Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights)
Criminal investigation over alleged forged Chornobyl documents declared unlawful
On 3 February 2012 the Kyivsky District Court in Kharkiv overturned the decision to initiate a criminal investigation over alleged forging of documents confirming the status of former Chornobyl clean-up workers.
The criminal investigation was initiated following instructions from the Minister of Internal Affairs. It was claimed that forged documents had been presented for 4 former Chornobyl clean-up workers to receive the pensions due people who took part in the clean-up.
The men involved lodged appeals with the court. The first case to be examined was that of Volodymyr Biloyenko. He was represented by Volodymyr Tymoshenko who stated that the criminal investigation had been initiated without summonsing his client, without questioning him or checking the facts. “This indicates that a command was issued to carry out reprisals against Biloyenko who is one of the leaders of the former Chornobyl clean-up workers by falsifying the material of the criminal case. That is, prosecuting an innocent person by committing a crime against him”.
The plaintiff had asked for the decision to be revoked and for the investigators who initiated criminal proceedings to be held to answer. The judge allowed only the first demand.
Judge Svitlana Sharenko agreed that the investigator had not had sufficient information suggesting elements of a crime to initiate a criminal case, and the proper procedure for checking the information had not been followed.
Two analogous claims are to be examined later.
Letter to Interpol regarding the prosecution of Arsen Avakov
KHPG and UHHRU have written to Interpol outlining the reasons for concern over the prosecution and request to detain the former Governor of the Kharkiv region, leader of the Kharkiv branch of the opposition Batkivshchyna Party
6 February, 2012
General Secretariat of International Criminal Police
Dear Sir or Madam,
The media in Ukraine have reported that on 26 January a criminal investigation was initiated against the former Governor of the Kharkiv Region, Arsen Avakov under Article 365 § 3 of the Criminal Code (exceeding power and official authority with grave consequences). It is reported that Avakov has been placed on the international wanted list. Guided by Articles 2, 3 and 41 of the ICPO-Interpol Constitution and General Regulations, we would respectfully ask you to turn down the request from the Ukrainian law enforcement bodies to look for and detain Arsen Avakov as a person who is being subjected to political persecution.
We believe that the prosecution of Arsen Avakov is politically motivated for the following reasons.
Arsen Avakov heads the Kharkiv regional branch of the Batkivshchyna Party. He was a successful Governor and one of the two main candidates for the post of Kharkiv Mayor at the October 2010 Local Elections. The elections were won by Gennady Kernes from the Party of the Regions, however his majority was extremely small and the elections were marred by numerous infringements of electoral legislation (see http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1288995839). At present Arsen Avakov has the highest rating among Kharkiv politicians and would be the most likely winner in the Kharkiv majority constituency in this year’s parliamentary elections. The prosecution is aimed at slurring him and preventing him from taking part in the elections, due in October 2012. It is worthy of note that the criminal prosecution was begun immediately after the leader of the Batkivshchyna Party, Yulia Tymoshenko was moved to the Kachanivska Penal Colony in Kharkiv. The Kharkiv regional branch of Batkivshchyna has constantly demonstrated support for its leader and has organized daily protests against her prosecution and imprisonment. The criminal investigation against the head of the Kharkiv regional branch is clearly aimed at intimidating Kharkiv members of Batkivshchyna and getting them to stop their protests.
The criminal investigation itself seems extremely dubious. At first, on 6 January, a criminal investigation was initiated against officials of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration and the Kharkiv Regional Office of the State Agency for Land Resources over alleged unlawful appropriation of State-owned land in 2009. At that time the Kharkiv Regional State Administration’s website in clear breach of the presumption of innocence reported that Avakov had committed a crime, having unlawfully appropriated 55 hectares of land. On 26 January a criminal file was opened against Avakov himself. On 31 January a search was carried out of his flat. On that same day an order was issued to initiate criminal proceedings with him as the accused and he was declared on the international wanted list, with the Chervonozavodsky District Court issuing an order to remand him in custody.
So what does the alleged exceeding of power and official authority consist of? According to procedure the plan for land allocation is prepared by specialists from the State Agency for Land Resources, passed by a session of the Regional Council and approved by the Governor, after which the State Agency for Land Resources prepares and issues State acts confirming ownership for the land plots. According to an application from Ukrskladbud-Tsentr Ltd, the draft land allocation of 55 hectares of agricultural land which was owned by the limited liability company to use for other purposes was prepared and adopted by the session and on 29 January Avakov signed the relevant instruction. On 17 March Avakov cancelled that instruction since a change in the designated use of land covering more than 10 hectares is the prerogative of the Cabinet of Ministers, and not regional administrations. In this situation it seems highly odd to accuse Avakov of having in May 2009 signed State acts confirming the property rights of Ukrskladbud-Tsentr to land plots with changed designation. He firstly did not have the right to sign such documents and secondly he could not have signed documents whose preparation had been cancelled by his own instruction.
We hope that Interpol will not carry out the politically motivated order to look for and arrest the Ukrainian opposition politician Arsen Avakov.
SBU attempts at spy-mania
In an article at UNIAN, Oksana Klymonchuk notes that when Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] begins uncovering spying for another country, Ukraine immediately starts looking comical. Last year the SBU fought Czech “spies” who were in fact intelligence officers in the Czech embassy. She says that everybody was well-aware that the whole exercise was in retaliation for the Czech Republic having granted political asylum to “several members from the Tymoshenko government” (This was at the time Bohdan Danylyshyn received asylum – the author does not mention names. – translator).
Ukraine on average declares up to 10 foreign nationals a year persona non grata, but details are not made public, this being the same as in other countries.
Now, the author suggests, the SBU has begun playing spy games with the USA.
As reported, Volodymyr Strelko, a member of Ukraine’s Academy of Sciences and Director of the Institute of Sorption and Ecological Issues has come under scrutiny, suspected of leaking secret information about scientific studies linked with the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station and the health of the Ukrainian people
Dr Strelko and his colleagues believe it possible that the Security Service [SBU] checks have been initiated by people wanting to take over the Institute’s property.
Oksana Klymonchuk, however, knows that the scrutiny has coincided with criticism from the US government of the actions of Ukraine’s leaders, in particular over political prisoners, and the IMF has removed to lend the government money, demanding reforms (the author says “democracy”).
The author is scathing of the SBU’s track record, and notes that it’s spy catching is also extremely selective. The whole country sees how Russian propaganda is at work, how Ukrainian MPs head Russian centres with “an unclear” aim and openly speak out in favour of part of Ukraine joining Russia, not even concealing the fact that they are earning FSB money, yet the SBU is not bothered, she asserts.
It’s Ukrainian academicians who are supposed to be dangerous…
The author says that they decided to visit this den of spying and set off to the Institute. They were taken aback to find, instead of strict security – for all these “secrets” – an elderly lady who asked them to wait while she herself went off in search of the Director.
