war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.


Parliamentary majority’s draft electoral law criticized

At a press conference on 28 October, the Civic Consortium of Electoral Initiatives gave a damning assessment of the draft law on the parliamentary elections put forward by the ruling majority.  The press conference was addressed by Olha Aivazovska from OPORA; Svitlana Kononchuk from the Ukrainian Independent Political Research Centre; Viktor Kylymar from the web resource Elections in Ukraine;  and Oleksandr Chernenko from the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CUV].

They presented the results of a nationwide expert survey on Ukraine’s electoral legislation in which 500 people from 22 regions of the country took part. The respondents pointed to the greatest problems and issues in the draft laws on the parliamentary elections tabled and identified the main threats to a democratic course of the next elections.

Oleksandr Chernenko, Head of the Board of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine

In exactly a year Ukrainians will go to the polls yet already today we can make depressing predictions about the level of democracy and competition in the future electoral process. Our pessimism is based in the first instance on analysis of the draft Law on the Election of National Deputies which has been tabled by the parliamentary majority and will with a fair degree of certainty be adopted in the near future.

The non-transparent process in preparing the document and its content bear no scrutiny. Even without going into technical subtleties, it’s clear to the naked eye that some provisions of the draft law are in direct breach of the Constitution, while the electoral system which is proposed was not the result of public – political dialogue and consensus”.

Olha Aivazovska, Head of the OPORA Board: called the tabling by deputies from the ruling majority of the draft law overt provocation.  The explanatory note, she pointed out, states that the draft law was prepared by the Working Group created by the President, yet it differs significantly with respect to a number of important norms from the original. “It transpires that the Venice Commission did not evaluate the draft law which the Verkhovna Rada will be considering. The significant changes pertain to the possibility of cancelling candidates’ registration, permission to stand for office both in a single-mandate majority constituency and in multi-mandate constituencies; inaccuracies regarding the requirements for marking out constituencies. National Deputies whom we did not once see at Working Group meetings are acting in breach of the text agreed by the President, and it is he who has the final word regarding the document.

Viktor Kylymar from the web resource Elections in Ukraine said that their survey was unique in having for the first time asked so many specialists directly involved in the election process: representatives of political parties, present and former members of electoral commissions; political analysts; legal experts; journalists. He said that the results showed that only one quarter of the respondents supported the mixed electoral system proposed by the parliamentary majority while almost 40% support an electoral system with open regional candidate lists. 

Civic organizations call the new electoral law undemocratic

At a press conference in Kyiv late last week a number of civic organizations within the New Citizen partnership warned of problems linked with the non-transparent process for drawing up a new Law on the Elections of Ukraine’s National Deputies”.  The NGOs issued a statement in which they accuse the government of totally ignoring the public’s demand for transparency and maximum involvement of civic experts in drawing up the new law.

The main problem they said was that the electoral model proposed by those in power – the mixed, majority-proportional system was pushed without any alternative, without taking into account the views of the Ukrainian public and international experts who have stated unequivocally that it is unacceptable to return to ineffective electoral mechanisms which have already been discredited.

Oleksandr Chernenko, Head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine pointed out that the experience of previous elections had shown very clearly that a majority system most often gave scope for vote-rigging . “If we really want to force politicians to be more responsible and accountable to the voters, then the best way is a proportional system with open candidate lists. Instead, what is being offered is a hybrid which has taken the worst from both the proportional and the majority system. It is clear degradation.”

There are plenty of other problem areas which those drawing up the draft bill are in no hurry to resolve.  These include timely formation of electoral constituencies; just makeup of electoral commissions; simplifying registration of constituency candidates and many others.

There are also political aspects, Oleksandra Solontai from the Youth Watch explained. She mentioned that candidates need to be obliged to publish their election programmes, yet the Justice Ministry’s draft bill does not stipulate this.

The participants in the press conference were agreed that the amendments to the electoral rules in the form now proposed do not meet democratic standards and therefore need considerable revision, taking the position of civil society into consideration. 

On the Failure to agree a moratorium on media checks


Civic organizations want to add amendments to the draft law on the parliamentary elections which would guarantee independent coverage of the elections.

During a conference entitled “Will the media be able to criticize the government during the 2012 elections?” on 30 September, MP Iryna Herashchenko [Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence] expressed the view that journalists were also responsible, together with the present regime, for the rejection of draft Law No. 7872 proposing a moratorium on checks of the media during the election campaign.

“I was surprised by the position taken by the pro-government faction which did not vote for the draft law since the text was effectively copied from the resolution which parliament has adopted before each election. What is more, there were representatives of almost all factions among the bill’s authors.  The authors had agreed to rework the draft law between the first and second reading, taking all comments into account. Yet the majority did not even support it at its first reading”.

Ms Herashchenko believes that journalists must also take a share of the blame since most of them do not show any interest in issues relating to censorship. “Journalists will think of it when the election campaign begins, and problems arise”.

With regard to equal access of candidates to the media during the elections, Ms Herashchenko expressed the view that elected deputies don’t have such access now.

The conference participants discussed the draft law on the parliamentary elections  due to be registered and considered by the Verkhovna Rada in the near future.

The lawyers and journalists present identified a number of problematic norms regulating media activities during the elections.  They consider that provisions should be added banning checks on media outlets not only during the elections, but also after them. For example, Tetyana Kotyuzhynska, lawyer for the National Union of Journalists considers that no checks linked with the elections should be allowed in the six months after they have taken place. Checks are needed only in cases where there is a case established by a court of infringements of electoral legislation.

Ms Kotyuzhynska would also suggest adding norms to the law on the parliamentary elections regarding access to public information, or making reference to the Public Information Act.

According to Ludmila Ohryshko, lawyer from the Regional Press Development Institute, the right to respond in the media should be replaced by the right of retraction since usually a response is given by a candidate to value judgements which he or she considers inaccurate. The right to retraction makes it possible to demand that they retract what is factually incorrect, not that which the candidate considers untrue.

There were also proposals to make the article on election campaigning clearer and others.

The conference participants decided to send all agreed proposals to the President, the Justice Ministry, and parliament asking them to support supplementing the draft law on the parliamentary elections with norms which will guarantee independent coverage of the 2012 parliamentary elections.

As reported, on 23 September the Verkhovna Rada rejected draft Law No. 2782 on amendments to laws which would make it impossible for checks to be carried out on media outlets during the election campaign.  The Party of the Regions and Communists refused to support it.. 

Politics and human rights

Signal to Society


In an interview to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, President Yanukovych stated that releasing Yulia Tymoshenko would give the wrong signal to society.

There have been such waves of negative and inconvenient signals that you can understand the wish to quell the tsunami – or at least make a run for it.  However it’s not so easy to escape the consequences of an unrestrained wish to get rid of political opponents – neither for the regime nor for that same society whose moral education the President is suddenly so concerned about.

Let’s look at what he said: “

"What kind of signal do we give society?" Mr. Yanukovych said. "That to be able to commit crimes one should be a member of the opposition?"

