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.


Back to Kuchmenistan


On November 17, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a new electoral law for the conducting of the next parliamentary elections in October 2012 So far, its draft is available only in Ukrainian . Besides some novelties and modifications, the law essentially reestablishes the mixed system under which half of the deputies are elected through first-past-the-post elections in single-member districts, and half through proportional representation in nationwide multi-member districts. Such a system had been employed in Ukraine until the Orange revolution but was replaced eventually with a purely proportional system of elections from the nationwide party lists.

Back in 2004, the reason for change was two-fold. First, it intended to encourage the development of the party system, promote coalition building in the parliament and in line with amendments to the constitution render the government more dependent on the specific parties and the parties more responsible for the government. The second goal was even of greater importance. The earlier mixed system, especially its “majoritarian” part, employed in Ukraine until 2004, turned out to be highly susceptible to all sorts of manipulation and abuse of power by unscrupulous authorities. The proportional system, instead, was to reduce corruption both in electoral districts where government-connected oligarchs bribed voters, and in the parliament where the “independents” (typically local officials or businessmen) became easy prey for governmental blackmail and bribery.

The 2002 parliamentary elections provide a graphic example of how the majoritarian system benefited the authoritarian government of Leonid Kuchma. Then, despite all the dirty tricks, the pro-presidential parties made up only 20% of votes in the nationwide district, whereas their opponents, Viktor Yushchenko’s and Yulia Tymoshenko’s blocs, won 30%. Yet, the second half of the parliament was made up of the “independents” from single-member districts, so, predictably, most of them succumbed to the multiple arguments provided by the omnipotent presidential administration, and joined the incumbents.

To make bad things worse, the Ukrainian version of the majoritarian system does not require the winner to get 50+ per cent of votes in his/her district. In the first-past-the-post elections reintroduced in Ukraine, victory can be secured by sheer plurality, not necessarily a majority of votes. It means that pro-governmental candidates, however unpopular, can win elections with 20% of votes and less if they manage successfully to split opposition (and votes), produce as many fake competitors as possible, and eliminate the most dangerous rivals by decisions of fully obedient courts subservient to the authorities.

This is exactly what happened in last year’s local elections where the government carried out a dry run of the new-old system. For instance, in the proportional representation part of the election to the Kyiv Regional Council, the Party of Regions got 26 percent of the vote. Yet, in the first-past-the-post contests, almost all of the party’s candidates won. As a result it controls 65.5 percent of the regional council

One may argue, of course, that the first-past-the-post system should not be a big problem for opposition if they manage to unite against the incumbents or at least to agree on a common single candidate in each district. There are two hurdles, however, of both an objective and subjective nature. First, democratic forces are never as consolidated and monolithic as authoritarians who care little for ideological subtleties and principled debates but do care a lot about mafia-style discipline supported by enormous resources, patronage networks, elaborate blackmail, and coercion. And secondly, even if the democrats manage to unite, the authoritarian incumbents are skilful in splitting them, multiplying the bogus alternatives and, in some cases, eliminating the potential or even actual winners by courts under the most ridiculous pretexts.

To further undermine the opposition’s ability to unite, the new electoral law bars electoral blocs from participation in elections. This brings an additional advantage to the authoritarian Party of Regions and delivers, in particular, a serious blow against the political force of Yulia Tymoshenko that is broadly known as her eponymous bloc, while her specific political party “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland), even though the strongest within the bloc, is largely unknown. The increase of the electoral threshold from 3 to 5 percent also targets the opposition, which, unlike the incumbents, consists of many small parties unable to surpass that total. As a result, all the votes of the opposition parties that fail to reach the threshold will be distributed proportionally among the parties that manage to do it. In other words, the Party of Regions will get a significant share of opposition votes that otherwise would never go to them.

Remarkably, the Party of Regions in opposition was fairly satisfied with the proportional electoral system as well as all other amendments to the constitution It is not that the system was perfect. Its major flaw was voters’ inability to influence the sequence of candidates on party slates. This made parties akin to closed political clubs where the leaders had too much power and were prone to arrange the electoral party lists in a voluntaristic fashion, evaluating prospective candidates by their financial contribution rather than moral, political, or professional merits. But the problem was not insurmountable, as the experience of many consolidated democracies, e.g. neighboring Poland, graphically demonstrates. To improve the proportional system, both Ukrainian and international experts suggested the so-called “open lists, ” which would provide people with an opportunity to vote not only for a specific party but also for the preferred candidate on the party’s list.

Ironically, Viktor Yanukovych himself supported this change during his 2010 presidential campaign but eventually backtracked to his current position of support for a mixed electoral system. The reason for this volte-face was allegedly a lack of support for the “open lists” system in the parliament.However, this argument is as preposterous as the president’s claims that Ukrainian courts are impartial and independent and he has no leverage to influence them. Even more laughable is the assumption that the president has no influence over his own Minister of Justice Oleksandr Lavrynovych, who dares today to ridicule his boss’ project from 2009: “Imposing open lists is a mockery of law, common sense, and citizens. It’s lobbied for by the opposition, while we offer a better mechanism, whereby people choose their own members of parliament”

All those who remember Yanukovych’s U-turn on the issue of Ukraine’s NATO membership (in 2002-2004, when he was Prime-Minister, he had no objections to it), should not be surprised by his latest opportunistic move. Neither the president nor his Party of Regions has ever had any political principles or ideology besides strong commitment to absolute power that can be converted into wealth and, in turn, more secure absolute power. They have no strategy, and all their moves are determined by short-term political-cum-business expediency. In this case, the ultimate goal of the Regionnaires is clear: not to improve the existing electoral law but, rather, to introduce a new law that offers them benefits and disadvantages the opposition.

As early as March 2011, the American experts from the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute suspended their cooperation with the Lavrynovych-led working group created back in 2010 by the president with the stated task to amend the elections law, and make it more coherent, transparent and acceptable for the both government and opposition. The Americans discovered that they were simply manipulated by the Ukrainian authorities, which were intent on legitimizing, with a help of reputable foreigners, their quasi-legalistic machinations.

