“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2010, #12
Human Rights Ombudsperson calls Ukraine leader in mass use of arrest Selective criminal prosecutions are the hallmark of an undemocratic regime On Ukraine’s missing the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo Against torture and ill-treatment
Police Persecution of Yakov Strogan Concern for Yakov Strogan, victim of police torture The right to a fair trial
Venice Commission baffled as to the logic of changes made to Ukraine’s judicial system Freedom of expression
Tax Code Protesters arrested Criminal Charges against Human Rights Activist Dmytro Groysman Reprimand for Berkut officer who detained journalist Mustafa Nayem Access to information
Historian appeals against his dismissal as Archive Director SBU continues misleading the public over historian Ruslan Zabily New methods against historians: Holodomor historian dismissed Social and economic rights
New legislation denies small shareholder their rights Ongoing Ukrainian Saga of not fighting corruption With regard to the second reading of the draft Housing Code Law enforcement agencies
Open Letter over concerns regarding MIA disregard for human rights Berkut disperses and detains parents protesting against inadequate investigation into their children’s deaths Human rights protection
2010 Thistle of the Year Anti-Award Recipients announced News from the CIS countries
Belarus Crackdown: Blood and Special Operations in Belarus Politics
Politics and human rights
Human Rights Ombudsperson calls Ukraine leader in mass use of arrest
The Human Rights Ombudsperson, Nina Karpachova plans to meet with the Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and discuss the detention and remand in custody of former Minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Lutsenko, and other members of the former government.
She spoke of her plan today during a meeting with a group of National Deputies from the factions Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence and BYuT – Batkivshchyna who handed her an appeal calling on her to help obtain Yury Lutsenko’s release.
She said that her position had been and remained the same, that Ukraine was a leader in the use of mass arrests and that this was a shameful situation.
With regard to the detention of Yury Lutsenko, Ms Karpachova stated that “it is absolutely incomprehensible and unacceptable when one criminal investigation is initiated and the person is detained on another case altogether”. She went on to say that this was a systemic feature and that she had always stressed that remand in custody should be an exceptional preventive measure. She noted that the law allows for others which are, for some reason, ignored.
She said that she planned to meet with the President and that such a meeting had been planned for last Friday but had not taken place. National Deputy Yury Karamzin asked her to tell the President about the criminal cases against all the former government officials, and to stress that this is already a dangerous phenomenon.
“If we exhaust the means for overcoming it in Ukraine we will be forced to turn to European structures and that will be an unpleasant situation for Ukraine”, he added.
Selective criminal prosecutions are the hallmark of an undemocratic regime
2010 has been marked by an increase in prominent criminal prosecutions for crimes allegedly committed with the use of official position.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group would like to be able to welcome efforts by the authorities to fight corruption, misuse of power and impunity among members of the State apparatus.
However concern is elicited by the fact that the criminal prosecutions are aimed exclusively at members of opposition political parties. We have in mind the initiating of criminal cases against Yulia Tymoshenko, Bohdan Danylyshyn, Yury Lutsenko and others. Under analogous circumstances criminal cases against representatives of the current government have not been initiated.
In some cases members of the opposition are accused of actions which members of the present government are engaged in now with impunity. For example, in one case the charge is of not returning a deposit made during the privatization of the Odessa Port Factory, although this deposit has still not been returned with liability for this being borne by the official presently occupying this post.
With the entrenched tradition of lawlessness and abuses, disregard for the law and governance through individual dictate which has been typical of the authorities over many years, selective criminal prosecutions solely aimed at members of the opposition spell the effective use of criminal court proceedings for political ends. Such practice runs counter to democratic values based on equality of all before the law and undermines the foundations of criminal justice.
This seems especially unacceptable given the unpunished assault on opposition National Deputies in parliament and attempts by the government to block the work of branches of opposition political parties.
Selective application of legislation is a typical weapon of undemocratic regimes. Fearing defeat in conditions of fair political competition and political freedom, the regime in such countries removes opposition figures with the use of criminal prosecutions. This can be compared to the selective presentation of news when somebody decides which news to circulate, this resulting in the lack of full information and a distorted impression of what is going on in society.
Furthermore, when members of a political party that has come to power at each step carry out unlawful actions with impunity, while their political opponents are prosecuted for the same actions, this compromises justice and establishes dictatorship of force. It also undermines any public faith in the honesty of the regime’s intentions and its adherence to the rule of law.
In conditions where there is an established court system and tradition dating back over many years, one could hope that the courts would stand in the way of manipulation of the criminal process. However the judicial reform carried out this year has made judges highly dependent on politicians.
The President and the majority in parliament which are at present part of one political force effectively have the opportunity, via the High Council of Justice, to exert influence on judges. This body of power plays a key role in the appointment and dismissal of judges and in bringing disciplinary proceedings against them.
The Prosecutor General stated immediately after his appointment that he would implement any order of the President. Later utterances clearly demonstrate his total dependence on the President.
A member of the Party of the Regions has been appointed Head of the High Court on Civil and Criminal Cases, while his deputy is the Prosecutor General’s brother.
All of this gives rise to well-founded doubts that the court proceedings in these political cases will be run in keeping with the standards of the right to a fair trial.
The President constantly asserts that his aim is to build a European-style democratic State. The best proof of this would be to stop the prosecution of the political opposition under the guise of fighting misuse of power.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group call on the authorities to put an end to selective criminal prosecutions and the sharp decline in political freedom in the country.
Executive Director, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Co-Chair, Kharkiv Human Rights Group
On Ukraine’s missing the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo
An Open letter to Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kostyantyn Ivanovych
On 8 December 2010 the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee informed that Ukraine was among 19 countries which had declined their invitation to the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony on 10 December. It would seem that this position was dictated by support for China’s protest against the awarding of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not make any official statements to explain the reasons for this position to the Ukrainian public and the international community.
Despite the lack of official statement, it would appear to be support for the People’s Republic of China which has shown extraordinary activity over the awarding of Liu Xiaobo. It is obvious that the unofficial explanation that the diplomat is at a meeting in diplomatic language means that the country is not prepared to say directly, but is indirectly protesting against the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The other countries that have declined the invitation are: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi-Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq , Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Cuba and Morocco. None of those countries can at present be called a model of democracy and respect for human rights. The list contains none of the member states of the European Union which Ukraine has declared it wishes to join.
The USSR in the past also boycotted or protested against the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Andrei Sakharov, Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Joseph Brodsky, and also persecuted those people for their convictions. Ukraine’s refusal to take part in the ceremony is essentially in the same category as those actions. Ukraine values more highly political and economic relations with China, then commitment to the values of human decency and freedom.
Liu Xiaobo is a true symbol of peaceful struggle against the authoritarianism of the state and wide-scale violations of human rights. He is a symbol to the whole world of the importance of observing human rights and defending democracy. Refusal to show solidarity with his actions demonstrates lack of understanding by the State of fundamental values for the existence of a democratic State.
According to Article 11 § 1 of the Law on the Principles of Domestic and Foreign Policy” from 1 July 2010, “Ukraine as a European non-affiliated State carries out open foreign policy and wishes to cooperate with all interested partners, avoiding dependence on particular States, groups of States or international structures.”