Now that was precisely the impression that the State-owned and increasingly servile First National TV channel [UTV-1] assiduously pushed on their viewers on 11 October. While the close attention from Europe was mentioned, no indication was given of the reasons for it. Even if heads were spinning from the seemingly endless surge of outraged statements from representatives of European bodies, foreign governments, international NGOs, you couldn’t exactly drown in the detail.  After all, each statement spelled out roughly the same reasons for concern in ultimately clear and concise manner.  They were all unanimous that the trial and the sentence were evidence of a selective application of legislation, of politically motivated prosecutions, and lack of respect for international standards for just, transparent and independent court proceedings. A considerable number of the statements mentioned that the signing of an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement might be jeopardized, as would relations in general with EU and other countries. We are hardly talking here about subtle diplomatic hints. Presumably that was the reason why most television channels were silent about such nasty words. So that they didn’t, so to speak, give the wrong signals to the public.

Returning to President Yanukovych’s interview, we are told: “Raising his voice, he called on the West to respect his country, saying he had the impression that "they don’t want to listen" to his claims that he hasn’t interfered in the work of courts and law-enforcement agencies.”.

It’s not nice, of course, when we talk of commitment to European integration, democratic values, including an objective and independent justice system, and they simply refuse to nod their heads approvingly. Even worse, they actually mention the strange choice of judge and multiple irregularities in Tymoshenko’s trial. Not that it’s easy to heed only the words, however sweet to the ear they may be, when journalists have demonstrated a direct link between events in the court and the President’s Administration.  When MPs from the ruling Party of the Regions are untiring in repeating the Prosecutor General’s Office accusations against Yulia Tymoshenko. Or on the contrary, get in there with accusations just before this independent body of power. When one sees how remarkably well-coordinated everything – the trial and sentence, the new criminal investigation, the question of decriminalization, etc – is with the State-owned UTV-1.

The coordination certainly hits you in the eye. On UTV-1 on 12 October, the day after sentence was passed there was virtually no mention of the trial. We learn only that Tymoshenko’s lawyers plan to lodge an appeal although the trial, the sentence and of course the likely consequences for Ukraine were being actively discussed throughout the world.  The news reader instead asks: “Which private company’s obligations become State debts?”.  An answer to the question is provided by Prime Minister Azarov.

“The government is continuing to deal with a huge number of other debt claims against the country. For example, the demand from the Russian Federation Defence Ministry to return 405 million dollars of the debt owed by Ms Tymoshenko’s notorious “Single Energy Systems of Ukraine [SESU]” And another 3.3 billion UAH which at the moment is equivalent to all the State’s spending on building hospitals, schools, etc in Ukraine’s regions in 2012”.

Then, lo and behold, we are informed the very next day, about a new criminal investigation. The very first news report begins with the words: “Yulia Tymoshenko may be sentenced to another 12 years and presented with claims for three billion UAH”. We then hear the Head of the Security Service’s Central Investigation Department who states:

Tymoshenko made an attempt to embezzle public funds on a particularly large scale by making the government responsible for the SESU corporation’s obligations to the Russian Federation Defence Ministry – 405 million, 500 thousand US dollars”.

It’s just terrifying when you realize how many enemies, that is, criminals try to evade fair, and of course independent trial – and for 15 years to boot!.

However the President is there to worry himself about the public’s moral health.

On Monday, Mr. Yanukovych suggested it would be wrong to release Ms. Tymoshenko because of new criminal charges she faces that could bring her a 12-year sentence.”

So the President who of course “hasn’t interfered in the work of courts and law-enforcement agencieschooses not to respond to clearly expressed objections regarding an already ended court trial and sentence. .No, instead he already knows that the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna Party cannot be released because a new criminal investigation has been initiated whose course and result we need have no doubts about.

After all, the regime will worry about the signals to the public.

Is it not about time that the public provided a clearer signal to the regime?  Before it’s too late.

Journalists covering the Tymoshenko verdict injured by riot police

On 11 October a photojournalist from the Korrespondent journal, Natalia Kravchuk was injured by a Berkut riot police officer outside the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv where the verdict was being read out against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ms Kravchuk explains that Tymoshenko had already been taken away and they were clearing the road. Police officers where carrying Serhiy Melnychenko, leader of the Coalitions of Participants in the Orange Revolution. 3 pr 4 Berkut men were carrying him and one was walking ahead, clearing the road., although, she says, there was only her and a few photographers. “That major was waling, I took a shot of the group and then he lashed out at the video, I felt, the video scratched my eyebrow, there was a bit of blood.  The metal from the video hit my nose and eye”.  She asserts that the officer just didn’t like there being photographers there.

The Head of the Police Public Liaison Department, V. Polishchuk told Telekritika that he had ascertained the identify of the Berkut officer and said that there would be a meeting between him and Ms Kravchuk, to see whether he really had hit her.

Natalia Kravchuk says that this was not the only occasion when law enforcement officers used physical force against her or people involved in the demonstration. “When the first disturbances began, when Tymoshenko’s supporters began going out onto the road, the police began pushing them back very aggressively. People fell and were trampled on by the police. They began pushing me and covering the lens. After that I ended up surrounded by Berkut officers. While I filmed them, they closed me in a circle, began shoving me, and a person who was standing behind pushed me several times. That’s although in front and on my side there were only police officers. Why he pushed me, I don’t know.  Later near where the Berkut officers had their shields she tried to get up to photograph from a higher position. Somebody from behind the barricade hit her several times. The Berkut officers, she says, instead of protecting her, grabbed her by the sleeve and jacket and pushed her over cordon.

She also asserts that when the police were carrying a woman from the Femen organization, “the police simply hit out at people’s legs, swearing, we got out of the way as much as we could”.

She says that she cannot understand why the police behaved so aggressively – they met no aggression. She is convinced that they should apologize.

Natalia Kravchuk is not the only journalist who suffered at the hands of the police. Officers also obstructed and caused injuries to journalist from the newspaper Kommersant-Ukraine, Artem Skoropadsky.

He told Telekritika that police officers tried to detain him at the moment that Tymoshenko was brought out of the court.  He says that he was on the opposite side of the road, on the part for cars. A Berkut officer in a helmet tried to drive him away. He showed his press card and pointed to the police and others on the car part of the road. “However he said that standing her was prohibited and began dragging me by the arm. Several other Berkut officers joined in and a captain not wearing a mask. They began pushing me between the buses in the direction of the pavement, one hit me on calf of my leg. When I raised my trouser leg, I saw blood pouring down my leg. I now have a big scratch on the leg”.

Mr Skoropadsky says he has not lodged a complaint about obstruction of his work, since he doesn’t see any sense. He wouldn’t be able to prove it, since there were no outside witnesses.


Photos: Oleksandr Chekmenyov, Artem Skoropadsky

Viktor Yanukovych v. Ukraine’s Democracy: Democracy lost, Ukraine – also

The verdict against Yulia Tymoshenko was announced on 11 October. Ukraine finds itself in a situation where its future depends on the will and the fate of two people: Yanukovych’s will and Tymoshenko’s fate.

What did the conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko demonstrate?

Firstly, that in the Case of Viktor Yanukovych v. Ukraine’s Democracy, Ukraine’s democracy and Ukraine lost. However it is unlikely that Viktor Yanukovych himself won.

On the other hand, any unbiased observer will have realized that the Head of State has taken a firm grip not only of bodies of executive power, the law enforcement agencies and Verkhovna Rada, but also the entire judicial system.