More recently, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) submitted their detailed and rather critical analysis of Lavrynovych’s project, which contained a remarkable passage regarding the card-sharp tactics of the Ukrainian lawmakers: “The electoral system chosen in the draft law is not the one discussed by the Venice Commission representatives during their meetings with the Ukrainian authorities and not the one recommended by the Resolution 1755 (2010) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe”

And finally, the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) sent an equally strong message to the Ukrainian authorities in its own expert analysis of proposed changes: “IFES notes that the draft law was developed in an atmosphere of considerable uncertainty and mistrust between the Government of Ukraine, political parties and civil society. Numerous concerns regarding the draft law, and the process by which it was created, were raised to IFES by members of opposition parties, civil society, electoral experts and the international community… IFES shares the concerns expressed by many Ukrainian and international stakeholders regarding the government’s decision to change the electoral system in the present political climate. Electoral systems can always be improved for the better, but given the lack of consensus in the country; the significant impact of the proposed changes on the political landscape; and relatively short timeline for implementing these changes, it is highly questionable whether it makes sense to change the system at the present time. While the newly proposed system may be a legitimate one, there is no major flaw in the current system that would require an immediate change without further discussion”

Even more surprising is that the new law was approved ultimately by 366 MPs (of 450 in the Ukrainian parliament), i. e., not only by the ruling majority but also a major part of the opposition. It seems that supported the lesser of two evils–-the draft law with some minor concessions for the opposition instead of the genuine, much more discriminatory draft that would have been passed by the Party of Regions anyway. This is probably true since the President and his allies have enough votes in the parliament to pass any decision they need. Yet, the reality is that the Party of Regions can muster a pro-presidential majority in the next parliament with or without the insignificant concessions they have made to their opponents. It is just a matter of a few seats they may not get in elections and a few extra millions they would have to spend eventually in the parliament to buy the needed number of “independents.” But this is quite a reasonable price to pay for the legitimization the new law, both domestically and internationally, with the precious help of the opposition.

Once again, the Ukrainian democrats “shot themselves in the foot, ” helping the Regionnaires to dismantle the last achievement of the Orange revolution: the election system that precluded, more or less successfully, large-scale falsifications and vote buying. Now they may lay bets only on whether the Regionnaires can muster a simple majority (226+) in the future parliament or the qualified majority (300+) that would enable them to change the Constitution and, in 2015, to elect the president, with all his enormous powers, by a simple parliamentary vote. My bet is that this is exactly the main goal of Viktor Yanukovych and the major rationale of virtually all his policies to date.


Parliament flouts views of Ukrainian NGOs and international bodies over electoral law

On Thursday evening, the Verkhovna Rada passed in full the Law on the Elections of National Deputies of Ukraine. The law received 366 votes from the 404 Deputies registered  (187 votes from the Party of the Regions; 62 from BYUT-Batkivshchyna; 36 from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence; 24 from the Communist Party; 19 from Reform for the Future’s Sake;  20 from Volodymyr Lytvyn’s Narodna Party and 18 non-faction MPs.)

The Law has the 50-50 mixed system favoured by the Party of the Regions: This is described in the Venice Commission Opinion as a mixed proportional-plurality (majoritarian) electoral system, where 50 percent of the MPs (National Deputies) are elected through political party lists in a single nationwide constituency and the other half are elected in single mandate constituencies (first past the post, one round). 

Only political parties may take part in the elections, not blocs

A party must now receive 5% of the votes to get into parliament, this having been raised from 3 percent.

A person can be put forward both according to a political party’s candidate list, and once in a single mandate constituency.

The option on the ballot paper “against all (candidates)” has been removed.

The BBC Ukrainian Service reports that earlier on Thursday it was learned that a compromise had been reached by the committee which was supposed to be agreeing a bill which satisfied all factions.

It is not clear where the compromise lay since the opposition was not in support of a mixed system, and had at least wanted 75% to 25% in favour of proportional representation. It had also been insisting that blocs should be able to take part in the elections.

Candidates for district electoral commissions can be put forward by political parties whose factions are registered in the Verkhovna Rada as well as all political parties taking part in the elections.

The law goes against key recommendations from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

The electoral system chosen in the draft law is not the one discussed by the Venice Commission representatives during their meetings with the Ukrainian authorities and not the one recommended by the Resolution 1755 (2010) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Moreover, the choice of the mixed system, the threshold for gaining mandates and the banning of electoral blocs was made by the majority unilaterally and without consultations with the representatives of the other political parties and civil society. These different changes do not facilitate the access of different political forces to parliament. The Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR would like to remind that trust in the fairness of the electoral rules is essential for conducting democratic elections.

The increase in the threshold will reduce the number of parties which can get into parliament at the next elections. This will most hurt the Ukrainian opposition.  According to a Korrespondent opinion poll at the beginning of November, if the elections took place according to a proportional system, the majority of mandates could be won by candidates in opposition to the party of Viktor Yanukovych. With a mixed system, the Party of the Regions and its satellites have more chance of gaining a majority.

One of the BYUT Deputies called the bill adopted the lesser of two evils, saying that if the opposition had not voted for it, the ruling majority would have voted in a system which allowed for more opportunities to rig the election results.  The opposition say that 17 proposals were taken into account.

From reports at UNIAN and the BBC Ukrainian Service

Politics and human rights

Zero Tolerance for Taxpayer-funded TV Lies

Response to a letter from the State-run UTV-1 to its critics to mark International Tolerance Day”

The rules of etiquette demand reciprocity: you call me a good specialist and I praise your wonderful writing skills. The State-owned TV channel UTV-1 praises us for constructive criticism, and we need to reply in kind. Only that’s where the difficulties begin, since what they should be praised for is by no means clear. For nice-sounding words?  For the lack of dissonant notes? 