We consider that the lack of an official representative of Ukraine at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony for Liu Xiaobo will be seen by the EU and the international community as a move away from the principles of democracy and respect , and as a demonstration of solidarity with those particular countries which do not support the generally accepted concept of human rights and put forward their “own models” of interaction between the State and individual as a cover for authoritarian tendencies and infringements of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
The Institute for Mass Information
Against torture and ill-treatment
Police Persecution of Yakov Strogan
Police persecute Yakov Strogan for his attempt to bring police officers to answer for subjecting him to torture
The Kharkiv Human Rights Group considers that Yakov Strogan’s arrest and remand in custody is revenge for his attempts to have the police officers who tortured him brought to answer.
The circumstances of the case suggest that the police only began actively seeking to bring charges against Yakov Strogan after he made information about his torture public. Neither his behaviour over the space of several months nor the circumstances of the case gave grounds for remanding him in custody. Following his arrest, he was handed over to the same police officers whom he alleges abducted him, applied torture, held him captive in an unknown location and tried to extort money.
As a result he was, following his arrest, once again brutally beaten. The police officers were so sure of their impunity that they brought him to court with visible signs of beating. The ambulance doctors who were called diagnosed a skull and brain injury. Sensitivity in several parts of his body gives grounds for assuming serious damage to internal organs.
Despite the court’s ruling that he be placed in a SIZO [remand unit], he was only taken there on 11 December 2010. This arouses serious suspicion that, after the court hearing when he alleged that he had been repeatedly beaten and pointed out the persons involved, Yakov Strogan was again subjected to ill-treatment during the night from 10 to 11 December 2010.
At the present time he is in a SIZO and his state of health gives cause for grave concern.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Group believes that the actions of the law enforcement bodies in this case are aimed at intimidation so that the public understands that any complaints against police officers could lead to new torture.
We are asking that the necessary measures be taken without delay to ensure:
that a medical examination is carried out on Strogan in order to establish his state of health and the injuries he has incurred;
that a thorough criminal investigation is undertaken with respect to the circumstances of his period under the control of the police from 9 to 11 December 2010 and how he received bodily injuries;
that Strogan is placed in a medical establishment able to provide him with the necessary medical assistance.
Brief account of the case
During the evening of 15 August 2010, an argument and fight broke out between Yakov Strogan and his neighbour, Mr. M.
Around 1 a.m. on 16 August, police officers from the Kievsky District Police Station in Kharkiv arrived, but Strogan did not let them in. They tried all night to get into the flat, trying to break down the door, damaging the electrical wiring so that Strogan’s flat was without electricity.
At 6 a.m. when Strogan opened the door to the police officers, they grabbed him and took him to one of the Kievsky District Police Station sections. From there he was taken to the forest, brutally beaten and subjected to sophisticated form of torture, including the use of electric shocks and a chemical substance (they poured liquid ammonia down his nose and mouth). He was then, over a period of 4 days, held in a secret flat during which time they demanded 10 thousand dollars from his wife. When his wife failed to gather the required sum of money, Strogan was released on condition that he find the amount himself.
After being released, Strogan made a statement to the Kievsky District Prosecutor’s Office asking that a criminal investigation be initiated against the police officers who had kidnapped and beaten him. A forensic examination was carried out which found various bodily injuries which the doctors assessed as of medium severity. On 29 October the Prosecutor’s Office issued a refusal to initiate a criminal investigation stating that he had light bodily injuries and that the police officers had not been involved in inflicting them.
On 19 November 2010, Strogan, together with representatives of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, gave a press conference at which he spoke of what had happened to him in August. Material from this press conference was widely circulated in Kharkiv and throughout the country.
On 1 December 2010, Strogan took part in hearings on human rights observance by the police held by a Parliamentary Committee, during which his story was once again reported and noted by the Human Rights Ombudsperson.
Throughout August to December Strogan was constantly at the prosecutor’s office demanding that an investigation be undertaken into his torture allegations and offering to assist with the investigation.
On 9 December Strogan was summoned to the investigator at the Kievsky District Police Station as a witness for interrogation over the incident with his neighbour. There he was arrested. As became clear, after he published information about the events in August, a criminal investigation was initiated over the fight with his neighbour, and Strogan was accused of attempting to murder his neighbour, M.
According to the investigator, during the examination carried out 2 and a half months after the fight, M. was found to have bodily injuries of medium severity in the form of knife wounds. Two months later M. also asserted that Strogan had a knife during their fight. The justification for the arrest states that Strogan could try to hide from the police.
On 9 December, Strogan’s wife saw her husband in the Kievsky District Police Station without any visible injuries.
On 10 December at around 15.30 he was brought to the Kievsky District Court to decide whether he was to be remanded in custody. His wife and representatives of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group present in the court saw considerable bleeding around his left eye, a red patch on his neck and signs of bleeding on his body. Strogan had difficulty in both moving and breathing. In the courtroom, he became weak and at his wife’s insistence an ambulance was called. The ambulance found that Strogan had a closed skull and brain injury and concussion and needed to be seen by a neurosurgeon. Judge Muratova did not allow him to be hospitalized and even gave a validol tablet (with mild sedative and vascular dilation effect).
It is known that on the evening of 9 December an ambulance was also called for Strogan which identified bodily injuries. He was also taken to a neurosurgeon during the night from 9 to 10 December.
During the hearing Strogan explained that after being arrested he was beaten by the police officers involved in his beating in August. He also stated that investigator Ishchenko present at the hearing had taken part in the beating.
After examining the material presented by the investigation, Judge Muratova remanded Strogan in custody. The only grounds were that Strogan had a previous conviction. The judge did not take into account the fact that over several months Strogan had not only not attempted to abscond, but had constantly been in contact with the law enforcement agencies. The surety offered by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group to ensure his appearance in court was also not taken into account without any reason being given.
At the present time it is not clear what measures Judge Muratova and Prosecutor Surzhenko (who both heard Strogan’s allegations about torture in the Kievsky District Police Station) have taken with regard to the allegations.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Group sent a telegram on 10 December 2010 to the Prosecutor’s Office demanding that the circumstances of his beating be investigated.
Strogan was only placed in a SIZO on 11 December having been under the control of his alleged torturers.
Concern for Yakov Strogan, victim of police torture
Information has been received from Yakov Strogan’s lawyer suggesting that the police are organizing his client’s arrest. The only grounds for taking him into custody would be that he has been convicted previously. The police are failing to take into account the fact that over the last 5 years he has lived in Kharkiv without any problems with the law and has certainly not been hiding from the police.
His state of health after the beatings and tortures he endured make the conditions of SIZO [remand unit] quite inconceivable.
The terrible irony is that the charges that appear to be being brought against Strogan are of causing medium level bodily injuries. As reported, he received just such injuries and has not been able to get a criminal investigation against the police officers involved.
The right to a fair trial
Venice Commission baffled as to the logic of changes made to Ukraine’s judicial system
Secretary of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, Tomas Markert, spoke of the Commission’s bemusement as to the logic of the changes being made during a meeting at the Supreme Court, Dzerkalo Tyzhnya [Weekly Mirror] reports.
Mr Markert stressed that in all European countries there are supreme courts vested with high powers in order to ensure standardization of court practice, to pass precedent rulings and provide a model legal position for courts at all levels. Why the Supreme Court in Ukraine had been stripped of such powers, what logic had been behind the legislative changes was not easy to grasp, he said. It was not for nothing that in its opinion, the Venice Commission had stressed the need to rectify the situation, return the highest court body the powers enshrined in Ukraine’s Constitution.
