passed.  The danger warrants them. 

Picture: alternateeconomy.wordpress.com 

Against torture and ill-treatment

07.11.2012

Law extending Ombudsperson’s powers comes into force

   

The Human Rights Ombudsperson’s website informs that the law on amendments to the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson regarding a national preventive mechanism came into force on 4 November.

The report states that the law has now given the Ombudsperson the right to submit proposals regarding improvements to legislation regarding human rights; have access to documents including those containing information on restricted access and to receive copies of these from the authorities; bodies of local self-government  ; civic associations; at enterprises; institutions and organizations regardless of their form of ownership; Prosecutor’s offices.  These include cases which are before the courts.

The Human Rights Ombudsperson will be able to make spot checks of SIZO [remand centres) and prisons, as well as temporary holding facilities for foreign nationals and stateless persons, and a large number of other institutions which people may not leave of their own free will.  The list includes psychiatric institutions, “psycho-neurological institutions” (for people with serious psychological disorders usually making them unable to cope by themselves), institutions for the disabled and for the elderly.

As reported, one of Ukraine’s international commitments under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture [OPCAT] is the creation of a State body responsible for prevention of ill-treatment in places of confinement and restriction of liberty.  Ukraine was supposed to have developed a national preventive mechanism within a year of ratifying OPCAT (in 2006). 

Privacy

02.11.2012 | Yevhen Zakharov

Police access to the names of SIM-card owners

   

  The State Administration for Special Communications and Protection of Information [SASCPI] has drawn up a draft law on amendments to the Law on Telecommunications introducing sale of SIM-cards according to an agreement between the user and the operator. The agreement would be drawn up on the basis of the user’s internal passport or other ID. The government would be responsible for determining the details for the procedure behind these amendments. All of this is being done in order to improve police efficiency by providing them with information about telecommunications users.

Police plans

SASCPI claims that the draft law “mainly envisages systemizing norms regulating the provision of information at various stages and the regime for access to data with different legal status, as well as ensuring efficiency in receiving information”. However in fact the draft law states firstly that “procedure for provision of information about a telecommunications user and the telecommunications services provided is stipulated by the Cabinet of Ministers”. Secondly, “telecommunications operators and providers are obliged to provide the law enforcement agencies with information about telecommunications users and the telecommunications services provided on the scale and manner stipulated by the Cabinet of Ministers. And thirdly, the “provision of telecommunications services with the use of identification telecommunications cards is carried out on the basis of an agreement between the operator and the user of such services according to procedure stipulated by the Cabinet of Ministers”.

The SIM-card number registered in a person’s name is added to their personal data. Personal data is, from the point of view of access, confidential information, and the gathering, storage, use and circulation of confidential information without a person’s consent is prohibited by Article 32 of the Constitution, except in cases stipulated by law. This means that only a law may regulate this procedure, not a Cabinet of Ministers resolution, and in this respect the draft law is clearly in breach of the Constitution.

If we recall the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register, passed on 2 October, which effectively introduces a single universal ID code, the plans of the law enforcement bodies become pretty clear. This register will contain information about ones parents; details about documents issued to the person; an encrypted sample of the person’s signature; an encrypted image of his or her face; additional changing information (about place of registration; family status; issue of privatization papers etc); as well as information from department information systems and other data. This “other” data will doubtless include SIM-card numbers registered in the person’s name.

After the law comes into force it will be impossible to buy a SIM-card without an agreement with a telecommunications operator, and the operators will be obliged to regularly provide the law enforcement bodies with personal databases of uses together with their SIM-cards.

Police state

If this procedure is the same (and no other is considered!) then this constitutes a flagrant infringement of the right to privacy. All SIM-card owners fall within the framework in terms of status of potential criminals. This is extremely similar to the proposals from the Interior Ministry still under debate – to add full name, date of birth, serial and number of ID to railway tickets with the noble purpose of searching for criminals. Such an approach just as automatically gives any user of Ukrainian Railways the status of a person suspected of having committed a crime. A state which introduces such procedure is throughout the world called a police state.

Under such an approach identification of a SIM-card user will be automatic. Knowing the name of a mobile telephone owner, the police can easily get to their electronic address and accounts in social networks.

Yet will this help to find people about whom information has been received that they are planning to commit a crime? Russian experience shows that SIM-cards are registered to fictitious individuals and then resold on a black market of cards which appeared very rapidly in Russia.

Operators are disgruntled with this new development. People living in small towns and village settlements will, in order to obtain a SIM-card, have to travel to regional centres since only they have the providers’ shops. It is not clear how the mobile operators will register all the tens of millions of users who already have SIM-cards. Will they simply block the cards and thus force people to come and register?