The period of transformation of Ukraine’s political system from a state of unconsolidated democracy to an authoritarian regime is complete.

Congratulations, folks – an authoritarian regime is set up in Ukraine.

We will return to whether Viktor Yanukovych  will feel comfortable in these conditions a little later.

Secondly, the events of 11 October will undoubtedly spur the opposition to unite.

The more radical the pressure from the authorities becomes, the more radical the actions of the opposition. All the more so since their actions will move from parliament to squares and the street, and the opposition will resort more to street confrontation and mass protests.

It is not out of the question that during the next parliamentary elections, the opposition will have a united list of candidates or will boycott them altogether. However one needs to understand that a boycott of the elections is extremely dangerous – after all that could throw the opposition forces onto the outskirts of political life and marginalize their activities.

Thirdly, the public have received yet another confirmation that the case against Yulia Tymoshenko is nothing but political repression.

There is another consequence of the harsh sentence and that is increased negativity towards the authorities, to Viktor Yanukovych himself and disillusionment in Ukraine’s judicial system. After all any ordinary Ukrainian will “measure” Yulia Tymoshenko’s sentence against himself: if they can do it to her, they’ll do it to me.

And lastly, there are the consequences for foreign policy. As of today Viktor Yanukovych has got himself into a kind of trap where neither Russia, nor united Europe, nor the USA, for various reasons are “delighted” over the sentence.

Clearly neither Dmitry Medvedev nor Vladimir Putin can be positive about it since the sentence against Yulia Tymoshenko is one of the stones in the foundations for delegitimizing the gas accords between Russia and Ukraine in 2009.

On the other hand, after such a sentence, even if the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and the Free Trade Zone Agreement are concluded, they most certainly will not be ratified in the near future.

It remains to be hoped that Viktor Yanukovych will nonetheless carry out the option of decriminalizing the article under which Yulia Tymoshenko has been convicted.

That will require the relevant amendments to the President’s draft bill on decriminalization of economic crimes which was recently submitted for the Verkhovna Rada’s consideration and his signature on it.

If the Head of State does that, it will soften the consequences of what is negative today. However it cannot remove it altogether.

Yulia Tymoshenko will undoubtedly appeal against the court ruling. It is extremely important for her to go through all the Ukrainian court stages as soon as possible in order to be able to lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights.

If in that Court’s judgement Yulia Tymoshenko is found innocent, the results of all this saga for Viktor Yanukovych could be catastrophic.

Ihor Zhdanov, the Open Politics Analytical Centre

EU ramps up action against Iran, Belarus, warns Ukraine

A woman is detained by Belarusian plainclothes policemen during one of the weekly protests against the regime in July.

The dire state of human rights in Belarus and Iran has spurred EU foreign ministers to intensify sanctions against individuals close to the ruling regimes in both countries.

EU ministers, meeting in Luxembourg on October 10, also discussed responses to the upcoming verdict in the trial in Ukraine of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The ministers added 16 new names to a list of 192 individuals linked to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime in Belarus who are barred from entering the EU. Most are judges who have sentenced protesters in the wake of a flawed presidential election in December.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said that she was encouraged by the recent release of some political prisoners. But she said Brussels expects more from Minsk.

"We are not on this stage ready to consider any renewed dialogue until we see, and again we have been very clear, the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners, " Ashton said.

Ministers also agreed that the current sanctions -- set to expire at the end of October -- will be extended for another year.

That decision was made easier after Minsk’s no-show at the recent Eastern Partnership Summit in Warsaw. The Belarusian delegation boycotted the meeting, accusing Poland of taking "unprecedented discriminatory steps" against Belarus in not inviting Lukashenka.

Tehran Too

At their meeting on October 10, ministers also targeted Iran’s leadership -- nearly doubling the number of Iranians on the EU’s visa ban list.

In March, the EU blacklisted 32 Iranians with close ties to the regime in Tehran and imposed a freeze on any assets they might have within the EU. In Luxembourg, the ministers added another 29 names to that list.

In conclusions adopted at the meeting, the EU said that it is "deeply concerned that the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate." Ashton called on Tehran to improve its human rights record.

"I really call upon the Iranians to live up to their international obligations and to fully respect the rights of their people, " Ashton said.

Tymoshenko Test

Ukraine also looms large on the EU agenda, with a verdict in the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko expected on October 11. The foreign ministers will review various responses depending on the proceedings’ outcome. But sources suggested to RFE/RL that the signing of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) deal and the Association Agreement between Brussels and Kyiv might be in peril if the trial’s result is viewed as unfair.

Attendees at last month’s Eastern Partnership summit had agreed that those signings could take place as soon as the EU-Ukraine Summit in December, and that all technical aspects should be agreed upon by the end of this month.

Poland has pushed hard for the signing to be achieved during its six-month EU Presidency, which ends in December. But several countries, headed by France and Germany, could push for a slowdown in light of the political taint to the Tymoshenko case.

Diplomats have told RFE/RL that aside from Poland, Ukraine has no champion in the EU that is willing to back a quick deal anytime soon. One council source noted that "Kyiv hasn’t really helped itself."

Ahead of the October 10 meeting, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said that he hoped the Ukrainian agreement would be signed swiftly. But he also maintained that the EU remains concerned.

"We think that this agreement should be signed as soon as possible, " Azubalis said. "That is one point. The second point is that in the same time we should press Ukraine on human rights and on the Yulia Tymoshenko case."

Ashton also reassured that the EU and Ukraine were on track to sign the agreement in December. But she warned that the ratification process might be tougher.

"There is no question but we are going to carry on with the detailed, technical work on the association agreement, " Ashton said. "But there is then a political process that of course has to happen subsequently that involves the council and it also involves the European Parliament so what I would say to you is that it is at that point of the political process that whatever happens in Ukraine will be taken into account."

Against torture and ill-treatment

“Ukrainian Guantanamo” that doesn’t exist. De jure


There are current 157, 868 people in Ukrainian penal institutions, or every 290th Ukrainian. A member of virtually every fifth family is behind bars. The author of this article has also experienced imprisonment in Ukraine.  The law should still remain in force for those imprisoned, yet what is the actual situation?  In order to find out we will describe one of the aspects of life inside which prisoners most remember. This concerns an almost mythical special force unit which many have heard of, yet about which little is known. However those in prison know about such special unit officers all too well.

… There were just minutes remaining to New Year, preparations for the festive table were almost complete, only the table was somewhat unusual and in fact the whole festivities were more like a sad parody. Instead of salad on the table there was a kind of specific substance made up of potatoes from the borsch at lunchtime, finely chopped fish and onion. All this was flavoured with some tins of sprats in tomato sauce, carefully mixed then spread out on pieces of bread. There was a cake as well, a huge one with aspirations of grandeur, with “1996” slightly crooked on the top. The cake was in fact made out of bread, not the simple type sold in the outside world, but “special baked item”.  You can make various artistic creations from this bread and if you squeeze it, water comes out. The colour is more like that of soil, than that of the bread we’re all used to. So that the “cake” took on the right appearance, they add melted sweets and sugar.  Happy New Year, fellow inmates!

The events described took place in the Kryvy Rih SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] known as “bublik” because of the bagel-like shape of the building. No one who’s been there will forget the experience –brutal treatment, beatings, inhuman conditions are everyday practice.