She took them to the Acting Deputy Director Volodymyr Brei. He had, it turns out, been discussing the situation with other professors who can’t even understand where the rumours have come from in this “spying scandal”. The worst thing is that all their work is paralyzed.
In response to all the journalist’s questions, they simply point to their Academy of Sciences Charter, Article 53 which clearly states that AS institutions have the right to carry out their work, sell devices, material, equipment etc, “on the internal and foreign market”.
Professor Yury Malyetin explains:
“International contacts are not only what we are allowed to have, but what constitutes our duties. We are simply obliged to maintain contacts with foreign academicians.”
The point about grants that they received is that they need to show that the publications are on open access, and no secret works are allowed full stop.
Any criticism of grants, incidentally, begs the issue of how any academic institution can otherwise exist when the public funding, always small, has fallen woefully behind increases in the cost of, for example, communal services.
The author notes that as well as the political interpretation for the SBU activities, there is also suggestion that a fight is on for the Director’s position since the Institute is very profitable. “In Ukraine they also fight for power using extreme methods, but so extreme?
Dr Strelko is supposedly to be returning from a work trip in the USA, but she says that it’s clear he’s unlikely to as he can expect to be detained by the SBU right in the airport.
The presidium of the AS is supposed to be appointing a new (or the old) Director, taking the view of the Institute staff into account. There would seem to be only one candidate – Volodymyr Strelko who is being accused of spying.
As a result of this “spying scandal”, the Institute is virtually not carrying out it’s main work, testing sorbents in the Chernobyl zone.
Much abridged from the original here http://www.unian.net/ukr/news/news-487416.htm Image from HRO.org
Ivan Romanov v. Ukraine’s police, prosecutor and court
Inna Sukhorukova recounts another story of police impunity, involving a young man not only accused of a crime he didn’t commit, serious procedural irregularities and a court trial despite the defendant being recognized as mentally unfit to stand trial.
On 7 June in the evening Ivan Romanov was with another young man, Svyetlikov, in a park. They got into an argument, which turned into a fight, with a group of young people which included some police officers. Svyetlikov managed to flee, and the group, especially the officers, set to brutally beating Romanov. Ivan says that they then put him in the boot of their van and demanded that they show him where Svyetlikov lives. He instead gave them his own address. His mother had already become concerned about her son and gone out to look for him. She saw him in the car, seriously beaten, with two police officers. One of them, Anton Petrenko, began threatening Ivan’s mother and the two officers tried to detain her, but were deterred when the woman began making a fuss. She promised the officers that she would not complain and not call an ambulance, and they handed over Ivan.
However later that night, Ivan’s condition worsened. She is a nurse and decided she had to call an ambulance. Ivan was taken to hospital where numerous injuries were recorded.
Despite this, Ivan Romanov, who has been diagnosed as having schizophrenia since the age of 9 and has been treated each year in a psychiatric clinic, was soon arrested and charged with attempted murder. This was over an alleged attack on a young woman, T. Oleksiyenko who was apparently in the park that evening with another young woman, A. Stronova.
There are clear similarities with the case of Yakiv Strogan – both were accused of attempted murder after themselves being beaten up by police officers.
There is however an additional element of grotesque absurdity in this case since the investigation and “trial” continued regardless of the fact that a court medical examination at the end of August had found Ivan mentally unfit to stand trial.
This did not stop the investigator, Ms Fedorenko who ran the case with numerous infringements, including an identification parade with people not at all similar to Ivan Romanov and with the investigator having Ivan’s photo on her desk. She continued the investigation, without informing the Prosecutor, for 10 days after Ivan was declared mentally unfit, visiting him in the psychiatric hospital, where she wrote out and signed with his hand the protocols.
Nor did the court – Judge Didenko - simply refuse to begin the examination. Only the two young women allegedly involved, and the friend’s sister who hadn’t been in the park at all, were present. A chance witness, Ms. Ryabinina, was also not present and her evidence clearly not taken into account since her description of the assailant bears no resemblance to Ivan Romanov. Nobody from the defendant’s side, not even Svyetlikov, was questioned.
Judge Didenko found Ivan guilty and ruled that he should be held in the Dnipropetrovsk Hospital under strict surveillance.
Ivan Romanov’s mother is a widow and is quite simply not able to travel to Dnipropetrovsk to visit her son, who could end up as a result without medication. There is a similar institution in Kharkiv and it is quite unclear why Ivan should be sent so far away.
The grave infringement unfortunately did not end there since a second defence lawyer, in plenty of time lodged an appeal against the first court’s ruling. This was thrown out as having been submitted too late despite the fact that it hadn’t. They were told when they complained that this had been a mistake, yet the defence’s side were also not informed when the appeal was to be heard, and have had their application for the time frame for an appeal to be reinstated rejected.
There remains cassation level and, of course, the European Court of Human Rights which is increasingly becoming the only way of reinstating violated rights.
The information is from an article by Inna Sukhorukova
Without torture cases don’t get to the court
No to torture!
According to a survey carried out by the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research, together with the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, every 40 seconds a person suffers from unlawful violence at the hands of Ukraine’s police. At a press conference on 9 February Yevhen Zakharov, KHPG Co-Chair and head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki explained that “investigators try to obtain confessions from suspects even where they have irrefutable evidence of the crime, proving guilt…. It’s the Soviet school. Only after getting a confession do they send the case to the court”.
Mr Zakharov also pointed out that whereas their studies suggested that between 2005 and 2009 the number of people who were subjected to police violence reached around 1.3 million, just in 2010 alone the number came to 790 thousand. In 2011 it was even worse – 980 thousand. The figures were reached on the basis of a survey of 3 thousand people chosen to be representative of the population as a whole.
He noted that an indirect confirmation of such statistics is given by the frequency with which ambulances are called by the investigators.
One of KHPG’s partner organizations in Kremenchug received the opportunity to see the records and ascertained that in general ambulances had been called twice a day.
Not only have the investigators learned to beat in ways that don’t leave scars, but they also resort to more subtle methods. According to Tetyana Yablonska from Freedom House Ukraine, investigators can, for example, fail to provide any food at all while the person is detained – which can be 72 hours, or not let them go to the toilet.
They identify two main reasons for violence against people detained: demands from management to increase the rate of crimes “solved” and a banal inability to carry out the investigation using lawful methods.
The system of planned indicators for solving crimes which prompts investigators to resort to any methods to get the right statistics has been talked about often over the last 20 years. According to Mykola Yeremenko who once worked in the Soviet MIA, but is now a defence lawyer and human rights activist, the State does nothing to assist in increasing efficiency in investigation bodies’ solving of crimes.
“The police management can only pound their fist on the table and demand an increase in number of crimes solved. And the poor police officer doesn’t have normal special technology, often doesn’t have a car or petrol, but has to “solve the case” or else he could lose his job.”
“When we checked police operational investigation cases involving grave and especially grave crimes, we found empty folders. There wasn’t one investigative operation. People were simply pulled into the police, beaten and forced to sign a “confession”.
