“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2011, #05
Ukrainian TV Patch Up Job on PACE Recommendations Betrayal through Silence Free Yury Lutsenko! Lviv provocation on 9 May: No joking matter New Criminal Investigation against Yulia Tymoshenko Implementation of European Law
11 thousand cases against Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights Freedom of expression
Any number of examples of censorship, Mr President Ukraine drops to Partly Free in Freedom House’s Media Report Access to information
First legal proceedings over alleged infringement of Public Information Law Environmental rights
Two cities say no to new nuclear power plant Human rights protection
Mustafa Dzhemiliev – Laureate of “Light of Justice” Award News from the CIS countries
Moscow court upholds Khodorkovsky conviction Memorial: Russian authorities go for the chronicler of war crimes, not the perpetrators Belarus dissident Irina Khalip gets suspended sentence
Politics and human rights
Ukrainian TV Patch Up Job on PACE Recommendations
When the questions are absolutely predictable, why would politicians risk being caught out lying? After all even the cheapest image-maker will give them hints how to touch up the truth. Nor are there any grounds for believing that the Ukrainian regime stints on such reality enhancers.
President Yanukovych had this to say about freedom of speech in Ukraine when tackled by Polish journalists: “We can see open discussion on television today which nobody obstructs and freedom of speech is assured. At present we see the opposition on all media outlets and their point of view is voiced”.
The constant diet of television studio chat shows is becoming more and more reminiscent of the pop song fodder for the Proles in Orwell’s 1984 however one cannot deny that different points of view are aired.
On the TV news, however, where viewers go for information, not to be entertained by an endless flow of lies and counter-lies, there has long been neither discussion nor freedom of speech.
The lengths to which reality is touched up could be seen on the State-owned First National Channel or UTV-1 this last week. Before citing the real gem, let’s look at the carefully orchestrated introduction to it. Those who seek information from various sources and check the labels before consumption already know about the scandal over the legally baffling extensions to the remand in custody of former Minister of Internal Affairs in Tymoshenko’s government and leader of the opposition People’s Self-Defence Party, Yury Lutsenko. They are aware of the doubts also expressed about each of the three criminal prosecutions the opposition politician is charged with. Such people are an absolute minority.
That part of the overwhelming majority who listen to the news prepared with their taxes on UTV-1 did learn of the second of two scandalous court hearings with regard to Yury Lutsenko. They were informed that the trial has been adjourned for two weeks that his applications for the removal of one judge and for release from custody pending trial were turned down.
All correct, and if they mangled the reason for the adjournment, surely that’s not crucial? However we can assume that somebody thought long and hard about what was crucial, with the viewers helpfully reminded that “the former Minister is being tried for appropriation of property on a particularly large scale, abuse of his official position and exceeding his authority”. (http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2011/05/27/5317)
End of the news item.
The gem should be viewed in all its glory “The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE], recommends that politicians not interfere in the investigation of criminal prosecutions against representatives of the Ukrainian opposition. Politicians should not interfere in the investigation of criminal prosecutions against representatives of the Ukrainian opposition, PACE President Mevlüt Cavusoglu believes. What is at present happening in Ukraine he calls a legitimate process which politicians should not try to influence”. (http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2011/05/27/5318)
You sometimes read complicated sentences which need to be cut up into chunks in order to understand who does what. Here it seems remarkably clear who is brazenly interfering, and who, on the contrary, is defending the law.
What is not clear is whether Mr Cavusoglu finds that so obvious. There would seem little doubt that he did speak to journalists from Interfax Ukraine, though it seems a touch strange that the agency would appear to have only published the interview in Russian (and not on their Ukrainian and English sites). It must be said that a couple of statements the PACE President made could do with clarification, however it is quite apparent that at the meeting referred to in the interview, PACE members grilled representatives of the Ukrainian government about possible selective prosecutions and interference by those in power, not interference by the opposition.
Worth mentioning that the baffling events linked with the apparent detention of former Prime Minister, presidential candidate and leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, Yulia Tymoshenko, prompted swift response from abroad. Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament spoke of the political nature of Tymoshenko’s case. Speaker of Ukraine’s Parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn announced publicly after a meeting with PACE President Mevlüt Cavusoglu that “the events linked with the leader of the All-Ukrainian Association Batkivshchyna, Yulia Tymoshenko, are to be considered during the joint visiting session of the Bureau and Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] in Kyiv”. On 26 May a statement was issued on behalf of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission. Given the restraints of diplomatic etiquette, this seems quite unequivocal: “We note the danger of provoking any perception that judicial measures are used selectively, and we stress the importance of ensuring the maximum transparency of investigations, prosecutions and trials We consider these principles especially important in a country with which we intend to enter into a deeper contractual relationship built upon political association, and we recall that Ukraine currently holds the Chairmanship of the Committee”.
On that same day, Freedom House also stated htat the detention of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko “confirms Freedom House’s concerns regarding increased selective prosecution of political opponents in Ukraine”.
The same concerns were demonstrated by the Ambassadors of Sweden and Finland who attended the hearing into the Lutsenko case on Monday 23 May. And by the Danish Helsinki Committee on Human Rights in its Preliminary Report on the Cases against Former Minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Lutsenko and former First Deputy Minister of Justice, Yevhen Korniychuk.
The list can be extended.
Or you can forget about such “biased” (perhaps “commissioned” by the opposition?) reactions, and the unkind words in the European Neighbourhood Policy Country Report 2010 on Ukraine about deterioration in “fundamentalfreedoms such as the freedom of the media and assembly and democratic standards”, and just turn on your television.
After all it’s simple when you can rely on your own people. They know how to correctly report the Yulia Tymoshenko case and inconvenient questions: “The Prosecutor General in person told EU, UK and US ambassadors about the Tymoshenko case. The meeting was held because, according to the Prosecutor’s Press Service, the case has been overly politicized and European institutions are giving significance to a criminal prosecution of one of the leaders of the opposition”.
They understand that main principle: be positive or say nothing. On UTV-1 there was not a word about the unkind Report, the statements, etc, however viewers were treated to the news that “Ukrainian priorities during its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe are praised by PACE”. Mevlüt Cavusoglu did indeed begin his address with words about common priorities, however in a week so filled with other events, statements and hard-hitting questions, coverage of exclusively those words would seem just as selective as the criminal prosecutions against political opponents.