How it should be

We must acknowledge that the police do need to have access to mobile telephone users’ databases to investigate or prevent a crime, and therefore registration of users is needed. It is carried out in most countries. However these databases need to be stored by the telecommunications operators, contain a minimal amount of data. They should be securely stored, not passed to anyone and provided only to the people themselves or, on the basis of a request from the authorities (for example, police) regarding specific numbers in the manner stipulated by law.

The law should envisage registration of such requests, as well as reporting from the law enforcement agencies on how the information received was used; how many crimes were prevented as a result; how many solved, etc. However are the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies capable of accepting rules which apply in the civilized world?

Yevhen Zakharov is the Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group

The views expressed in Point of view are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the position of Radio Svoboda

Freedom of expression

01.11.2012
source: imi.org.ua

UNIAN editors give examples of censorship, taboo subjects and more

   

Six editors from the UNIAN website have addressed an open letter to the UNIAN General Director in which they give examples of censorship by management.

They say that management has banned negative coverage of President Yanukovych’s activities. It also forced them during the election period to give coverage to the leader of the Communist Party Petro Symonenko and to one of the candidates in single-mandate electoral district No. 218.

The editors assert that they have received letters from Mykola Kondratenko, head of the Internet projects department where he gives direct instructions to “follow the activities of the Communist Party and the leader of the proletariat, and pay close attention to their news.”  The coverage referred to is of Symonenko’s trips around the regions during the election period.

With respect to the candidate from electoral district No. 218, they say that in October alone they posted 37 of his commentaries.

They also allege that the names of three opposition single-mandate electoral district candidates (Doniy; Aryev and Bryhynets) were taboo on the website.

Several examples are provided of news items removed on the instruction of Kondratenko who, the authors say, agreed this with Osadchy:  “The opposition reports the appearance of a fake interview with Turchynov”; “The Party of the Regions’ interests in district electoral commissions will be represented by 13 out of the 18 members”, and others.

The editors say that they were stopped from covering the events at the World Newspaper Congress (held in Kyiv) when colleagues from Ukrainska Pravda were assaulted, and assert that Osadchy himself placed a taboo on the subject of the journalist protest action (they stood up when Yanukovych began his opening address with placards about censorship in Ukraine – translator).

The statement is signed by the Senior Site Editor Lyubov Zhalovaha and editors Oleksandr Volynsky; Valentina Romanenko; Natalia Ovdiyenko; Roman Romanyuk and Natalia Nehrei.

As reported, in a statement released on 25 October five of the same editors wrote that Osadchy had told two editors – Lyubov Zhalovaha and Valentina Romanenko – that on the basis of an official note from the head of the UNIAN Internet project Mykola Kondratenko each was to be fined 200 UAH (roughly 20 EUR) for posting a news story.  This was preceded by an order to remove the news item about a picket outside the President’s Administration in defence of the Bilichansk Forest.  They assert that the conversation with Kondratenko and Osadchy boiled down to the question: “Why are you getting at Yanukovych?”

They write that after our statement indicating that we intended to make public the content of the conversation and of cases of censorship on the site, the management, sensing the consequences for them, at first retreated, then began resorting to blackmail”

“We were aware that with the change of management the rules of play would also change, however tried as much as we could to maintain the face of the site in the hope that the situation was temporary and of better times. We hope that with this statement we are doing precisely that – bringing better times closer”.

Freedom of expression

07.11.2012

UHHRU Statement regarding Censorship at UNIAN

   

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union is concerned over the encroachment on freedom of speech at the website of the UNIAN information agency.

During the 19 years of its existence, UNIAN has become one of the most influential and authoritative information providers in Ukraine. UNIAN reports are quoted by hundreds of Ukrainian and foreign media sources, while the www.unian.net site gets hundreds of thousands of readers each day. The agency’s team achieved such an audience and reputation through its impartiality, efficient work over many years and its adherence to journalist standards. We would particularly note the agency’s role in affirming the rule of law and defending human rights in Ukraine – over 5 years, from 2007 to 2012, UNIAN ran a special information project entitled “Human Rights”.

It is regrettable that at present all these achievements may be negated through the imposition of censorship.  We refer to the controversial staff changes in the agencies and dismissal of the Chief Editor Oleksandr Kharchenko who had worked at UNIAN for many years and the appointment of a new managerial team, people from the 1 + 1 group (Mykola Kondratenko, Vadim Osadchy and Mykhailo Hannytsky) (see http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1337280813)

This has resulted in numerous reports from the agency’s journalists and editors about attempts to put pressure and impose censorship from the new management and the introduction of fines for publishing “inconvenient” topics. (http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1351362699)

The editors assert that the new management not only banned negative reports about President Yanukovych, but also about the leader of the Communist Party Petro Symonenko, as well as ordering increased coverage of the election campaign of candidate Oleksandr Tretyakov. A taboo, furthermore, has been imposed on the names of three opposition single-mandate electoral district candidates (Doniy; Aryev and Bryhynets).