Yakiv Strogan trial clearly being dragged out
The trial of Yakiv Strogan is continuing, but with overt procrastination. This is despite attention not only within Ukraine, but from Amnesty International and, through its report, the US State Department. Despite the fact that the judge who remanded Strogan in custody on 10 December 2010, Svitlana Muratova from the Kievsky District Court received the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s Thistle of the Year Anti-Award for the worst human rights offenders specifically over her behaviour in Strogan’s case.
Yakiv Strogan has now been held in custody for almost 14 months in a case creating a number of highly dangerous precedents.
Strogan had approached the Kharkiv Human Rights Group in October 2010 complaining that he had been tortured by officers from the Kievsky District Police Station in Kharkiv. This followed a run-in with a neighbour, Marchenko, which according to witnesses was initiated by the latter.
Inna Sukhorukova explains that the police knew that Strogan had recently sold his car and therefore all their demands, while he was being tortured, Strogan recounted, concerned money. They demanded that his wife find 10 thousand dollars. For three days he was beaten and subjected to various forms of torture, including the use of electric shocks and having ammonia poured down his nose and mouth He was only released after he promised to try to find the money after his wife’s efforts proved fruitless.
Yakiv Strogan spoke of his ordeal in public, including at a press conference and at parliamentary hearings at the beginning of December 2010. A week later, on 9 December he was detained by officers from the same Kievsky District Police Station and brought to the courtroom the next day showing clear signs of ill-treatment after having been held in police custody since the previous evening. This was reported by both the human rights activists and journalists present in the courtroom. The judge found none of this cause for concern and remanded Yakov Strogan in custody.
The police accuse Strogan of attempted murder over the scuffle back in August although there had been no suggestion of any such allegations at the time.
Inna Sukhorukhova writes that from the outset the court hearing the charges against Strogan has taken a position in support of the prosecution’s case. The panel of judges, presided over by N. Borodina, have rejected witnesses for the defence and the lawyer’s applications even where there were needed to understand the essence of the case. It has also refused to change the restraint measures due to Strogan’s state of health. He has back and kidney problems.
Despite the allegations of torture made for months before the charges of murder were ever heard, the judges have ignored this issue altogether.
Strogan is charged with having given Marchenko several knife wounds supposedly meaning that Marchenko needed to be hospitalized and underwent an operation.
Strogan back in October 2010 had explained that during the scuffle, Marchenko, who was drunk, fell onto glass from broken beer bottle. This was confirmed by a witness, the wife of the courtyard janitor however back in May last year the court rejected the lawyer’s application to hear her testimony. The fact that she can confirm seeing the broken glass and blood is vital since the case initiated only four months after the incident speaks of a knife which was “found” with blood on it, but no fingerprints. The court refused to hear her on the pretext that she had no certificate from her place of work. She could have brought this within an hour. Instead the court simply removed her as witness.
At that time the lawyer, S. Medvedev read out the text of the victim’s forensic examination carried out two months after the event and demolished it. He called on the court to order records from the hospitals where the alleged victim was treated after his injury as well as a new comprehensive forensic examination carried out somewhere other than in Kharkiv. The lawyer also demanded that the person who had carried out the extraordinarily unprofessional forensic examination be summoned for questioning. The court appointed a new commission forensic examination.
That was many months ago, and no forensic report has yet been produced and Strogan remains in detention. Ms Sukhorukova reports that Judge Borodina is presently refusing to allow Strogan’s lawyer to see his client and preventing his wife’s visits.
The cynical disregard for the law in this case is frightening, as is the message it is giving the public.
Tax Code protesters’ trial begins
The Shevchenkivsky District Court in Kyiv has begun examining the criminal prosecution brought against seven activists of the protests against the draft Tax Code in autumn 2010. The mass protests became known as the Tax Code Maidan because of the huge numbers of protesters and tents on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] and the associations with the mass protests against vote rigging in 2004 known as the Orange Revolution. The activists are charged with damaging the granite stone on Maidan Nezalezhnosti and of blocking the road on Khreshchatyk St. The seven defendants could face up to three years imprisonment. They deny any guilt and call the proceedings pressure on the opposition.
The court hearing took place on Friday with the indictment being read out, before the court adjourned until 8 February.
The accused are Vitaly Gruzynov; Oleh Akhtyrsky; Roman Fedchuk; Ihor Harkavenko; Oleksandr Mandych; Oleksandr Zaplatkin; as well as the head of the Coalition of Participants in the Orange Revolution, Serhiy Melnychenko. The latter is alleged by the Prosecutor to have been the leader of the “criminal group” which supposedly deliberately damaged the granite stone on Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
The indictment is worth hearing in full: it claims that from 21 November to 3 December 2010 (when the entirely peaceful protest was broken up and the tents dismantled – translator) Serhiy Melnychenko, “carrying out his criminal intentions aimed at damaging property not belonging to him, through prior conspiracy with R. Fedchuk; O. Akhtyrsky; O. Mandych; I. Harkavenko; O. Zaplatkin; V. Gruzynov erected eight military tents on Maidan Nezalezhnosti.”
“In the process of erecting the tents 132 metallic 50-60 cm. long spikes were beat into the junctions of the granite stone.”
The prosecution is claiming that the accused “caused the territorial community of Kyiv and the road exploitation department of the Shevchenkivsky District material damage amounting to 212, 292 UAH.” They are charged under Article 194 of the Criminal Code (deliberate damaging of property), with a maximum punishment of 3 years imprisonment.
Serhiy Melnychenko is also charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code (organizing group actions leading to disruption of transport) carrying a sentence of up to six months imprisonment. He is alleged to have given the protesters the command to block the road on Khreshchatyk on the second day of the protests.
Serhiy Melnychenko calls the prosecution trumped up and says that it constitutes reprisals against all those who try to oppose the present regime and pressure on the opposition. He said that anybody can check their innocence by going to Maidan and seeing that the granite stone is in no way damaged.
Oleh Akhtyrsky who is from the movement Common Cause [Spilna Sprava] agrees and believes that the prosecution may be because his organization did not just put forward economic demands, but also called for the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and impeachment of the President. He added that it would be strange to imagine the leader of the Coalition of Participants in the Orange Revolution, an organization he didn’t belong to and a person he didn’t know, could give him any commands.
The next hearing is scheduled for 8 February.
New information reported by Kommersant-Ukraine
Investigators in trials of opposition leaders promoted
The journal Ukrainsky tyzhden reports that several law enforcement officers running the cases of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko have received promotions. An interesting nuance is that almost all of them have been moved to Ivano-Frankivsk (in Western Ukraine).
Formerly the head of the Prosecutor General’s Central Department on Investigating Particularly Important Cases (up till 29 September)
Now: Prosecutor for the Ivano-Frankivsk region
According to Ukrainsky tyzhden, Kalifitsky was considered the person closest to Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin.