The letter to Telekritika whose monitoring regularly finds UTV-1 to be the worst or second to worst offender for distortion or muffling of information and lack of balance was timed to coincide with International Tolerance Day on 16 November.  Here too there is a problem with reciprocity. We should most certainly be tolerant of different views, traditions, way of life, but tolerance of lies and manipulation?  Forget it. Lies are precisely what the viewer gets fed on UTV-1 news and political talk shows, and for that toxic fare there can be no tolerance.  Of course one can find some successful programmes on UTV-1 however the “dark side of the coin” which the letter mentions will become no lighter as a result.

UTV-1 claims that it is all for “effective dialogue” and that their work has no point without Telekritika and public assessment in general.  Such assessment has, up till now, had no effect, but we must keep trying. After all, at the level of words there should be broad consensus that any channel needs to cover the most important events in the country and world objectively and from all sides. There might even be agreement – in words – that it is quite unacceptable to spend taxpayers’ money on a montage of words and interviews misleading those same taxpayers. And that it is equally inadmissible to conceal information of public importance.

On 15 November Viktor Yanukovych met the Presidents of Poland and Germany in Wroclaw. One can assume that he heard few nice-sounding words. It would have been stupid to totally ignore the reason for such discordant notes on the day that the ruling majority in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada effectively refused to release former Prime Minister and opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko. The President’s views were reported as follows on UTV-1.

“The President regrets that there are attempts being made to link the issue of Ukraine’s European integration with the Tymoshenko case.

Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine:  This issue is undoubtedly one of the issues which is at the present time obstructing the question probably of the ratification of these accords by several countries. We are working on this issue and I want to say that any interference in the judicial system by those in power is impossible”

The words about non-interference in the judicial system have a fine ring to them. What a shame indeed that there are some nasty people who can’t understand something so simple and are getting in the way of our European integration.

Are we to thank UTV-1 for explaining everything so well to their viewers?  The question is entirely rhetorical. The following is just some of what they forgot to tell the Ukrainian consumer who only pays for the low-grade fare which others prefer to feed them on.

As the BBC Ukrainian Service was told by Marcin Woicechowski, the regime in Ukraine do not understand that persecution of political opponents and members of the former government is incompatible with European values and they do, in his opinion, realize the danger that the signing of the Association Agreement will fall through. “

It is worth noting that the report on the BBC Ukrainian Service began with Viktor Yanukovych’s words, including his assertion that those in power do not interfere in the work of the courts. There were no value judgments, with the position of one side given, and then the other.

In the following interview we do in fact hear only one side to the dispute however the reason for this is directly linked with UTV-1. The Head of the European Commission in Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pintu Teisheira was refused permission to take part in Savik Shuster’s political talk show on UTV-1 in order to explain the EU position on difficulties in relations with Ukraine.  Mr Teisheira was forced to find another way of conveying this to Ukrainians.

“We are concerned that the former Prime Minister and other government officials have become the target of selective application of the law in order to prevent them taking part in the country’s political life. This is what the problem is”,

“If Ukraine wants to move on that path [towards European integration], you need to respect our values, among them being the rule of law and the right of citizens to a fair trial. We do not see that in Ukraine, particularly in the case of Ms Tymoshenko. She is being tried according to laws written in the time of Stalin and Khrushchev.  That does not comply with European values. Even the very court proceedings failed to meet our understanding of the justice system”.

One can cite any number of clear explanations as to why the issue of Ukraine’s moves closer to the EU now depends on the fate of Tymoshenko, Yury Lutsenko and others. As well as government and EU bodies, you’ll also find them in the world media and in some Ukrainian media outlets, as well as on the Internet. Not though on most Ukrainian TV channels, including UTV-1 who see fit to confine themselves to some vague phrases. The fog so to speak is left for the President to clear with his interpretation of the situation.

Are we perhaps expected to treat as the “light side of the coin” the fact that we probably receive full information about some event or other in the UK or Italy, and not a hotchpotch of half-lies from carefully selected snippets of information? 

That’s no small demand. If what President Yanukovych calls “attempts to link the issue of Ukraine’s European integration with the Tymoshenko case” are unwarranted, then why not present the accusations and provide grounds for refuting them? Why not give the Head of the European Commission in Ukraine the opportunity to put the European case and then demonstrate exactly why it is mistaken?

And at the end of the day, why is not possible to provide full and truthful coverage, establish and play by honest rules and compete with your opponents, not try to remove them from the playing field?

It would be senseless to expect answers to these questions, but just as futile for the regime and its propaganda machine to expect tolerance. 


Selective Morality and Other Means of Influence


A few days after sentence was passed on former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s MPs suddenly recalled the dire state of public morality and hurtled to the rescue. Reaction to the bill passed in its first reading on 18 October which propose amendments to the Public Morality Act was swift.  Whereas condemnation of selective justice with the politically motivated prosecution of opposition figures was unequivocal mainly abroad, there seemed general consensus that the draft Morality Act amendments gave dangerous scope for selective “morality”.  Even the National Broadcasting Council warned that it could lead to censorship.

The dangers are indeed real, with threats to freedom of speech in both the draft bill, and the Law on the Protection of Public Morality from 2004. The proposed changes would give more scope for restrictions, closure of websites, for example, and more power to officials of the morality brigade - the National Commission for the Protection of Public Morality. The essence of the problem, however, remains the same as in 2004. As well as the dubious need for such a law at all, the woolly nature of the terms used makes unclear, unforeseeable and dangerously open to subjective interpretation what precisely “harms public morality”. Clear warning of this was given in the original Council of Europe assessment by Professor Dirk Voorhoof: “Leaving the interpretation of the above provisions to the evaluation of the National Committee on the Protection of Public Morals does not offer the minimum degree of protection against arbitrariness required by the rule of law in a democratic society

The vagueness has been retained in the draft law passed, only the scope for interpretation and powers increased. In fact, one other term has been added: “products demonstrating various forms of anti-social and criminal activities”.  There is an unpleasant echo here from Soviet times when people served serious labour camp sentences for “anti-Soviet” behaviour. Now, as back then, the meaning and scope of the anti-social behaviour can be determined by those who want to use the law for their own purposes.