According to the Court’s official website, the Acting Head of the Supreme Court, Anatoly Yarema thanked the European experts for their cooperation with the Supreme Court, and pointed out that the Venice Commission had made an extremely significant contribution to the formation of Ukraine’s law.
Asked by the members of the Venice Commission to describe the situation in detail, the Supreme Court judges present at the meeting said that in practice they were being totally pushed out of the judicial system of the country. This was in procedural terms though the adoption of the relevant amendments to legislation, and physically through unlawfully transferring Supreme Court premises to the High Specialized Court and depriving judges and staff of the Supreme Court of the necessary conditions of work. They said it would be hard to imagine a more shameful situation.
They pointed out that the deliberate destruction of the Supreme Court was taking place after the publishing of the Venice Commission opinion which the Ukrainian authorities had promised both the Commission and the Ukrainian public to take into consideration. In a supposedly legal fashion they were not only pushing out judges and staff of the Supreme Court, but were making it impossible to examine hundreds of cases which had reached the Court before the passing of the Law on the Judicial System and Status of Judges.
In fact, the Venice Commission was informed at the meeting that a draft law had been registered in parliament on transferring those cases from the Supreme Court to appellate courts. Yet in many of these cases, proceedings had already commenced, court examination was underway, and for those people held in custody procrastination in reviewing their cases was unacceptable.
The Supreme Court judges stressed that Ukrainian lawyers, legal experts and analysts had called on the initiators of the judicial reform to not adopt any laws concerning the justice system without the assessment of the appropriate European institutions, in particular, the Venice Commission. Unfortunately their calls had not been heeded.
Anatoly Yarema stressed that they were still not paying heed to judges, despite the fact that from the Supreme Court alone, the President’s Administration had received 28 pages of proposals regarding comprehensive improvement of the Law on the Judicial System and Status of Judges. The government, however, was in no hurry to rectify the mistakes and the Ministry of Justice was planning to introduce amendments in August 2011. How is the court system to function until then? The judges are convinced that the “improvements”, however much they delay amendments, will not work.
At the end of the meeting, Tomas Markert said that he and his colleagues shared the concern of the Supreme Court judges and would endeavour to pass this on to all members of the Venice Commission and representatives of other European partners which view Ukraine as a worthy partner. They would do all in their power so that the country with a fledgling democracy in its development did not lose achievements already gained.
During the 84th Session of the Venice Commission during the second half of October, Tomas Markert stated that his colleagues had two views regarding the amendments to Ukraine’s judicial system. “The Venice Commission’s conclusions were divided. He said that in their final assessment they had found a number of negative changes. “One of these is that virtually all powers have been taken from the Supreme Court and its status has been lowered to such a level that it can not even function normally.” He added that particular provisions of the Law regarding the powers of the High Council of Justice also caused concern. “Some powers of the High Council of Justice, for example, inspection of court rulings before their adoption and a number of others raise many questions.”
At the same time, he said, the Commission had “noted certain progress” in reform of Ukrainian judicial legislation. “Several Venice Commission recommendations were taken into consideration. Automatic distribution of cases between judges, for example, has been improved.”
Freedom of expression
Tax Code Protesters arrested
According to one of the coordinators of the protest against the new Tax Code, Oleksandr Danylyuk, on Tuesday evening a court remanded in custody three of the protesters on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] in Kyiv.
Mr Danylyuk says that this was learned from one of the protesters, Oleksandr Mandych, who was released after being held in custody for three days in a temporary holding facility.
“Oleksandr lived with us in the tent camp and was co-organizer of the protests. Last Saturday he was forcibly detained outside his brother’s home. Without presenting any documents, they took him to the Central MIA Investigation Department in Kyiv”.
“There he was informed verbally that he was accused on deliberate damage of property not belonging to him and taken to a temporary holding facility. At present he is hiding at the home of relatives. He says that while in custody they used force against him, knocking out two teeth”, Danylyuk recounts.
He says that on Tuesday evening Mandych and three other Tax Code protesters were taken to the Shevhenkivsky District Court in Kyiv.
Under Judge N. Ponomarenko, Mandych was released from custody while the other three – I. Harkavenko, O. Zaplatkin and V. Hruzinov were remanded in custody.
“Those three guys were not organizers of Maidan (i.e. the protest on Maidan Nezalezhnosti], they only came to the tent camp several times, brought us food and helped”, Oleksandr Danylyuk says.
According to his information, the three are accused under the article of the Criminal Code on “deliberate destruction or damage to others’ property which caused large-scale damage” according to prior conspiracy by a group of people.
Kyiv Post reports that the men are accused of damaging the marble tiles on the square when driving metal stakes in to hold up tents. It states that “Kyiv Post staff saw protest participants drive in stakes between the tiles without damaging them”.
Kyiv Post adds: “According to police documents, the last names of the three protest participants under investigation by police and allegedly detained are: Harkavenko, Zaplatkin and Gruzinov. A fourth protest participant, Oleksandr Mandych, told the Kyiv Post that he was detained on Dec. 25. But, he added, he was released on Dec. 28 after Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky district court ruled that police had no grounds to keep him in custody as the charges and severity of the alleged crime did not warrant such measures.
“Speaking with the Kyiv Post, Mandych described his arrest as follows: “They detained me Saturday 10am. That day, when they had me in custody, one of the police hit me, knocking out one of my teeth. They told me Harkavenko, Zaplatkin and Gruzinov are already in custody.”
Volodymyr Polischuk, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry in Kyiv, could not immediately confirm or deny when contacted by the Kyiv Post that the following individuals were detained.
According to police documents obtained by the Kyiv Post, Serhiy Melnychenko, one of the protest organizers, is also being charged by authorities in connection with the damages that allegedly occurred to the marble tiles on Kyiv’s main square.”
Criminal Charges against Human Rights Activist Dmytro Groysman
Dmytro Groisman, Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group, has had criminal charges issued against him under two articles of the Criminal Code. He is accused of “desecration of State symbols” (Article 338 § 1 of the Criminal Code) and disseminating pornography (Article 301 § 1). Among the many worrying aspects of this case is the fact that the charges are based on material posted on his LiveJournal blog.
As reported, the police appeared with a warrant to search Dmytro Groisman’s flat on 16 October. They also, without any warrant, searched the office of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group next door.
Although the search was carried out on suspicion of circulating pornography, the police officers removed financial and other documents, including material regarding asylum seekers whom the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group is assisting.
Despite such glaring infringements, over two months later there has been no response to an official complaint to the Vinnytsa Regional Prosecutor’s Office and Prosecutor General.
Instead, on 21 December, Dmytro Groisman received official notification of the above mentioned criminal charges.
“Desecration of the State emblem”
The photo deemed an offence dates back to July 2009. Before viewing it, some context seems called for. In June many human rights activists joined media organizations in calling on the President (Viktor Yushchenko) to veto the planned amendments to the Criminal Code criminalizing possession of pornographic material for the purpose of sale or circulation. The law was criticized for a) failing to achieve its stated purpose of fighting child pornography since the law does not, as it should, criminalize possession of such material if for a person’s “personal use”; and b) for unwarrantedly restricting freedom of expression. Doubts have consistently been expressed over the lack of clarity and difficulty of knowing what is deemed an offence. The definition of pornography leaves far too much scope for subjective opinion, as was seen most notoriously with the banning as pornographic of a novel by Oles Ulyanenko. There are also no clear guidelines as to how police are to determine the aim of selling, and what circulation involves.