Prisoners who spent time in the SIZO punishment cell have particular memories: every evening the local control and operational officers, decked in camouflage gear, with masks on their face, carry out a “lights out” in the punishment cells. They open the cell doors in turn, drive the prisoners into the corridor, and begin beating them, tormenting, humiliating, driving to the psychological limit and filling them with hopelessness.

However, in anticipation of New Year the inmates of the overcrowded cell try not to think about bad things.

There are just minutes to New Year… Suddenly in the corridor there’s a strange, ominous rumbling noise. Suddenly the cell opens and a firecracker is hurled into the room. There’s a powerful bang and the room is filled with smoke. The inmates have no time to come to, when there’s a burst of rifle fire followed by the command: “Everybody get down on the floor!”.

The horrors in the Kryvy Rih SIZO lasted all through the New Year night from 1996-1997. For several hours the inmates of the cell lay quietly on the floor, awaiting their turn, cold sweat streaming and in horror listening to the groans and cries of prisoners from other cells, the explosions of firecrackers and rifle fire. The cell was too small for them all to be able to lie on the floor, so they lay on top of one another in uncomfortable positions, awaiting the worst.

Beatings and mockery of prisoners; constantly waiting for the torture to begin; wetting yourself while being beaten, these were all the “norms of life” in the bublik to which you almost become accustomed.

A former officer of a State Penitentiary Service special unit:

- How do you prepare for the action? What kind of weapons are you issued with and do you undergo instruction?

- If the institution doesn’t have enough of its own men for a search, they call in officers from other institutions, or a special unit, or we all work together. They don’t issue weapons for the search, we wear masks. If necessary, we take weapons from officers in the department for overseeing security although it doesn’t as a rule come to that, normally they use their fists and kick.

On 1 July 2010 the European Court of Human Rights [the Court] issued an extremely important judgement in the Case of Davidov and others vs. Ukraine in which it found that Ukraine had violated the European Convention on Human Rights [the Convention]. This involved the mass beating of prisoners in the Zamkova Penal Colony No. 58 in Izyaslav (Khmelnytski region). The prisoners were twice – on 30 May 2001 and 28 January 2002 - brutally beaten by a special unit of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences. This was how the Department carried out its training exercises. The Court concluded that the prisoners had been subjected to ill-treatment, had been frightened and humiliated during the training exercises, which had been carried out without the prisoners’ consent and without any legal grounds. it found that the Government had not fulfilled a number of its obligations under the Convention.

More than a year has passed since that judgement yet there has still been no thorough investigation of the circumstances outlined in the Court’s judgement, and none of those responsible have been held to answer.

There was a lot of publicity over a similar beating of prisoners at the Izyaslav Colony No. 31 in January 2007.

Izyaslav Colony No. 31

On14 January 2007 almost all prisoners of the colony (over 1, 200 men) declared a hunger strike in protest at arbitrary disciplinary penalties, beating and humiliating treatment by staff; bad food and medical care. On 22 January a special unit in masks and fighting gear was deployed. The special unit officers brutally beat up over 40 prisoners who were taken to the headquarters specially – those who had announced the prisoners’ demands to the commission. The prisoners had fractured ribs, bones, broken noses and had teeth knocked out, etc. They were then divided into two groups and transferred to the Rivne and Khmelnytski SIZO in the same clothes they were wearing. All their things were left in the colony.  In the SIZO the prisoners were again brutally beaten. They were later transferred to other colonies. Employees of the Department deny the claims regarding the hunger strike and beatings and say that 40 prisoners were taken to other colonies since No. 31 was overcrowded. The complaints from the prisoners and their parents to the Prosecutor’s office and other bodies of power have received the response that the actions of the Department staff were legitimate.

A former officer of a State Penitentiary Service special unit:

- How do the beatings take place – spontaneously, or on the instructions of the Administration?

- During the instructions they point out that you are not allowed to beat them. However the special unit officers , according to their version, beat the prisoners to prevent any opposition from them. The staff know and allow the beatings. That’s the norm.

An officer of the State Penitentiary Service

The existence of the State Penitentiary Service special units is not regulated at legislative level, however each State enforcement agency is supposed to have a special purpose unit which should be used in extreme situations. There are such units in the SBU [Security Service], MIA [Ministry of Internal Affairs], Border Guard Service, State Penitentiary Service, etc. These units cooperate and share experience. For example, in order that SBU special unit officers feel confidence during actions subduing armed criminals who have seized a living area in the colony, or when the MIA special unit crushes a terrorist act on the colony’s territory.

Yet over recent years, terrorists acts in corrective institutions have taken place extremely rarely, and the State Penitentiary Service officers are used solely as an instrument for intimidating prisoners and applying unlawful violence. Nor does the experience they gain from colleagues in the SBU or MIA make them more tolerant.

A former officer of a State Penitentiary Service special unit:

- Tell us how it all takes place

-  The special unit officers and the penal staff taking part in the search gather in front of the entrance to the colony. Then they enter the grounds.  The special unit officers go separately. Two remain on the street, the others go inside. Only one day officer remains in the premises being searched, the other prisoners are taken outside.  The two (remaining)) keep control over those prisoners who are outside. When the special unit men enter, they immediately beat those outside so that they don’t express dissatisfaction at the search.  They break things, throw furniture around. They beat prisoners up spontaneously, give kicks to all the prisoners they come upon. The prisoners try to hide. Sometimes after such searches the prisoners complain, however they’re told where to go and that the operational unit has no control over the special unit.

The beating in the Izyaslav Colony now has an official name – the Case of Karabet and others v. Ukraine and the Court is presently in communication with the Government of Ukraine over it. The case is essentially identical to that of Davidov and others v. Ukraine.

Does Ukraine really need such shame of an international order?  Who has an interest in this? What benefit does anybody have from bestial and unmotivated torment of prisoners?

Researcher Irina Yakovets

The Department carries out measures to prevent and stop crimes of a terrorist nature on penal institutions, in accordance with Regulations established by Department Order No. 167 from 10 October 2005  On 14 January 2008 the Order and Regulations were revoked as not being in line with European standards. Now the Order doesn’t exist, yet the special units remain. That is a direct violation of domestic legislation and Ukraine’s international obligations. The result: the UN Committee against Torture pointed out that it was concerned by known cases where an anti-terrorist unit with officers in masks had been deployed inside prisons with prisoners being intimidated and ill-treated.

You would think that the State’s reaction was obvious. However legally the State Penitentiary Service’s special unit has not existed now for three years, yet the practice whereby people in prisons and colonies are beaten up by the “non-existent” armed military formations continues. The victims of such “mask shows” can be both convicted prisoners and remand prisoners whose cases are under investigation, i.e. some whom the court will acquit.

Just before the May holidays, around 40 special unit officers, armed with rifles, grenades and other weapons, were brought into the Simferopol SIZO.  The State Penitentiary Service confirms their deployment, saying that “institutions of the State Penitentiary Service have been placed on heightened security in the Crimea in connection with the May holidays – from 30 April to 10 May, inclusive, with this heightened regime coded “Shield”,

We thus see a continuation of the practice described at the beginning: from the New Year show at “Bublik” 16 years ago to the Simferopol SIZO during the May holidays special units of the State Penitentiary Service are deployed to be in the institution “until a separate instruction”.

