“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2009, #11
Committee of Voters Presidential Election Campaign Monitoring Report for November Electoral legislation: limiting freedom of speech or a guarantee of candidates equal rights? Differing advice on media activity during the elections Electoral legislation: warnings heeded but risks remain Against torture and ill-treatment
Conceal ill-treatment by moving the victim? Study finds fall in unlawful police violence Contempt for the justice system from the Supreme Court? Allegations of torture in Kyiv remand unit The right to liberty and security
Hardly commensurate compensation Freedom of expression
October record for violations against journalists Environmental rights
Important court victory for Zhukiv Island Court battle with the Prosecutor General over “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya” On refugees
Amnesty International:Ukraine must release Belarusian prisoner of conscience Human rights protection
Pro bono and human rights protection Victims of political repression
SBU names three organizers of Holodomor Kyiv: monument to one of the organizers of Holodomor dismantled Rehabilitation not for all Diaries of “the man who knew too much” go on show Rivne honours the memory of Jews murdered by the Nazis News from the CIS countries
Watchdog warning about TV in post-Soviet states Two Russian human rights groups see political motive in eviction effort
Committee of Voters Presidential Election Campaign Monitoring Report for November
The Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] calls the election campaign competitive, free and transparent and did not register any significant violations of voters’ rights during November. It does however point out the lack of substance to political dialogue and dishonesty of candidates before the voters. “There is virtually no discussion of the candidates’ programmes, while concealed political advertising in the media is widely used.
The greatest problem which could influence how democratic and transparent the electoral process is as of the beginning of December 2009 is in the flawed legislation on the Presidential elections. After voting for the relevant draft law in its first reading, CVU notes the lack of political will among most National Deputies regarding improving the rules of election campaigns. CVU is, for example, concerned by:
- the virtual impossibility of appealing against the violations, actions or inaction of participants in the electoral process;
- the lack of procedure for voters at foreign polling areas (those who are not registered with the consulate) or of the possibility for voters to be included on the list on Election Day;
- the fact that civic organizations cannot be observers at the elections.
As the election campaigning intensifies, CVU has recorded an increase in cases where official position has been used for campaigning; “non-pecuniary” bribery of voters and criminal interference in the electoral process. At present these cases are not widespread nor systemic, however a heightening in political confrontation could lead to an increase in such violations and their influence of the results of the elections. CVU is also observing processes which can be qualified as preparation for direct (pecuniary) bribery of voters.
The Central Election Committee [CEC] formed district electoral commissions in time and the overwhelming majority of these have held their first meetings on schedule. However the qualifications and work experience of members of the electoral commissions is on an extremely low level. CVU estimates that only 20-30% (depending on the region) have already worked in district electoral commissions”. CVU says that the situation with precinct electoral commissions is even more dangerous.
On the basis of its monitoring, CVU recommends that:
the Verkhovna Rada urgently adopt the necessary amendments to legislation on the Presidential elections;
that candidates’ headquarters reject dishonest forms of electoral campaigning, the use of administrative resource and bribery of voters;
that the CEC organize training of members of lower level commissions;
that voters take a more active part in checking their data in the State Voter Register and uphold their rights more actively, reacting against violations of electoral legislation.
The use of administrative resources and bribery of voters
In November there was an increase in the number of cases where representatives of State executive bodies or bodies of local self-government used their official position for campaigning. This was mainly in favour of candidates who hold the highest positions in the State (Volodymyr Lytvyn, Yulia Tymoshenko, Viktor Yushchenko), as well as in favour of Viktor Yanukovych who enjoys support in many authorities in the regions.
The use of administrative resource is, as a rule, to organize meetings with a candidate, campaigning in working hours and administrative influence on members of the Commission. These cases are not widespread and should not have a serious impact on the results of the elections. The most widespread and systemic use of administrative resources was the campaign giving out land acts which was accompanied by campaigning for Yulia Tymoshenko. Such cases were reported in most Ukrainian regions.
Much abridged from the report at: http://cvu.org.ua/?lang=ukr&mid=fp&id=2444&lim_beg=0
Electoral legislation: limiting freedom of speech or a guarantee of candidates equal rights?
According to some observers, current Ukrainian legislation restrictions the opportunities of the media to provide objective coverage of the presidential election campaign, and it is too late to change this. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian media should be unbiased in its coverage and how to achieve this was the subject of a roundtable in Kyiv on 16 November.
On the eve of the present presidential campaign four draft laws on the presidential elections were tabled in parliament. The one which has come into force does not take into account comments from media representatives and returns electoral legislation on coverage of the elections to the situation n 2004, Head of the Centre for Legislative Initiatives of the Independent Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters, Olha Bolshakova.
“We have legislation which it is virtually impossible to work with. The biggest flaws are that: any material which pertains to the candidates is regarded as pre-election campaigning because there is no differentiation between it and other information. If the media publishes information, they are at risk since parliamentarians voted against such material. Furthermore, the right of a media outlet to refuse to publish dirty advertising has been removed from legislation on the elections.
Deputy Chair of the parliamentary committee on freedom of speech and information, Andriy Shevchenko agrees that such provisions in electoral legislation need to be changed, however he does not believe that such changes will be considered before the elections.
One of the law’s authors, Yury Klyuchkovsky from the bloc “Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence” acknowledges that the present law is flawed, however asserts that only through its enforcement can equal conditions be ensured for all candidates.
“According to international standards, any analysis, especially coloured material, is not information. During the elections this is objectively campaigning. The law states that images of a candidate on the screen is campaigning. Together with freedom of speech we forget about another fundamental principle – equality before the law of all candidates. Only the voting day urns will show which candidate is most popular. Everything else is influence on this result, however an unlawful influence.
Professor Giovanne de Maiola from OSCE reminded Ukrainian media representatives of a fundamental principle of European political journalism: publishing critical information about a politician, you must him or her a chance to respond. He adds that in Ukrainian conditions, where some presidential candidates have power and influence on the main media, it is extremely difficult to achieve such objectivity.
From a text at www.radiosvoboda.org
Differing advice on media activity during the elections
The National Television and Broadcasting Council [NTBC] has decided to create an expert council on issues regarding the activities of television and radio companies during the pre-election campaign and presidential elections. The expert council’s decisions will be of a recommendatory nature but will be taken into consideration by NTBC when examining violations by TV and radio companies of electoral legislation.