The present regime balks at no means for consolidating its power. That is what has now changed. And the knowledge that given the appropriate instructions from above, any draft law will receive the necessary number of votes. This is why the alarm over this law cannot be sounded too forcefully.

Yet for those very same reasons it would be dangerous to concentrate only on fighting this one law. In her commentary on the draft bill, MP from the ruling Party of the Regions, Olena Bondarenko said that “any law can be used for bad purposes”.  We can assume she has her own sources of information, yet one would need to be blind not to see the highly specific use now rampant in the country of the Criminal Code, the tax inspectorate, traffic police, and, most worryingly, judges.

Why should the country’s leaders lay themselves open to accusations of direct censorship when they can rely on the police, the SBU [Security Service] or tax inspectorate to achieve the same results?  When an inconvenient television channel can be removed from air as in Kharkiv due to “the lack of a sanitary hygiene passport”? Who even cares whether it has one or not, if the relevant bodies know how to “check” the outraged complaints over shenanigans from the channel?   With regard to the Morality Act, the Verkhovna Rada may radically change the draft bill, or the President may decide to gain brownie points by upholding constitutional rights and veto the law.  Obsequious television channels will provide the needed coverage and the actual methods of influence will in no way be diminished

There is another reason why concentration solely on fighting the “defenders of public morality” is dangerous. It is far from evident to a lot of people why the term is inconceivable without inverted commas. Many of us are whole-heartedly in favour of immediate closure of any website containing child pornography. It is no accident that the draft bill gained the support of various factions, not only those in the ruling majority. They know that religious bodies which enjoy much more public trust than politicians, law enforcement bodies or the courts, have untiringly called for the retention and extension of the powers of this same Commission.

There can surely be no better time to highlight and give maximum support to the vital initiative from the Ukrainian Internet community to set up a self-regulating body.  It is equally important to establish constructive dialogue between various religious, media, human rights and other organizations.

Full consensus may be an unrealistic pipe dream, but the first steps need to be made. So that all sides understand that this is not a battle of morality vs. freedom, or respect for moral values vs. anarchy. Concise and understandable explanation is needed as to why this draft law and the current Morality Act in no way protect children, fight child pornography, xenophobia etc.

Real moral values do not depend on the political situation in the country. It is easy enough to demonstrate how the decisions of the National Morality Commission have changed in accordance with the views and interests of those in power.   On 24 June 2009 the Commission issued a decision banning a Russian programme about Holodomor 1932-1933, finding in it “elements suggesting propaganda of ethnic and religious enmity”.  On 31 March 2011, it considered a book with presumably similar content to that film. Its decision was to “take into account” the letter from the Academy of Sciences History Institute and “agree with” the view of the Kostyuk Psychology Institute.  Here as in an ever-increasing number of cases the Commission prefers not to broadcast the way it arrives at its decisions (or what they are!), however the contrast with two years ago is marked.  There are also a number of cases where they are clearly stalling on issuing opinions which could irritate those in power.

Such considerations presumably also prompted the morality police to stay silent for the last 18 months about more than noticeable “elements suggesting propaganda of ethnic enmity” in one article by Anatoly Mohylyov and several by Dmytro Tabachnyk?  What was the thinking anyway when these two men were appointed Ministers of Internal Affairs and Education, respectively?  And what was President Yanukovych thinking of last week when he appointed Mohylyov, author of a thoroughly libellous article inciting enmity towards the Crimean Tatar people, Prime Minister of the Crimea?  Anything you like only not moral principles.

Selective application of any law is a direct threat to everyone.  This includes, but is in no way confined, to the use of “morality” norms as a means of stifling freedom of speech. When those in power demonstrate total contempt for the rules of play, there cannot, by definition, be violations which don’t affect us or victims of lawlessness who can be ignored.

Any Politician justifying Stalin’s Crime against the Crimean Tatar People is unacceptable

The Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Mustafa Dzhemiliev has commented to TV 1 + 1 on the appointment by President Yanukovych of Anatoly Mohylyov Prime Minister of the Crimea. 

“We have long known Anatoly Mohylyov. At one time he was Head of the Crimean Police. His time in the Crimea did not leave, to put it mildly, a pleasant impression. These were, in the first instance, the well-known events of 2007 on the Ai-Petri Plateau which virtually led to wide-scale inter-ethnic conflict due to the brutal treatment by MIA officers of peaceful civilians and open gunfire on people who were unarmed. A criminal investigation was then initiated, yet with the change in regime, it was “shelved”.

Mustafa Dzhemiliev went on to say that he had heard that Mohylyov supposedly answered questions by high-ranking figures about how he could be Prime Minister of the Crimea given his difficult relations with the Crimean Tatars, in a dismissive manner, promising to “clean bodies of power of Crimean Tatars”.

“In fact at the present time he won’t have to clear the bodies of power of Crimean Tatars. Virtually none of them are left there since virtually all posts have been occupied by “the most talented people” from outside the Crimea, mainly from Makiyivka (the Donetsk region – translator).

However the most unacceptable thing for us is that Mohylyov in the press openly excused Stalin’s criminal decision to forcibly deport the Crimean Tatar People from their historical homeland, the Crimea, claiming that it was correct because, he asserted, the Crimean Tatars were traitors. “

Mustafa Dzhemiliev comments that people were held liable for such views even in Soviet times, yet he, as a National Deputy (MP of the Ukrainian parliament) had demanded that the Prosecutor General’s Office prosecute Mohylyov for such utterances. He says that he was basically told that each person has a right to express their point of view. Mr Dzhemiliev asked what, in that case, Article 161 which envisages punishment for inciting inter-ethnic enmity was for.  He received no answer.

He then drafted a resolution in the Verkhovna Rada demanding that Mohylyov be dismissed from his post as Minister of Internal Affairs, but the motion was not supported by the ruling coalition.