On 6 May 2011 it was learned that special unit officers had beaten up prisoners. The scale of the repression, the number and names of those beaten are not known. One of the versions for why the special unit was brought into the SIZO is that prisoners from the Simferopol SIZO who are suffering from tuberculosis filmed the conditions in which they were being held and this video reached the media.

On 5 July 2011 prisoners at Colony No. 89 in Dnipropetrovsk were beaten by special unit officers with the scenario being typical. The Prosecutor’s Office confirms that officers from a special unit of the regional Department of the State Penitentiary Service were deployed in a search however justify the actions of these torturers. They state: “On 5 July, in accordance with the work plan of the Dnipropetrovsk Corrective Colony No. 89 and agreed with the management of the regional department, planned wide-scale searches were carried out among prisoners and the institution’s premises. The main aim of the search was to identify and remove things and objects which prisoners are not allowed to use. An additional number of staff officers from other institutions, as well as an inter-regional special purpose unit, were used for carrying out the search”.  The Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that 19 prisoners had bodily injuries, but refused to initiate a criminal investigation, not acknowledging that the injuries had been caused by the special unit officers’ beatings.

A special unit officer

- How long did the actions you were involved in last?

- The search is carried out over 2 hours. That is strictly observed. Patients with tuberculosis are taken out for one hour. All get beaten, whether they’re ill or healthy.

From a study of cases like this we see that the Prosecutor’s Office takes a one-sided stand, never admitting any fault with the State Penitentiary Service special unit. We thus have the existence of an uncontrolled “Ukrainian Guantanamo” which does not exist de jure. This is despite Ukraine’s having signed way back in 2006 the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture which obliges the State to create one or several national preventive mechanisms against torture [NPM] within a year. This instrument envisages heightened influence by civil society on the actions of the authorities. Representatives of NPM have the right to make unimpeded visits to any places of confinement where people are held against their will under the State’s control. Ukraine has not yet fulfilled its obligations.

The Head of the Department for the Execution of Sentences, Vasyl Koshchynets (2007):

Over 9 months of this year, personnel from special purpose units of the State Penal Service have taken part in 9 anti-terrorist tactical – special training exercises in accordance with the plans of the Security Service Anti-terrorist Centre.  It was deployed 43 times in carrying out searches of prisoners and premises, inspections of living and work zones in penal institutions and SIZO.

So what has changed in Ukraine since those New Year events at the Kryvy Rih “bublik” in 1996 or the beating of prisoners in the Zamkova Colony No. 58 in Izyaslav (Khmelnytski region) in 2001-2002?  What has Ukraine done to implement the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the Case of Davidov and others v. Ukraine? We are forced to state: nothing! The State Penitentiary Service special unit has simply been removed from the legal realm, having been turned into an illegal presence, this making it even harder to exert control over its activities.

What is international practice regarding the use of special units in places of imprisonment?

Yevhen Ikhlov, Analyst for the Russian NGO “For Human Rights”

There are special units for quelling unrest in places of imprisonment all over the world. The specific feature of the Russian Justice Ministry’s spetsnaz is that it takes its origin from a spetsnaz which has a combatant and punitive experience in local conflicts. This fundamentally changes the picture regarding the purpose of spetsnaz. – it being a contingent which sees its purpose not only in ensuring the quelling of revolt, but also as a weapon against elements not obedient to the State – in this case the criminal community – analogous to the “insubordinate natives of the Caucuse.s”  Hence the frequent use of the RF Justice Ministry’s spetsnaz in prophylactic beating and humiliation of prisoners, this being entirely analogous to the purges in Chechnya. How they train the spetsnaz for punitive functions is seen in the video «Фабрика тортур»  [“Torture Factory”] made with the participation of the Yekaterinburg human rights worker and prisoner of conscience, Alexei Sokolov”.

Victoria Sergeyeva, Russian Section of Penal Reform International

“In Russia these units exist legally – there are Regulations on the Federal Service for the Execution of Sentences special units, an internal document agreed with the Justice Ministry. In 99% of cases the use of this unit is of course not warranted. In developed European countries, as a rule, the problems which arise in penal institutions, are resolved by the prison staff, and in the case of serious disturbances, by the local police. in Sweden, for example, where there is the slightest problem, the staff call the police since they themselves do not have the authority to use force against prisoners. In England there is a small special unit which is stationed in London. It is called out only in the case of very serious conflicts, mass revolts, for example, This unit to a large degree ensures the safety of staff, and does not beat prisoners simply to frighten them”.

What happens within Ukraine’s penal system the reader can conclude for him or herself.

The original in Ukrainian was published at

as part of a project run by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group on supporting journalist investigations, with the financial support of the International Renaissance Foundation.


The right to a fair trial

Supreme Court begins proceedings on Stanislav Lutsenko cases


On 29 September the Supreme Court began proceedings on reviewing the court rulings passed on Stanislav Lutsenko following the European Court of Human Rights Judgement in the Case of Lutsenko v. Ukraine.

The European Court passed its judgement on 18 December 2008.  Stanislav Lutsenko’s application was initially rejected “in view of the lack of grounds for a review”. His second application was not considered because of the judicial reforms in 2010.  As a result, Stanislav Lutsenko was forced to once again go through all the stages according to new proceedings, and now, finally, his case is again being considered by the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court begins proceedings on Stanislav Lutsenko cases

On 29 September the Supreme Court began proceedings on reviewing the court rulings passed on Stanislav Lutsenko following the European Court of Human Rights Judgement in the Case of Lutsenko v. Ukraine.

The European Court passed its judgement on 18 December 2008.  Stanislav Lutsenko’s application was initially rejected “in view of the lack of grounds for a review”. His second application was not considered because of the judicial reforms in 2010.  As a result, Stanislav Lutsenko was forced to once again go through all the stages according to new proceedings, and now, finally, his case is again being considered by the Supreme Court.

(From an earlier report) 

On 3 October 2003 the Donetsk Regional Court of Appeal convicted Stanislaw Lutsenko of murder for profit and unlawful possession of firearms. On 11 March 2004 the Supreme Court upheld this conviction.

The court ruling was largely based on the testimony of his co-accused Lysyak who was not present at the trial and whom Lutsenko could not question.

On 18 December 2008 the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment on the case of Lutsenko v. Ukraine which became final on 18 March 2009. It “found a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. Inasmuch as the applicant’s claim relates to the finding of that violation, the Court reiterates that when an applicant has been convicted despite a potential infringement of his rights as guaranteed by Article 6 of the Convention, he should, as far as possible, be put in the position in which he would have been had the requirements of that provision not been disregarded, and that the most appropriate form of redress would, in principle, be trial de novo, if requested”

On 8 April 2009, Stanislav Lutsenko’s lawyer, Arkady Bushchenko applied to Ukraine’s Supreme Court to have the court rulings reviewed due to exceptional circumstances. He referred to the significant procedural infringements established by the European Court.

In November 2009 after examining the case material, the Supreme Court reached the paradoxical conclusion that there were no circumstances warranting review.