The decision to create the expert council was taken on 11 November. It is to be a consultative body which will cooperate with NTBC and the Central Election Committee. According to member of NTBC, although the decisions are of a recommendatory nature, it will be easier for NTBC to give not only its own opinion, but to cite the public’s view.
NTBC management has already approached civic organizations asking them to put forward candidates for membership of the expert council by 16 November. Similar organizations were created in 2006 and 2007 during the parliamentary elections. For example, in 2006 the public council found one of the pre-election clips of the bloc of Natalya Vitrenko “People’s Opposition” unsuitable and recommended banning it. Following this television channels did indeed decide not to broadcast it.
In fact, this is the second such organization created in Ukraine over the past week. On 5 November an Independent Expert Council on Mass Media Activities during the elections began work. It is made up of members of public councils formed in 2006 and 2007. The NTBC decision to create an organization with analogous functions came as a surprise to it.
Natalya Ligachova, member of this original council and Chief Editor of the website “Telekritika”, says that she was certain that the council would fulfil its public functions under NTBC, and that she imagines this is some kind of misunderstanding.
However NTBC considers differently. “The creation of an expert council is our prerogative, and the council created on 5 November has no relation to us. They can gather, issue decisions, but not in our name.”, Vitaly Shevchenko told a “Komersant” reporter. He says that the council formed on 5 November “is not objective”. “One of its leaders directly upholds the interests of television companies”.
The Secretary of the Independent Expert Council Yekaterina Kotenko assumes that the comment refers to her. She is the Head of the Industrial Television Committee [ITC] which is a branch organization uniting the largest television channels, advertising agencies and advertisers and protecting their interests. She points out that her participation on the previous councils aroused no opposition, and that she had received a thank you certificate signed by Vitaly Shevchenko. She adds that her Council has just sent an official request for registration attached to NTBC, and received consent in principle, and therefore hopes that the matter will soon be resolved. She said that for the sake of the cause she would be prepared to step down as secretary.
The Deputy Chair of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Oleksandr Holub, from the Communist Party, believes that the expert council regardless of its makeup will support those currently in power and “exert pressure on the opposition medial” He claims that NTBC is politically biased and has long discredited itself through nationalist activities.
Electoral legislation: warnings heeded but risks remain
The amendments to electoral legislation just adopted by parliament as base have been generally welcomed. According to the Head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Oleksandr Chernenko, “Commonsense overruled Deputies’ political ambitions”. He considers that the draft law on the Presidential elections has taken into consideration most of the recommendations from European bodies, and hopes that the Deputies will resist the temptation to introduce other changes convenient for their political forces. He welcomes the fact that civic organizations will have the right to act as observers. While this right was envisaged in the draft laws of Pysarenko and Lukash, there were other dangerous norms.
Denis Kovryzhenko, expert from the Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives, agrees, and says that the Verkhovna Rada has taken into consideration 90% of the Venice Commission and OSCE’s recommendations. However dangerous norms remain, for example, the procedure for regulating pre-election campaigning and the lack of non-court complaints over the electoral process.
Neither excludes the possibility for abuse remaining in the norms left in the draft law about amendments to the voter lists on Election Day. However, since this is possible only on a court order, that will significantly reduce the level of potential rigging.
From material at www.dw-world.de
Against torture and ill-treatment
Conceal ill-treatment by moving the victim?
The Centre for Legal and Political Studies “SIM” has expressed concern over allegations that prisoners in the Lutsk SIZO [investigative isolation unit] have been beaten and the refusal of SIZO staff to allow visits to the prisoners in question.
On 10 November relatives of convicted prisoner V. Voznyak approached the SIM Public Advice Centre asking that legal aid be provided to Voznyak who had allegedly been beaten in the Lutsk SIZO. They claimed that he had a considerable number of injuries, for example, bruises and broken fingers on both hands.
SIM approached the Lviv Regional Division of the Department for the Execution of Sentences asking that the allegations be checked and that the organization’s representatives have the opportunity to meet with Voznyak, this being in accordance with Article 8 of the Criminal Procedure Code. It was refused permission on the grounds of quarantine in connection with the flu epidemic, but promised a meeting after quarantine is removed.
SIM also received information regarding O. Moskavchuk, another convicted prisoner in the same SIZO, who was allegedly also beaten. SIM has also made repeated applications to the Lviv Regional Division of the Department for the Execution of Sentences, asking for permission for a SIM representative to meet the prisoner and provide legal aid. No reply has been forthcoming.
On 24 November SIM received information from trusted sources which confirm the allegations of beating and injuries. One of the prisoners is also alleging that he is being given unknown medication which is seriously impairing his state of heath.
On 25 November the two young men are being transferred to Penal Colony No. 42.
SIM notes that this is not the first time it has received reports of beatings of prisoners in the Lutsk SIZO with the prisoners’ subsequent transfer to the Lviv SIZO No. 19. On an earlier occasion, when permission to see a prisoner had finally been received, they were informed that he had been moved to the place where he was to serve his sentence, although unofficial sources suggested he was still at Lviv SIZO No. 19.
In view of these cases, SIM asks for help in providing its representative or those of other authoritative human rights organizations with access in order to provide legal aid to prisoners Voznyak and Moskavchuk;
That prisoners Voznyak and Moskavchuk undergo a medical check-up to see whether they have injuries;
It calls on the public to draw the attention of the Lviv Regional Division of the Department for the Execution of Sentences to such allegations and to seek checks and measures to preclude transfers of prisoners in order to conceal the marks of ill-treatment. It also asks the media to pay heed to such attempts to conceal incidents of beating.
From a press release by Lidia Topolevska, President of Centre for Legal and Political Studies “SIM”
Study finds fall in unlawful police violence
The results have been released of a study carried out in 2003 and 2009 in the Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava and Kharkiv regions, as well as in the Crimea. 3 thousand members of the public were questioned, as well as 600 police officers and 200 prisoners. The results were supplemented by 45 interviews with victims of violence, specialists and police officers, 16 focus groups with specialists and police officers.
A comparative analysis of the results shows that in the period from 2003 there was a fall of about 400 thousand in the number of people experiencing blows and bodily injuries during detention. However the figure of those who allege being beaten during detention is still around 600 thousand a year.
Asked what kinds of unlawful physical coercion had been applied, 2.7% of respondents in 2003 named beatings and bodily injuries against 1.6 % in 2009.
The results indicated an increasing shift from cases of unlawful violence during detention to the criminal investigation process. Violence is becoming more and more latent in society where the work of the police is constantly in the public eye and discussed. Now police officers prefer to be more circumspect when applying physical force – in places closed to the public, using force that does not lead marks, psychological violence. The focus is on making it harder to prove the violence.