Is it worth investing in gold?, the television channel asked on one of the days when the mounting scandal and unequivocal statements of concern about selective prosecutions were totally ignored on UTV-1. Absolutely no idea, and another question seems far more pertinent to all our lives. Would it not be wise for the PACE and other European structures to closely follow which of their words are covered and distorted by the State-owned television channel of the country presently chairing the CE Committee of Ministers?
Betrayal through Silence
50 years ago two Portuguese students raised their glasses in a toast to freedom. Hardly news, one would think, were it not for two details. One was that the two students paid for the toast with their freedom, both receiving 7 years imprisonment. The other that this case prompted one London lawyer, . Peter Benenson, to understand that helpless outrage was not enough. The rest, as they say, is history – the beginnings of Amnesty International.
History has no happy endings, and governments, especially in the post-Soviet world, have been infinitely resourceful at retaining control over society. Still back in Soviet times they understood how to avert the bad press that politically-motivated charges brought. Why court unwelcome international attention with arrests for protests when charges of rape, drug possession, theft etc are so very easily orchestrated?
The thinking is devious but not incorrect. Even if suspicions are aroused, those accustomed to a law-based system will hesitate to assume the role of judge when they don’t know all the details.
Those who know of the rule of law only from books will understand very quickly that it’s better not to stick your neck out. They know that where needed the Prosecutor, the police, tax inspectorate or other regulatory bodies will prove endless malleable. And Lady Justice conveniently blind, deaf and dumb.
Most worryingly, other countries will tend to do little or nothing until it is, effectively, too late. Until, as in Belarus, a dictatorial regime openly sentences people to long terms of imprisonment for peaceful protest.
Europe’s last dictator, they preferred to believe. Even without the glaring abuses of the law in neighbouring Russia, several criminal prosecutions over the last six months in Ukraine would make it hard to share such optimistic assessments of the dictator’s exclusivity,
The criminal proceedings and the highly dubious grounds for remanding in custody former Minister of Internal Affairs and leader of the People’s Self-Defence party, Yury Lutsenko, have, it is true, elicited statements of concern. Far too muted at present, one feels, given the clear discrepancy between the charges and his remand in custody. The charges laid are staggeringly trivial. He is accused of using public funding to pay for Police Day festivities in 2009. Despite the entry into force on 9 May of the Public Information Act nobody has yet questioned the refusal to explain where the money came from for President Yanukovych’s 60th birthday festivities, nor why his sumptuous mansion outside Kyiv is only on access to the very select public. Whether or not Lutsenko should have spent money on festivities, not more pressing needs, there is no suggestion that he pocketed the money. He is also accused of having unwarrantedly promoted his driver to the rank of police officer, with ensuing (modest!) benefits. Not good, but considering that the headlines in the Ukrainian media in the days before Lutsenko’s first court hearing have suggested he could face a 12 year prison sentence, something seems at very least missing.
There is, indeed, one last charge, but don’t look for a heinous crime there either. He is alleged to have unwarrantedly ordered surveillance of the driver of a former Security Service [SBU] head under investigation at various times over Yushchenko’s poisoning.
This last “crime” is easy to condemn, but difficult to find shocking in today’s Ukraine, where criminal investigations are being pulled out of the closet and aired after 10 years silence, others begun or closed with breathtaking speed. With a Prosecutor General who has openly stated his total loyalty to the President, and changes to the judiciary which the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has warned compromise judicial independence, it would be difficult to expect much else.
The public accordingly expect very much less than independence, and not only with regard to the prosecution of Yury Lutsenko.
Ukraine is not Belarus and there have been no prosecutions for peacefully demonstrating against the new Tax Code as many thousands of small business owners did last November. Why dirty your hands when the police, Prosecutor and courts can find other “sins”?
Serhiy Kostakov has been held in custody since 1 December 2010. It is alleged that on 22 November he damaged a car driving along a street which the Tax Code protesters had blocked. One unique feature of this case is the lack of any proof aside from the assertion of the car’s driver. Worth mentioning too that back on 26 November drivers reported having been stopped by police and asked to give testimony about the blocking of the roads during the protest. Presumably one person at least was forthcoming).
Seven other people are facing criminal charges for allegedly causing damage to the granite stone of Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] in Kyiv. They are supposed to have driven metal stakes into the square to erect tents during the Tax Code protests. The fact that four were provably not involved was of no concern to the investigators. Or to some judges since six of the men were only finally released from custody pending trial in April this year.
The message to people planning to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly is depressingly clear.
Other rights and what can happen to you if you allege their violation can be seen in a case presently being examined by the court. Yakov Strogan had a fight with a neighbour in August 2010. Soon after police officers turned up and effectively abducted Strogan, subjecting him to days of torture in an attempt to extort money from his wife.
Such criminal behaviour from certain police officers has become endemic, but not all victims are willing to speak out. Yakov Strogan did and very loudly, even during parliamentary hearings on 2 December. A week later he was again arrested, this time on charges of attempted murder, with the charges, new “witness” statements and forensic tests all emerging nearly four months after the run-in with the neighbour.
The message requires no deciphering.
Little of this is seen with the main television channels all vying to provide only that information which the regime wishes presented, and in best manipulative coating.
Deafening silence from the majority of the Ukrainian public cannot be interpreted as indifference to fundamental rights being eroded. The phase from Stalin’s times: if there’s a person, an article (of the Criminal Code) can be found, has changed form, not essence. These days the traffic or tax police are sure to oblige. Or they’ll find some regulatory body, or talk with your boss, your lecturer, etc. Where there’s fear and lawlessness, levers can be found.
Any silence from the international community is, however, deafening. And a betrayal to those young lads who drank to freedom and the man who understood the power of voices in defence of the persecuted.
Free Yury Lutsenko!
In its Judgement in the Case of Kharchenko v. Ukraine from 10.02.2011, the European Court of Human Rights issued a general conclusion regarding Ukraine’s constant violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention).
The European Court found that Kharchenko’s remand in custody had been unlawful and unwarranted, and separately noted that such infringements were systemic in Ukraine. Unwarranted remand in custody, it said, accompanied a considerable number of complaints in criminal cases.
Ukraine has been told to remove these failings in current legislation and practice which are in breach of the Convention within the next six months. Yet the Ukrainian government is not only not trying to rectify the situation, but are themselves initiating such violations in political cases.