Such examples of censorship in the UNAN agency which is owned by Ihor Kolomoisky are of particular concern given the sad fate of other media sources owned by his media holding, for example the treatment of Gazeta po-kievski” (see: On the Measures against Gazeta po-kievski and the destruction of the City TV channel which was the only Kyiv TV channel providing objective news.

We call on UNIAN’s owner, Ihor Kolomoisky to stop the destruction of UNIAN, to carry out an internal investigation and dismiss those involved in attempts to impose censorship.

We would point out that the mass media is nobody’s puppet.  It is the public’s achievement and the public are entitled to receive free and varied information. Without this right Ukraine is doomed to descend into authoritarianism.

The imposition of elements of censorship is incompatible with democratic values and inexcusable.

According to international standards, the onus is on media owners to not interfere in the editorial police of a publication and individual journalists and they should introduce such procedure for publishing journalists’ information as precludes censorship.

In accordance with international human rights standards a country is obliged to provide legislative guarantees against censorship of the media by, for example, introducing various procedure for preventing censorship by the media owners or management. The state must guarantee journalists the opportunity to retain their editorial independence. The state must prepare a mechanism for intervening in such a situation since censorship poses a threat to society as a whole and is not an internal corporate conflict.

Yevhen Zakharov

Head of the UHHRU Board

Arkady Bushchenko

UHHRU Executive Director

Freedom of expression

26.11.2012
source: imi.org.ua

End Impunity for violence against journalists!

   

On 23 November International Day to End Impunity 11 Ukrainian media organizations published a petition in which they list 29 cases where those who used violence against media representatives remained unpunished despite calls to the law enforcement bodies to intervene.

In the petition to be handed to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Interior Ministry and the President’s Administration, the NGOs demand that the cases be investigated and those responsible for offences linked with journalists carrying out their professional duties be punished.

According to Oleksandr Tarasov from the Independent Media Trade Union the law enforcement bodies do not treat the majority of assaults on journalists in Ukraine as obstruction of their journalist work, but as other offences, most often hooliganism.

Tetyana Kotyuzhynska from the National Union of Journalists says that in all cases where journalists were obstructed during 2012 the law enforcement bodies either refused to initiate criminal proceedings or imposed symbolic punishments. “Even when a journalist was very badly beaten and even when Article 171 of the Criminal Code (obstruction of a journalist carrying out their duties – translator) was infringed, the punishment was a fine of 51 UAH (less than 5 EUR – translator).

At a roundtable discussing the problem, she said that the issue has been raised many times with the police and Prosecutor’s Office, including during meetings of the Inter-departmental Working Group on Freedom of Speech. At a recent meeting to discuss the new Criminal Procedure Code, they were told that with the entry into force of the CPC the police will now automatically initiate criminal cases if journalists report obstruction while carrying out professional duties.  Up till now the law enforcement bodies had 10 days to investigate, and normally they decided not to initiate criminal cases under Article 171.  Now also Dictaphone recordings are added to the case file and can be used as evidence in court.  The new CPC also makes it possible to complain about the authorities’ failure to act. Ms Kotyuzhynska says that they hope for a response from the Prosecutor regarding the imposition of censorship at the UNIAN information agency. She believes that court practice should now develop where the inaction of the authorities is the subject of court cases. They are tired of hearing from the police that the culprit couldn’t be found and that there are no grounds for initiating a criminal case.

The petition is signed by the civic movement Stop Censorship!; the Independent Media Trade Union; the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine; the Institute for Mass Information; Telekrytyka; the Media Law Institute; the Mediafront Journalist Union; and Internews Ukraine. It is supported by Reporters without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists.

They demand that those who ordered the murder of Georgy Gongadze be found and brought to justice; an open and transparent trial in the case and a just sentence in the case of both those who carried out and those who ordered the crime.

Investigation and punishment of those responsible is also demanded with respect to the following:

The disappearance (/murder) of Kharkiv journalist Vasyl Klymentyev;

The attack on 1 + 1 journalist Dmytro Volkov;

The attack on photographer from tochka.net Vitaly Lazebnyk who was filming a protest in Victory Park on 3 May 2012;

The attack on five journalists and civic activists who were photographing products beyond their sell-by date in the Donetsk supermarket Sokil on 23 January 2012;

The attack on journalist Oleksandr Techynsky in October 2008.  Despite the fact that the assailant is easily identifiable on a photo, the incident has never been investigated;

The attempt on the life of Donetsk journalist Oleksy Matsuka. The case has not been investigated, the witnesses whom he named have not been questioned. The journalist is continuing to receive threats.