In 2009 1.3% said that they had experienced beatings and bodily injuries during criminal investigations during the previous year, against 0.94% in 2003. In 2009 0.3% spoke of torture and ill-treatment, against 0.25 in 2003.
An important indicator of how society sees the issue of torture and ill-treatment in the police force is the general perception of who is likely to be at risk.
According to the results, 63.1% consider that nobody is guaranteed immunity from violence and torture by the police. Among prisoners, 63.9% held the same opinion.
28% of those surveyed in one way or another accept the possibility or need to use beatings, torture or ill-treatment against suspects in order to uncover and investigate a crime.
Since 2003 the number of people who justify unlawful police force has fallen by 20% (from 48% to 28%).
74.6% of those who alleged unlawful police violence against them did not intend to approach anyone over this. 20% of the respondents did not intend to turn to anyone if they themselves or their family were subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Of the others, 23.7% said they would approach a human rights organization, 12.7% - the media; 24% - a lawyer; 23.7% - the police; 38.8% - the Prosecutor’s Office.
Such lack of belief in the possibility of upholding ones rights through legal means and fear that the situation could get even worse lead to a sense of impunity among those who commit such offences.
There were conflicting ideas among the public as a whole, and police officers, as to the reasons for unlawful violence.
According to the public as a whole, the first three causes are:
- the lack of punishment of those police officers who use such methods (53%)
- bad choice of candidates for working in the police, people with sadistic tendencies (43%)
- low professional and cultural level of police officers (38%)
The police officers, on the other hand, named:
- 1.the failings of legislation (52%)
- the rights of police officers are themselves violated (50%)
- a system where indicators and reporting forces officers to “beat out” confessions (43%),
Temporary holding facilities [ITT]
55.3% of the police officers surveyed noted an improvement in conditions over the last five years. This figure was even greater (57.7%) among prisoners, where 17.7% spoke of significant improvements. This had passed by the overwhelming majority of the public (71.7%) who knew nothing of the conditions in ITT nor efforts to improve them.
Among the most important problems still needing to be resolved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, both police officers and prisoners highlighted ventilation of cells, stuffiness, the quality of food and the possibility to take a shower.
The study was under the auspices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the European Commission, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research
Contempt for the justice system from the Supreme Court?
A strong and independent judiciary is the main prerequisite for observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The lack of respect for the justice system, mechanisms of support of the court’s independence and authority renders protection of human rights illusory.
Just who doesn’t encroach on the authority of the justice system? High-ranking government figures constantly see fit to disregard court rulings, violate them, insult all judges en masse, calling them mafia – although they mean those caught red-handed or those who passed rulings not to their taste. They want to keep judges all the time on a short lead, constantly under-funding the judiciary. Where would you get respect for the justice system?
In our Ukrainian reality I have therefore always been categorically opposed to any actions by human rights activists which undermine this institution – pickets near the court or other forms of pressure on the court. If you’ve lost your case, appeal. If they don’t hear you then, try a cassation appeal. If that doesn’t work try the European Court of Human Rights if there are grounds, or another international body. You’ll eventually win. While it is, in my view, a vain endeavour to put pressure on the courts.
Yet what does one do if the highest judicial body – the Supreme Court of Ukraine – demonstrates flagrant contempt for the justice system? This is a very worrying signal which places a question mark over the above-mentioned arguments. It is the collapse of the foundations when the ground slips out from under our feet. This case needs to be thoroughly considered and the reasons and motives established. We propose that the reader does this in the case of Oleksandr Yaremenko.
On 27 January 2001 Yaremenko was arrested on suspicion of the murder on 26 January of taxi driver M., as well as other crimes. On the same day during interrogation in the Kharkivsky District Prosecutor’s Office in Kyiv, in the presence of lawyer Oleksiy Khyvrych, Yaremenko confessed to the crimes of which he was accused. On 1 February a police officer from the Kyiv Kharkivsky District Police Department interrogated Yaremenko over the murder of taxi driver Kh. In 1998. The crime was qualified under Article 101 § 3 of the Criminal Code as inflicting severe bodily injuries leading to the death of the victim. This article does not stipulate mandatory presence of a lawyer during interrogation as do charges of murder. Subsequently Yaremenko alleged that police officers had beaten him, demanding that he sign a letter rejecting a lawyer and confessing to the killing of Kh.
On 2 February Yaremenko told his lawyer Oleksiy Khyvrych about what had happened on 1 February. The latter advised him to retract him testimony, declare his innocent and complain of the use of force. On the same day Oleksiy Khyvrych lodged an application for a medical examination of Yaremenko with the Prosecutor, however this was not carried out.
On the same day Yaremenko signed a waiver with respect to lawyer Oleksiy Khyvrych, claiming that the latter was obstructing him from confessing to the murder of Kh. He later stated on a number of occasions that he had signed this waiver under pressure from the investigator of the Prosecutor’s Office H. and police officers. During the following days Oleksiy Khyvrych tried in vain to meet with his client. On 9 February he was informed that he had been removed from the case at the decision of investigator H. on the basis of Articles 61 and 130 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Another lawyer had been appointed, and in this lawyer’s presence charges had already been laid of murdering Kh. Under Article 93 of the Criminal Code. Yaremenko had confessed to killing Kh. Together with S. in the summer of 1998.
Without going into the details of the battle of Oleksiy Khyvrych, Yaremenko and his wife for the lawyer to be returned to the case and the allegations of unlawful violence to be investigated, we would note that on 24 April Khyvrych was allowed to defend Yaremenko. On 21, 23 and 24 June the same investigator from the Prosecutor’s Office H. carried out a check of Yaremenko’s claim to have been beaten. He questioned the three police officers named by Yaremenko and all three denied having applied any pressure or other unlawful actions.
On 20 November 2001 the Kyiv Appellate Court convicted Yaremenko of the killings of M. and Kh.. It did not take into consideration statements that the confession regarding the killing in 1998 had not been made voluntarily. The court referred to the fact that these “claims had been checked by the Prosecutor’s Office” and that “according to the results of the check no information was obtained confirming violations of the law by officers of the detective inquiry or criminal investigation department”.
On 18 April 2002 the Supreme Court of Ukraine upheld the judgment of the appellate court. In reply to Yaremenko’s complaint about a violation of his right to a defence, the Supreme Court stated that it found no evidence of a violation of the right to a defence or of any other serious violation of criminal procedural law that could provide a basis for quashing the judgment of the appellate court.