“Clearly today’s agreement of Mohylyov’s candidacy for the post of Head of the Council of Ministers of the Crimea arouses immense bemusement. Perhaps in the near future the public will receive answers to many questions arising in the Crimea in connection with this decision”.

He stressed that if Mohylyov’s words had been distorted, then he as a public figure was obliged to make an official statement and explain his position, both with regard to his assessment of the Deportation of “traitors of the motherland” and reinstatement of the rights of the deported, and on the use of weapons against unarmed people on Ai-Petri. We will then be able to coordinate our position accordingly”.

NGOs report increased surveillance, questions, etc from the authorities


Civic organizations have recently recorded an increase in monitoring by the authorities of their activities, the civic partnership “New Citizen” informs. Information about NGOs is, for example, being gathered by the State Tax Service and State Administrations.

They report that a number of authoritative civic organizations within New Citizen, including the Media Law Institute, TORO – the contact group in Ukraine for Transparency International and others, recently received a questionnaire from district tax administrations with extremely detailed questions about personal data and activities.

They were asked, for example, for the full names, positions and contact details for the heads and people in responsible positions within the organization; who one turns to about running events; how large-scale the organisation is; the main areas of activity, etc; whether they are disposed to cooperate with the State Tax Service, and others.

NGOs also report official approaches from regional and district State Administrations to the local authorities about increasing monitoring of local civic organizations.  For example, an instruction from the Department on Internal Security of the Khmelnytsky Regional State Administration which obliges the heads of District Administrations and city Mayors “to urgently increase work with bodies of local self-government  on monitoring of applications from civic-political associations and individuals on planned protests, demonstrations, gatherings, and circulation of printed matter”, as well as “to immediately inform the department about the planned holding and results of the said events”, with a phone number being given. This report must contain “not general phrases, but exhaustive information about the course and results of the event; the names and positions of the organizers; the number and category of participants; the slogans, flags, list of those speaking and the main points of their address; evaluation of the activities of the authorities; the reaction of the local authorities; the results;  further actions planned; participation in the protests of National Deputies, leaders at regional level.” The document also mentions heightening surveillance over the activities as per their articles of association of the branches of political parties and civic organizations with a political bent.

The local authorities have also received such instructions from the Kamyanets-Podilsky District State Administration in the Khmelnytski region.  

The right to life

How the anbulance doctor left Ihor Indylo to die

The court examination into the death of young student Ihor Indylo continued on Friday at the Desnyansky District Court with testimony from the ambulance doctor, Edward Poputnyak who first failed to hospitalize Ihor, then 8 hours later certified his death.

“He was lying with his head to the left on his right side. His face was blue”. It was due to the cyanosis (blue discoloration) that the doctor wrote in the paperwork that Ihor had choked on his own vomit.

Later the forensic expert found that the student had bruises on his arms and legs, and most importantly – fractures to the cranial vertebrae.  The doctor certified that Ihor was dead.

The forensic examination considered that the injury which killed Ihor had been sustained eight hours earlier, i.e. at exactly the time when the ambulance doctor was first called out. Edward Poputnyak says that during that first call out he did not notice anything. The ambulance team was, incidentally, called out to a heart attack.  When they arrived, the head of the team says, they saw Ihor with his eyes closed on the floor of the room where they photograph detainees. “We were told that he had lost consciousness”.  The doctor raised his eyelids, and Ihor reacted to the light. On that basis Poputnyak concluded that Ihor was pretending. “He was given ammonium salts and he began making a face”, the head of the team wrote in his conclusion that all was well.  He says that he pushed on Ihor’s nerve ends under his ear, and Ihor supposedly swore and tried to break free from the doctors.

“I asked if he had been drinking and he said “Not your bloody business”.  The student’s alleged bad behaviour was mentioned by the head of the police station (who was not in the station at the time) and the inspector who was there later when Ihor died. All their accounts paint a picture of a drunkard who couldn’t stay on his feet, who fell, hit his head and died.

Or would, were it not for some other questions.

For example, how other people respond when their nerve endings are squeezed. Dr Poputnyak immediately agreed that if he was squeezed under the ear, he might also wave his arms about and could shout. When he was asked whether alcohol could mask a closed head and skull injury, he said it could. When the main question was put – why he had not hospitalized the young man who was in a state of intoxication, was losing consciousness, falling and could therefore receive life-threatening injuries, the doctor said that it didn’t seem like that to him. “That’s my inner conviction”. When assailed by all lawyers, the lawyer representing the Indylo family and the defendants’ lawyers, he admitted that “I didn’t even have a chance to examine him”  He also said that the police were exaggerating when they claimed that they had pleaded for 20 minutes for Ihor to be taken to hospital. He asserts that the duty officer said when they were on the stairs that it would be good to take him to the hospital.  The doctor supposedly answered “that’s not our client”.

Oleksandr Khomenko, the young man who went with Ihor from the hostel to the police station that night is supposed to give evidence on Monday. Since Ihor’s death in custody, he has avoided both Ihor’s family and journalists. Last Monday, despite the court summons, he failed to appear.

From the report by Yehor Sobolyev at Svidomo  The photo above is of Edward Poputnyak and Serhiy Prykhodko, the officer accused of "negligence" over Ihor’s death outside the court

Against torture and ill-treatment

Pomilyaiko torture case hits another hurdle

Say NO! to torture

It has been learned that a month ago the Prosecutor of the Ordzhonikidze District in Kharkiv once again terminated the criminal investigation into allegations of police torture from Svitlana Pomilyaiko.

As reported, back in 2008 two women were taken in for questioning after two computers went missing from their work. According to the women’s testimony, the two officers questioned them separately, trying to force both to make confessions. Svitlana was kicked and had a bag put over her head. Natalya also had tweezers used to press her nipples. Svitlana could hear her friend’s screams, yet neither woman signed a “confession”. They were released, but only after both signed statements that they had no criticism against the police. Both have medical reports from the hospital which they went to following their release. Only Svitlana Pomilyaiko decided to make a formal complaint. 