The beating of journalists by Special Unit Grifon officers at the Pechersky Court in July 2011;

They list 29 offences linked with journalists’ work during 2012 and demand investigation and punishment of those responsible.  They also demand information about the investigations into a long and depressing list of previous cases which remain unsolved. 

Freedom of peaceful assembly

07.11.2012

Defending the right to peaceful assembly

   

Oleksandr Severyn from the Maidan Alliance writes of an important explanation from the High Administrative Court and a court victory over a worrying relic of the Soviet past.  As reported on many times, local authorities in independent Ukraine continue to pull out a decree from Soviet times in order to justify unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of assembly.

Unlike Ukraine’s Constitution, the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 28 July 1988 «On the procedure for the organization of meetings, political rallies, street events and demonstrations in the USSR” establishes a permission-based system for peaceful assembly and stipulates that applications must be filed 10 days before the planned gathering.  These restrictions run counter to practice in democratic countries, but they are also simply invalid being based on a decree issued by a non-existent country, superseded by Ukraine’s Constitution.

Oleksandr Severyn reports that at the beginning of 2012 13 city councils of regional centres responded to Maidan information requests by saying that when considering notification of plans to hold peaceful gatherings, they are guided by this same defunct Soviet decree.  He adds that the Justice Ministry has at least twice suggested that the decree is valid, and the courts continue to cite it.

On 21 May 2012 the High Administrative Court issued a Reference document on administrative court practice in applying legislation during cases in 2010 – 2011 on the right to peaceful assembly.  In Item 2 of the Plenum’s Resolution from that day, the High Administrative Court finally states unequivocally that “in case law when examining cases pertaining to restriction of the right to peaceful assembly, there have been cases where the Procedure for the organization of meetings, political rallies, street events and demonstrations in the USSR established by Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 28 July 1988 has been applied. This approach is wrong.

Since the norms of this Decree establish a permission-based (registration) procedure for holding peaceful gatherings and give the authorities and bodies of local self-government   the right to ban them, while the norms of Ukraine’s Constitution envisage notification procedure for holding gatherings (through informing the authorities) and give only the court the authority to ban a peaceful gathering, the said act should not be used by courts in resolving cases of the category under review”.

The Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal allowed the appeal lodged by Oleksandr Severyn and his colleagues against a prohibition ruling from the Kyiv District Administrative Court. It agreed with their argument that  the Decree runs counter to Ukraine’s Constitution since it establishes a permission-based procedure, that it applies to the holding of gatherings in the now dissolved Soviet Union. They pointed out that according to Article 19 of the Constitution the authorities and bodies of local self-government may only act in accordance with the Constitution and Laws of Ukraine.

Severyn writes that while Ukraine does not have precedent law, members of the public who wish to challenge unlawful restrictions would be advised to refer to the above mention judgements.

He adds that it is to be hoped that the High Administrative Court will carry out Item 3 of the Plenum’s Resolution and “Recommend that the President of the High Administrative Court creates a working group to prepare a draft resolution of the High Administrative Court Plenum on Court Practice by Administrative Courts regarding Examination and Judgements regarding the Exercise of the Right to Peaceful Assembly (rallies, meetings, processions, demonstrations, etc).”

Severyn notes that unfortunately courts are also issuing rulings restricting the right to peaceful assembly not only of specific respondents, but to an indefinite group “all other individuals exercising their right to peaceful assembly”. The absurdity of this, he says, is clear. 

Freedom of peaceful assembly

23.11.2012

NGOs call to unite in defence of freedom of assembly

   

The safeguarding of human rights and civil liberties is the main function of the State. Unfortunately at present the Ukrainian authorities are not only failing to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly, but are also their main violator.

We are concerned at the hostility shown by Ukrainian courts to this aspect of civil society and the mass-scale practice of bans of peaceful gatherings.

In 2011 the authorities approached the courts to ban 211 peaceful gatherings, with this being successful in almost 90% of the cases. In 2012 this trend has only increased.

We are disturbed by an increase in disproportionate interference by the law enforcement bodies and bodies of local self-government  in every peaceful protest.

Hiding from public dissatisfaction, the authorities are preventing tent camp protests by calling tents “small architectural forms”. Special units disperse demonstrators, inflicting physical and material damage, while the police put pressure on civic activists through regular summonses to police stations.

We are worried by the use of subordinate legislation to restrict one of the fundamental human rights.