Yaremenko applied to the European Court of Human Rights alleging torture and violation of his right to a fair trial. On 12 September 2008 the European Court’s judgment came into force. The Court found that there was insufficient evidence of ill-treatment since an effective independent investigation of the statement by Yaremenko and his lawyer of ill-treatment had not been carried out. The Court deemed this a violation of the State’s duties and that therefore Article 3 of the European Convention had been infringed. The Court also found a violation of Article 6 § 1 in the violation of the applicant’s right to remain silence, and in his having been forced to testify against himself. The Court noted that the applicant’s conviction for the 1998 crime was based mainly on his confession, which was obtained by the investigators in the absence of a lawyer and which the applicant retracted the very next day and then from March 2001 on. The Court deemed that this confession had not been corroborated by other evidence and that the lack of any discrepancies and inconsistencies in the detailed testimony given by Yaremenko and the other accused S. regarding the circumstances of the 1998 killing led the Court to surmise that this testimony had been well coordinated and received against the will of the accused. The Court also stated that two other lawyers “defending” Yaremenko had only formally fulfilled their duties which could not compensate for the removal of lawyer Khyvrych. The Court was especially concerned by the trick with switching the article of the charge which made it possible to carry out the interrogation in the absence of a lawyer and obtain a confession, and then with the removal of the lawyer from the case. The Court deemed this a flagrant violation of the right to defence (Article 6 § 3(c)).
The European Court Judgment must be enforced. For this the Yaremenko case must be re-examined since the European Court found the evidence of his guilt in the murder of 1998 unlawful. According to all canons of the law, the finding of even a part of the evidence unlawful undermines the verdict, and requires the examination of the entire case again. Therefore at the end of 2008 lawyer Arkady Bushchenko filed an application with the Supreme Court to have the court rulings in the Yaremenko case reviewed as extraordinary proceedings.
It would be natural to expect that the Supreme Court could revoke the verdict of the appellate court in 2001, the 2002 Supreme Court judgment and would ensure that these rulings were re-examined. However there was an unexpected turn: the court chamber for criminal proceedings and the military chamber at a joint hearing simply excluded from the verdict the confession and other evidence obtained on 1 February 2001 during Yaremenko’s interrogation as suspect, leaving the verdict in force! They considered sufficient precisely that evidence which arouse the doubts of the European Court and prompted them to think it was falsified.
The European Court Judgment in the Yaremenko case was thus not enforced. The Supreme Court gave grounds for another complaint to the European Court of Human Rights regarding violation of the right to a fair trial. It went beyond its competence and assessed facts which it did not have the right to do in this court case. It seems that Supreme Court judges taking part in this case did not understand the point of the European Court Judgment in the Yaremenko case and totally ignored it. They even complained against the conclusion of the European Court that an investigation into the allegations of torture had not been properly undertaken.
When formally asked who voted how during the passing of the judgment, the answer came that the criminal procedure law does not allow for voting by name when taking decisions in a joint hearing.
The Supreme Court judges evidently do not understand the situation that they have placed themselves in, and the country. It will now find itself under pressure from Council of Europe bodies, international and domestic human rights organizations and will finally be forced to change its position.
The joint ruling of the chambers of the Supreme Court has one other important aspect: it effectively gives law enforcement agencies carte blanche to continue the practice of extracting confessions through violent methods and by violating the right to defence. After all there will be no punishment for this even if the European Court finds there to have been a violation. And the Supreme Court had the opportunity to provide an opposite signal on the basis of the judgment of the European Court in the Yaremenko Case!
Allegations of torture in Kyiv remand unit
Lawyers representing Yury Beketov, a remand prisoner in the Kyiv SIZO [pre-trial detention or remand unit] have stated at a press conference in Kyiv that their client has not been provided with medical care which, according to European Court of Human Rights case law, can be deemed a form of torture.
According to lawyer I. Mohyla, Mr Beketov, who suffers from a severe form of omphalocele, alleged that police officers had inflicted bodily injuries before he was remanded in the SIZO. The lawyer accordingly applied to the investigator for a forensic medical examination with this establishing light bodily injuries. “In my view, the forensic medical assessment was neither objective nor full and I therefore lodged an application for an addition forensic medical opinion, since Yury Beketov complained of serious pain in the area of the navel which appeared after he was beaten, being kicked around the navel opening.” Mr Mohyla adds that to date no such check has been carried out, and his complaints have only been given formal consideration.
He says that the lawyers, together with their client’s relatives, managed to get Yury Beketov hospitalized in a special unit of the ambulance service hospital. He adds that since his client has been in the SIZO, he has been in that hospital twice but has not received an adequate amount of medical care. “He didn’t get medical help for the simple reason that if he had been operated on, there could have been adverse consequences and the reason for the operation could have been established.” According to Oleh Veremeyenko, another lawyer, Yury Beketov was discharged too early since if, in accordance with a Ministry of Health Order, he had been in hospital with such injuries 21 days, a criminal investigation would have been initiated against a police officer over his injuries.
The lawyers also stated that the ambulance doctors called to Yury Beketov during the court hearing had recommended immediate hospitalization and an operation due to a high temperature and the wound having become septic. This advice was ignored, as was a repeat recommendation after a second call for ambulance care during the next court hearing on 29 October.
Having exhausted domestic legal remedies, the lawyers applied to the European Court of Human Rights which, on 30 October, stated that the Ukrainian authorities must immediately transfer the application to a hospital or similar. According to the lawyers’ information, even this has not yet been enforced.
The Head of the Kyiv SIZO, Serhiy Starenky, however, asserts that Yury Beketov has been provided with all necessary medical help established by legislation. He says that at Yury Beketov’s request they had tried to have him hospitalized, however the doctors had refused to do this. He asserts that they have doctors’ reports which state that the wound should be treated with ointment and dressings, and that nowhere is an operation mentioned. He also says that after receiving the instruction from the European Court of Human Rights, the SIZO administration again suggested that Yury Beketov be hospitalized in the ambulance service hospital, however the latter refused, this, allegedly, being recorded on video.
Oleh Veremeyenko says that his client refused because he was offered hospital treatment in a place where he had twice not been treated properly, whereas the lawyers had asked that he be placed in City Hospital No. 6.