A criminal investigation was initiated only to be revoked by the Ordzhonikidze District Court in Kharkiv. That court ruling, however, was, on 7 May overturned by the Kharkiv Regional Court of Appeal, and the case was been sent back to a first instance court to be examined again. 

Ms Pomilyaiko has, with the help of Kharkiv Human Rights Group lawyers, lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights. Ludmila Klochko from the KHPG Public Advice Centre explains that the Court in Strasbourg normally demands that all possible remedies have been exhausted in Ukraine. However, with the case being sent back and forth, initiated and terminated, it is clear that the victim had no other choice but to approach the European Court.

Ms Klochko says that KHPG will also be helping Svitlana Pomilyaiko to appeal against the termination by the Prosecutor of the criminal investigation. 

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Demonstrations and heavy-handed police methods continue in Kyiv


Throughout Tuesday former Chornobyl clean-up workers and Afghanistan War veterans picketed the Cabinet of Ministers protesting over cuts to pensions and social benefits.  In the early afternoon, the BBC Ukrainian Service reported the police as saying there were around two thousand demonstrators There were a number of scuffles and, as reported earlier, the Berkut riot police tried to detain at least one protester, Vladimir Proskurin from Kharkiv. Later in the evening, Kharkiv demonstrators reported that they were under surveillance

Interfax Ukraine reported that the members of the demonstration issued a statement which warned the government not to make them die outside the Verkhovna Rada and Cabinet of Ministers.  “Do not drive us to extremes, forcing our socio-economic demands to turn into political ones”.

There was confrontation when Berkut riot police seized tents which Afghanistan War veterans from the organization Nobody But Us were trying to erect in the Mariyinsky Part opposite the Cabinet of Ministers.

The police report that all was peaceful, with no excess force used. Video footage and reports from Kharkiv demonstrators suggest that this was anything but the case, with some sources reporting that tear gas was used.   

From human rights activists’ reports, the BBC Ukrainian Service, Ukrainska Pravda and Interfax Ukraine


One dead in police dispersal of peaceful protest by Chornobyl Clean-up Workers

Gennady Konoplyov, former miner, who died during the police action on Sunday evening in Donetsk


On Sunday evening police together with unidentified individuals in plain clothes began forcibly dismantling the tent camp erected by Chornobyl Clean-up Worker outside the regional department of the Pension Fund in Donetsk.  The men, whose health was seriously damaged during their participation in the clean-up work after the 1986 Chornobyl Disaster, are protesting against cuts in pensions to which they are entitled.

As a result of Sunday’s storming of the tent camp, one man is dead and two have been hospitalized. According to a Radio Svoboda report, the police have confirmed the death.  The report suggests that it was the unidentified individuals, “accompanied by the police”, who used force to dismantle the tent camp.  This is not what was reported via human rights group sources and on many Internet sites.

Members of the initiative group recounted how, just after seven in the evening, people in uniform came into the tent containing the majority of protesters on hunger strike (at present 27 people)  and poured water onto two gas burners being used to heat the tent,   Others began dismantling it.

One of the protesters became ill and was put into an ambulance.  The protesters were prevented from getting near it by police officers. There was a scuffle between police and the protesters who wanted to know what had happened to their colleague.

The man who died has been named as Gennady Konoplyov, born in 1942.  A former miner with disability status, he lived in Rodynsk in the Donetsk region. Not involved in the Chornobyl clean-up, he had arrived in Donetsk on 23 November to demonstrate his support for them and take part in their hunger strike. It would seem that he died of heart failure.  

The protesters have refused to move and are now continuing their vigil in the open.

As reported, on 23 November the District Administrative Court in Donetsk banned the protest.  The Donetsk City Council claimed that the protest was banned due to the threat of a terrorist act. The Council cited statements from the police reported by the Internet publication Ostrov of terrorist attacks in Donetsk. The Council “was therefore forced to turn to the District Administrative Court”.

The Initiative Group of Chornobyl Clean-up Workers in Donetsk immediately stated that the protesters had no intention of leaving their test camp, despite the court ban. 

The men have been fasting in protest since 15 November, until Sunday evening in a tent camp near the Regional Department of the Pension Fund. They are demanding their payments and pensions in full, as well as a meeting with the Prime Minister.

From reports at Ostrov, Tema and Radio Svoboda

Police draw up protocols against Chernobyl Clearup veterans’ peaceful protesters


The police are taking measures to identify the leaders of the Chernobyl Clean-up Worker who have been holding a protest hunger strike in a tent camp in Donetsk.  Together with others throughout the country they are protesting against plans to cut their pensions and benefits to which the relevant law entitles them as people who particularly suffered from the 1986 Disaster.

Police officers have been drawing up protocols on members of the peaceful protest for “unauthorized assembly in a tent camp”.  This is how they describe the protesters who have been on hunger strikes in tents outside the Donetsk Pension Fund.  They entered one of the tents and asked who the leaders were.  Mykola Goncharov from the Donetsk regional branch of “Chernobyl – Unity” explained to them that there were no leaders, only members of an initiative group. They proceeded to question Mr Goncharov, with all this filmed on video camera.  The police officer stated that they were not going to drive them away, but were issuing a protocol of administrative offence on the leaders.

People are coming to the tents to show their support for the protesters who at the beginning of November began receiving reduced pensions. The size of the pension is now split into two departments. The first pays the amount until the court rulings which acknowledged their right to a higher pension came into force; the other – the “supplementary payment” to the main amount of the pension. The Pension Fund has been promising to make the “supplementary payments” when there is money in the budget. 

For example, a second level disability pension was 7, 223; from November this category has been receiving from 1, 000 to 1, 200 UAH.

As reported, the Donetsk Distric Administrative Court banned the protest actions in a ruling on 23 November. Officials have told the protesters that their protest is “unlawful”, but have not produced the relevant paper. The protesters have in any case refused to stop their hunger strike, and warn that they will use all means to protect their tents, including self-immolation.