The most flagrant example is the case of former Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko. We first have a typical and unconcealed case of political persecution since the criminality of the actions he is charged with is very questionable and the motives are clearly political, and this case is about revenge. Secondly, no facts have been established of Lutsenko having moved from the place he is registered at without the investigator’s permission which is the only grounds for changing the preventive measure from a signed undertaking not to leave to remand in custody (Article 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code). He did not refuse to take part in the investigation and attended the interrogations.
On 21 April the court extended his remand in custody up till 28 May on the same ludicrous grounds as the first time, i.e. that Lutsenko:
1) was taking too long to familiarize himself with the case material (though by that time he had read all 47 volumes);
2) did not admit guilt;
3) had given information to the press about his criminal case.
Now the court demanded that Lutsenko remain in custody until his lawyer had familiarized himself with the material. New and unheard of grounds! In their analysis, the Danish Helsinki Committee on Human Rights has stated that it is not for the investigator but for the defendant and his lawyer to stipulate the procedure for familiarizing themselves with the case material! And that such a court ruling is a violation of the defendant’s right to a fair trial – Article 6 of the Convention. All of the above-listed actions for which Lutsenko has been deprived of his freedom are his constitutional rights. The court, by holding him in custody, is violating Ukraine’s Constitution and the European Convention!
The court has left Lutsenko no choice but to defend his rights, honour and dignity by means of a hunger strike which he began on 23 April. What other arguments remain when a person has been stripped of his liberty where legal arguments are ignored?
This situation is adversely affecting Ukraine’s image and lumping it together with countries with an authoritarian regime.
1) that Yury Lutsenko be released immediately!
2) that political repressions against the opposition and dissidents be stopped!
3) that measures are taken to change legislation and practice in accordance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lviv provocation on 9 May: No joking matter
Well-known publicist and historian Andriy Portnov writes that it is painful to speak of what happened on 9 May in Lviv. “Nothing like it had happened in all the twenty years of Ukraine’s independence. And suddenly we were all witnesses to provocation acted out as to a script. There was the fairly marginalized and overtly anti-Ukrainian organizations “Rodina” [Motherland] and “Russian Unity” on the one hand, and the radical nationalist Svoboda party, recently in the majority in the Lviv Regional Council., on the other. They proved to be ideal partners” The author describes one of the incidents where young guys of a certain build and carrying St. George ribbons (a Soviet military honour) clashed with Svoboda supporters. Within a couple of minutes, he says, one of the St George ribbon contingent, who’s armed himself not just with dark glasses, pulled out a shock gun and used it. The police proved not to be around, unlike a film crew (the feature was immediately shown on television).
At the Hill of Glory Memorial, the author says, there were plenty of police officers but they only partially succeeded in preventing clashes between the above-mentioned opposing groups. He points out the important detail that despite a ban by the Lviv Regional Council on holding mass events in the city, the coaches full of “Rodina” and “Russian Unity supporters encountered no difficulty in reaching the centre. This he notes is in contrast to many occasions when the police have stopped people trying to reach opposition protests, etc.
After the conflict at the memorial when a wreath which the Russian Ambassador was about to lay, was pulled away, red flags were burned near the town hall. At around the same time an activist in Donetsk threw a red and black UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] flag under veterans’ feet. You got a picture already recognized throughout Europe: a deeply divided country virtually on the edge of civil war.
Andriy Portnov compares the orchestrated conflict this year in Lviv with that in Zaporizhya a year ago over the unveiling of a bust to Stalin on the territory of the Communist Party regional committee. The event was widely publicized in the Ukrainian and foreign media. And although there were only a few hundred people present, the event was presented as though a demonstration of the will of the region’s residents.
The bust was destroyed by an explosion on New Year’s Eve. The author slightly blurs two events. While criminal charges have been brought against those from the nationalist organization Tryzub who, three days earlier, cut off the head of the monument, despite a large number of detentions, searches and interrogations, those responsible for the explosion have not been found. What is indicative, he notes, is that the Security Service immediately initiated a criminal investigation under the article for terrorism.
“It is difficult to rid oneself of the impression that somebody very much wanted violence in Ukrainian society to become palpable”. It became so, at present only with two lots of extremists playing each other off. What next?
Andriy Portnov is by no means alone in suggesting that the conflict was absolutely deliberate and part of a dangerous game of manipulation by those in power. Others who have suggested the same include the former dissidents and political prisoners Myroslav Marynovych, Yevhen Sverstyuk and Josef Zissels, as well as the prominent publicist and Editor of the I journal in Lviv, Taras Voznyak.
In her article, Natalia A. Feduschak points out that “But some political analysts and administration critics blame the president’s supporters, suggesting that the conflicts are a way for Yanukovych to capitalize politically on disorder. The motive, these critics say, is to reinvigorate Yanukovych’s traditional Russian-speaking electorate in eastern Ukraine.”
“Critics of the nationalist Svoboda Party however, say the organization and Russian extremists are two sides of the same coin.
Despite its nationalist credentials, allegations have dogged Svoboda about the sources of its financing. Some suspect people close to the pro-presidential Party of Regions of furtively backing the nationalists, charges denied by Svoboda.”
Basically nobody believes that the shameful displays of violence “just happened”. How high up one looks for those behind it, it is worryingly clear that the conflict could not have occurred without official connivance or at very least the enforcement agencies turning a blind eye.
From material at http://urokiistorii.ru/blogs/andrei-portnov/1560, Kyiv Post and Polit.ua
New Criminal Investigation against Yulia Tymoshenko
On the eve of a visit to Kiev by Vladimir Putin, Russian prime minister, Ukrainian prosecutors on Monday launched a criminal case against ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, accusing her of illegally brokering a natural gas supply contract with him in January 2009.
“A criminal case has been launched against” Ms Tymoshenko, now an opposition leader, “over abuse of power linked to the signing of gas contracts in 2009, ” said Renat Kuzmin, Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor-general.
The news fuelled speculation that Kiev could challenge the two-year-old agreement which brought sharply higher gas import prices while ending a bitter stand-off that cut off European supplies. But such plans could stoke negative tensions ahead of Mr Putin’s Tuesday visit, during which he is expected to meet Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president.
As the charges were announced, allies in parliament backing Mr Yanukovich called for the gas agreement to be cancelled. Inna Bogoslovska, chairman of a parliamentary investigative committee, argued that the Tymoshenko-Putin agreement was illegally approved by Ms Tymoshenko’s cabinet and led to above-market gas prices for Ukraine.