The President ignored calls and signed the amendments into law. In the photo here http://di-mur.livejournal.com/100391.html the document pointed to is the law introducing the amendments, and clearly carrying the State emblem.
It should be stressed that this image is on a personal blog, not the front page of a newspaper. The investigators argue that it is on free access, and this is indeed true. However the scope for criminal prosecutions, or more likely persecution, if circulation is deemed to include personal blogs, is huge, especially given the unclear terminology in the iniquitous Law on the Protection of Public Morality.
If convicted, D. Groisman could face a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years.
Article 301 Pornography
There are two charges under Article 301 § 1, with the first relating to Dmytro’s entry here http://di-mur.livejournal.com/129792.html The entry would seem to many in dubious taste, as is the clip showing people similar to some well-known Russian figures which is freely available on YouTube.
The second can be assessed for its criminality, shock value, etc here: http://di-mur.livejournal.com/115624.html
The third, relating to material posted on 16 October, falls under Article 301 § p 3 (repeat offence) and could carry a seven-year sentence. The images in question are from a German Foundation fighting AIDS however the words on top are added. They read: Ukrainian police officer! When communicating with the boss and citizens, observe safety rules!”. It seems best to simply quote the expert” assessment: “The image of a man’s face, which a male sexual organ is directed at and the image of a condom and label “GEL” together with which is the sign “Ukrainian police officer! When communicating with the boss and citizens, observe safety rules!” constitutes an image of a pornographic nature”.
The mental acrobatics required for understanding this last charge which supposedly relates to pornography, not riling police officers, are considerable.
The questions that this case, with its serious irregularities, dubious charges and implications given the focus on personal blog material, raises are very serious and need to be addressed.
Reprimand for Berkut officer who detained journalist Mustafa Nayem
The Kyiv Central Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] has apparently issued a strong reprimand to the Berkut officer who on Monday, 13 December 2010, detained prominent Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayem.
According to the Police Press Service, this resulted from an official investigation which is now considered completed.
The investigation established that the police officer in speaking with the journalist had expressed himself improperly which was a flagrant violation of the Ethical Code of Internal Affairs Officers and the Charter of Patrol Police Services.
As reported, Mustafa Nayem, television presenter and journalist for the Ukrainska Pravda Internet publication was detained by Berkut Special Force officers Mustafa Nayem described the events of Monday evening at length in an article for Ukrainska Pravda “Xenophobia must not become the face of Ukrainian nationalism” and in various interviews.
He and a female colleague were sitting in her car in the TV Channel 5 parking area at around 9.30 on Monday evening, waiting for the engine to warm up. The Berkut patrol car drove up and two officers got out. One began shining a torch into the car and then first at his colleague, then at Mustafa.
He asked only the latter to get out of the car and show his documents, which Mustafa did after first asking to see the man’s identification. His colleague, Tetyana Danylenko, also got out of the car and demanded an explanation. The man answered “We are not touching you, but have the right to check his documents”. Tetyana Danylenko was incensed by the response and the conversation continued in heated tones.
Mustafa Nayem is an experienced journalist and accustomed to showing his ID with the word Press in a highly visible place. He is convinced that the officer saw the ID very clearly, yet the officer demanded that he show it again. During the discussion, since Mustafa with justification pointed out that he had already shown it (worth remembering that this was all taking place on the street in freezing conditions), another officer (the head of the group, it transpired later) appeared and asked what was happening. He was told: “I’ve got a person of Caucuses nationality here [i.e. who is or looks like a person from the Caucuses, but this is the offensive phrase typically used). He doesn’t want to show his documents.”
At that point Mustafa Nayem refused to show his ID again and went with the officers to the police station where an MP informed by Mustafa’s colleagues soon appeared, and where after a number of phone calls, obviously at higher level, Mustafa Nayem received an apology from the police. The officer who actually detained him, however, refused to apologise.
New information reported at Korespondent.net
Access to information
Historian appeals against his dismissal as Archive Director
The first instance court has rejected historian Hennady Ivanushchenko’s suit seeking to be reinstated in his post as Director of the Sumy Regional State Archive. As reported here, the well-known historian of Holodomor 1932-1933 and the liberation movement, was dismissed on rather far-fetched grounds. This was less than a month after he publicly stated that the Sumy regional authorities were putting pressure on him to resign. .
Hennady Ivanushchenko informs that he has already lodged an appeal with the Kharkiv Administrative Court of Appeal, and another suit appealing against the dismissal is with the Sumy District Administrative Court. He says that he plans to take the matter even to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, and that his suits thus far have been put together with that prospect in mind.
As reported, Ivanushchenko was dismissed after an “official investigation” initiated by the Sumy Regional State Administration. He is supposed to have refused to accept some material for holding. He explains that any restrictions were according to their plan for the year given lack of space and staff, and that they were prepared to take the said material from 1 January 2011. Mr Ivanushchenko was dismissed over such “failings” less than a month before that date, on 2 December.
Mr Ivanushchenko is a well-known historian and has written books about Holodomor 1932-1933 and the liberation movement. Under his leadership (he became Director in 2005), the Sumy archives became the only archive to fully computerize archival material on Holodomor.
New information from http://human-rights.unian.net/ukr/detail/196356
SBU continues misleading the public over historian Ruslan Zabily
Ruslan Zabily, historian and Director of the National Memorial Museum of Victims of the Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho” in Lviv has given a scathing response to the allegations made by the Head of the Security Service [SBU], Valery Khoroshkovsky. The latter, in an interview given to the newspaper Segodnya [Today], asserted that Mr Zabily was taking to Kyiv “a disk with working information” which supposedly “violated official instructions”, and also, most likely the law of Ukraine”. He also stated that “there are nonetheless documents with the stamp “secret” on the disk.”
“I would advise Mr Khoroshkovsky to send those officers who are continuing the investigation into history to the information and research hall – the open electronic archive of the SBU where each historical document (except photos) has the same “secret”.”
The report published on the website of the Research Centre of the Liberation Movement asserts that Khoroshkovsky is deliberately mixing up the Soviet stamps with that of the Ukrainian State [the word in English in both cases is “secret” – translator]. The only stamps restricting access which have legal bearing for the SBU are the Ukrainian stamps “secret” and “top secret”. None of the historical documents unlawfully confiscated from Zabily, the report maintains, had such stamps nor, according to Ukrainian legislation, could they hold them.
Ruslan Zabily stressed yet again that as a historian and director of a museum he worked only with historical information which does not contain State secrets and which was needed for academic works and preparation of museum expositions.
The SBU is looking for State secrets where they cannot be by law
Only information stipulated to be a state secret by the Law of Ukraine “On State Secrets” can be classified as State secret. The information this includes is set out in a special document “List of Items of Information which constitute a State secret”. This contains no items of historical information. The Law prohibits the concealment of historical documents, especially those which contain information about rights violations and unlawful actions by the authorities or their officials.
The National Memorial Museum of Victims of the Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho”
This museum, located in what was once both a KGB and Gestapo prison, is one of only two in Eastern Europe (the other is in Vilnius). It was opened, at the initiative of the Lviv public on 28 June 2009. on 14 October it received national museum status.