It is appalling that in the twenty second year of independence, our country, restricting citizens’ freedom of peaceful assembly, is using Soviet legislation and arbitrarily interpreting Ukraine’s Constitution.

A new makeup of the Verkhovna Rada is beginning its work. We are preparing civic proposals to legislation on protection of peaceful assembly and will be calling on MPs to adopt them. Aware that the problem is not confined to legislation alone, we will be undertaking educational programmes, carrying out monitoring of how freedom of peaceful assembly is observed, as well as providing legal aid to organizers and those taking part.

In order to achieve these aims, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union; the Centre for Political and Legal Reform; the Centre for Civil Liberties; the Human Rights Information Centre; the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and the Ukrainian Independent Centre for Political Research have formed a Partnership “For Freedom of Peaceful Assembly”.

In awareness that defence of our rights is dependent on our determination and united stand, we call on our colleagues to join efforts to defend participants in peaceful gatherings and to create the legal safeguards of freedom of peaceful assembly.

Arkady Bushchenko, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Yevhen Zakharov, Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Roman Kuybida,   Centre for Political and Legal Reform

Oleksandra Matviychuk, Centre for Civil Liberties

Tetyana Pechonchuk, Human Rights Information Centre

Maxim Latsyba, Ukrainian Independent Centre for Political Researc

The right to health care

15.11.2012
source: atn.ua

The Fight against drug abuse hits cancer patients

   

Human rights workers and doctors believe that attempts to control the illicit drug trade are hitting the wrong people, namely people suffering from terminal illnesses who are deprived of urgently needed painkillers. 

The whole situation in Ukraine is bad with patients and their families left to fend for themselves.  Gennady tells how his wife who is dying of cancer was desperate.  The hospice available was worse than being at home.  He says that his wife was ready to kill herself before they came upon the programme “Hand of Assistance” in which volunteers provide palliative care at patients’ homes.

Specialists say that a major problem in Ukraine is the lack of a volunteer movement, with only isolated individuals prepared to even occasionally come to help out at a hospice, not to mention at people’s homes.

There are two institutions offering palliative medicine in Kharkiv, but researchers have found that a very large number of people have a prejudice against hospitals. At home patients cannot simply receive morphine in tablet form, but need to totally depend on visits from a doctor.  Andriy Rokhansky from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group explains that there is an ampule form of morphine which must be administered by a medical worker from the clinic.  He says that this is a major problem since WHO requirements stipulate that painkillers may only be administered for a four hour period, whereas getting a doctor to come more than twice is impossible. The problem is especially acute for people not living in a city. Yes, there are some committed doctors who will travel over bad roads to terminally ill paitents even several times a day, however they are the minority.  Many patients die in terrible pain surrounded only by members of their family.

Specialists insist that it is the police who need to take proper measures to fight drug addiction and illicit circulation of narcotics.  This struggle must not be at the expense of people with grave illnesses. 

Law enforcement agencies

16.11.2012

Police beat up journalist and civic activist

   

In Kamyana-Buzka (Lviv oblast) traffic police officers unlawfully detained and beat Nazar Oleksevych, journalist from the newspaper Krai and  member of the NGO Democratic Alliance and his father, Roman. The information was confirmed to Telekritika by the Head of the Lviv regional branch of Democratic Alliance, Ihor Hurnyak.

Nazar and his father had gone, at the request of drivers concerned by the behaviour of traffic police officers and traffic inspectorate  to where a crowd of indignant people had gathered.  They in fact called on Nazar as a journalist and civic activist to intervene in the situation and to video what was going on. They asserted that the traffic inspectorate people were demanding payment from people transporting beet.

Nazar Oleksevych says that he asked the officers to show their documents and was told “roughly” to get out. After that activists called the police, dialling 102.

«Together with those police officers who simply stood back and watched the events, members of other services arrived who began wrenching the video recorder away, while virtually suffocating the journalist with the strap. Roman Oleksevych wanted to run to the petrol station where there’s CCTV, but the police grabbed him by the legs and pulled him along the asphalt. And then they pushed him, half undressed, into the passenger seat and took him away together with his son Nazar”, Ihor Hurnyak says.

It then seems that the police took Nazar (with his father) to the hospital, however it remains unclear why or what happened then.  Ihor Hurnyak asserts that they took him to the hospital because of the outcry from the public but then says that they wanted to try to prove that he was drunk, and that he simply disappeared. “The police and the hospital denied that he was there. “Then it turned out that he was lying held by police officers in the private car of one of the traffic police officers near the hospital. The police didn’t report this and if he hadn’t begun shouting, we would still be looking for him”, Ihor Hurnyak explains.