In Ukraine, the announcement that Yanukovich-loyal prosecutors had filed a third criminal case against his political rival since last autumn exacerbated concerns expressed in recent months by the US and European Union that his administration was persecuting political opponents. Ms Tymoshenko has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, claiming her opponent wants to ban her from taking part in future parliamentary elections.
But the broader focus could turn to Mr Putin’s reaction to the investigation and its implications for relations with Kiev, which has long sought to fend off hefty fuel price increases.
Since taking over as president in February 2010, Mr Yanukovich has repeatedly pledged to keep Kiev on a path towards EU integration while also reviving relations with Moscow that went sour under his predecessors.
In the first months of his presidency, Mr Yanukovich prolonged the Russian navy’s stay at Ukraine’s Sevastopol port in return for a 30 per cent discount on gas prices. But he has continued to call upon Moscow to further lower rising gas prices that are battering his nation’s ailing and fuel import-dependent economy.
Eager to keep Kiev within Moscow’s sphere of influence, Mr Putin is expected during his visit to step up pressure on Mr Yanukovich. He has long tried to drive a wedge into Kiev’s European integration plans, urging it to join Belarus and Kazakhstan instead in a Russia-led customs union.
Mr Yanukovich has resisted. But Russia has recently made an offer that some experts say is tempting.
Valery Golubev, deputy head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, tried to trump last week’s critical round of free trade negotiations between Brussels and Ukraine, offering the latter an $8bn annual discount on natural gas prices if it joined the customs union. The move would be incompatible with an EU free trade agreement.
So far, Ukrainian officials insist they would not drop free trade talks with Brussels but will continue urging Russia to lower gas prices and lift long-standing trade restrictions.
Implementation of European Law
11 thousand cases against Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights
In an interview for Den’, ECHR Judge from Ukraine Anna Yudkivska spoke of the cases against Ukraine which are heard by the Court in Strasbourg as a reflection of the problem issues in the country itself. In the first place, she said, were problems relating to the penal system and pre-trial investigations.
“I can’t give a general assessment of the human rights situation, I can only talk about how it’s seen by the Court on the basis of the applications which come in. If we consider the applications to reflect the legal problems in society, then in the first place we need to put problems with the penitentiary system and problems with pre-trial investigations – the almost exclusive preventive measure being remand in custody; torture of defendants; the lack of proper investigation into complaints of inadmissible methods of investigation. These are the most acute problems bearing in mind how standard they are. Being used to them hampers any attempts at change in this sphere, and these issues cannot be resolved solely at the legislative level, you need to change lawyers’ mentality.
(The Interviewer had initially mentioned the Amnesty International report which expressed concern over worrying tendencies regarding human rights and mainly harassment of human rights activists by the police).
Anna Yudkivska returned to the questions he raised, saying that, again, from the point of view of what reaches the Court, one cannot talk of a problem on a mass scale. “As far as I know, there are two or three such applications at the moment before the Court, one of which has already been communicated to the Government. Obviously such applications are usually examined as priority cases, after all the fate of human rights activists as “watchdogs of democracy” are followed by all international structures – PACE, the European Parliament and the UN have special co-rapporteurs on the situation with human rights activists”
“At present there are around 11 thousand cases against Ukraine awaiting examination by the European Court. That’s approximately 7.5 percent of the total number of cases. In terms of number of cases, Ukraine is fourth. However these figures are in no way an indicator. We shouldn’t forget that our country is large and if we take statistics regarding the number of the population, then Ukraine would be around the middle and the leaders such countries as Slovenia and Lichtenstein. In fact those figures also are not an indicator of the number of problems but rather reflect certain traditions of legal culture, public awareness of rights and opportunities for upholding them.
The range is broad from the conditions under remand in custody to interference in the right to receive information or threat to health due to a dangerous environment. There are a lot of applications about what the applicants believe were unfair court proceedings, or unwarranted interference into property rights. The last judgement relating to Article 10 was quite interesting from a legal point of view. The Court drew attention to the lack of clarity in Ukrainian legislation regarding the term “circulation of information”, and in another case to the lack of adequate guarantees for journalists who use information from the Internet.
However in the figure of 11 thousand there are two elements of concern. One is the number of applications found inadmissible, this reaching 80 percent. The reason here is an incorrect understanding of the Court’s role, the content and scope of the rights guaranteed by the Convention, as well as the conditions of admissibility. The Court is still seen by many as the highest level capable of revoking or changing the rulings of domestic courts or even as a first instance who anyone who sees their rights as having been infringed can approach. The overwhelming majority of applications are submitted without qualified legal assistance and are accordingly badly substantiated or inadmissible because deadlines have not been kept. Such an insane number of inadmissible claims seriously impedes the Court’s work.
The second serious problem is the number of repetitive claims, so called clone cases which reflect structural problems, including those mentioned above. Here the reaction of the authorities to the failings that the Court draws attention to is vital.
One structural problem, for example, which prompted a pilot judgement was the case of Kharchenko v. Ukraine, over a violation of Article 5 – the right to liberty and security of person. The Court has on many occasions found violations of this norm in cases against Ukraine with respect to periods of remand in custody without a court order between the conclusion of the pre-trial investigation and the beginning of the court examination. Another problem involves decisions extending remand in custody at court stage with the period not specified, i.e. they basically just remand in custody rather than extending it. These problems, the Court has found, are linked with failings in legislation. Moreover, where there is long-term remand in custody courts cite the same grounds although after a certain period of time merely one well-founded suspicion that a person committed the crime is not sufficient to justify deprivation of liberty. The courts should provide other motives for continued remand. Recalling that the same infringements have been found in a number of prior cases, the Court has stressed that in view of the structural nature of the problem specific reforms in legislation and administrative practice are urgently required. What specific reforms are needed is no way within the jurisdiction of the Court to determine. That is decided by the country under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. However in this case, the Court asked the government to provide information about the strategy adopted in this respect within 6 months of when the judgement comes into force.
From the interview at: http://day.kiev.ua/210344
Freedom of expression
Any number of examples of censorship, Mr President
Ihor Lubchenko, Head of the Ukrainian National Union of Journalists has addressed an open letter to President Yanukovych in response to the latter’s words on World Press Freedom Day asking for specific examples of violations of freedom of speech and promising to react to them.