The opening of an exhibition on the dissident movement in Ukraine had been planned for December, however this was prevented by the actions of the SBU.
As reported, 35-year old Ruslan Zabily was detained by SBU officers on 9 September. After an interrogation lasting many hours, his laptop and two hard disks with archival material declassified over recent years were removed.
A few days later, on 13 and 14 September 2010, the Lviv Regional Security Service [SBU] officers searched the offices of research staff of “Tyurma na Lonskoho”. According to the Acting Director of the Liberation Movement Research Centre, Vasyl Stefaniv, the SBU removed two computers and numerous pieces of material which the staff had been preparing for the above-mentioned exhibition on the dissident movement in Ukraine.
The information removed included a 1940 version of the UkrSSR Criminal Code; numerous documents from the Second Polish Republic of the 1930s (orders, reports from woewoda departments of the State police; criminal files against members of UVO [Ukrainian Military Organization] and OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists], etc; recordings from 2009-2010 with recollections of UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] fighters and Ukrainian dissidents made by staff of the Museum.
The confiscated material has not been returned, a criminal investigation has been initiated and as we can see the Head of the SBU continues to assert that Ruslan Zabily had “secrets” on him.
On the other hand, no charges have been laid and allegations like those made by Khoroshkovsky are only to journalists who do not ask to see proof or details about criminal charges.
New information from http://cdvr.org.ua
New methods against historians: Holodomor historian dismissed
Well-known historian of Holodomor 1932-1933 and the liberation movement, Hennady Ivanushchenko has been dismissed from his post as Director of the Sumy Regional State Archive on less than convincing grounds.
Less than a month ago the Research Centre of the Liberation Movement publicly stated that the Sumy regional authorities were putting pressure on the head of the local archives, historian Hennady Ivanushchenko. The statement said that the local authorities had over the last 5 months been looking for reasons to dismiss Ivanushchenko.
The dismissal came after an “official investigation” initiated by the Sumy Regional State Administration. There were a number of infringements over this investigation, with Mr Ivanushchenko not being given time to read the act drawn up on the investigation nor the opportunity to write an explanation on the results of the check.
Given Mr Ivanushchenko’s position, the reasons seem stretched to say the least. He is supposed to have refused to accept some material for holding. He explains that any restrictions were according to their plan for the year given lack of space and staff, and that they were prepared to take the said material from 1 January 2011. Mr Ivanushchenko was dismissed over such “failings” less than a month before that date, on 2 December.
Hennady Ivanushchenko, the Research Centre of the Liberation Movement, colleagues and many members of the public are convinced that the historian’s dismissal reflects interference by a political party in the academic discussion regarding a number of issues on political repression, Holodomor 1932-1933 and the liberation movement. They see this as a continuation of the persecution of historian Ruslan Zabily.
Mr Ivanushchenko is a well-known historian and has written books about Holodomor 1932-1933 and the liberation movement. Under his leadership (he became Director in 2005), the Sumy archives became the only archive to fully computerize archival material on Holodomor.
New information from Maidan
Social and economic rights
New legislation denies small shareholder their rights
On 22 December 2010 a law was passed “On amendments to the Law on Joint Stock Companies “ which forces small shareholders to sell their shares to a large shareholder or joint group of shares owning more than 95% of the company’s shares.
This requirement is a violation of legislation as parliamentarians were told a number of times by the Scientific Expert and the Central Legal Departments of the Verkhovna Rada.
The concept in the law passed does not create a real mechanism for protecting the rights of the private owner and infringes the constitutional principle of the inviolability of private property enshrined in the Constitution.
The Constitution allows forcible expropriation of property as an exception where there is a public need on the basis of, and according to procedure established by law, and on condition of prior and full compensation for the property’s value.
In the present case corporate interest in gaining 100% of the property are equated with public need, which is unacceptable.
The envisaged procedure for appropriating shares can lead to a violation of:
- the constitutionally enshrined fundamental principles protecting the rights of all owners of property (Article 13 of the Constitution);
- the right of each person to own, use and dispose of his or her property, and the results of his or her intellectual and creative activity, with property being forcibly removed only as an exception on the grounds of public necessity (Article 41);
- Article 22 which states that the content and scope of existing rights and freedoms shall not be diminished in the adoption of new laws or in the amendment of laws that are in force.
It is clear from this law that big business is seeking to concentrate all the property of enterprises in its hands, with small shareholders not able to defend their property. This can only lead to a further increase in the already huge divide between rich and poor in Ukraine.
From a report by Maxim Shcherbatyuk
Ongoing Ukrainian Saga of not fighting corruption
After important anti-corruption legislation was deferred three times, confidence that it would come into force, as scheduled, on 1 January 2011, was scant. This was despite considerable help, funding and support from international bodies for the laws passed in mid 2009, and Ukraine’s low and ever-falling position on Transparency International’s 2010 Global Corruption Barometer and other ratings.
Certain things became clear when President Yanukovych introduced his own anti-corruption draft law in .
On 17 December , after President Yanukovych produced alternative draft legislation, the pro-government majority in the Verkhovna Rada revoked the three anti-corruption laws two weeks before they were due to finally come into force. On 23 December those same deputies passed the President’s version in its first reading. Although the old laws were revoked and the new draft set on track, media reports suggest that there is lack of consensus as to the point of the exercise itself, and whether the new legislation complies with European standards.
Radio Svoboda reported member of the Parliamentary Committee on Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime, Hennady Moskal as saying there is no significant difference between the laws revoked and those proposed. There was interesting disagreement among Party of the Regions deputies regarding the very considerable amount of money received from international organizations against corruption. While the First Deputy Head of the faction, M. Chechetov saw the laws as flawed because “all laws drawn up on foreign grants are absolutely at odds with our reality”, his party colleague, V. Konovalyuk felt that the 38 million dollars of international aid would give grounds at European Parliament level for saying that the new regime was not fighting with corruption.
There may be other grounds…
The Minister of Justice, Oleksandr Lavrynovych assured the press on 24 December that the new legislation could be passed in its second reading in March 2011. According to Yury Butusov, writing in the authoritative weekly Dzerkalo tyzhnya, the Minister stated that the new legislation takes into account current international documents on fighting corruption, and received a positive assessment from GRECO [ the Group of States against Corruption). On the other hand, Oleksandr Ryabeka, member of the Parliamentary Committee on Fighting Corruption, told Dzerkalo tyzhnya that the President’s version does not have the provisions of the Law revoked on 17 December “On liability of legal entities for corruption offences”. This, he stresses, is a requirement of UN and Council of Europe anti-corruption agreements, and is one of the mandatory recommendations from GRECO. There is no clearly set out procedure for confiscating property obtained by civil servants through corrupt acts.
Mr Ryabeka says that the Committee is supporting the President’s draft law, although it needs serious revising. “This draft law will not resolve all problems in fighting corruption, since experts estimate that it will only bring Ukrainian legislation about 30% into line with international standards. That is, the law in itself is useful, but it simply doesn’t touch on many fundamental issues like checks of relatives of public officials. The President’s draft law No. 7487 is 95% the same as two draft laws from the anti-corruption package. The question arises why it was revised throughout the entire year. The corrections are essentially insignificant. It would have been logically to add the President’s amendments to the existing laws. I fear that the situation demonstrates to our international partners a lack of real political will from the State in fighting corruption.”