He was directly in charge of the criminal prosecutions against both Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko.
Formerly Investigator into particularly important cases within the Prosecutor General’s Office
Now First Deputy Prosecutor for the Ivano-Frankivsk region
Voichenko was in charge of the team investigating the prosecution of Yury Lutsenko, and therefore instrumental in having Lutsenko detained on 26 December 2010 (the former Minister has been in detention since then).
Many of the allegations against the investigators by witnesses have specifically referred to Voichenko. He has been accused, for example, of dictating what witnesses should write.
Ukrainsky Tyzhden notes drily that the Prosecutor General’s Office website has no mention of this new appointment.
Voichenko is one of those whom Lutsenko lodged a law suit against in the USA.
Former head of the Prosecutor General’s Office Department of Criminology
Now Deputy Prosecutor for the Ivano-Frankivsk region
Hryshchenko apparently also worked on both the Tymoshenko and Lutsenko case, however the publication suggests that he and Kalifitsky always work together.
Former Prosecutor General’s Office investigator
Now Deputy Prosecutor for the Chernihiv region
The publication states that Nechvohlod achieved his swift career success through political cases. He was passed the material regarding the assault in the Verkhovna Rada of opposition MP Oles Doniy on 27 April 2010, and basically did nothing with no criminal proceedings ever being initiated. This is despite the fact that Doniy was seriously injured, and despite the criminal proceedings initiated on considerably weaker grounds against two opposition MP – translator).
Nechvohlod was then moved onto the gas charges against Yulia Tymoshenko.
He was promoted to his new position on 23 December just after the appeal against Tymoshenko’s sentence was rejected.
Formerly Security Service [SBU] investigator
Now Head of Investigations for the Kharkiv Regional SBU
He was actively involved in the trials of Ihor Didenko and Anatoly Makarenko, and then directly in charge of the investigative activities in the gas charges against Yulia Tymoshenko. Following the Didenko case, he received promotion to Major, and on Independence Day received an award “For Courage”, Grade III. The journal says that his promotion to the Kharkiv regional SBU post came immediately after Tymoshenko’s sentence.
Ukrainsky Tyzhden predicts that there will soon be other promotions of people involved in the case.
YURY LUTSENKO SENTENCED TO 4 YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Presiding judge Serhiy Vovk has just announced that the court is sentencing former Internal Affairs Minister and opposition leader, Yury Lutsenko to FOUR YEARS IMPRISONMENT.
Vovk stated that the court was taking into account the period which Lutsenko had already spent in detention. The sentence is thus calculated from 27 December 2010.
The court also ordered confiscation of all Lutsenko’s personal property and to ban Lutsenko from holding public office for 3 years.
Lutsenko’s driver Leonid Prystuplyuk was given a 3 year suspended sentence and will from now be on a signed undertaking not to leave.
The suits against Prystuplyuk and Lutsenko in favour of the Pension Fund were allowed in full, in favour of the MIA – partially.
Yury Lutsenko’s application to the European Court of Human Rights over his detention has been scheduled for 17 April 2012. The Court has announced that the hearing will be public.
Today’s sentence directly snubs the resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The prosecution of Yury Lutsenko has been condemned both in Ukraine and throughout the democratic world as politically motivated and aimed at removing him from this year’s elections.
If you have not done so already, please endorse the appeal ZERO TOLERANCE FOR POLITICAL PERSECUTION IN UKRAINE here http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1325325198 / http://blogs.telekritika.ua/?id=2710& (the signatures are under the Ukrainian version at the second URL)
Lutsenko Verdict still further dismantles the rule of law in Ukraine
Statement by a nuimber of human rights organizations (there is an address for endorsement by NGOs or individuals below)
On 27 February 2010 the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv sentenced former Internal Affairs Minister Yury Lutsenko to four years imprisonment.
The court trial of Yury Lutsenko over many months demonstrated the same failings with respect to fair court proceedings as seen during the trials of Yulia Tymoshenko and other former high-ranking officials.
Yury Lutsenko has been convicted over political decisions which in law-based democracies cannot constitute criminal offences, and the sentence is effectively extra-judicial punishment since it is based on arbitrary extension of the norms of criminal legislation.
The undersigned human rights organizations are concerned at this latest demonstration of selective justice by the Ukrainian authorities. The verdict against Yury Lutsenko is the latest step in the destruction of rule of law in Ukraine. This verdict is a massive step backwards for Ukraine in its democratic development and clearly shows the stubborn wish by those in power to negate the achievements of the Ukrainian people over the last 20 years.
Of especial concern is the fact that this destruction of European values is seen in a country which is to hold the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2013.
We call on the high courts in Ukraine to restore faith in the Ukrainian justice system by revoking this manifestly unjust verdict against Yury Lutsenko and to stop the trend towards arbitrary interpretation of the law.
We call on the international community to give their political assessment of attempts by the Ukrainian authorities to destroy the independence of the judicial system and allow the use of the justice system for political persecution of leaders of the opposition and civic activists.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors of Law Enforcement
The Vanadzorsky Office of the Helsinki Civic Assembly (Armenia)
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee
The Moscow Helsinki Group
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
The Kazakhstan International Human Rights Office
The Armenian Helsinki Committee
The IDEA Eurasia Network
The International Youth Human Rights Movement
The Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia
Freedome files, Russia
Voiсe of Freedom Kyrgystan
Promo Lex Moldova
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
People in Need, Czech Republic
Human Rights Monitoring Institute
International Partnership for Human Rights
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights House Foundation
Crude Accountability USA
The statement is open for endorsement here
US and EU condemnation of Lutsenko verdict
Yury Lutsenko holding his wfe Iryna’s hand on 27 February
February 28, 2012
The United States is disappointed by the verdict in the trial of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. The politically motivated prosecution of opposition leaders, including Mr. Lutsenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, raises serious concerns about the Government of Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and rule of law. The United States again urges the Government of Ukraine to free Mr. Lutsenko, Mrs. Tymoshenko, and the other senior former government officials currently in detention, and believes that they should have an unrestricted ability to participate fully in political life.
From a report at RFEL (the photo of Yury Lutsenko and his wife Iryna is from there)
BRUSSELS -- European Union officials have criticized a Ukrainian court decision to sentence former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko to four years in prison after finding him guilty of embezzlement and abuse of office.
The court also ordered the confiscation of Lutsenko’s property. The ruling said Lutsenko failed to observe proper procedures in hiring and paying a close acquaintance while serving as interior minister from 2007 to 2010.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the verdict casts doubt on the independence of the Ukrainian judiciary.
"I think it further proves the point that the legal system in Ukraine is now used to criminalize what are essentially political activities, " he said, "and sort of increases our concerns on that particular point."
British Minister for Europe David Lidington called the decision "deeply concerning" and said it "calls into question" Ukraine’s commitment to European integration.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the sentence "disproportionate."