The right to liberty and security
Hardly commensurate compensation
The Shevchenkivsky District Court in Kyiv has found that in the case of Vadim Hladchuk, all were at fault – police, the court and the Prosecutor’s office. It awarded damages of 125 thousand UAH, which neither Mr Hladchuk, nor his lawyer, Oleh Levytsky, consider in any way sufficient. The case after all involved real criminal prosecution, and not a regrettable judicial error.
As reported back in 2007, Vadim Hladchuk, the Head of the civic organization “Youth are the Hope of the Nation” and colleagues picketed the Tender Chamber of Ukraine for a month. They were demanding that a stop be put to the blocking of a government website for tender advertisements not under the control of the Chamber itself. They also alleged corrupt dealings by the honorary head of the Chamber Oleksandr Tkachenko, a National Deputy [MP] from the Communist Party.
Vadim was detained by police on 1 August and charged with a robbery involving construction instruments which had taken place two years earlier. He had been in Kyiv throughout that period but had received no summons or any other communication from the police.
Human rights groups reacted very promptly, roundly condemning what they feared might be a return to the old tactics of intimidating those in power and big business interests before the elections. Volodymyr Yavorsky from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union particularly called on the media to ensure that this case was not hushed up.
After two initial extraordinary decisions first to remand Vadim in custody on 3 August, then to extend the period of detention (on 10 August), sanity and the rule of law began to reassert themselves. On 16 August the Kyiv Court of Appeal allowed an appeal against the decision to remand Vadim in custody, then on 30 August, the same court which had initially sanctioned remand for a person who had been at liberty for two years blithely unaware of any suspicions (or of any crime), threw the case out.
This does not alter the fact that Vadim Hladchuk was held without grounds in a pre-trial detention centre [SIZO], since the original court extended custody to 10 days.
Mr Hladchuk and Oleh Levytsky have lodged an appeal with the Kyiv Court of Appeal. They are claiming compensation for the unlawful actions of the police, court and Prosecutor’s office of around 470 thousand UAH.
Freedom of expression
October record for violations against journalists
The Institute for Mass Information, which carries out constant monitoring of journalists’ rights, reports that October saw an unprecedented number of assaults and attempts to intimidate journalists.
On 13 October the editorial office of the Volyn newspaper “Viche” was shot at. The day before celebrations to mark the newspaper’s seventieth birthday, around 22.30 8 shots were fired at the paper’s windows and door.
According to one of the versions presently being investigated by the police, a former high-ranking official of a body of self-government was in this way seeking vengeance, having been offended by publications in recent issues of the weekly. Both the police and the SBU [Security Service] are investigating the incident, but nobody has yet been arrested.
Another shooting incident took place in Lviv where the offices of journalists of the Lviv newspaper “Express” were shot at. The newspaper only reported this on 22 October explaining that they had wanted to give the police an opportunity to carry out their duties. The statement on their official website says that “the time has come to call things by their real name: the local police have also failed this test. They are not capable of defending citizens, journalists.”
In Dnipropetrovsk Director of the television company Pryvat TV Dnipro (Channel 9) Kyril Danilov was shot at. According to the police, on Monday evening Danilov left the TV channel premises and got in a car being driven by a journalist from the channel. The car headed off 30 metres when a stranger appeared and at close range shot at the car around the passenger’s seat. According to preliminary information, the shots were fired by a man with a shock pistol. Another media outlet reports there having been 4 shots and says that it was sheer luck that Danilov was not killed. The investigation continues.
In Ivano-Frankivsk a building housing the publishing company “Nova zorya” [“New Dawn”] which publishes a newspaper with the same name was shot at. According to Senior Editor Mykhailo Zakharchyk, in summer issues the newspaper published high-profile material about the murder of rightwing nationalist Maxim Chaika in Odessa, and the newspaper also actively, and upholding its own position gave coverage to the visit of Patriarch Kiril to Ukraine.
A newspaper photographer from “Conflict and the Law” Ruslan Lyubchenko was assaulted and severely beaten in the centre of Kyiv, near a monument to Lenin and in a tent city organized by the communists.
People from the tent city went up to the journalist who was filming footage and began roughly trying to grab his video, and inflicting blows to the hear. After this Lyubchenko had shots directed at him from a gas pistol and before the police arrived, the assailants put handcuffs on the journalist. When the police arrived, they detained not the assailant, but their victim. Technical equipment was taken away, and the memory card with the photos from the event have yet to be destroyed.
These are just some of the crimes against journalists and publications recorded in October. These and other incidents paint a fairly worrying picture of the situation in October 2009 in the area of freedom of expression.
Important court victory for Zhukiv Island
On 25 November 2009 the Kyiv Economic Court found unlawful Item 1 of the Kyiv City Council’s Decision No. 162/1996 from 22 August 2007 “On the creation of a landscape reserve area “Zhukiv Island”. This decision had illegally decreased by 9 times the area of the reserve, from 1794 to 196 hectares.
The landscape reserve Zhukiv Island was created in 1999 in the Holosiyivsky District of Kyiv on the high-water bed of the Dnipro River. The reserve area encompasses the entire preserved part of the nature area “Koncha-Zaspa” which in the past was the first nature reserve of the Soviet Union. The lakes Koncha and Zaspa are on the territory of the reserve.
The Kyiv Council’s 2007 decision was taken in flagrant violation of legislation, namely:
- it ran counter to the General Plan for Kyiv up till 2020 and the Programme for the Development of Kyiv’s Green Zone up till 2010.
- It was taken without being agreed with the Kyiv State Department for the Protection of the Environment which is the only State body with the jurisdiction to agree issues pertaining to natural reserve areas;
- It was taken in spite of protests from the Permanent Commission of the Kyiv City Council on Environmental Policy and protests from the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office;
- No scientific justification was provided for why the reserve needed to be reduced;
- It was taken for the sole purpose of depriving the territory of the reserve of nature protection status and handing it over for construction.
The Kyiv City Council’s Decision was appealed in court in December 2007. This was the first court case over the last several years when the Prosecutor’s Office has lodged a complaint over land decisions of the Kyiv City Council. It is also the first time that the Prosecutor’s Office has initiated such a complaint on the appeal of civic organizations. The National Ecological Centre of Ukraine [NECU] supported the Prosecutor’s Office from the outset. On 19 May 2009, a Supreme Court panel of judges allowed NECU’s cassation appeal and returned the case for a new examination to the Kyiv Economic Court. This court recognized its mistake of two years ago and finally acknowledged the Council’s Decision to have been unlawful.