At present in Ukraine only an individual can be held liable for corruption, not a legal entity. So an entire commercial outfit which profited from corrupt dealings does not bear any liability.
Butusov notes a “telling detail: although on 20 October at a meeting of the National Anti-Corruption Committee a draft law “On confiscation of income obtained by criminal means” was agreed, it’s provisions have not for some reason been put in draft law No. 7487”.
Yanukovych’s draft law fails to fulfil another GRECO requirement, this being criminal liability for corruption. Unlike in most European countries, where prison sentences will be passed for corruption causing serious damage, according to Draft Law No. 7487 for receiving or offering a bribe up to 100 times the average wage, the court has discretion as to whether to impose criminal or administrative liability. Butusov points out that the courts are notoriously lenient to officials, and that since the maximum amount of such a bribe could be 45 thousand UAH, while the administrative fine 1700 UAH, corruption would be entirely lucrative. The compensation to the state would be 27 times less than the amount stolen!
The most important point is the removal of the norm on mandatory declaration of income of all family and relatives of public officials. According to another member of the Committee, Ruslan Knyazevych, the lack of this norm renders the law virtually impotent.
In October 2010 the Constitutional Court took responsibility for this removal, finding such declarations to be unconstitutional. Ruslan Knyazevych points out that however this may be interpreted in Ukraine, there can be no understanding abroad.
Incidentally, in an interview to the BBC Ukrainian Service, the Minister of Justice defended the judgment from the Constitutional Court. According to the Minister, not only does the close relative have a right to his privacy, but if he grows cabbages and his relative is a chief specialist in the Ministry of Finance, why should he have to itemize the types of cabbage, numbers etc?
Ruslan Knyazevych also points out that the draft law has repeated a number of absurd articles which have been criticized over the last year and a half. Those subject to special anti-corruption checks include all civil organizations, as well as all members of precinct and territorial electoral commissions, i.e. people who have no relation to the public service. “I am afraid that after our enforcement bodies begin checking electoral commissions, only members of one party will continue working there.”
The author expresses hope that the President will understand that he must not be seen to be defending the rights of corrupt officials who, as everybody knows, officially register corrupt gains as belonging to relatives. For this, following the Constitutional Court’s judgment, a law suggesting amendments to the Constitution is needed.
Perhaps a little more realistically he adds that if the President’s advisers fail to tell him of how fundamental this point is to the European Court, he hopes that the parliamentary opposition can gather 150 signatures to an initiative for adding the amendments to the Constitution.
“The adoption of anti-corruption legislation is the basis for the President’s foreign policy initiatives regarding integration with the EU. The EU will not agree to provide a visa-free regime to a State which over six years has not just not managed to overcome corruption, but to at least bring its legislation into line with European recommendations. The European Union does not want to open its borders to a country which will export corruption and organized crime.”
Of 25 GRECO recommendations, only five have been fully implemented. It is not difficult to predict the unfavourable comments in the next GRECO monitoring report scheduled for April 2011.
With regard to the second reading of the draft Housing Code
On 1 December the Kharkiv Human Rights Group gave a press conference regarding the Verkhovna Rada’s second reading of the draft Housing Code.
The official Verkhovna Rada website has a text of the draft Housing Code prepared for the second reading, however neither journalists nor the public are aware of the main provisions of this code. It was not discussed in the media, hardly anyone knows about it at all, and yet the provisions of this Code concern each of us. We therefore feel it necessary to draw public attention to the Code.
The version, labelled “print run 05.11.2010” has many provisions which arouse questions regarding their application:
- this is first and foremost expropriation of housing, with the number of grounds having been increased;
- Legally fixed penalties for late payments for housing. The terms are not fixed in the Code, but set by the conditions of the control. It is most unlikely that such circumstances as late payment of wages or pension will be taken into consideration;
- Questions also arise regarding the conditions for concluding rent agreements for housing within the State and municipal funds. The Code envisages agreements for a certain period, the refusal of the letter to extend the contract and early termination of the contract. The transitional provisions do not allow people who had received the flat earlier the right to an indefinite lease agreement, but only states that the force of this Code covers the housing legal relations which arise or continue after the Code comes into force;
- Concern is also aroused by the procedure for moving people out during reconstruction of the housing. Nobody denies the urgent need to pass a new House Code and in our view it should have been done earlier. However the lack of transparency, haste with which laws of enormous importance for people are passed lead to social tension as has been seen with the Tax Code.
The quality of a law is dependent on its clarity so that the average citizen can plan their life in accordance with legislation. Yet the Code contains very many unclear points, references to laws as yet not passed, to “other powers”, thus making it impossible to foresee how the Code will be applied.
We are therefore calling for a discussion of the Housing Code in the media, as well as at parliamentary hearings and roundtables.
The press conference was given by members of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group – Inna Zakharova, Lyudmila Klochko and Mykhailo Hayevsky.
Law enforcement agencies
Open Letter over concerns regarding MIA disregard for human rights
In an open letter to the President, the Speaker of Parliament, Chair of the National Security and Defence Council, the Human Rights Ombudsperson and others, representatives of civic organizations have expressed their outrage over the activities of the Minister of Internal Affairs who brazenly ignored the hearings on Human Rights in the Work of the Police, organized by the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legislative Backup for Law Enforcement Activities, together with civic organizations on 1 December 2010.
There have been negative trends in the work of the Ukrainian police during 2010, linked with politicization of the work of police bodies, forcing staff to carry out political orders, and inept staff appointments, orientation on figures (i.e. the number of criminal cases opened, “confessions”, etc – translator); overt corruption; ineffective management and use of funding for purposes other than those allocated, and flagrant violations of human rights and the rights of police staff. Against this background Anatoly Mohylyov uses all possible means to avoid communicating with the public, victims of police torture, as well as National Deputies.
The parliamentary majority also refused to hold Parliamentary hearings on this issue, voting against the draft resolution.
The MIA did all in its power to obstruct the hearings and managed to get them moved from 11 November to 1 December supposedly because of the absence of the Minister who was personally invited.
On 1 December during the hearings, the participants were again informed that he would not be there due to a foreign trip. A foreign trip is thus more important than taking part in scheduled hearings raising key issues in the work of the police.
If such actions were taken without your knowledge, it is reasonable to ask whether the country needs a minister whose actions not only run counter to the interests and safety of citizens, but to the directives and policy of the President.
We would remind you that Mr Mohylyov has on a number of occasions ignored your instructions as with carrying out a thorough investigation into the case of Ihor Indylo or with the dissolution of the Department and system for monitoring human rights in the work of the police. ystem of monitoring of
Furthermore information circulated by the MIA and its leaders is misleading both you and the public. Evidence of this is seen in the upbeat report during the hearings by the Deputy Minister, Vasyl Farynnyk on a supposed improvement in the situation. It was indicative that it was specifically during the hearings, and perhaps during the Deputy Minister’s report claiming achievements in the human rights sphere, that in Mykolaiv Special Force Berkut officers dispersed a protest by local residents who had gathered near the Mykolaiv Regional MIA to express their indignation over arbitrary actions and corruption of local law enforcement officers. (As reported, the main demonstration was by parents whose children had been killed in road accidents which were not being investigated, or where the cases were being dragged out – translator).