Ihor Lubchenko points out that they have tried to get through to the President regarding burning issues for journalists on many occasions, but unfortunately have seen little progress.
He cites the following specific examples, beginning with the most recent.
18 May 2011
The provider Volya stopped broadcasting the popular Cherkasy independent TV channel “Antenna-plus”.
The provider, which has the monopoly on the local cable network market gave no warning, and had no justification since Antenna-Plus’ licence runs until 2016.
Numerous appeals from viewers have elicited statements to the effect that Antenna-Plus is being changed to digital format. Volya has refused to speak with representatives of the television channel. Ihor Lubchenko says that it is clear why not, since the change to digital format effectively deprives tens of thousands of viewers in Cherkasy of the opportunity to receive information and watch an independent broadcaster. This is, he points out, the only independent television channel in the region.
Over many years Antenna Plus had remained free and critical of any regime. It had succeeded in retaining its freedom of speech under Kuchma and Yushchenko.
“After the appointment as Head of the Regional Administration of Serhiy Tulub, a new wave of pressure and repression began. Attempts at seizures of media outlets, threats by those who wield power in the area and from the enforcement structures, pressure on the cable network provider to stop broadcast of the television channel, threats to advisers and press distributors were just some of the methods in the new information policy in the region.
This is the first case which I would draw your attention to”.
Two: the dismissal, at the insistence of the same Head of the Regional Administration of Serhiy Tulub, from his post as General Director of the regional State TV and radio broadcasting company, M. Kalinichenko.
Three: The extremely fraught situation between the editorial official of a district newspaper Kolos and district radio in the Kharkiv region, provoked by the head of the District Council, V. Pryadko. This began last summer with procedure initiated by the District Council to have the editorial office, as legal entity, dissolved.
It is not clear what the motives are but the same Council as lodged a law suit trying to get the editorial office’s charter and founding agreement declared void.
Four The newspaper Vpered in the Odessa region has had problems since the District Council in March 2008 dismissed the Editor, Tetyana Khamardyuk.
She did not accept her dismissal, and in January 2011 a court reinstated her.
However the District Council in this case has also appointed a liquidation committee, as well as more overtly unlawful methods such as claiming that the newspaper’s stamp, in the possession of the newly reinstated Editor, had been “stolen”.
Five: The dismissal of Volodymyr Hlyadchenko from his post as Director of the Nikolsk cooperative TV and Radio Company [TRC] Pivdenna Zorya [Southern Star]. The author gives a whole list of breaches over which Hlyadchenko’s colleagues in the Dnipropetrovsk region are up in arms.
Six: In Slavutya, Khmelnytski region, the Mayor, Vasyl Sydor has for several years now been making the situation for the editorial board of the municipal newspaper intolerable. The newspaper’s Editor Vira Malchuk has won 17 law suits, but the Mayor is still trying to get her removed.
Seven: From the outset the newly elected Bilopilsk District Council in the Sumy region and the Head of the Council, V. Kubrak have been putting pressure on the newspaper Bilopilshchyna and especially its editor.
Kubrak has given unlawful instructions for audits to be carried out, with the Prosecutor being drawn in. This was despite a court ruling stating that the newspaper is not under the jurisdiction of the control and audit authority. The first attempt at such an audit was during the Chief Editor’s official leave which was known by the head of the said authority.
This extraordinary saga with checks has been played out despite the fact that the editorial office agrees all its expenses etc with the co-founders, regular reports to the finance department of the District Administration. It has no debts and over the last three years has received no public funding.
Ihor Lubchenko cites three more examples, also from local media outlets. He gives details which suggest interference from the local authorities, most often on outlets or journalists demonstrating an independent position.
He turns again to President Yanukovych and says that he understands that in Kyiv it’s hard to follow what is happening in other cities and regional centres. “Yet are the processes taking place in the capital really also invisible?
Звичайно, з Києва важко спостерігати, що робиться у містах і районних центрах. Але ж невже і процеси, які відбуваються у столиці, теж невидимі?
Case No. Eleven: Back on 15 March last year the former Deputy Head of your Administration, Anna Herman in an interview regarding the appointment of new heads of the State media sector when asked whether a change was planned to the Head of the National Radio Company replied:
“We are thinking about this at the moment. When Mr Nabrusko term ends, I think we will make changes in this direction.”
Ihor Lubchenko’s approaches to Herman in this matter were ignored. Mr Nabrusko’s contract was not renewed in June 2010 even though his appointment was indefinite, with the five-year terms of the contract simply renewed.
There were evident infringements of the law and the Union has defended Mr Nabruskos’s rights ever since. Despite numerous appeals, including to the President, this has been to no avail. However, because they received assurances that the situation would be rectified, the term for appealing the dismissal with the court was missed.
The Union’s Secretary turned to the President over this and received no response.
Ihor Lubchenko concludes by stressing that these are by no means all the cases involving pressure and infringements of media outlets’ and journalists’ rights. There are many more.
“If you are ready to hear 18 thousand members of the Union, the Secretaries of the National Union of Journalists are ready to meet with you to discuss the situation in more detail”.
Very heavily abridged from the original posted on Telekritika
Ukraine drops to Partly Free in Freedom House’s Media Report
In its report Freedom of the Press 2011: A Global Survey of Media Independence, Freedom House finds that Ukraine, together with “a number of key countries” have experienced significant declines, producing a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a press that is designated Free.
According to the Head of the Parliamentary Freedom of Speech Committee, Andriy Shevchenko, this may be unpleasant, but it is a fair assessment of the actions of the present regime. “The Ukrainian government needs to understand that however much they repeat that they’re committed to freedom of speech, the world will judge them not by fine-sounding words, but by the real situation. If censorship, self-censorship are flourishing, if frequencies are taken away and journalists disappear, this will inevitably be reflected in the assessment”.
The opposition deputy also added that these ratings later impact upon decisions taken by the West with respect to Ukraine, for example, investments, admittance of Ukraine into the free trade zone with Europe, and in the final analysis, upon the well-being of each Ukrainian.
Ukraine has now fallen to one of the 65 countries with press which is partly free.
The press in Russia is deemed Not Free and Belarus is now among the “Worst of the Worst”.