By that time the entrance to the hospital was blocked by around 15 officers from various enforcement bodies (Hurnyak mentions the police, traffic police and Prosecutor’s Office}. According to Hurnyak, they were only away to get Nazar and his father out under the pressure from the public who began gathering around the hospital.

Hurnyak says that both father and son have written complaints about being beaten, over illegal extraction of money from drivers on the road and over the disappearance of their video recorder. They have also recorded the beatings. 

Telekritika asked a spokesperson from the police to comment.  The woman claimed that Nazar had not shown journalist ID and that one of the men had shown ID of the head of a union which she informs has never been registered.

The woman does not address the substance of the accusations, though apparently the police are checking and will give an official comment shortly. 

Law enforcement agencies

23.11.2012
source: gazeta.ua

"Law enforcement system not ready for implementation of new CPC"

   

  Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, comments on the new Criminal Procedure Code which came into force on 20 November. He says that the Code contains many positive features such as the introduction of home arrest; use of SIZO [remand units] only where people are accused of serious crimes.  This should, he says, reduce by 30% the number of remand prisoners since that is how many are then sentenced to minimum terms of imprisonment, up to 3 years.

“The practice of returning a case for additional investigation will disappear. If previously a judge saw that the person’s guilt was not proven, that the evidence was not convincing, he or she could, instead of issuing a verdict, sent the case for further investigation. A new criminal investigation was effectively started while the person remained in SIZO. There were cases where people were in SIZO without being convicted for 5-7 years. Now the judge must either convict or acquit the defendant.

Some definitions, for example, regarding detention have been well formulated. It is simply a quote from European Court of Human Rights case law. An investigating judge has appeared who will monitor the criminal prosecution up till the indictment. There is a norm about the inadmissibility of evidence (i.e. where given under duress – translator). There are a fair number of preventive measures against the use of torture since only evidence received during the criminal investigation will be taken into consideration. The procedure is clearly set out for reconciliation between the accused and victims.

Will deals between the judge and the defence disappear?

Corruption in the courts will not disappear, however a person has the opportunity to avoid imprisonment if he admits guilt and fully compensates the victim’s losses. The problem of corruption needs to be resolved at another level, through fundamental reform of the justice system.

How much will defence lawyers’ services for members of the public increase?

Only defence lawyers with a licence will take part in criminal cases. There will be more of them. Their services are indeed expensive. The solution lies in the development of a service of free legal aid which is gradually developing in Ukraine.  The year before last 2 million UAH was allocated for this, last year – 7 million, and next year 52 million is envisaged. Legal aid centres are being created in each regional centre where defence lawyers are selected on the basis of competition. One problem is that Ukraine has few qualified defence lawyers.

The new CPC brings in trial by jury. How will the jury be selected? Will the system work effectively?

This is one of the shortcomings of the Code. 3 jury members with two judges is a parody of justice. In civilized countries there are 12 jury members who are selected by the community. Our jury members will be selected by the local authorities and will fulfil the role of the former Soviet people’s assessors. Their nickname referred to the fact that they nodded their heads to whatever the judges said.

The use of bail is to be extended. How will the amount be determined?

The new code does not contain any explanation.  Judges will themselves determine the amount – 20 or 200 thousand UAH. I assume that for poor people without rich relatives, home arrest will mostly be applied. Bail is returned if the person did not break parole.

The Interior Ministry says that there aren’t enough electronic bracelets for home arrest. How will they check if a person is staying at home? Will the responsibility be placed with local police stations?

There are a fair number of such questions. All will be determined on the go. At least a year is needed for full implementation of the Code. It will all depend how it is implemented. Will the police try to bypass it or imitate implementation? After all, the truth is often in the detail. The law enforcement system isn’t ready for implementation of a new CPC. It will be applied on the go.  What is important is the good will of all participants in the criminal process so that the positive norms of the law work as swiftly as possible. In general the Code is progressive. If it is implemented, the criminal situation will improve.

Can Ukrainians be more confident that from now on arbitrary rule among the law enforcement bodies will diminish and that there will be more justice in the courts?

With regard to justice it’s hard to say, but there will be less arbitrary rule. There will be no point in demanding a confession. The philosophy behind the code is such that less people will end up behind bars. Instead of 36 thousand people in SIZO, in a year there will be a third of that number. However adversarial nature of the parties – the prosecution and defence – needs to be ensured in practice.

The interviewer was Oleksandr Hunko

Victims of political repression

23.11.2012

More and more Ukrainians call Holodomor 1932-32 genocide

   

The “Rating” Sociological Group has published the results of a survey in which 59% of the respondents agreed with the statement “Holodomor was genocide of the Ukrainian people”. The number of people who disagree is decreasing each year.