In February 2010 Lutsenko’s lawyer lodged a second application to have the case re-examined. This time the Supreme Court changed its opinion and decided to review the case. As it transpired later, on 2 November 2009 the Deputy Prosecutor of the Donetsk Region had also demanded review due to exceptional circumstances. It asked the Supreme Court to issue a judgment already tried in the cases of Yaremenko and Shabelnik, that is, to exclude the main proof but leave the verdict in force. These judgments, it should be noted, have led to new cases in the European Court: Yaremenko No. 2 v. Ukraine and Shabelnik No. 2 v. Ukraine)

The examination of the case by the Supreme Court was scheduled for 30 July 2010. By an extraordinary coincidence, it was on that day that the Supreme Court, as a result of the “judicial reform”, lost its powers to rectify flagrant infringements of procedure committed by Ukrainian courts.

In February 2011 the Supreme Court informed Lutsenko of this, advising him to turn to the High Specialized Court on Civil and Criminal Cases. In February the relevant application was submitted, however now a new, previously unknown, obstacle arose.

The High Specialized Court demanded that the copies of court rulings “appropriately” notarized be provided. It evidently has grounds for doubting the authenticity of the rulings presented to the European Court and Supreme Court.

It should be noted that at the time of Lutsenko’s conviction, the courts did not issue any such “properly” notarized rulings. At the present time, the High Specialized Court has been provided with copies of the rulings verified by the lawyer in accordane with Article 5 of the Law on the Bar Law Service. Requests have at the same time been issued to the Donetsk Regional Court of Appeal and Supreme Court for the relevant copies of rulings. The High Specialized Court has also been asked for an extension of the time limit for providing documents.

This all means that for more than two years the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights with respect to Lutsenko v. Ukraine has remained unenforced. During that period Stanislav Lutsenko has been serving a prison sentence on the basis of a conviction whose questionable nature was confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Case of Lutsenko v. Ukraine can be found at

Access to information

PublicOfficials’ Income Declarations turned into Farce

Gennady Kernes (in glasses) and Mykailo Dobkin

The Law on Access to Public Information obliges officials to report their income. Marina Nikolayeva decided to check out the value of such documents through the example of the Governor of the Kharkiv Region, Mykhailo Dobkin and Mayor of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes.

As reported, the Public Information Act which came into force on 9 May 2011 contains a list of officials who are obliged to fill out income declarations.

Many such officials were eager to express their willingness at any time to provide the said declarations.  Kharkiv’s Governor and Mayor are both rather controversial figures. Kernes in particular has received a great deal of publicity over the removal from air of three TV channels – ATN, A/TVK and Fora - known to have angered him on many occasions for their critical reports of the authorities’ actions.  Kernes, who denies any involvement in the termination of broadcasting, also has a strong business interest, being a major shareholder in another television channel.  Representatives of Ukrainian media groups, OSCE and other international bodies, and human rights groups have expressed strong concern over the developments.

Both Dobkin and Kernes have been entirely forthcoming with their declarations.

Marina Nikolayeva writes that Kernes would seem in need of material assistance.

“It is no secret for any Kharkiv resident that Gennady Kernes is the owner of hotels, television shares and luxury cars. Only his declaration asserts that all of this wealth is a mirage. On paper the City Mayor is registered in a private home virtually on the outskirts of the city”  The area, she says, is certainly not the cheapest, with its elite cottages among pines and the river nearby.  It was this district – Bolshaya Danilova – that first gave Kernes the votes to get on the City Council.

“However my mind refuses to believe that the head of the city lives in a small singe-storey house and travels to work each day on a terrible road. Yet one has to believe it since it is precisely this address that is given in his income declaration for 2010. According to the document, the City Mayor has no land, nor homes, nor a flat, nor a dacha, and doesn’t even have a garage.

The Mayor’s pay as per the declaration is less than 10 thousand UAH a month [less than 1, 000 EUR] – how could he not ask for financial assistance from the city budget – that’s another 22.5 thousand UAH. He has 114 thousand UAH in his bank accounts. Admittedly there isn’t a specially place on the declaration for an explanation of where, with such poverty, his 19-year-old son Rodion Kernes could have a BMW X6 worth no less than 100 thousand USD.  Which the young man does not exactly treat this expensive toy with great care, driving it at 260 kilometres an hour.”

The Mayor, who is rumoured to possess a whole range of elite cars, has declared a mere two – a Porsche 911 Carrera and  Mercedes-Benz s 550 – together worth 250 thousand USD.

The author writes that the cars are mostly kept at the National Hotel where the Mayor apparently lives. It is also believed that he actually owns the hotel.

The cars are only not seen, according to one of the residents, on the street where, according to his declaration, he lives.  The neighbour says that the people living in the house are retired teachers who were at some stage acquainted with Kernes.

The situation is similar with the region’s Governor, Mykailo Dobkin, although the rumours that it is his niece who lives at the address given on his declaration would seem borne out by the fact that the area around the house is always in good repair and clean.

It is unclear where the Governor does in fact live. Certainly the mansion inside the Lesopark – forest park area on the edge of Kharkiv, and the elite flat in the centre simply don’t exist according to Dobkin’s declaration.  According to the environmental group Zeleny Front, during the time that Dobkin and Kernes have been in office, they have given away more than one thousand hectares or ¾ of the Lesopark land.

The mansion is hidden from Kharkiv residents’ eyes by a huge fence.

The author writes that despite their modest family budget, officials spend part of their income on charity. And they do this with style, buying pictures worth a quarter, half or even more of their annual income (as per declaration, of course).

Purchases from a charity auction, for example, supposedly cost Dobkin at least half his yearly – declared – income.  For Kernes the two pictures he declared the intention of buying, the amount would have been a third of his declared yearly income.

The author notes that none of the figures add up, but neither Dobkin nor Kernes are willing to explain where they get their money, including that which Dobkin’s wife used to buy a share of the television company Tonis Centre from the former Governor, Arsen Avakov.  Part of this same company belongs to Kernes. Dobkin informs only that the purchase will be put in next year’s declaration.

“The fact that officials have written false information in their declarations is not doubted by people on the street, or politicians, or lawyers. Whether this is because they don’t want to stand out and irritate their electorate, or through unlimited arrogance and contempt for the law – there opinions are divided.”

The author notes that the same situation is seen with members of the Cabinet of Ministers. Despite the fact that some of them are millionaires, their declarations would suggest that they too could do with financial assistance. . 

According to legal expert Vasyl Bilous, one of the problems is that there is virtually no way of forcing officials to declare their income truthfully and pay tax on it. The only mechanisms are some purely symbolic fines from the tax departments, and that assumes that the relevant tax officials themselves find out since representatives of the regional department of the civil service are not obliged to inform them.

He says that ordinary members of the public can approach the law enforcement bodies, however there is no guarantee that this will lead to an investigation.

The original article which this summarizes was produced as part of a project supporting investigative journalism carried out by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group with the financial support of the International Renaissance Foundation

Dobkin’s "modest abode"

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Lawyers: new rules on detention long-needed but not enough

As reported, the Constitutional Court last week issued a judgement confirming that a person may only be held in custody without a court order giving the grounds for 72 hours whether in administrative or criminal proceedings. It also stated that the police do not have the right to detain people for disobeying their orders. 

Fedir Venislavsky, lawyer and specialist on Constitutional Law: “According to Article 29 of the Constitution, a person cannot be detained or held in custody without a substantiated court order for more than 72 hours. On the basis of this norm, the Constitutional Court found unconstitutional those provisions of the administrative code which envisage the possibility of exceeding this three day period.”