"As far as I know, [Lutsenko] is being accused of a relatively trivial offense. And so it seems that this is a disproportionate and harsh system, " Sikorski said. "In other words, it is another argument for those who suspect the Ukrainian judicial legal system is not entirely free of political motivations."
The Czech Republic has learned with concerns and displeasure the verdict of the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv, February 27, 2012 in the criminal case against Mr. Yuri Lutsenko. Former Ukrainian minister of interior was sentenced to four years of imprisonment.
As in the case of Ms Yulia Tymoshenko, we have to underline the fact that the trial was far away from respecting European standards of the Rule of Law and human rights principles. We consider the trial and the four-year imprisonment of Mr Lutsenko to be another evidence of selective and politically motivated justice in Ukraine and as a form of continuing political revenge against former government representatives.
We do believe that all political forces in Ukraine should be free from all politically motivated criminal prosecution, especially the one based on an obsolete Criminal Code, and should have a chance to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
We will continue to monitor developments in both appeal processes with Mr Lutsenko and Ms Tymoshenko and similar cases.
The Czech Republic underlines that it supports the European integration ambitions of Ukraine but the condition for the progress towards this goal is that Ukraine acts as a fully democratic country respecting the Rule of Law.
Analysis of the CCU Judgement regarding confidential information
Political-Legal Commentary on the Constitutional Court Judgement in response to a constitutional submission from the Zhashkiv District Council (Cherkasy region) asking for an official interpretation of Article 32 § 1, Article 34 § 2 of the Constitution.
It should be noted that from the legal point of view the judgement in question is relatively simple. The Constitutional Court resorted to the simple method of “political syllogism”. It first considered how protected private information about the average Ukrainian citizen is according to Ukrainian (constitutional) legislation. Then it drew the conclusion that public officials and people working in the central authorities and bodies of local self-government are a kind of the same, of ordinary Ukrainian citizens. From then on it was quite simple: if public officials are the same as those who are not public officials, then they need to have the same level of protection of their private life from outside interference as do ordinary Ukrainian citizens. From the outside, all smooth sailing ahead.
Why can this syllogism be considered “political”? Because it is admissible precisely in the political sense. It is a demonstration of Ukrainian political disingenuousness. In the legal sense such a “syllogism” is clearly unacceptable. Public officials and civil servants are protected from external intrusion with respect to information to a different extent from ordinary Ukrainian citizens. That is the case but elsewhere … in Europe, in the West. In Ukraine however they are … “simply people” At least this is the view to which the esteemed Constitutional Court directs us.
In its Judgement, the Court writes: “A systematic analysis of the provisions of Article 24 §§ 1, 2 and Article 32 § 1 gives grounds for considering that enjoyment of the right to inviolability of personal and family life is guaranteed to each person regardless of their gender, political, financial, social, language or other characteristics, as well as the status of a public person, including a civil servant, State or civic figure, who plays a certain role in the political, economic, social, cultural or other sphere of State or public life” (my highlighting – VR) In fact, however, Article 24 ˈ§ 2 of the Constitution says nothing of the sort. We quote it in full: “There shall be no privileges or restrictions based on race, colour of skin, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, linguistic or other characteristics”
Ukraine’s Constitutional Court has thus resorted to an unacceptably broad interpretation of the principle that discrimination shall be prohibited well-known in European legislation. A typical Slavonic trick as the Marquis de Custine would have said.
In fact, in giving an official interpretation of Article 32 § 1, Article 34 § § 2, 3 of the Constitution regarding what should be understood as information about the personal and family life of public officials and civil servants (whether such information is confidential information about a person), whether the collection, storage, use and dissemination of information about a public person constitutes intrusion in their personal and family life (which is prohibited except in cases envisaged by the Constitution), the following needed to be taken into consideration.
1. An interpretation of the above-mentioned constitutional articles should first and foremost be based on the general designation of the Constitution as the source which safeguards the principle of the rule of law in Ukraine. This entails an understanding that a Constitution in its legal form consolidates a liberal-democratic political regime which - in the majority of cases – leads to an enhanced level of social dynamic. Modern legal thinking views the Constitution as a functionally special law providing the legal framework for ensuring the interests of civil society as a whole.
2. A modern Constitution envisages the safeguarding of individual freedom, the election of leaders and the right of the people to control the course of State and public matters. In its extended view this means the awareness of all those engaged in application of the law that those wielding political power should act in strict compliance with universal organic principles, and that citizens should consciously elect those in charge at State and local self-government level so that they carry out what the people consider correct, and not what they themselves want.
3. One of the main ideas on which constitutionalism is based is that the authorities should act only within the limits defined and permitted them by free citizens. For this reason the Constitution is accepted as being the main legal document not so much of the State, as much as of civil society, the free public as such. In conditions of constitutionalism it is not the State that should teach citizens about proper behaviour, but citizens should indicate to the authorities what would be a beneficial direction for their activities. Otherwise citizens would risk getting, under the guise of a Constitution, merely a means for reducing the standards of their civil-political and personal freedom.
4. A modern Constitution is concerned that the State in its activities should not excessively restrict citizens even where this concerns issues of national security. After all in conditions of democracy and the rule of law a potential factor for the flourishing of civil society and its members is the guarantee of their political liberty and freedom of information. These are regarding as natural and inalienable as understood by John Locke. Thus new constitutional standards automatically envisage protection of freedom in receiving and disseminating information, freedom of thought and expression.
5. Effectively all constitutional norms should be assessed from the vantage point of fundamental, strategic rules for the existence of a free society. For example, the star of political philosophy in the XX century, John Rawls saw a constitution as being a collection of rules for fair procedure, a form of incorporation of liberties with the help of which citizens have the opportunity to fully carry out their life’s purpose. Here the most important of the constitutional tasks he considered to be the consolidation and safeguarding of intellectual freedom as the precondition for society’s political maturity, a factor in its self-awareness.
6. Nowadays virtually all constitutionalists recognize the main purpose of a constitution as being to restrict State power with this entailing the establishment of transparent and clear principles for any activities by the authorities. Thus constitutionalism is the direct rejection of repressive elements in the relations between civil society and the authorities. Freedom of though, expression, freedom to receive and disseminate information logically fall into the realm of law free of political or administrative control. Clearly the free seeking and dissemination of information is the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience, expression, of the press and the media as a whole.
7. The free dissemination of information envisages freedom to search for information and freedom to use it. Clearly there are certain restrictions regarding the legal status of engaged in information activities and their objects of interest. For example, confidential and secret information fall under legal protection. That these categories of information have a special legal regime envisaged by current legislation is self-evident.
8. The problem however is that confidential information is only a part of information on restricted access, and information on restricted access can be disseminated if it is of public need, that is, it is the subject of public interest and the right of the public to know the information outweighs the potential damage from its dissemination (Article 29 § 1 of the Law on Information).