The survey broke this down into regions and found that around 80% of people living in the west, centre and north of Ukraine, half of those in the south and a third in the east agree with the statement. One in four residents of the Donbas region considers Holodomor to have been genocide.

By comparing this with previous surveys, the analysts conclude that the number of those denying that Holodomor was genocide has fallen by a third.

On 24 November people throughout the world will be marking the eightieth anniversary of Holodomor.  As well as a national moment of silence, the Light a Candle action and a remembrance procession to the Memorial to the Victims of Holodomor, there will also be other events.

This year, for example, the organizers of the remembrance procession will be remembering not only the victims of the tragedy, but those who helped Ukrainians survive during the Famine. Historians from the Liberation Movement Research Centre have put together a list of those who saved people with a description of their actions. They learned of these acts from the people themselves who wrote to them. There are 150 people whose actions are remembered in the book “Humanity in an inhuman time”.

One of the people was Ivan Osadchuk, head of a collective farm in the village of Nova Chortoriya (Zhytomyr oblast). Nobody starved in the village, since they were all given food from the collective farm canteen. Ivan Osadchuk also organized deliveries of food through connections with a neighbouring military unit and hid grain during checks.

“When they were starving people to death, sharing grain was a feat. The fate of those people reminds us that heroism is always possible”, historian at the Centre Volodymyr Viatrovych says.

Yaryna Yasnevych from the public committee for organizing remembrance events says that they plan to read out the names of each of those who saved people. At the moment all opposition parties have confirmed that they will attend and they are awaiting a response from the ruling party. 

Candles will be lit throughout the country (and, of course, in others) from 16.00 on 24 November. 

News from the CIS countries

05.11.2012 | Halya Coynash

Asylum seeker abducted from Ukraine, imprisoned in Russia. End of story?

   

There is now silence a mere two weeks since Leonid Razvozzhaev was abducted in broad daylight from outside the UNHCR office in Kyiv.  He was there making an application for political asylum and had gone out for a break, leaving his things in the office.  Minutes later shouts for help were heard from the street and Razvozzhaev was seen being pushed into a car with Ukrainian number plates.

Two days later, Leonid Razvozzhaev was remanded in custody by a Moscow court.  He had time to shout from the courtroom that he had been tortured before being taken away.  The Russian investigators claimed that Leonid Razvozzhaev had “handed himself in” and confessed to the highly nebulous charges which appear to be based on a television programme put together by the pro-Kremlin NTV Channel.  This was entirely refuted by Razvozzhaev himself in a conversation in the SIZO [remand unit] with Valery Borshchov from the Russian Public Supervisory Commission.  In what would seem to have been more than one conversation, Razvozzhaev said that he had been put under serious psychological pressure, with his wife and children being directly threatened if he did not sign a “confession”.  He was also deprived of food, not allowed to use the toilet at very least.  Valery Borshchov says that Razvozzhaev told him that he had earlier prepared a note in case he died in police custody saying that he had not committed suicide.  Borshchov is adamant that an investigation is needed into the abduction and later events.

He is not alone in this, although unfortunately the response from all authorities in Ukraine has been woefully inadequate.

The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service has refused to provide the Internet publication Ukrainska Pravda with information about where Razvozzhaev crossed the border on 19 October.  It claims that it has not been “authorized” by Leonid Razvozzhaev to disclose the information.  Hardly surprising since the latter was taken by force to Moscow where he is now imprisoned and facing charges that could carry a 10 year sentence, with these charges, as mentioned, based on a television programme.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry provided staggering commentary with Ministry spokesperson Volodymyr Polishchuk informing journalists that although the investigation by the Ministry into Razvozzhaev’s abduction was due to continue until 29 October, they were already able on 24 October to say that no criminal investigation could be initiated over the abduction. A foreign national, he said, had been abducted by a foreign security service and such bodies could not be expected to exchange information regarding such activities.

Mr Polishchuk remains in his post and the Interior Ministry has seen no need to clarify what is a truly incredible statement.   This may, of course, be because the authorities knew exactly what was planned for Leonid Razvozzhaev and helped organize the actions which are in breach both of Ukraine’s legislation and international law.

The Russian website Lenta.ru has looked into the situation and states that the UNHCR continues to consider Razvozzhaev an asylum seeker. If the latter informs international representatives that he was forcibly returned to Russia, the Russian authorities could be sent a note stating that Razvozzhaev’s access to asylum procedure must be reinstated. Razvozzhaev’s lawyer is presently preparing an application to the European Court of Human Rights.  

All of this has moral weight but there is no real clout to force Russia to comply. Nor is the situation made any easier given Ukraine’s failure to respond adequately and / or collaboration by the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU]. 