The Constitutional Court found that detaining a person for not obeying police officers did not comply with Ukrainian legislation since the Code of Administrative Offences imposes punishment only for malicious disobedience. However it was this point which aroused dissatisfaction among the lawyers spoken to.  There is no explanation anywhere of what in fact constitutes malicious disobedience. They say that therefore the police can classify the actions of several people, as happened during the protests over tree felling in Gorky Park in 2010, to suit themselves. According to witnesses activists who showed no resistance were arrested specifically for malicious disobedience. Yevgeny Solovyov says that the same thing happened this year when people who had not only not shown resistance, but had themselves called the police to the scene of the illegal tree felling, were taken to the police station. 

Yevgeny Solovyov, lawyer:  “Very often the police simply don’t process the detention or do so later, after the fact, saying that people virtually turned up themselves, that they were invited, not detained, and so forth.  This is what happens and unfortunately only one element of that unlawful practice has been removed.”

In the last cases the court acknowledged that the police had not presented proof of malicious disobedience from those detained and refused to consider administrative charges. Yet the police themselves, Solovyov says, despite an approach to the Prosecutor’s Office, were not punished in any way for their unlawful actions.

Furthermore, the experts say, the Constitutional Court established other opportunities for abuse by law enforcement officers. For example, the Code of Administrative Offences says that detention is counted from the moment that the protocol is drawn up, and people who are inebriated, from when they sober up. The Court’s judgement found deferments unconstitutional, but did not define clearly at what moment arrest begins.

Ludmila Klochko, Kharkiv Human Rights Group: “Here in the Law on the Police it says from the moment a person is brought in for a protocol to be drawn up. How long did that “bringing somebody in” last, and what forest they took him through so that he’d know who he has to deal with is not set out in legislation. Custody should be from the moment when a person ceased to be able to freely go away, return and never see anybody.  From that moment, and although in the motivation part there is explanation of why, the judgement does not speak of this”.

The specialists believe that the Constitutional Court judgement could become an important argument for proving unlawful detention and that it wasn’t counted from the right time. However the problems for a person deprived of his liberty more often arise specifically during the first hours of contact with police officers. Therefore, in order to not give the police unnecessary grounds for detention, the lawyers advise people to have ID with them, especially in the case of people taking part in a protest action, and to try to inform their family immediately of their meeting with the law enforcement officers. 

Afghanistan War Veteran Leader’s Flat searched


On Wednesday a search was carried out of the flat owned by Alexander Kovalyov, leader of the Afghanistan War Veteran NGO “Nobody Except Us”.  Information about this was given on 13 October by the head of the Federation of Small and Medium-size Business Trade Unions, Viacheslav Roi. He announced that in view of this move, the Afghanistan veterans were declaring nationwide mobilization, but gave no further details.  A Forum of Civic Organizations organized by the veterans is planned for 14 October, though no further details have yet been given.

The Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Union of Afghanistan War Veterans, Viktor Ishchenko has dissociated his organization from the mobilization calls.  The Union had announced earlier that the Afghanistan War Veterans and Chernobyl Disaster rescue workers had called off their demonstrations since their benefits had not after all been removed.  On 30 September the Cabinet of Ministers and members of the relevant NGOs signed a Memorandum of Cooperation over Social Protection of these categories of citizens. This envisaged the creation of permanent consultation councils between the government and these organizations in order to jointly determine further action on raising the level of social protection.

As reported, on 20 September a large crowd made up mainly of veterans of the war in Afghanistan gathered outside parliament to protest against a draft law which would legalize reductions in benefits due war veterans, rescue workers whose health was seriously damaged at the site of the Chernobyl Disaster and pensioners.  Plans are underway to give the Cabinet of Ministers the right to determine the size of benefits which, according to the Constitution, are fixed by laws. 

Some of the protesters tried to storm parliament and broke through police cordons.  According to the Internet publication Ukrainska Pravda, whose correspondent was clearly present, tear gas was used by Berkut riot police in the scuffle that ensued.  The protesters apparently agreed to move back only after being assured by representatives of the ruling majority that the law would not be considered by parliament this week.

There is no indication as to the grounds for carrying out a search of a civil movement’s leader’s home.

From a report at:

Prohibition of discrimination

UHHRU condemns plan to bring in liability for “propaganda of homosexuality”


The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has addressed an open letter to the Speaker of Parliament and chairs of various parliamentary committees regarding a bill which proposes introducing liability for what it calls “propaganda of homosexuality”.

The bill, tabled in late June this year, proposes amendment to some legislative acts “(on protecting children’s right to a safe information realm”.

Its authors stated that it has been drawn up in order to counter propaganda of homosexuality in Ukraine and ensure liability for infringements of legislation regarding protection of public order and the morality of Ukrainian society.

UHHRU expresses concern over the consequences that the adoption of such a draft law would bring.

The bill, it says, is based on the idea that a person’s sexual orientation is not a natural part of the person and can therefore be regulated by law. This runs counter to modern understanding of human individuals, which recognizes as normal various models of behaviour in ones private life and in relations with others.

It would undoubtedly clash with other legislative norms based on modern ideas and standards.

The draft contains terms which are not defined with sufficient certainty to be able to apply the regulations to the circulation of any information or any discussion which mentions or concerns homosexuality. This, UHHRU points out, infringes Article 34 of the Constitution which clearly states that everyone is guaranteed the right to freedom of thought and speech, and to the free expression of his or her views and beliefs. Everyone has the right to freely collect, store, use and disseminate information by oral, written or other means of his or her choice.

Yes, this law may be restricted by law in the interests of national security, however the draft bill’s treatment of circulation of information about homosexuality as “a threat to national security” flies in the face of commonsense and any scientific research.  Should the law be passed, it would not only violate Ukraine’s Constitution, but would constitute disproportionate interference in freedom of expression and run counter to te European Convention on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights case law.

The law in fact, were it to be passed, would be more likely to jeopardize national security by making it more difficult to implement state programmes on fighting HIV/AIDS. ‘

Adoption of the law would also cause unwarranted restrict of the right to peaceful assembly since any picket, rally etc aimed, for example, at defending gay rights, etc, could be qualified as “propaganda of homosexuality”.

Its adoption would also lead to a disproportionate and discriminatory restrict of the right to freedom of thought and speech for one group in society, this being in breach of Article 24 of the Constitution.

UHHRU therefore calls on deputies to reject the bill in its first reading. 

The letter is signed by Volodymyr Yavorsky, UHHRU Executive Director. 

News from the CIS countries

Arkhangelsk historian and archivist on trial on infringement of privacy charges

The lawyer representing one of the two men charged, Alexander Dudarev, has told Radio Svoboda that the plaintiffs in the court hearing against a Russian historian, Mikhail Suprun, accused of illegally revealing personal data have given contradictory testimony.  They are relatives of some deported Germans who are supposedly suing Suprun for revealing personal information about their families. 

Nikolai Petrov from Memorial has called the trial a “demonstration” by the authorities, a warning to deter people from going near archival material.

The charges are against the Head of the Faculty of Russian History of the Pomorsky State University, Professor Mikhail Suprun and the Head of the Information Centre of the Arkhangelsk Regional Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA], Alexander Dudarev.