9. Furthermore, information about infringements of human rights and civil liberties, about the unlawful actions of the authorities or bodies of local self-government , as well as their public officials and civil servants, cannot be classified as information on restricted access (Article 21 §§ 4, 5 of the Law on Information). If we bear in mind that unlawful actions by public officials and civil servants can also be carried out in the sphere of private and family life, it follows that the sphere of privacy of public officials and civil servants of the authorities and bodies of local self-government is not absolutely protected from external intrusion It is self-evident, for example, that Ukrainian voters have the right to know about the criminal, sexual mania or tyrannical tendencies of those they may elect.
10. In addition, income declarations of the following people and members of their family are also not classified as information on restricted access: those standing for office or holding electoral office in bodies of power; those holding a first or second category post as civil servant or official of a body of local self-government (Article 6 § 6 of the Law on Access to Public Information).
11. It should also be noted that in the sphere of jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights the principle has long been in force that the scope of information which can be restricted about a public official is considerably narrower than that for a private individual (Lingens v. Austria, 1986). In that case the European Court stated that public figures should show considerably more tolerance of interest regarding various aspects of their life from journalists and the public as a whole.
Nor is this approach specific to Europe. Article 32 of the South African Constitution (1996) states that each person has the right to any information held by the State, as well as to any information which is held by any other person if that information is needed for the exercising or protection of any subjective civil rights (Article 32 § 1.a, b). Thus one of the most important rights envisaged by the current Constitution of South Africa is the right of free access to any information deriving from the State or individuals and needed for the protection or exercising of civil rights and liberties.
If we bear in mind the fact that civil rights embrace the personal and political rights, the broad scope for the regulatory potential of the given article becomes clear. In order to exercise their electoral rights, each citizen aware of their purpose has the right and must know as much as possible about significant circumstances in the life of a person standing for office as deputy, mayor, judge, President, etc.
In general the principle of transparency, openness regarding life circumstances (including private) of public officials is universally recognized. For example, Article 39 § 6 of Brazil’s Constitution (1988) states that executive, legislative and judicial branches of power must publish on an annual basis the size of their pecuniary expenditure and remuneration for all public positions and posts.
It is well-known also that the size of pay and other remuneration of judges of the US Supreme Court (unlike the size of pay of judges of Ukraine’s Supreme and Constitutional Court), senators, members of the US Congress House of Representatives, as well as the President of the United States are on open access and regularly updated on official State websites.
12. In its Judgement in the Case of Weber v. Switzerland (1990), the European Court of Human Rights also noted that there is no need to avoid disclosure of private information if this has taken on a public nature and has thus ceased to be confidential. Then in the Judgement in the Case of Leander v. Sweden (1987), the European Court observed that the right to freedom to receive information basically prohibits a Government from restricting a person from receiving information that others (for example, journalists, etc – VR) wish or may be willing to impart to him
13. As for American experience, in the Judgement of the US Supreme Court in the Case of Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988) the court ruled that excessive and exaggerated press attention to the lives of public figures cannot force the basis of law suits for moral compensation except where such information contained overtly false statements about facts, and where it was published with direct “bad intent”. In general there are considerable restrictions on defence of the private life of public figures in America.
In 1972 the US Supreme Court ruled that if those on the hunt for news stories are not protected from court proceedings, journalism swiftly turns into a meaningless exercise. For example, modern American laws do not waive journalists’ liability for intrusion on the private property of a public figure, however it is considered that punishment for actions of such a kind should in no way undermine the availing atmosphere in the country of freedom of speech and press freedom.
14. With regard to Ukraine, it is worth noting that Ukraine is a post-totalitarian State, and therefore especially vulnerable to regression, to any quasi-censorship restrictions regarding freedom of information, opinion and expression.
One can also not ignore the fact that the election of people holding power by the population takes place on the principle of personal sympathies or antipathy with regard to the candidates. If that is so, then it is manifestly the right of the public to have considerably more information about public figures than is envisaged by traditional considerations of protection of their privacy of information.
In general, in their Judgement, the Constitutional Court did not so much serve the official regime, as throw yet another dry twig in the vehement discussion regarding its unethical and undemocratic nature. There has long been a critical mass of cultured and educated people in Ukraine who can recognize and identify legal manipulation and distinguish the letter of the law (Ukrainian and European) from its legal content. One can imagine that the only public conclusion from such a precedent will be a further fall in the rating of those in power (already virtually electoral rating). This is a dubious service given the date for the parliamentary elections… Furthermore, the crucial question yet again arises of whose priorities the Constitutional Court is defending. The classic answer (from the point of view of the doctrine of organic constitutionalism) is that it stands for the defence of civil society. The real and pragmatic answer is that it is defending the interests of the ruling elite, the political establishment.
EURONEWS: Selective Coverage
The urgent need traditionally expressed by Ukraine’s leaders to “improve the country’s image” abroad just when everything is falling apart can often appear comical. Humour is, however, thin on the ground when large amounts of taxpayers’ money are spent on efforts to conceal or do a cosmetic job on systematic destruction of democratic institutions and mockery of the rule of law.
Against a background of legislative initiatives enabling the Cabinet of Ministers to restrict a whole range of social benefits, it is difficult to feel amused by the use of 140 thousand USD from the State coffers on a supplement about Ukraine in the Washington Post It in no way compensates for the wasted money, of course, but at least readers of the American newspaper should be in no doubt about the freebie received. They may not know about the gaping divide between words and reality, but they know that they’re being “sold” Ukraine according to the same rules as when they’re sold this or that appliance. Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.
The situation is entirely different with the Ukrainian version of Euronews, although at first glance we seem to be dealing with an analogous use of public funding, this time, designated for the Kyiv budget to help children and the disabled. When the main television channels are deliberately muffling or distorting information of public importance and all means, including legislative, are being used to infringe freedom of expression, a high-quality and independent news channel, albeit with a limited audience, could play a positive role. The fact that this has not happened, that instead of at least providing an example of good journalism the Ukrainian version is casting a shadow over Euronews itself must be stated as loudly as possible so that viewers of other language versions are informed. Let them also beware. Any information product is measured by how balanced and many-sided its coverage is and is devalued by willingness to resort to cheap distortion to suit this or that customer.
There were few illusions even back in October 2010 when the agreement was brokered. Sure, Valid Arfush , Deputy Director of the National Television Company of Ukraine [NTCU], promised that “Euronews will not have a pronounced political line” and that there would be no “interference by regional representatives in the channel’s information policy”. It was difficult to take such assurances seriously from the person who had publicly stated that the state-owned UTV-1 should be “pro-government” and give the viewers only positive information.
There remained a faint chance that Euronews was simply not aware of the record metamorphosis of UTV-1 into a mouthpiece of the current regime and persistent violator of all standards of honest journalism. This took place under the leadership of Arfush and Yegor Benkendorf, General Director of NTCU and author of an overtly hagiographic film about President Yanukovych marking the latter’s 60th birthday. Perhaps the Euronews management were unaware of the warnings from Ukraine’s “Stop Censorship!” movement when they appointed Valid Arfush Chair of the Coordination Council of the Ukrainian version of Euronews, and Benkendorf also became a member together with Philippe Cayla, Chief Executive Officer and Michael Peters, Managing Director of Euronews.