The following is the Freedom House Press Release, which can be found, together with the full report and tables here: http://freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=1405
Middle East in Decline as Global Press Freedom Hits Low Point
Washington May 2, 2011
The number of people worldwide with access to free and independent media declined to its lowest level in over a decade, according a Freedom House study released today. The report, Freedom of the Press 2011: A Global Survey of Media Independence, found that a number of key countries—including Egypt, Honduras, Hungary, Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, and Ukraine—experienced significant declines, producing a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a press that is designated Free. Among the report’s major findings.
A key country, Mexico, slipped into the Not Free category in 2010 as a result of violence associated with drug trafficking that has led to a dramatic increase in attacks on journalists, rising levels of self-censorship and impunity, and overt attempts by nonstate actors to control and guide the news agenda.
A substantial decline took place in the Middle East and North Africa region. Due to a severe crackdown preceding the November 2010 parliamentary elections, Egypt declined to Not Free, while smaller setbacks were noted in Iran, Iraq, Morocco, and Yemen. The deterioration in the region, which was already restrictive in terms of media freedom, demonstrates the centrality of freedom of expression to broader democratic rights, and may have contributed to the calls for reform that swept through a number of countries in early 2011.
Balancing the declines were notable improvements in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the former Soviet Union, many of which came as a result of legal and regulatory reforms. Impressive openings were registered in Guinea, Niger, and Moldova, while smaller positive steps were noted in Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Senegal, and Zimbabwe.“A country where journalists cannot report freely without fear of interference, by the government or other actors, has little hope of achieving or maintaining true democracy, ” said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. “While we have unfortunately come to expect restrictive and dangerous environments for journalists in nondemocratic regimes like those in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, we are particularly troubled this year by declines in young or faltering democracies like Mexico, Hungary, and Thailand.”
Of the 196 countries and territories assessed during 2010, a total of 68 (35 percent) were rated Free, 65 (33 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 63 (32 percent) were rated Not Free. The report also noted several key trends driving the ongoing threats to media freedom
Misuse of licensing and regulatory frameworks has emerged as a key method of control. Authoritarian regimes have increasingly used bogus legalistic maneuvers to narrow the space for independent broadcasting, effectively countering an earlier trend of growth in the number of private radio and television outlets.
Repressive governments have intensified efforts to exert control over new means of communication—including satellite television, the internet, and mobile telephones—as well as the news outlets that employ them. Some democratic and semidemocratic states also moved to impose additional restrictions on the internet, including South Korea and Thailand, which increased censorship of online content.
Worsening violence against the press and impunity for such crimes are forcing journalists into self-censorship or exile. The level of violence and physical harassment directed at the press by both official and nonstate actors remains a key concern. These attacks have a chilling effect on the profession, and the failure to punish or even seriously investigate crimes against journalists has reached scandalous proportions.
The survey recorded a steady deterioration in media freedom from 2005 to 2010, and thetrend has affected every region of the world. However, the most pronounced setbacks have occurred in Hispanic America, led by a constriction of media space in a number of Andean countries, as well as in both democracies and authoritarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Over the past five years, countries with significant declines have outnumbered those with similarly large gains by a more than two-to-one margin.Many of these downturns occurred in emerging democracies that were tested by political upheaval, polarization, coups, or outright civil war, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Others have taken place in countries with governments moving in a more deeply authoritarian direction, such as Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.
The global trend of decline seems to have slowed in the latest year under review. Although prospects for an outright reversal of the negative trend were enhanced in early 2011 by the protest movements that swept through several countries in the Middle East and North Africa, it remains unclear whether the near equilibrium between gains and declines in 2010 will tip toward an overall global improvement in 2011.
“In 2010, we saw how readily governments in the Middle East turned to repression of the media, ” noted Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of the study. “For the recent political openings to be consolidated, broad and sustained reforms of the media sector need to be swiftly implemented. Otherwise, this window of opportunity will be lost.”
Key Regional Findings
There were two negative status changes in the region, with Honduras and Mexico joining the ranks of Not Free countries, as well as significant numerical declines in Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Not since 2006 have so many countries in the region been designated Not Free. The regional average score worsened compared with 2009, with the bulk of the decline occurring in the political and economic categories. Colombia proved to be a bright spot due to improvements in combating impunity.
A modest decline in the average score for the Asia-Pacific region was driven by negative status changes, as South Korea moved from Free to Partly Free and Thailand from Partly Free to Not Free. Cambodia, Fiji, India, and Vanuatu also saw score declines, while Bangladesh and the Philippines registered modest improvements. This region also continues to be home to two of the survey’s poorest performers, Burma and North Korea, and the world’s largest poor performer, China, where a crackdown on free expression continued in 2010.
Central and Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union:
The regional average score remained unchanged for 2010. However, this stasis masked movement in the two main subregions. The better-performing subregion of Central and Eastern Europe showed an overall decline, while the more repressive non-Baltic former Soviet Union benefited from a dramatic opening in Moldova and smaller positive steps in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. In both subregions, change was largely concentrated in the political category. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia remain countries of concern, while significant negative trends emerged in Hungary and Ukraine.
Middle Eastand North Africa:
The regional average score suffered the most dramatic deterioration of any region.Egypt was downgraded from Partly Free to Not Free, and scores for Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Morocco, and Yemen also declined. Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Tunisia continued to rank among the worst countries in the world for media independence and press freedom.
A steep decline in sub-Saharan Africa’s regional average score in 2009 was followed in 2010 by the largest numerical improvement of any region. Guinea, Liberia, and Niger all saw status improvements from Not Free to Partly Free, and significant score improvements occurred in Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. However, deterioration was noted in Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, and Sudan.
In a change from recent years, the regional average score showed the second-largest decline of any region, led by negative developments in Denmark, Iceland, and Turkey. The United Kingdom remains a concern due to its expansive libel laws, while heavy media concentration and official interference in state-owned outlets continues to hold Italy at Partly Free.
Worst of the Worst
The world’s 10 worst-rated countries are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression.
To view the report, click here.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.
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Supporting the right of every individual to be free
Access to information
First legal proceedings over alleged infringement of Public Information Law
17 May saw the first law suit lodged against alleged breach by the head of a regional council of the Law on Access to Public Information which came into force on 9 May 2011. The coordinators of the Transcarpathian Civic Centre are asking the court to suspend the force of an Instruction issued by the Head of the Transcarpathian Regional Council, and also to order the management of the Regional Could to refrain from further action on considering draft decisions and make them public in accordance with the Law on Access to Public Information.