Human rights organizations’ demand that an investigation be undertaken and those responsible held to answer has thus far been ignored.  A member of the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Secretariat stated that the Ombudsperson had asked for more information from the relevant authorities. Ukrainska Pravda has received an answer to their formal request.  There is so far no response from the Ombudsperson.

This is the second time in a matter of months that people have been returned by force to Russia. 

Human Rights Watch stated that “For an asylum seeker to simply vanish while lodging his asylum claims and then reappear in the country he fled is profoundly shocking”.  

The apparent ease with which this case is being shelved in Ukraine is equally shocking and highly disturbing. 

News from the CIS countries

19.11.2012

Magnitsky Act passed by US House. Ukraine next in line?

   

On 16 November the US House of Representatives passed the Sergei Mag­nit­sky Rule of Law Account­abil­ity Act (365 in favour, 43 against).  The Heritage Foundation which Sergei Magnitsky worked for has campaigned for such sanctions which were passed on the third anniversary of the lawyer’s death in a Russian SIZO [remand prison].

It states that “the bill cre­ates tar­geted sanc­tions for the offi­cials involved in the case of Sergei Mag­nit­sky as well as other gross human rights abuse in Russia.

“The Sergei Mag­nit­sky Rule of Law Account­abil­ity Act imposes assets freezes and visa bans on those who was respon­si­ble for the deten­tion, abuse or death of Sergei Mag­nit­sky, finan­cially ben­e­fit­ted from his deten­tion or abuse, con­cealed their legal lia­bil­ity, or was involved in the crim­i­nal con­spir­acy uncov­ered by Sergei Mag­nit­sky, as well on those respon­si­ble for extra­ju­di­cial killings, tor­ture and gross vio­la­tions of human rights of whistle-blowers and activists.

Within 120 days of enact­ment, the Act requires the Depart­ments of State and Trea­sury to com­pile, pub­lish, and report on a list of these per­sons. Listed per­sons would be inel­i­gi­ble for entry into the United States, have any exist­ing visas revoked, and have their finan­cial assets frozen.

The Sergei Mag­nit­sky Rule of Law Account­abil­ity Act points out that no offi­cials have been brought to trial for Magnitsky’s “false arrest or for the crime he had uncov­ered, ” notes “the impunity since his death of state offi­cials he tes­ti­fied against for their involve­ment in cor­rup­tion and the car­ry­ing out of his repres­sive per­se­cu­tion, ” and says:

“The sys­tem­atic abuse of Sergei Mag­nit­sky, includ­ing his repres­sive arrest and tor­ture in cus­tody by offi­cers of the Min­istry of the Inte­rior of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion that Mr. Mag­nit­sky had impli­cated in the embez­zle­ment of funds from the Russ­ian Trea­sury and the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of 3 com­pa­nies from his client, reflects how deeply the pro­tec­tion of human rights is affected by corruption.”

MEP from the German Greens Rebecca Harms told the Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service that the European Union is seriously thinking about introducing such sanctions with respect to representatives of the Ukrainian authorities.  This possibility was also confirmed by Elmar Brok from the European People’s People.  He said that during negotiations on visa liberalization, “one cannot avoid those people who bear responsibility for selective justice in Ukraine”. 

News from the CIS countries

22.11.2012

NGOs predictably targeted as Russia’s "foreign agent" law takes effect

   

Amendments to the Law on non-commercial organizations are the road to fascism (from an earlier protest)

Reuters reports that two Russian human rights groups had their offices spray-panted with the words "foreign agent" on Wednesday.  This was the day that the new “law on foreign agents” came into force. The law, which has been condemned by human rights groups and the international community, forces NGOs receiving foreign grants to register themselves as “foreign agents” with all the stigma that this entails.

The doors to both the NGO For Human Rights and the Memorial Association were daubed with the words foreign agent and a heart with USA next to it.

"We will not follow this law, it is unlawful, " For Human Rights director Lev Ponomaryov told Reuters. He said his organization had notified the police about the graffiti.

Ponomaryov said he did not know who had sprayed the door, but that the law was a scare tactic to try to restrict the operations of organizations like his.

"We have to show some sort of civil disobedience. They are threatening us and if they apply some sort of repressions to us, we will try to make our case in courts, " he said.

Groups violating the law may be fined or suspended for up to six months without a trial. Rights activists say the law violates Russia’s constitution and the right to associate and assemble freely.

Several leading rights groups have decided to challenge the law at the European Court of Human Rights.

They say the NGO law is one in a series of repressive bills rushed through the Russian parliament since President Vladimir Putin’s third term began in May.

Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights), 2012, №11

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