It is symptomatic that not one of the police officials delegated to the hearings even looked at the exposition on cases of torture of detainees in police custody prepared by the relatives of victims.
The police have yet again failed to heed the demands of the public because they did not wish to do so. The hearings were turned into a tribune for reports from representatives of the authorities and their assurances of the wish to cooperate with the public while over 10 members of civic organizations were deprived of the possibility of speaking despite the fact that their addresses had been scheduled.
As stated at the hearings, more than 2,633 reports of crimes have been made in the first 10 months of 2010 of which in only 14% of the cases did the police initiate a criminal investigation. Taking into account these figures and the figure of 10% latency of crimes in Ukraine, as well as the fact that according to sociological surveys over 600 thousand Ukrainians are subjected to torture and ill-treatment by the police, the criminal system in the country indicates a threat to national security, the MIA has proved helpless. Even 20 years ago no less than 50% of cases reported led to criminal files being opened.
We call on you to take measures aimed at changing the actions and policy of the MIA in order to ensure citizens’ safety and human rights, or to change the Minister and management of the MIA who have proved helpless and inactive in this sphere.
We demand that the issue of human rights in the work of the police is raised at a hearing of the National Security and Defence Council with the participation of members of human rights organizations and victims of torture by the police.
We demand your attention to these flagrant human rights violations and norms of law in the work of the police and other law enforcement agencies.
We demand protection for human rights and civic activists who are becoming victims of police harassment for their actions in helping to defending the victims of lawlessness and torture.
We reserve the right to turn to any international organizations, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe informing them of flagrant violations of human rights in Ukraine.
The letter is presently gathering signatures
Berkut disperses and detains parents protesting against inadequate investigation into their children’s deaths
The parents of children killed in road accidents on Wednesday morning picketed the Mykolaiv Regional Department of Internal Affairs. They were protesting against procrastination in investigating the accidents and against the inaction of investigation bodies which enable those guilty of the death of young people to remain at liberty several years after the accidents.
A mother whose daughter died in a car accident organized the picket, which members of the right wing party VO Svoboda joined, although they were protesting against certain actions by the bodies of local self-government . There were, altogether, no more than 40 people.
Around 15 minutes before the announced start of the picket (10 a.m.), about 10 Berkut Special Forces officers appeared, circled the protesters and led them to the Central Police Station close by. All those detained were pushed through the cases of the internal courtyard despite the outrage expressed by those witnessing it.
The Deputy Head of the City Police Department, Oleksy Miroshnychenko came out to the picketers who had managed to remain on the street. He stated that the evening before, after the notification had been given that the picket would be held, an appeal from the Mykolaiv City Executive Committee had been lodged with the Mykolaiv District Administrative Court.
The court had ruled to restrict the right to hold protest actions in such places as the regional administration and regional prosecutor’s office. Miroshnychenko said that the application to hold the protest had been for up to 500 people, and asserted that there was no room for so many people either in front of the regional prosecutor’s office or outside the Regional Department of Internal Affairs He claimed that this could lead to traffic being stopped, though UNIAN points out that traffic is prohibited outside the Regional Department of Internal Affairs, and the other street involved is hardly busy.
The notification given by the parent’s group had spoken of 100 people taking part, while VO Svoboda had notified of around 300.
Miroshnychenko said that after they had established the identity of those detained and all the circumstances around the detention, and after the relevant documents had been drawn up, the protesters would be released. They are accused of infringing the order for holding peaceful gatherings according to Article 185 § 1 of the Administrative Code which carries punishment from a fine to administrative arrest.
Human rights protection
2010 Thistle of the Year Anti-Award Recipients announced
As always, to mark International Human Rights Day, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union announces their Thistle of the Year Anti-Awards for the worst violators of human rights during the year.
There were 7 nominations this year: the Minister of Education, Dmytro Tabachnyk; the Minister of Internal Affairs, Anatoly Mohylyov; the Head of the Security Service, Valery Khoroshkovsky; the Mayor of Kharkiv, Hennady Kernes; the Prime Minister Mykola Azarov; the President’s Administration; and Kharkiv judge Serhiy Lazyuk.
The competition commission, made up of journalists, members of civic organizations and human rights activists have selected four “laureates” of this ignominious award, the Gold Thistle.
Minister of Internal Affairs, Anatoly Mohylyov
Gold Thistle for deliberate disregard for human rights and fundamental freedoms
Under his leadership:
there has been an increase in violent deaths in police custody;
peaceful gatherings not banned by the courts have been unlawfully stopped or obstructed and organizers and participants in peaceful protests have been detained;
there is virtually no proper investigation into unlawful actions by the police;
a policy of initiatives is being formed potentially dangerous for fundamental rights of the individual. This includes, for example, the initiative put forward for introducing personal data on railway tickets and the implementation of unlawful forced diagnosis of people taken to district police stations;
the system has been reinstated whereby statistical figures (for example, of numbers detained, confessions, etc) are used for police assessment purposes, this fostering human rights violations;
there has been a return to a policy of secrecy about the activities of the MIA via effective refusal to cooperate with civic organizations;
increased interference with the rights of foreign nationals regardless of whether they have done anything unlawful;
pressure is being brought to bear on human rights activists because of their activists (the cases of D. Groisman, A. Fedosov and O. Verentsov).
Head of the Security Service [SBU], Valery Khoroshkovsky
Use of the Security Service for the systematic restriction of civil liberties
Under his leadership
there has been an increase in cases of unwarranted interference in public life;
activists, journalists and rectors of higher educational institutes have been subjected to constant pressure;
the possibility has been created for interference in the work of judges through Khoroshkovsky’s membership of the High Council of Justice and “control over rulings issued by judges”;
significant restriction in access to SBU archives regarding the Soviet past and the decision to pass electronic archives to public libraries has been revoked;
the detention of historian Ruslan Zabily, removal of his personal computer, as well as the search of the National Memorial Museum of the Victims of Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho” in Lviv during which archival material and personal computers of members of staff were removed.
Mayor of Kharkiv, Hennady Kernes
Judge of the Dzerzhynsky District Court in Kharkiv, Serhiy Lazyuk
Violations of the right to peaceful protest during the civic defence of Kharkiv’s Gorky Park for
Unwarranted use of force against members of the public in order to crush peaceful protest;
The 15 day administrative arrest sentences imposed on 9 June 2010 against two of the Gorky Park defenders – Andriy Yvarnytsky and Denis Chernehy which prompted Amnesty International to declare them prisoners of conscience;
Violation of environmental rights and ignoring public opinion.
UHHRU Executive Director Volodymyr Yavorsky explains that the Thistle of the Year anti-award was begun in 2006 in order to draw public attention to flagrant abuses of human rights committed by the State during the particular year and to stimulate public discussion regarding dangerous trends with regard to human rights in the country. He stresses the need to watch over such trends which like weeds spread and must be controlled.
News from the CIS countries
Belarus Crackdown: Blood and Special Operations in Belarus Politics
Presidential candidates severely beaten. Almost 700 protesters arrested. Criminal charges filed, and some recantations issued by protest participants that are reminiscent of Stalin's 1930s show trials. Ongoing arrests. House searches. These are the results of this year's presidential election in Belarus.