On 10 May I. Baloha, Head of the Transcarpathian Regional Council signed an Instruction on holding the fourth session of the Regional Council. 27 issues were at first put on the agenda. On 16 May with another Instruction, Mr Baloha added 5 further issues and postponed the first plenary meeting of the session until 25 May.
However the Instruction runs counter to the Laws on Local Self-Government in Ukraine and On Access to Public Information as regards the requirement to publish draft decisions. According to Article 15.3 of the Public Information Law, draft decisions which it is planned to consider must be made public 20 working days before their review. As of 18 May there was no sign of these on the Council’s official website or anywhere else. This means that in breach of the Law, the Council’s deputies are proposing to consider draft versions and pass decisions without informing residents of the region.
Attention is also drawn in the law suit to other infringements in the Instruction which Baloha issued. Despite the text having been corrected, a full list of the issues is not given. According to the Law on Local Self-Government issues to be considered must be made public at least 10 days before the session. It is alleged that the Instruction deliberately removes some of the issues to be considered, for example No. 25-27. In the case of No. 25, for example, “On property” it is already known that this is not one issue and that there will be more. At least 3 draft decisions, including on assessment of property, will be considered. There is an analogous situation with No. 25 on Mineral wealth and No. 27 Miscellaneous.
There is a practical level to the problem of concealment of public information. At the last Regional Council session on 14 April 2011, without prior inclusion in the Instruction on the calling of the Council or making the draft decision public, the Regional Council took the decision to close down 8 chemists in Uzhhorod. The question had been prepared beforehand, but was concealed.
Civic Centre believes that order is needed: there should be a section on the Regional Council’s website entitled “Draft Council decisions” where, as they appear, they are made accessible and only those issues should be discussed at the session which have been the subject of public discussion.
Two cities say no to new nuclear power plant
Construction of two nuclear reactors at the Khmelnytski Nuclear Power Plant is under discussion in Ukraine. Public discussion has taken place in 4 places. The residents of Khmelnytski and Ostroha came out categorically against the new reactors.
The framework agreement on construction of the third and fourth reactors at the Khmelnytski Nuclear Power Plant was signed around a year ago between Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers and the Russian Government. The TEO [technical and economical justification) for the project and environmental impact assessment have already been drawn up. These documents were presented for public discussion in Khmelnytski, Ostroha, Netishyna and Slavuty. The latter two places supported the construction, however not the first two.
According to Artur Denysenko from the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine, the material presented contains a lot of discrepancies and inaccuracies and certain proposals cannot withstand criticism.
The Public were fed half-truths
For example, Artur Denysenko says, the proposed reactor has not been tested in the world and its reliability has not been confirmed. “Furthermore, the nuclear energy company Energoatom is trying to establish this reactor on building constructions which have stood in the open air for quarter of a century. This cannot be called anything but taking risks on the issue of safety”.
The Khmelnytski Nuclear Power Plant management claim that there are positive assessments from the relevant institutions making it possible to do that. The documentation states that the protective cover of the reactor will withstand up to 6 tonnes, however Mr Denysenko points out that this is 10 times less than the weight of a modern passenger plane. The consequences of such an accident have not been considered. Nor, he says, have they envisaged what is to be done with the spent fuel.
He is convinced that the project must not be high-priority for Ukraine since it carries a large number of economic, environmental and corruption-based risks. He says that the construction has not yet begun, and yet the price is rising all the time. At present the cost stands at 34 billion UAH which is to be borrowed from Russia.
The inhabitants of Netishyna and Slavuty supported the project on the basis of the social component and economic benefit for the towns. Public discussion is to continue until the end of the month with 10 other inhabited areas still to express their views.
Human rights protection
Mustafa Dzhemiliev – Laureate of “Light of Justice” Award
Mustafa Dzhemiliev, Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, National Deputy and former political prisoner has become the second Laureate of the “Light of Justice” Award.
One of the members of the selection committee, Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University and former political prisoner, Myroslav Marynovych called Mustafa Dzhemiliev an outstanding politician of our time. “He has for several decades defended the rights of his people following an unwavering path of non-violence.”
The Light of Justice Award was founded as an annual prize by Canadian Ukrainian Anastasia Shkilnyk for moral, spiritual and ethical leadership in Ukraine. Myroslav Marynovych explains that this was in honour of her father, Mykhailo Shkilnyk, a renowned lawyer, civic and political figure from the time of the liberation struggle in Ukraine.
Anastasia Shkilnyk explains that this Award recognizes people who have distinguished themselves through their ability to light the candle of justice in the dark recesses of the human soul and to guide the way to a more humane society. “My father never sought recognition for his dedicated service in the name of justice. He is a clear example of moral leadership and for this reason I decided to create such an award.
The selection committee looked for a figure in the avant-garde of social and political life in Ukraine who provides a constant example of modesty and selfless commitment to moral principles, courageous determination to serve and remain true to his convictions and selflessly uphold the interests of democratic society. Their unanimous choice this year was the Leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, Mustafa Dzhemiliev.
In November 2010 the first Laureate of the Light of Justice Award was Yevhen Sverstiuk, Ukrainian writer and publicist, human rights defender and former dissident and political prisoner.
Warmest congratulations to Mustafa Dzhemiliev!
News from the CIS countries
Moscow court upholds Khodorkovsky conviction
A Moscow appeals court upheld the second conviction of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but it also reduced his 14-year prison sentence by one year.
Tuesday’s decision means that the 47-year-old Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, will remain in prison until 2016.
He was convicted in December of stealing tens of billions of dollars’ worth of oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds — a politically tainted ruling that drew strong international condemnation.
Khodorkovsky was seen as a political threat to Vladimir Putin, who was president in 2003 when Khodorkovsky was arrested and remains Russia’s most powerful leader now that he is prime minister.
During the one-day appeal hearing at Moscow City Court, Khodorkovsky poured scorn on the judges who had written the verdict, a lengthy summary of the trial that spelled out his guilt.
"From which dusty basement did they dig out the venomous Stalinist spider who wrote that gibberish?" Khodorkovsky asked, visibly agitated as he paced around the glass and steel defendant’s cage.
"What long-term investments are we talking about with a justice system like that? No modernization is going to happen without cleaning out these basements."
In wrapping up the defense’s case Tuesday, lawyer Yuri Shmidt pointed to numerous contradictions in the verdict, saying they showed that the judge who presided over the 18-month trial could not have written the ruling on his own.