On 13 September 2009 searches were carried out at Suprun’s flat and at his working place at the university. Computers and irreplaceable material were removed.

Professor Suprun is suspected of “unlawfully gathering personal data about a person constituting their personal, family secrets without their consent” [Article 137  § 1 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code]. He is also suspected of “inciting an official to commit actions clearly beyond the scope of the person’s powers and leading to considerable violation of citizens’ rights and legitimate interests” [Article 286 with application of Article 33 § 4 of the Criminal Code]. The “official” whom Suprun incited to “exceed his powers” was Colonel Dudarev; the latter is only accused under Article 286.

These charges are the result of Mikhail Suprun’s research, his work on creating a database of Germans deported during the War and in the first post-War years to a special settlement in the Arkhangelsk region – Soviet citizens of German origin and civilians with German citizenship, as well as of German prisoners of war held in Arkhangelsk camps. This study was being carried out within the framework of an agreement concluded in 2007 between the German Red Cros and the Pomorsky University. The main aim of the research is to preserve the memory of the victims of the Second World War and the post-War period.

The investigators claim that the construction by Suprun of a list of five thousand victims of post-War deportations constitutes “the gathering of information about their private life without their consent”. By “an official exceeding his powers” is meant the fact that Colonel Dudarev provided Suprun with access to archival material needed for his research.

The role of the FSB [Federal Security Service] in the case was questioned when the investigation began two years ago.  The account given by Dudarev of the plaintiffs’ testimony last week highlights the concern felt as to who is behind the case.

Dudarev said the plaintiffs reminisced about their own experiences and the sufferings of their relatives between the 1940s and 1960s, but when asked precisely what they are accusing the defendants of, they were unable to answer. 

"When the judge reminded them that they filed a lawsuit against the defendants, the plaintiffs said Federal Security Service officers had visited them and asked them to write complaints, " he said. "Some of the plaintiffs even stated that they never wrote any complaints. When one of the plaintiffs said that, the judge showed him a document signed by him. The plaintiff was very surprised but said: ’Yes, that is my signature, [I suppose] that means I wrote that complaint.’" 

Dudarev added that the investigator even insisted that Suprun be charged with revealing state secrets, as documents with detailed information about the activities of Russia’s intelligence services were found in his personal archive during the investigation. But the prosecutor’s office refused to add that charge to the lawsuit.

The trial is being held behind closed doors.

New information from Radio Svoboda/RFEL  Photo from


Ales Bialiatski : A Belarusian Prisoner for a Noble Cause



By almost any standard, Ales Bialiatski is a hero.  

Bialiatski has received many international awards for his tireless defense of human rights in his home country of Belarus. Most of his work as an activist has focused on defending the human rights of Belarusians, providing legal defense to political prisoners and their families, and supporting human rights initiatives in the country.  

In 2006, former Czech President Vaclav Havel awarded him the Homo Homini Award. That year Bialiatski also received the Swedish Per Anger Prize and the Norwegian Andrey Sakharov Freedom Award. The Italian city of Genoa made him an honorary citizen in 2010, and in 2011, he received the Freedom Award from the American Atlantic Council. Bialiatski has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice, in 2006 and 2007, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012. 

Alas, on September 25, Bialiatski marked his 49th birthday in prison. He has already spent nearly two months in jail as he awaits trial and a probable guilty verdict under the Belarusian justice system. The charges against him -- large-scale tax evasion for funds received through foreign banks accounts -- may not at first appear to be politically motivated, but there should be no denying that his arrest and prosecution are entirely political in nature.  

Anyone familiar with the justice system of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the “last dictator in Europe, ” and the conditions facing Belarusian human rights defenders will attest that Bialiatski’s jailing is undeniably a retaliatory measure for his work promoting a more democratic future for Belarus. 

Viasna, the human rights group founded by Bialiatski, has been one of the few brave forces of resistance to Lukashenka’s dictatorial regime, now in its 17th year. The Minsk regime has singled Bialiatski out for special attention because he is the most authoritative human rights defender in Belarus, and cracking down on him sends an unambiguous signal to all those who rally to the cause of greater freedom.  

Bialiatski has a long-standing track record as an activist, having started his career as a dissident while attending university back in the days of the Soviet Union. In 1996, when Lukashenka began jailing political activists, Bialiatski created and headed “Viasna-96” (later shortened to “Viasna, ” which means “Spring”). In 2007 he also began serving as the vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). He has been a thorn in Lukashenka’s side throughout. 

It is a typical modus operandi of repressive regimes to persecute their opposition by levying financial charges against them. Bialiatski is not accused of defending political prisoners, providing them with legal aid, or assisting their families. Rather, he is charged with failing to pay taxes on funds he received from abroad. The authorities know full well that Bialiatski was using these funds to aid the families of political prisoners. 

Smear Campaigns 

The reason why funds from international donors were placed in Bialiatski’s personal account outside of Belarus is simple. By 2003, Viasna was considered to be a threat by Belarusian authorities, and they refused to re-register it. Despite a ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee that the denial of Viasna’s registration violated its members’ rights to freedom of association, the authorities remained bent on marginalizing the organization by every means at their disposal.  

In 2006, the Belarusian authorities launched an effort to counter the activities of Viasna, as well as other human rights organizations and civil society groups in Belarus, by criminalizing activities linked to unregistered nongovernmental organizations. As a result, Viasna was forced to rely on accounts in neighboring Lithuania and Poland opened by Bialiatski in his own name in order to continue to function. 

The Belarusian authorities considered prosecuting Bialiatski under this new legislation, and in February 2011, the Prosecutor-General’s Office issued an official warning to Bialiatski. However, taking legal action against an unregistered group which had tried numerous times to reregister would have been too obvious an example of politically motivated persecution.  

A more sophisticated scheme had to be devised, and Polish and Lithuanian authorities unfortunately facilitated Belarusian efforts to jail Ales by providing sensitive banking information as part of longstanding law enforcement agreements with Minsk. These agreements, aimed at criminal activity, instead swept up Bialiatski, and while both Vilnius and Warsaw have since taken corrective measures, those steps are too late for him. 

Not only did the banking information obtained by the Belarusian authorities enable Lukashenka to incarcerate the head of the largest Belarusian human rights organization on grounds of financial malfeasance, but it also bolstered state-sponsored smear campaigns against Bialiatski and other Belarusian human rights defenders. 

In a sense, Bialiatski’s imprisonment demonstrates just how seriously Lukashenka regards the threat posed by his work. It comes as no surprise that the Belarusian regime that has worked so hard to weaken and fragment civil society over the years, and which effectively dismantled its political opposition during the December 19, 2010 elections, would ultimately turn its attention to the country’s leading human rights defender.

All of Bialiatski’s friends and supporters hope that change will come to Belarus so that fundamental freedoms, political plurality, and human rights -- all causes to which Bialiatski has fearlessly devoted his life -- will be respected. We also wish a happier birthday next year to Ales Bialiatski.

David Kramer is president of Freedom House, a Washington-based independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change and human rights. Tatsiana Reviaka is president of the Belarus Human Rights House in Vilnius and a deputy director of Human Rights Center Viasna. The views expressed in this commentary are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2011, #10