A real test for any optimist was provided by the divergent Ukrainian and English reports of the protests in Kyiv on Independence Day, the day that the Ukrainian version was launched. A fair amount was written in both Ukrainian and in English, with the latter circulated by European journalist organizations. It seems inconceivable that the Euronews management knew nothing about highly relevant discrepancies between the two language versions. .
At the time there were again assurances that there was no political bias and that there had just been some regrettable “mistakes”.
A letter has been sent to Euronews with information about a number of such “mistakes” over the last months where reports differ in the same way. An explanation would be appreciated as to the discrepancies in reporting on 11 November of the new charges against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of tax evasion and concealment of foreign currency revenue. Ukrainian viewers were informed only of the charges and the fact that her “supporters” were protesting, while English viewers learned that “Tymoshenko has denied all earlier charges against her and said her trial reflected a political vendetta waged by President Viktor Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her in a presidential vote last year. Echoing her position, the European Union has warned Ukraine it may not sign planned bilateral deals on political association and free trade if Tymoshenko remains in jail.”
Should we believe that they thought Ukrainians would know about the political motivation without explanation? How when on the channel of Euronews’ Ukrainian partner, UTV-1 such words so distressing to those in power are assiduously avoided?
There is a considerable difference between Euronews and UTV-1 however, most regrettably, the same trend can be send of softening criticism of those in power, muffling or distorting information which could cause them embarrassment.
Viewers of other language versions of Euronews may be used to products of this nature – they come clearly labelled as advertising and have no place in news reports.
Parliament weakens protection of property rights
As reported earlier, at the end of last year the Verkhovna Rada cancelled a number of legislative provisions regarding the amount of time for lodging civil suits. The previous arrangement had served as additional guarantees protecting violated rights, including the right of ownership.
It was previously possible over a period of five years to lodge a civil claim for an agreement reached through the use of violence or deception to be declared void
The time limit is now three years.
An agreement aimed at unlawful seizure of State property may now only be challenged within the space of three years, and not 10 as before.
Roman Kuybida, Deputy Head of the Centre for Political and Legal Reform, commented earlier that Law No. 9635 on Procedure for Court Proceedings makes it possible to ensure possession of property received through dubious court rulings or decisions from administrative bodies, or by criminal means
As the authors of the new report state, the longer periods for lodging a claim or appeal had been established by the legislators in view of the need to protect people from violations of their constitutional rights and liberties, from destruction or damage to property or unlawful seizure. In many cases involving property, the deception, or damage, may simply not be evident immediately. The longer time frame took this into account.
The norm has also been revoked which stated that any time restriction on lodging an appeal did not apply to the demand from an owner or other individual to have a legal act issued by State authorities or bodies of local self-government which violated their property or other material rights declared invalid.
Lawyer Leonid Tarasenko from the company Yurydychny Holding points out that in such cases people now only have three years. The Verkhovna Rada gave no explanation for these changes to the time limits, and he is also convinced that the changes are aimed at preventing any efforts to question decisions by the authorities which violate property rights. “The right of ownership becomes less inviolable since one of the guarantees for this inviolability has been revoked”.
Roman Kuybida is convinced that in fact the law will give a free hand to those involved in illegal seizures and those who use their official position or links with those in power through dubious or criminal deals to obtain property rights to land plots, enterprises’ properties, flats etc.
“There can be no doubt that the President also has an interest in signing this law since then nobody will be able to demand Mezhyhirya [the President’s reported sumptuous residence, occupied by him under at very least unclear circumstances – translator). It is precisely in three years that Yanukovych’s term as President ends”, Mr Kuybida explains.
“At the same time the law creates problems, for examples, for Ukrainian nationals who have worked abroad for years and who, having returned home, discover that all their property has long not belonged to them. The law does not give them a chance to defend their right to the property”.
In Memory: Petro Grigorenko
It is 25 years since the death of General Petro Grigorenko – founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, friend and defender of the Crimean Tatar People, of all those in the Soviet Union facing persecution and himself a victim of punitive psychiatry. Volodymyr Prytula writes that in Simferopol near the memorial to Petro Grigorenko around a hundred veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement, members of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, activists from Ukrainian nationalist and Crimean Tatar organizations and students gathered in memory.
Petro Grigorenko, was born in the Zaporizhya region of Ukraine on 16 October 1907. As a young man he supported the Bolsheviks, and was a Major General during World War II.
In Soviet terms he had everything going for him, yet in 1961, during a Party conference he took the floor and expressed opposition to the Party line.
He was first arrested in 1964, stripped of his rank and placed in a “psychiatric hospital”, controlled by the KGB. He was released that time in 1965.
Petro Grigorenko spoke out in support of many people persecuted by the Soviet regime, and later was a founding member of both the Moscow Helsinki Group and Ukrainian Helsinki Group (both formed in 1976).
His second imprisonment (in a psychiatric hospital), however, in 1969, was linked with his defence of the Crimean Tatar People who had been deported as a people from the Crimea in May 1944.
The very special relationship which the Crimean Tatars feel for Petro Grigorenko dates back to March 1968. Crimean Tatars in Moscow had arranged an evening in honour of Grigorenko’s friend, the writer Alexei Kosterin who had first spoken out in support of the Crimean Tatars. Alexei Kosterin was already gravely ill and could not attend. He asked Petro Grigorenko to go in his place.
The address he gave that evening contained the following words:
“So begin to demand. And demand not just parts, pieces, but all that was taken from you unlawfully-demand the reestablishment of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic
Don`t limit your actions to the writing of petitions. Fortify them with all of those means which the Constitution provides you-the freedom of speech and of the press, of meetings, assemblies, of street marches and demonstrations
And in your struggle do not shut yourselves in a narrow nationalist shell. Establish contacts with all the progressive people of other nationalities of the Soviet Union. Do not consider your cause to be solely an internal Soviet matter".
Petro Grigorenko was released from the psychiatric hospital in 1974, probably in part because of international pressure.
He and his wife left for the USA for medical treatment in 1977 and were there stripped of their Soviet citizenship. Petro Grigorenko died in New York City on 21 February 1987.
Ekho Moskvy board shuffled ahead of Russian election
A poster depicts Vladimir Putin as the Grim Reaper on one of Ekho Moskvys studio doors. (CPJ/Nina Ognianova)
The Russian blogosphere erupted with comments today following an announcement that the board of directors of the iconic radio station, Ekho Moskvy, will be changed. The timing of the development--weeks before presidential elections--and the potential consequences for Ekhos editorial policy threw listeners into a frenzy of worry and speculation.