Khodorkovsky’s barb also was aimed at President Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in 2008 on promises to strengthen the rule of law as part of an effort to modernize Russia’s economy and attract needed foreign investment. His efforts so far have had little effect.
"The president is going to have to make a choice, " Khodorkovsky said. "What does he, Russia, need more: a state ruled by law or the opportunity for de facto extrajudicial reprisals?"
Khodorkovsky’s father said he was deeply disappointed. "I had laid my hopes on Medvedev, " said Boris Khodorkovsky. "It turned out to be just promises and promises."
As recently as last week, the president said Khodorkovsky would pose "absolutely no danger" to society if he were released.
Khodorkovsky’s mother, though, said she had not expected any leniency. "We still have the same government and Putin is still around, so why would anything change?" said Marina Khodorkovskaya. "Because a thief would never let out a person from whom he stole and whom he imprisoned. That’s all I can say."
After Khodorkovsky’s arrest, his Yukos oil company was broken up and sold off at bargain-basement prices to pay off back tax claims. Its main assets ended up with state-controlled Rosneft.
When the three-judge panel announced its ruling, shouts of "shame" could be heard from about 50 Khodorkovsky supporters watching the proceedings on a video screen outside the courtroom.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he regretted the decision to uphold the verdict. "The questionable circumstances of the proceedings again shine a negative light on efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Russia, " Westerwelle said in a statement.
The defense has said the charges against Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev reflected a lack of understanding of the oil business, including the payment of transit fees and export duties.
Numerous witnesses, including current and former government officials, testified that Khodorkovsky could not have stolen the oil from his company.
The charges also contradicted the first trial, in which Khodorkovsky was convicted of evading taxes on Yukos profits.
"The authors of the sentence made themselves and the whole country look stupid by saying that victims of theft actually profit from it themselves, that it is a crime to strive for higher profits, that the price for oil on the international market should equal domestic prices, " Khodorkovsky said.
His eight-year sentence for his first conviction, which also had been reduced by one year on appeal, is set to end in October.
The new 13-year sentence is to run concurrently.
Prosecutors said it was not yet clear where Khodorkovsky would serve out his prison term. Following his first conviction, he was sent to a prison colony in the far east of Russia on the Chinese border, a tiring journey for his elderly parents.
His lawyers said they planned to appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court and were already preparing a claim to file with the European Court of Human Rights.
Memorial: Russian authorities go for the chronicler of war crimes, not the perpetrators
The Memorial Human Rights Centre has issued a statement regarding the extraordinary follow-up to publication of a book on people charged with war crimes over Chechnya.
At the end of April 2011 it became known that the Centre for Fighting Extremism had begun checks into the circulation of the book “International Tribunal on Chechnya. Legal prospects for holding personally liable individuals suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the armed conflict in the Chechen Republic”.
As part of the check, the Nizhny Novgorod Centre for Fighting Extremism interrogated both one of the authors of this book, well-known human rights activist Stanislav Dmitrievsky, and Igor Kalyapin, the Head of the Committee against Torture who had several copies of the book unlawfully removed in 2009.
The Moscow Centre for Fighting Extremism in its turn summoned for questioning the Director of the Centre for International Protection, Karina Moskalenko and Natalya Yakovleva, Director of the Independent Press Centre where the book’s presentation was held in 2009.
It transpires that the law enforcement agencies have some kind of conclusion from a specialist who concluded that the book contained extremist utterances.
The book “International Tribunal on Chechnya” “relies on broad documentary material on human rights violations and norms of international humanitarian law in Chechnya and to a considerable extent on material collected by the Memorial Human Rights Centre. This material, both separate items and as substantial publications have been widely circulated, in particular being passed to the investigation bodies. Numerous criminal investigations have been initiated on the basis of requests which we sent, indicating that the investigators agreed that the crimes had taken place.
In more than 150 cases the European Court of Human Rights has passed judgements binding for the Russian Federation which found the latter responsible not only for the actual crimes, but for the fact that the culprits were not brought to justice.
The book has been an important reference point in this direction. It contains a high-quality legal, human rights and historical analysis of events during the two Chechen wars and all the circumstances leading to them. It also discusses the possibilities and ways of bring those guilty from both sides of the conflict to answer, using international mechanisms.
The attempt to declare the book extremist is an obvious violation of the Russian Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It continues the flawed practice of replacing substantive discussion of the authorities’ mistakes and crimes with prohibitions and repression.
Who are they trying to protect from the book “International Tribunal on Chechnya”? Is it really the social group of “war criminals”?
The Memorial Human Rights Centre expresses its outrage over this latest attempt to crush freedom of speech and obstruct human rights activity by using anti-extremist legislation.
We plan to carefully follow the situation regarding the book “International Tribunal on Chechnya” and counter any attempts to harass its authors, publishers or distributors.
Belarus dissident Irina Khalip gets suspended sentence
An opposition activist and journalist in Belarus, Irina Khalip, has been given a suspended prison sentence. She was convicted of rioting after last December’s presidential election which she says was rigged.
Ms Khalip is the wife of opposition leader Andrei Sannikov, sentenced on Saturday to five years in prison for organising the election protests.
She walked free from court almost five months after being detained along with hundreds of other activists.
The trial in the capital Minsk comes after the election in which President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected with nearly 80% of the vote.
Western monitors described the poll as "flawed". Mr Sannikov won the most votes among the nine opposition candidates, taking 2.43%.
Police violently dispersed a rally that drew tens of thousands of protesters complaining about electoral fraud on election night on 19 December.
Around 700 people were arrested, including seven presidential candidates.
Since then, more than 20 opposition activists have been sent to prison.
Mr Sannikov’s sentencing on Saturday provoked protests from European Union and American officials.
Mr Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, said during his trial that he was tortured by the secret police, and that its chief threatened harsh reprisals against his wife and their four-year-old son.
Earlier this year, the authorities threatened to put their son in an orphanage.
Ms Khalip, 43, will be on probation. She will have to face the court again in two years’ time.
After the hearing she told reporters her trial was political.
"I still feel like a political hostage, " she said.
Belarus has come under increasing political and economic pressure recently, with the US and EU slapping harsh sanctions on the government.
President Lukashenko and other top officials have been forbidden from travelling to the West.
The country’s central bank has been running out of hard currency, with many analysts predicting a steep devaluation of the Belarussian rouble.