Over the two years that the court case took, the Kyiv City Council handed out several land sites from the territory of the reserve, and even began felling trees on some of them. Now, when Decision No. 162/1996 has been revoked, all land allocations automatically cease to be lawful. The battle is thus not over, however the main victory has been won. It is important to add that at the present time, the Ministry for Environmental Protection is considering giving the Zhukiv Island reserve the status of reserve area of State significance.
Court battle with the Prosecutor General over “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya”
On 9 November 2009 an appeal court hearing was heard in the case of the environmental organization “Environment, People, Law” [EPL] v. the Prosecutor General’s Office. The court found that the actions of the Prosecutor General’s Office in examining the complaint lodged by EPL in the campaign regarding the reserve “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya” had been unlawful.
This victory is an important part of a drawn-out battle over several years, concerning conflict between the regional landscape park “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya” and the National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom which is adding to the Tashlyk Hydro Accumulating Power Station on the Southern Bug River. The civic campaign in defence of Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya is one of the most forceful in Ukraine, concerning a crucial part of the country’s natural and cultural heritage. The park was created in 1994 and in subsequent years expanded many times. In 2009 on the territory of Pobuzhya Ukraine’s first steppe national nature park “Bug Hard” was created, while in 2008, as reported here, Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya was voted one of Ukraine’s seven natural wonders.
On 6 July 2006 the Mykolaiv Regional Council adopted the decision to remove 27.72 hectares from the regional landscape park and hand it over to Energoatom. The latter wants to make this area the tail end of the Alexandrovsky Reservoir, this meaning that a substantial area of what should be national reserve land will be flooded.
Back in 2006 EPL appealed to the Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO] claiming that the Resolution was unlawful since the Government’s decision was taken with infringement of the procedure for agreeing such land issues and the Land Code. However PGO reacted as in most cases by denying the issue, claiming that there had been no violations. In response to this EPL turned to the court asking that the PGO’s actions be declared unlawful and that PGO be ordered to carry out a proper examination of the complaint. Since that time the legitimacy of EPL’s demands has been twice confirmed by first instance courts – in 2007 and 2008, and yet PGO has in every way ducked acknowledging its guilt, dragged out the case and appealed to higher courts.
The appeal court’s ruling can be considered an important victory for the park, and the Prosecutor General’s Office should now carrying out a check into the lawfulness of the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution on the provision of land. In the best instance the Prosecutor General can appeal against the Resolution however 27 hectares of the landscape park have already been flooded by the Alexandrovsky Reservoir of the Tashlyk Hydro Accumulating Power Station. Nonetheless, if the flooding is stopped, the natural areas around the shores could be renewed before too long.
The court of appeal’s ruling is an important precedent for eradicating formalism and negligence in examining appeals by Ukrainian Prosecutors and vividly demonstrates that even the Prosecutor General can infringe laws which it observes observance of.
From information at: pryroda.in.ua
Amnesty International:Ukraine must release Belarusian prisoner of conscience
Human rights protection
Pro bono and human rights protection
Pro bono publico (for the public good) refers to the provision of professional assistance to charities, civic and other non-commercial organizations, as well as private individuals who cannot afford to pay for such help.
In Ukraine there are a large number of legal firms, yet only a few carry out pro bono projects and even less conduct such activities in the sphere of human rights protection. Unlike many European countries, there are only isolated examples of pro bono human rights-related work by legal departments of large companies in Ukraine.
Scant interest in this area is confirmed by the fact that in the last two years not one Ukrainian legal firm has taken part in the annual European Pro Bono Forum. This is a major international conference on pro bono legal practice organized annually by the Public Interest Law Institute (PILI). The Forum gathers lawyers, NGO staff and academics to analyze the development of pro bono work in different countries and ensure greater legal assistance to those who need it most
It is precisely in the human rights sphere that pro bono work by legal firms is so needed and can provide a valuable contribution to the development of society and affirmation of the rule of law and democracy.
Such work may involve direct legal defence of victims of human rights abuse or consultations. Other areas much needed are expert opinions and analyses of particular draft laws and other normative legal documents, or assessments regarding how Ukraine is observing specific rights.
The need for such pro bono activities is great given the number of infringements of human rights and the fact that very many people cannot afford to pay for legal assistance, as well as the number of flaws in legislation which place human rights in jeopardy.
The development of a sense of social responsibility in the private sector is vital and a key to the long-term success and effectiveness of the company and their fulfillment of their main mission – to help people.
Based on a text by Maxim Shcherbatyuk at www.helsinki.org.ua
Victims of political repression
SBU names three organizers of Holodomor
The Head of Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU], Valentin Nalyvaichenko has told TV Channel 5 that the criminal file over Holodomor 1932-1933 could be submitted to the court by the end of the year.
“By about the end of the year, if the expert assessments are in, there are all legal grounds for the investigators to make their procedural conclusion in the case and pass it to the court”, he stated. “This means that in the conclusion, through the criminal investigation, the organizers of the crime of genocide – Holodomor will be identified.”
Mr Nalyvaichenko stated that the investigators had identified the organizers who occupied leading posts in the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party. This was Stanislav Kosior who was Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party; Pavlo “Postyshev whom Stalin and Molotov in January 1933 sent to the Kharkiv region. He head the Kharkiv region, bringing the crime to its logical conclusion”. “The third official was (Vlas) Chubar who was also at that time in the Ukrainian Council of People’s Deputies”.
“We need in accordance with legislation to prove the guilt of these people in court… After that, I am convinced, those criminals who perpetrated crimes against humanity should be tried and stripped of any privileges”. Mr Nalyvaichenko believes that after this it will be necessary to approach local councils and bodies of local self-government to get monuments to them removed.
In response to a question about the norm in Ukrainian legislation which does not allow the passing of a verdict on a deceased person, Mr Nalyvaichenko said that in Ukraine a precedent could be applied when crimes against humanity do not have any time bar.
He also promised that the criminal file regarding Holodomor would be declassified.
Kyiv: monument to one of the organizers of Holodomor dismantled
The monument on Hrushevsky St in Kyiv to Hryhory Petrovsky has been dismantled. According to the Centre for Research into the Liberation Movement, Petrovsky was one of the organizers of Holodomor, the man-made famine in 1932-1933. In the 1930s Petrovsky was the Head of the Ukrainian Central Committee, as well as of the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee.
This is not the first such move by the Kyiv City State Administration [KCSA]. In November 2008 it had the monument to Stanislav Kosior, also involved in organizing Holodomor and repression in Ukraine , dismantled.