The official elections results were no less scandalous: 79 percent for incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. That, however, has been overshadowed by what has become a symbol of this campaign -- snow colored with blood on one of Minsk's main squares.
Why? Who would have thought this was necessary? Days before the election, Lukashenka managed to achieve an understanding with Russia after a long-running political conflict that briefly erupted into a full-fledged "information war."
The campaign, which was more liberal than usual for Belarus, made some headway toward possible recognition of this election by the West. After all, all the would-be candidates were registered. Conditions for their registration were not restrictive and, most importantly, all of them had a chance to address the electorate on state television. The fragmented opposition -- Lukashenka was opposed by nine more-or-less opposition-minded candidates -- posed no serious electoral danger to the incumbent.
Of course, even without the bloody election-night crackdown, this poll, like all Belarusian elections, fell far short of democratic standards. As one local political analyst aptly put it, free elections in an authoritarian country by definition are a defeat for the authoritarian regime. Lukashenka's regime in Belarus is far from collapsing.
Nonetheless, the bloodstains in the Minsk snow offset whatever liberal advances the authorities tolerated during the election campaign.
Even more puzzling are the numerous accounts indicating that it was agents of the authorities -- provocateurs -- who began the assault on the government building that was the official pretext for the bloody crackdown. By all indications, it was the authorities -- or at least some faction within the ruling elite -- that consciously sought a violent outcome.
Some have even charged that the provocation was pushed by outside forces. After the postelection violence, there is no chance the West can recognize the ballot. Lukashenka has been left alone in the company of his Moscow counterparts.
Behind The Scenes
Since the current cease-fire between Minsk and Moscow is most likely just a breather before the next wave of political and economic confrontations, the last thing Lukashenka needed was to lose any hope of support from the West. That, however, is exactly what happened on December 19.
But such "who benefits?" analysis does not always lead to the correct conclusions. For one thing, it is still unclear what the final reaction of the West will be or how that will change as time passes. Despite diplomatic talk of a "reset," relations between Russia and the West in the former Soviet space remain very much a zero-sum game.
Simultaneous strategies of promoting democratic development, on the one hand, and defending sovereignty of these authoritarian states from Moscow's influence, on the other, look good on paper. In practice, however, it is often hard for the West to avoid choosing between the two. One way or another, pursuing the latter policy requires some sort of dialogue with these states' leadership, no matter how authoritarian they might be.
Second, even if the crackdown was the result of a foreign provocation, what about the continuing repressions, arrests, and searches? This already looks like a conscious policy by the Belarusian government.
Some experts and politicians think that the reason for the repression is that Lukashenka did not actually win the election. That is, he failed to get the 50 percent of the vote needed for a first-round victory.
However, the only evidence of that takes the form of exit polls conducted by unreliable companies, some of which have dubious reputations. It is likely that those findings are the same sort of statistical propaganda as those presented by pro-government agencies, which were nearly identical to the unrealistic figures endorsed later by the Central Election Commission.
The best opinion polls conducted before the vote indicated a victory for Lukashenka, although not as compelling a win as five years ago when official results gave him more than 84 percent of the vote.
But for an authoritarian leader like Lukashenka, a narrow victory is practically the same as a defeat. Moreover, the comparatively liberal campaign may have raised fears inside the regime that the docile Belarusian nation might be losing its fear. This is something the authorities cannot risk.
Such concerns could easily be exacerbated by authoritarian leaders' inclination toward conspiracy theories. Such people view politics as a series of "special operations." When Lukashenka looked out on Minsk that night, he might have actually been seeing Bishkek in April, when a crowd stormed the presidential palace and ousted authoritarian President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
Back then, it shouldn't be forgotten, Lukashenka provided refuge for Bakiev and publicly approved of his order to security forces to open fire on demonstrators. At that time, he warned that he would show even more determination in defending his own power.
Although the opposition in Belarus clearly had no comprehensive plan for a "colored revolution," the rhetoric of its leaders was quite radical. Long before election day, they had predicted the results would be falsified and declared that "the square will decide everything." Presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich said: "Give us the election or we will come and take it."
Two days before the vote, candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu said the goal of the campaign was "to overthrow the dictatorship." All nine opposition candidates said they would act "decisively" on the square. If such pronouncements were intended to scare Lukashenka, they appear to have worked.
Lukashenka cannot afford to look weak. That was the error of Bakiev and of former Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, who tolerated a close election and then allowed protesters to ransack the seats of the executive and legislative organs.
Perhaps Lukashenka feared the postelection demonstration could turn into a continuous protest, a campaign of psychological pressure against the government. The reality of that prospect is debatable. Minsk is very cold these days, and people might well have stopped coming to the square at some point. The lack of clear leadership within the opposition also did not help. Lukashenka, however, apparently decided not to take any chances.
What happens next is not easy to predict. The repression has stifled the current wave of protest. It also made Minsk's international stance much more difficult; improved ties with the West, if they ever come, will take quite some time.
What's least clear, however, is how these events will play out in Belarusian society. The crackdown of December 19 has already been labeled “Bloody Sunday” -- a reference to an infamous episode in Russian history. In January 1905, Tsarist troops dispersed a peaceful demonstration in St. Petersburg with bullets. In December of the same year, Russia burst into revolution.
Yury Drakakhrust is a broadcaster with RFE/RL’s Belarus Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
'Covered In Blood' -- Belarusian Protester Talks About His Arrest, Imprisonment
Twenty-three-year-old Illya Bohdan is a member of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front. He was detained during the election protests in Minsk on December 19. He was released on December 29 after 10 days in jail. Bohdan spoke with RFE/RL's Belarusian Service after his release.
RFE/RL: There were reports that people were brutally beaten in the police trucks. What was your experience?
Illya Bohdan: They beat us even before we were put in the trucks. People were beaten with clubs. The police also pushed us into the truck with clubs, not with their hands. That's why people were covering their heads. There were many people in the truck, and it is possible that they beat the last ones because it was full. They were pressing as many people as possible in it.
RFE/RL: Where were you sentenced and who testified against you?
Bohdan: The trial was in the court of Minsk's Funzenski district. The names of the witnesses were in the protocol, but they were not present. The judge only read the papers. We know that they were riot police whom we had seen in the jail building on Akrestsina Street [in Minsk]. They were three or four people who testified against about 50 people.
RFE/RL: We have reported that there were people with broken teeth and arms in the Akrestsina jail. Have you seen such cases?
Bohdan: Yes, there were many such people. There were many guys with smashed heads; people were covered with blood. There was a person who was saying that he is a writer and has a lot of readers. He pleaded for an ambulance, but the police refused. He had a broken arm and some teeth smashed out. I saw a person with both arms broken who behaved as if nothing had happened. A courageous person. His hands were in his pockets. When he took them out, they were blue and huge.
RFE/RL: What were the conditions in the Akrestsina jail and how did the jailers behave?
Bohdan: It wasn't my first time in the Akrestsina jail, and surprisingly they behaved quite nicely. There were many new police there.
RFE/RL: Did you know, while in jail, about the wave of solidarity in Belarus? How often did you get parcels from outside?
Bohdan: We felt it. The parcels were coming and coming. If we count them, it seems that every person received several parcels daily. I got two or three parcels from people I do not know. It's unexpected, it's pleasant. I'm very grateful. You understand that those people who maybe were afraid to come to the square were doing everything possible to help us.