Protests throughout Ukraine: riot police clash with demonstrators in Kyiv


The protests planned for 3 November proved less massive than had been planned (- in fact the huge figures seem to have come mainly from the police – translator).  One reason was that the authorities managed to convince some of the veterans of the Afghanistan War, Chernobyl Disaster rescue workers and pensioners that benefits would not be cut.

The organizers of protests outside parliament also assert, however, that the authorities obstructed those planning to join the Kyiv protests.

The movement “Vpered” [“Forward”] for example reported that coaches with protesters had not been allowed into the centre, while in a number of cities transport agencies had broken agreements to take people to Kyiv.

There were no more than 2 thousand people who took part in the demonstration demanding that parliament dissolve itself.

The protesters once again managed to break through the metal gates, but enforced units of Berkut riot police prevented them from reaching the Verkhovna Rada building.

Most of the protesters on 3 November were small and middle-level business owners from the Vpered movement. Many of them took part in the Tax Code Maidan [the huge protests on Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square in Kyiv] in November 2010, as well as several hundred former Chernobyl rescue workers. Although the protesters say that they are not linked with any political forces, since they don’t trust any of them, the informal leader of Vpered is National Deputy from BYUT, Natalia Korolevska.

In Donetsk those demonstrating included Afghanistan War Veterans, communists, opposition parties, and business owners. The latter say that they are forced to protest again since parliament did not heed their suggestions for the law regarding the simplified system of taxation.

According to the BBC’s correspondent in Donetsk, there were over 3 thousand protesters. The protest, the largest in recent years, united opposition parties, business owners, Veterans and former rescue workers.

In other cities protests gathered several hundred people.

The day before the protest, representatives of some Chernobyl rescue workers’ organizations held talks with Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko. As a result they decided not to take part in the protests, having been told that their pensions would not be reduced.  Others did still take part, but the numbers were lower than had been expected.  The same was the case with various Afghanistan War Veteran organizations.

From a report at the BBC Ukrainian Service

Social and economic rights

No money to pay teachers’ salaries – because of Euro 2012?


Ukrainian teachers are complaining of being forced to take unpaid leave and having supplementary payments cancelled. Analysts believe that there isn’t enough money in the Ukrainian state coffers to cover social payments because of problems with the IMF.

There are reports from various regions that schools and universities are forcing educational staff to take unpaid leave.  The teachers largely avoid giving their names through fear of being dismissed. “We were told to write an application for unpaid leave for several days, yet we worked during that time. They promised to give us a day off during the holdings” a teacher from Poltava School No. 6 who didn’t want to be named explained. She said that all additional lessons and standing in for other teachers are not paid. The same situation is seen in Poltava School No. 33.

The teachers say that approaches to the City Department of Education are met with the explanation that there is no money in the budget to pay them, and therefore they have to take leave without pay. Teachers on Internet forums speak of such cases in the Crimea, the Mykolaiv, Zaporizhya, Ternopil and Donetsk regions. On Monday lecturers and other staff from the East Ukrainian National University turned to the media asking for help in upholding their right to their lawfully earned pay, as they were being forced to write applications for leave without pay over the New Year – Christmas holiday.  They don’t protest for fear of dismissal. The Education Ministry says it has not received such complaints, and says it will react if it gets them.

Football or teachers?

Maxim Boroda, Senior Analyst from the International Centre for Policy Studies points to a lack of funds due to the rejection of cooperation with the IMF. This means that social programmes and benefits are paid on the basis of what is left over. He says that there is no real money and that the profit from privatization was less than the government was counting on. The year is coming to an end and there is still nowhere to transfer the budget deficit. He adds that the government doesn’t know where to get the money to pay social obligations since those clauses in the budget, according to the law, should be financed first.

This is the reason for the machinations, as ways of bypassing the law. He is convinced that the non-payment of teachers’ salaries is linked with Euro 2012. For the authorities, being ready for the soccer championship is priority since success with that will have impact on the autumn parliamentary elections. He says that the teachers’ problems are “not particularly pressing” and that that find some way of softening them up just before the elections.

Slightly abridged from the report at, , 15547263, 00.html

Point of view

Myroslav Marynovych: We are steadily losing freedom

Every week we feel the lack of some element of freedom in Ukraine. The situation conjures up in my mind the image of a pet dog tied to his kennel.  His owner constantly shortens his lead, and it can still turn out that the dog has had all freedom taken away. Ukrainian political technology of the present day does not envisage a one-off imposition of dictatorship, but steadily accustoms the population to loss of their freedom.

This view was expressed by the Vice Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Myroslav Marynovych during the morning programme on TVi.

He believes that Ukrainians should not expect altruism from Europe or that somebody will look after them. “However Europe has now realized that it cannot make clear demands of Ukraine since there are not really bilateral relations, but trilateral – Ukraine, Russia and Ukraine. By imposing various conditions, Europe effectively hands Ukraine to Russia”.

Myroslav Marynovych believes that Ukrainian intellectuals as a rule adopt western models, however these do not work in the context of Ukraine. “The pro-Russian direction uses techniques to manipulate the Ukrainian population and stop it from noticing that it is already on a different ship. And the authorities deliberately do not react to the demands from the street”.

He adds that the Ukrainian authorities are petrified of those accustomed to living in conditions of freedom since such people react to the lack of free thinking. He says that the Ukrainian Catholic University could not have emerged were it not for Father Boris Gudziak, Father Mykailo Dymyd – Ukrainians who came from the diaspora and introduced a totally new quality of teaching. “They have a different mentality and as a result we are successful”.

Asked by journalists whether Ukraine is not risking that in today’s conditions it will lose a critical mass of its own potential, , Myroslav Marynovych answered: “We have already lost a lot, I see that in Lviv. In the past its spiritual and intellectual potential was enormous.  Today we feel that Lviv is just gliding along.”