The Centre for Research into the Liberation Movement has called for the removal of 27 Soviet monuments in the capital, including 17 monuments to Lenin, 2 to his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, 2 to Felix Dzherzhynsky, 1 each to Stanislav Kosior, Hryhory Petrovsky and Mikhail Kalinin.
From information at www.proua.com
Rehabilitation not for all
People who in Soviet times faced politically motivated criminal prosecutions are not able to gain rehabilitation and have their “convictions” revoked. The Law “On Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repression in Ukraine” does not apply to them and courts refuse to re-examine old, trumped up cases. The story of Volodymyr Horovy is like that of hundreds of Ukrainians.
During the 1960s Volodymyr Horovy, the Head of a design firm “Kinescop”, was part of a group united by nationalism which engaged in circulating samizdat [in Ukrainian samvydav] literature. His basement contained an amateur radio laboratory, a typewriter with Ukrainian letters, and in it people listened to programmes from Radio Svoboda [Radio Liberty].
The Soviet authorities found it inconvenient to use the political article regarding “anti-Soviet activity” all the time. A search was carried out of Horovy’s basement during the night from 6-7 November 1976. 107 items were removed, including samizdat literature, Horovy’s private tools and cameras, and other things. The KGB were intent on ensuring that the items came to a certain amount in order to trump up charges of “theft of State property.”
All attempts to get the conviction quashed have been in vain.
Volodymyr Horovy was convicted of the above-mentioned criminal charge and imprisoned for 6 years. There were hundreds of people like him, convicted unjustly.
After his release, Horovy had difficulty finding work because of the stigma of a “criminal record”. Many of those responsible for his imprisonment are still alive. He has spent all the years since independence trying to get the conviction revoked. He explains that he approaches the authorities who tell him that he is not eligible for rehabilitation which he already knows. He has witnesses who can testify to his innocence, yet both the investigators, and the courts respond that there is no criminal file. For him it is not a question of an increase in pension or material benefits, but rather a matter of principle. He wants the criminal record revoked since he committed no crime. He is by no means alone in his dilemma. The courts refuse to examine such cases, and people appeal to the President.
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, believes that the President’s Decree is not enough. It is the courts which are obliged to re-examine such cases. “We need a special law like in Germany. There in 1997 a law was passed which gave Germans the possibility to demand justice and have old criminal files with a political colouring to them re-examined. We have no such law, the courts themselves decide whether or not to examine a case. They are reluctant to agree to such cases and one requires incredible effort to achieve re-examination. The cases against Chornovil, Horbal, and others are yet to be revoked, and the men rehabilitated. Hryhory Prykhodkov made effort to have his case re-examined, but nothing came of it. A Law needs to be prepared and the President could submit it to the Verkhovna Rada”.
However Ukrainian society is also entirely indifferent in their knowledge of real history. In such a situation there is a paradoxical thing: those who have committed real crimes get into parliament, while those against whom a prosecution was flagrantly rigged endure the stigma of a criminal record for decades.
From a text at www.radiosvoboda.org
Diaries of “the man who knew too much” go on show
The diaries of a heroic British reporter who sacrificed his reputation, and perhaps his life, to expose Stalin’s “terror famine” in Soviet Ukraine are to go on public display for the first time.
Gareth Jones was the only western writer who successfully unmasked the true horror of "Holodomor" - the man-made famine that killed millions of people in Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the lower Volga region in 1932 and 1933.
His stories appeared in British, American and German newspapers, revealing how millions of peasants in Ukraine were starving to death while the Soviet regime exported grain to the West and failed to deliver aid. Jones recorded meetings with desperate villagers who were subsisting on cattle fodder, too weak to work in the fields.
But despite their shocking contents, the articles were rubbished by other western journalists in Moscow, many of whom had access to Stalins government, which carefully concealed the true scale of the atrocity.
Jones ended up being publicly discredited and was banned from the USSR. Two years later, while working in China, he was murdered by bandits in circumstances that suggest possible Soviet involvement. He was just 29.
Now, for the first time, the diaries that Jones kept as he trekked across Ukraine and used as the basis of his reports are being put on display by Trinity College, University of Cambridge, where he was a student.
The documents have been kept by his family and are going on show to coincide with a new, feature-length documentary about Jones and the famine by the director Serhii Bukovskyi. The film, called "The Living", will receive its British premiere on Friday (November 13th) as part of the Second Annual Cambridge Festival of Ukrainian Film, organised by the Universitys Department of Slavonic Studies.
"These diaries are the only independent Western verification of what was arguably Stalins greatest atrocity," Jones great nephew, Nigel Linsan Colley, said.
"Jones was the only journalist who risked his name and reputation to expose Holodomor to the world," Rory Finnin, Lecturer in Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge, added. "His diaries are a stirring historical record of an often forgotten tragedy of the 20th century."
Within Ukraine, where Holodomor is formally recognised as an act of genocide, Jones has been declared a national hero. Historians still dispute whether the famine was a deliberate act to combat Ukrainian nationalism, or a result of Stalins 1928-33 "Five Year Plan", in which farms were forcibly collectivised and grain stocks requisitioned for urban areas or export.
What is clear is that Stalin allowed the famine to occur, sealed off the Russia-Ukraine border, and ruthlessly punished starving peasants accused of hoarding grain. Modern estimates suggest that 4 million people died in the famine in Ukraine alone. In recent years the United Nations and the European Parliament have recognised it as a crime against humanity.
Jones own short career was impressive even before he recorded his experience of the atrocity. By that stage, he had already been an assistant to the former Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George, visited Russia twice and witnessed first-hand Hitlers installation as German Chancellor. Jones even wrote to Lloyd-George to warn him about Hitler and the threat he posed.
He returned to Moscow in March 1933, determined to investigate rumours of famine on behalf of the newspapers with whom he was starting to forge a career as a talented correspondent. In defiance of the Soviet authorities, Jones then slipped across the border into Ukraine, which was off-limits to western journalists. Once there, he began walking from village to village.
His diaries reveal some of the horror of what he saw. Dying families begged him for bread, while other peasants advised him against walking alone at night because there were too many "desperate, starving" people in the area. Many, he wrote, were hopelessly weak, their last supplies of potatoes and beetroot running out. Their cattle and other livestock were already dead or dying.
Returning to Berlin, Jones filed a "press release" to British and American newspapers on March 29th. The story described the situation in graphic detail. "Everywhere was the cry, There is no bread. We are dying." Jones wrote.