The purported initiator of Ekhos board shuffle, Gazprom-Media, is the media arm of the state gas monopoly Gazprom; with 66 percent of shares, it is the majority owner of Ekho Moskvy. Responding to suggestions that the move was masterminded by the Kremlin in order to hush criticism of Vladimir Putin in the run-up to the March 4 vote, Gazprom-Media said the shuffle stemmed from "internal corporate procedure" and the need to adjust the makeup of Ekho Moskvys board to "corporate standards." But Gazprom-Media also saidthe move was hastened by "the recently heightened attention from various sides to the radio station."
Gazprom-Media did not clarify what it meant by "various sides" or "heightened attention, " fueling conjecture of political interference.
In an open letter to listeners, the staff of Ekho Moskvy said the board shuffle was conducted inexplicably prematurely -- before the scheduled June annual board meeting, at which such procedural issues were to be discussed. The staff posed the question: Why the urgency?
"We are expressing concern, " the open letter said, "that, as a result of these events, two independent directors -- [Aleksandr] Makovsky and [Evgeny] Yasin -- who have helped develop Ekho Moskvy for 11 years, were forced to leave. We believe that their removal from the board of directors is unjust."
In an interview with the independent news website Gazeta, now-former Ekho Moskvy Director Yasin said he believes authorities "wish to attain the obedience of Ekho Moskvy and establish control of its editorial policy." Yasin said the move could only be orchestrated by the high echelons of power because Gazprom has had a hands-off attitude to the station in the past. "The government apparently wants to establish control over independent media, " Yasin told Gazeta, "and Ekho Moskvy is, in a sense, a flagman. If it changes course, all others would either be falling in line or resist."
Ekho Moskvy was created in the years of Glasnost by a group of independent-minded journalists as the first station in a new Russia to embrace news and debate as its main format. It was a different kind of radio that required a new crop of reporters -- not indoctrinated in the old ways but intellectually curious and able to think outside the proverbial box.
The founders tapped Aleksei Venediktov, then a history teacher with a deep interest in politics and sharp analytical abilities, to join the station. Venediktov eventually became Ekhos editor-in-chief. He has proved apt at navigating the treacherous waters of Russian politics for two decades, surviving periods of intense pressure on independent media coupled with brutal attacks on journalists who cover sensitive subjects. Venediktov has been able to deflect various accusations by the Kremlin and other Russian top agencies, and protect his journalists and commentators.
Ever since its inception, Ekho Moskvy has been regarded as a phenomenon -- it has remained on the air while retaining its critical approach, a plurality of voices, and trademark irreverence to authorities. As The New Yorkers David Remnick put it in a 2008 profile piece, "in the authoritarian ecosystem of Vladimir Putin, [Ekho Moskvy] is one of the last of an endangered species, a dodo that still roams the earth."
Does todays announcement signal the beginning of the end of Ekho as we know it? What does the change mean? Listeners -- in Russia and abroad -- are trying to make sense of it.
In a lengthy interview with the anchors of Ekhos popular political show "Razvorot, " Venediktov tried to quell fears that editorial changes are imminent. While calling on listeners to "stop panicking, " he confirmed that the board shuffle means that Gazprom-Media can now easily dismiss the editor-in-chief. "The balance [of the votes] has changed, " Venediktov said, "to the benefit of Gazprom-Media."
Will the Kremlin go as far as ordering Venediktovs sacking? No doubt, a move that blatant would be unspinnable -- even for Putins slick press secretary, Dmitry Peskov. Venediktov was right when he said the board changes are more likely meant as a warning to other independent outlets -- a warning to not criticize Putin (who is favored to win the vote) or the ruling United Russia party; to remember that, no matter how tolerant the Kremlin may seem, it can still pull the plug.
But todays development is also a sign that Russian authorities are jittery about losing control of public opinion. Faced with unprecedented opposition that has taken to the Moscow streets, they are placing a strategic claim on the one independent broadcaster with ability to influence en mass. This causality is best explained by Putin himself. In onefamous interview from 2004, he told his interlocutor: "Authority, like a man, must always try, and the press, like a woman, must always resist." If anyone is capable of resisting, it is Ekho Moskvy.
Nina Ognianova /Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator
Thousands of Russians join hands against Putin
Russians attempt to create a "Great White Ring" around Moscow’s inner ring road in protest at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Thousands of people have joined hands to form a "Great White Ring" around Moscow city center in protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is tipped to return as president in an election next week.
According to RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Tom Balmforth, the protesters lined up around the Moscow inner ring road on February 26 despite falling snow, with some drivers honking their horns in approval.
Balmforth described the atmosphere around the 16-kilometer Garden Ring Road as "festive, " with little police presence.
"I must have passed thousands and thousands of protesters, " he said. "They were all wearing white ribbons and a lot of them were clutching white carnations and white balloons -- obviously white being the symbol of the protest movement. Everyone was all very happy [and there was] lots of cheering."
Balmforth added that many of those in passing cars wielded placards in support of the Yabloko opposition party or displayed banners calling "For Free Elections." And they were beeping a lot as they went past."
Balmforth said the protesters themselves were not supposed to have placards and posters because Moscow authorities had not granted official authorization for the demonstration.
Police said about 11, 000 took part in the protest.
But opposition activists said the event attracted the 34, 000 people organizers estimated were needed to complete the chain along the Garden Ring Road.
"The authorities are scared of peaceful and proud people, " opposition leader Boris Nemtsov told Reuters television. "The authorities are afraid of the people they can’t buy. The authorities love flunkies, cynics, and people who are for sale. And those who stand there proudly and are not afraid of anything, they mean the end for the authorities. That is why the greater our number, the faster we will get rid of these thieves and swindlers."
’We Need A Change’
Yevgeny, a 56-year old army pensioner, stood near Mayakovskaya metro station. He claimed he used to support Putin, but that he got tired of him during his second term.
“Nothing large scale was achieved apart from [Putin’s] cosmetic operations and constant self promotion, " he said. "Now we need a change of authorities. Either that, or the next six years will be just like the last 12.”
Boris, a 33-year-old businessman, told RFE/RL that he would continue to demonstrate against the authorities unless they launch a crackdown.
"We want to speak and show that people are against the Putin and the system today and against dishonest elections, " he said. "That’s why we’re here."
Putin Still Likely Winner
The AFP news agency reported that some 3, 000 people also marched through St. Petersburg, chanting "Russia without Putin, " amid a heavy police presence.
An anti-Putin demonstration in Russia’s second largest city on February 25 had earlier attracted thousands of people.
Smaller anti-Putin demonstrations were reported on February 26 in the Siberian cities of Tomsk and Kemerovo.
Putin’s supporters fought back on February 26 by staging their own "Putin Loves Everyone" event on a central Moscow square with a Kremlin youth group handing out ribbons in the colors of the Russian tricolor flag.
Putin, who was president between 2000 and 2008, is widely expected to win against his four main challengers in the March 4 election.
An opinion poll last week indicated Putin, 59, would easily win the election in the first round, avoiding a runoff.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights), 2012, №02