The Ukrainian Catholic University Press Service

News from the CIS countries

Belarus: Two young men accused of Minsk bombing sentenced to death

The Viasna Human Rights Centre reports that the Belarusian Supreme Court has convicted two young men - Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavaliou - of the bomb attack in Minsk on 11 April 201 and sentenced them to death.

The death penalty was demanded by the Deputy Prosecutor General, Alexei Stuk. 

Human rights defenders, in particular Viasna have over the last two weeks been asking Belarusians and people throughout the world to come out against the death sentence for these two young men.  

There are a number of compelling arguments against the death penalty anyway.

In this case, the trial has taken place of two young men for a terrorist attack which raised doubts about who was behind it from the outset. 

It has taken place in a country with no independent judiciary, Prosecutor or law enforcement bodies.

Many of the victims of the attack have joined others in expressing doubts about the evidence of the two young men’s involvement.

The petition here  is now out-of-date.  We will provide information of who to approach as soon as possible.

Kremlin accused of crackdown on Russians’ access to western media

RIA-Novosti translator resigns from his job, saying news agency ordered stop on any articles critical of Vladimir Putin or his party

The Kremlin has launched a campaign to crack down on Russians’ access to critical western media, according to a former employee of the country’s main state-run news agency.

The RIA-Novosti news agency last weekend reportedly ordered the employee to avoid stories critical of the prime minister,  Vladimir Putin, and his United Russia party ahead of the elections.

Following the order, the employee, Grigory Okhotin, resigned his post at Inosmi, a website which translates articles from foreign press sources and is run by the news agency.

"They told me rather clearly not to translate harsh stories about Putin or United Russia, " Okhotin said. "Or, they said, you can translate some but soften the headlines and don’t put them on the front page." The order came from the RIA-Novosti leadership, Okhotin claimed.

But a RIA-Novosti spokeswoman, Alla Nadezhkina, said the organisation maintained a "neutral position and objective approach". She said published by Okhotin contained "clear distortions regarding the editorial politics of RIA-Novosti and Inosmi, based on his own fantasies". No order had to soften headlines, she said.

Marina Pustilnik, editor-in-chief of Inosmi, refused to confirm or deny the order. "I recommend you look at the website – there is quite a bit of material on the elections and Putin."

On Monday, the day after a party congress officially cementing Putin’s candidacy in the 4 March presidential election, the top stories on Inosmi concerned modernisation, the eurozone crisis and Iran.

The Kremlin has become increasingly nervous about public support as it prepares for a parliamentary vote on Sunday and presidential elections in the spring. Polls show a steady decrease in support for United Russia, as well as for Putin, who is expected to return to the presidency after serving four years as premier.

Most Russians get their news from state-run TV, which is curated by Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s ideologist and a Putin ally. But with internet use skyrocketing, many Russians are turning to the web as an independent source of news.

Livejournal, Russia’s main blogging platform and a hotbed of opposition thought, came under DDoS [distributed denial of service] attack , an action many bloggers linked to Sunday’s vote. The platform last came under large-scale attack in April. "These attacks are against multiple journals worldwide, several of which are political in nature, " the group said at the time.

The alleged censorship attempt at the state-run project came as Putin, speaking at his party congress, accused "representatives of some foreign countries" of seeking to undermine Russia’s elections.

"You can’t pressure the western press, can’t ask them to soften their tone ahead of the elections, " Okhotin wrote in an essay about the affair, published on a popular blog

alongside internet chat with an Inosmi editor about the censorship order.

The essay was sent to translators, he said, "because you can’t just plug up the throat of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Guardian and other western media".

He added: "It’s an astonishing tale that will astonish nobody. I was ready to quit at any minute, since joining nearly a year ago. It wasn’t unexpected."

Image from the Institute for Mass Information

Ales Bialiatski sentenced to 4.5 years

A court in Minsk on Thursday, 24 November sentenced Ales Bialiatski, Head of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and Vice-Director of the International Federation for Human Rights to four and a half years imprisonment for supposed tax evasion.  The case has been widely condemned as an attempt to crush a prominent human rights defender and all those who stand up for democracy, rights and the rule of law in Belarus.

49-year-old Ales Bialiatski has been convicted over “tax evasion” in connection with accountsi opened and used to transfer money from abroad to Belarus to help victims of political repression, since Viasna was officially dissolved by the Belarusian regime in 2003.

There was outrage and consternation when it was discovered that both the Lithuanian Justice Ministry and the Polish Prosecutor General’s Office gave information about accounts to the Belarusian authorities

Andrzej Poczobut reports that on Wednesday in his final speech Bialiatski’s lawyer, Dmitry Layevsky argued that the prosecution had not provided proof that Ales Bialiatski had committed any crime. Even in the documents presented it was written that the recipient of the money was the Viasna Human Riaghts Centre. That meant, he stressed, that this was not Bialiatski’s money and he had not been obliged to pay tax on it.

He pointed out that some of the documents, including information about the bank accounts and transfers had not even been translated.  The requests for legal assistance had been sent to Poland and Lithuania before criminal proceedings were initiated, which meant that in accordance with the agreement on legal assistance there had been no grounds for handing over the documents.

Ales Bialiatski in his final words said that the regime did not tolerate criticism and was therefore persecuting journalists and human rights defenders. He rejects any wrongdoing.

New information from a report in Gazeta Wyborcza

On Wednesday a Joint Statement was issued by Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, and Stefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, made today the following statement:

“We are seriously concerned about the detention and prosecution of internationally renowned

Belarusian human rights defender Ales Byalyatski for alleged tax evasion. 

We consider the charges against Ales Byalyatski in the ongoing trial as a politically motivated pretext to target his important work to the benefit of victims of repression. As such, the ongoing trial is a highly visible and symbolic manifestation of the crackdown on civil society in Belarus since the 19 December 2010 Presidential elections.

We call on Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release Ales Byalyatski and to drop the charges against him and against his deputy Valyantsin Stefanovich.” 

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2011, #11