The world paid little heed to Joness report, which was attacked by other journalists. Days later, the New York Times writer Walter Duranty, a respected Pulitzer prize-winner, produced a denial headlined: "Russians Hungry, But Not Starving". Duranty labelled Joness report a scare story and suggested that Jones judgement had been "hasty", naïve and based on inadequate evidence.
Jones fought back, arguing that western correspondents in the Soviet Union were spending their time largely in Moscow where their copy was heavily censored by the Soviet authorities. With Duranty and other reporters against him, however, there was little he could do.
Dismayed and barred from Russia, he turned his eye eastwards, where Japan was beginning to expand its Empire in Manchuria in similarly underreported circumstances. While working in Inner Mongolia in August 1935, however, Jones was captured by bandits. He and his German travelling companion were held for ransom. After 16 days, Jones was murdered.
Although the circumstances of his death remain unclear, investigations have uncovered a trail of Soviet involvement. A flat Jones had used in Tokyo in 1934 was connected with a Soviet spy, his vehicle in China was owned by the NKVD and his companion, Dr. Herbert Mueller, who was released unharmed, had known Soviet connections.
After his death, Lloyd-George wrote: "That part of the world is a cauldron of conflicting intrigue. One or other interests concerned probably knew that Mr. Gareth Jones knew too much of what was going on."
Gareth Jones diaries will be displayed at the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge, from November 13th to mid-December. The library is open at specific times during the week. For details, visit: http://trin.cam.ac.uk
Rivne honours the memory of Jews murdered by the Nazis
A ceremony has been held in Rivne in memory of the Jews shot on the outskirts of the regional centre by the Nazis. 68 years ago, during the space of two days 17.5 thousand Jews brought from the Rivne Ghetto were executed in the Sosonki Clearing. At that time this was in numerical terms almost half the population of Rivne
A memorial complex has been built at the place of the tragedy, and the local regional history museum holds material and the accounts of those who survived.
According to Daria Yefymenko from the Khesed-Osher Fund, on 5 November 1943 children, adults, the aged were all taken by convoy with dogs to the Sosonki Clearing. The killing was carried out by day and night.
From information at www.wek.com.ua
News from the CIS countries
Watchdog warning about TV in post-Soviet states
Government-influenced television is hampering democracy in Russia, Belarus and most post-Soviet countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, and it could endanger international peace and security if misused as a propaganda tool, a watchdog warned Thursday.
Miklos Haraszti, the outgoing media freedom representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said even TV stations that are not directly state-owned are often in the hands of people close to those in power.
"We cannot speak about free elections, we cannot speak about true democracies where most people get most of their information from television that is either quite firmly in governmental hands or, if privatized, then in the hands of cronies or even families of governmental leaders," Haraszti said. "Or if (the countries) nominally have public service broadcasting, then it is in fact just a propaganda tool for the government."
Haraszti, a former Hungarian dissident and parliamentarian who has written several books, spoke in an interview with The Associated Press several months before his mandate expires.
Since 2004, Haraszti has monitored media-related developments in the OSCE's 56 member countries, not shying away from criticizing actions related to journalists or the right to free speech.
It was not immediately possible to get Russia's reaction to Haraszti's comment because telephone calls to the country's envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were not answered on Thursday evening.
However, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday that he sees no "regression" in the nation' media freedoms, and that government opponents have no trouble getting their messages out.
In authoritarian Belarus, television is dominated by the state, and independent media have faced persistent harassment from the government.
Haraszti did not name the countries in Central Asia and South Caucasus he was concerned about.
However, Western nations and rights groups have urged Azerbaijan's government to stop pressuring independent media, and have expressed concern about media freedoms in all five former Soviet republics of Central Asia — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Haraszti, noting the influence of government-controlled TV during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, said TV outlets in the hands of the state "quite directly influence the international peace and security because it can be used as a propaganda tool, because government policies cannot be checked and scrutinized by the press, and because dangerous and irrational emotions can be officially spread."
Veronika Oleksyn, AP
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Two Russian human rights groups see political motive in eviction effort
Two of Russias most prominent human rights organizations say their work has been thrown into jeopardy by municipal efforts to evict them from their offices.
For Human Rights and the Moscow Helsinki Group say they will fight to remain in their respective downtown offices. Both groups have occupied the same spaces for more than a decade at cut-rate rents brokered in a burst of liberalism following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The threat of eviction looms at a time when a dwindling community of human rights workers, locked in perpetual battle over grievances over issues such as state violence in the restive Caucasus region to dismal conditions in Russian prisons, say they face increasing pressure and harassment.
Russian human rights activists have increasingly become the target of violence and threats. Natalia Estemirova, a dogged investigator and critic of abuse against civilians in Chechnya , was shot dead in July.
In January, For Human Rights head Lev Ponomaryov was badly beaten as he arrived home from work. He believes both the assault and the eviction are attempts to harass him into silence.
"Under [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin, the states repressive machine has become increasingly powerful, and I dont think anybody is going to stop this machine," he said Monday. "In public, the president says he wants to stop the machine, but so far we havent seen any concrete actions on his part."
The Moscow Helsinki Group is Russias oldest human rights organization, tracing its roots back to the 1970s, when activists were arrested by Soviet authorities and hounded from the country.
The group was informed in writing of its impending eviction in the spring, but opted to stay put and fight against the order.
"Nobody has come officially to our office. Nobody has notified us in person," said Anastasia Aseyeva, administrative director of the Moscow Helsinki Group. "We have repeatedly asked them why this is happening, and never get an answer."
A spokeswoman for Moscows government property department said that the building where Moscow Helsinki Group has its offices was being renovated. The human rights organization countered that the buildings other tenants were not being asked to leave.
For Human Rights, meanwhile, was "careless" and had broken the rules of the apartment house, city spokeswoman Natalia Bykova said.
"Since they revealed themselves as careless tenants, and given the fact that the other residents are categorically against this organization being there, they will be evicted and were not going to offer them other space options," Bykova said.
Downtown Moscow has some of the worlds most expensive real estate, and battles over property -- often marked by corruption and pressure -- are a regular feature of urban life.
Early this year, Russian lawmakers closed a long-standing provision that allowed nonprofit organizations to rent offices at a lower, protected cost rather than having to compete with Moscows high-rolling corporations.
The protection for non-governmental organizations was restored over the summer, bringing human rights groups a measure of relief. But the drive to evict the two human rights groups has continued nonetheless.
"If it were just my organization, then maybe I could believe theres some commercial intrigue behind it," Ponomaryov said. "But there are two of us in the same boat. Its definitely politically motivated."