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.

Politics and human rights

"Yanukovych’s administration systematically seeking to eliminate opposition"

Freedom House: Country Report: Ukraine



Partly Free








During 2011, President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration systematically sought to eliminate opposition to the ruling Party of the Regions. Former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s main political opponent, was convicted of abuse of power in October and jailed. In addition, the authorities increased restrictions on peaceful assembly, media outlets, opposition organizations, and private businesses. A number of political prisoners remained behind bars, and there were increased reports of police torture and the use of psychiatry for political repression. The government revised the electoral law to improve its chances in the 2012 parliamentary elections, while rampant corruption gave incumbents a strong incentive to retain power and avoid possible prosecution by their successors.

In December 1991, Ukraine’s voters approved independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum and elected Leonid Kravchuk as president. Leonid Kuchma defeated Kravchuk in the 1994 presidential poll, and won reelection in 1999 amid media manipulation, intimidation, and the abuse of state resources. Kuchma faced growing criticism for high-level corruption and the erosion of political rights and civil liberties. Evidence implicating him in the 2000 murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze fueled mass demonstrations and calls for the president’s ouster, but pro-presidential factions retained a majority in 2002 parliamentary elections.

In the significantly tainted first round of the October 2004 presidential election, reformist former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko led a field of 24 candidates, followed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, a representative of the eastern, Russian-speaking Donbas region who enjoyed backing from Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the November runoff, the official results showed Yanukovych to be the winner by less than three percentage points, but voting irregularities in Yanukovych’s home region led the domestic opposition and international monitors to declare his apparent victory “not legitimate.”

In what became known as the Orange Revolution because of Yushchenko’s ubiquitous campaign color, millions of people massed peacefully in Kyiv and other cities to protest fraud in the second-round vote. The Supreme Court on December 4 struck down the results and ordered a rerun on December 26. In the middle of the crisis, the parliament ratified constitutional reforms that shifted crucial powers from the president to the parliament, effective January 1, 2006. Although technically adopted in an unconstitutional manner, the compromise changes effectively lowered the stakes of the upcoming rerun, making it more palatable to Yushchenko’s opponents. However, they also created an unclear division of power, which later led to constant conflict between the president and prime minister.

The repeat of the second round was held in a new political and social atmosphere. The growing independence of the media, the parliament, the judiciary, and local governments allowed for a fair and properly monitored ballot. Yushchenko won easily, and his chief ally, former deputy prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, became prime minister. However, their alliance quickly broke down, leading to a multilateral stalemate that prevented implementation of comprehensive political and economic reform. The unproductive wrangling continued during a short-lived Yanukovych premiership (2006–07) and another stint as prime minister for Tymoshenko (2007–10) after parliamentary elections in September 2007, seriously eroding public support for the Orange Revolution.

In the 2010 presidential election, which met most international standards, Yanukovych defeated Tymoshenko in the second round of voting in February, 49 percent to 46 percent. He quickly reversed many of the changes adopted in the wake of the Orange Revolution, securing Constitutional Court rulings that enabled him to oust Tymoshenko as prime minister and replace her with a loyalist and annul the 2004 constitutional compromise that had reduced the power of the presidency. In October 2010, Ukraine held local elections that were widely viewed as less free and fair than elections held under Yushchenko.

In 2011, Yanukovych launched a systematic campaign to eliminate any viable opposition to the ruling Party of the Regions ahead of parliamentary elections set for 2012. Most importantly, prosecutors brought a series of varying charges against Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s strongest opponent, in a bid to secure a criminal conviction. In October, a Kyiv court finally convicted her of abusing her office as prime minister by signing an allegedly unfavorable gas deal with Russia without seeking cabinet approval. She was sentenced to seven years in prison, banned from public office for an additional three years, and levied a fine of about $190 million. Most observers did not consider her acceptance of Russia’s demands in the gas deal a crime. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) leveled two more charges against her after the conviction, and on December 30 she was moved to the Kachanivska Penal Colony in Kharkiv, where her lawyer claims she is denied proper medical care.

Attempts to mount street protests against Tymoshenko’s prosecution and other government actions were met with brutal crackdowns and arrests by police, whose ranks were increased during the year. Other political prisoners who were placed or remained behind bars in 2011 included nine leaders of protests against the administration’s tax policies, 14 or more nationalists involved in beheading a Joseph Stalin monument, and numerous former members of the Tymoshenko government. The highest-ranking Tymoshenko ally in custody, former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, was on trial at year’s end for abuse of office and misappropriation of funds—charges that were widely seen as politically motivated.


Ukraine is an electoral democracy at the national level, with the opposition winning in the four most recent presidential and parliamentary elections. However, the October 2010 local elections showed serious flaws under newly elected president Viktor Yanukovych’s leadership.

Citizens elect delegates to the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council), the 450-seat unicameral parliament, for four-year terms. The 2004 constitutional amendments, which were annulled in 2010, had extended this term to five years. Under the ruling Party of the Regions, the parliament has largely become a rubber-stamp body. According to a new electoral law adopted on December 8, Ukraine returned to a system in which half the members of parliament are elected by proportional representation and half in single-member districts; blocs of parties are not allowed to participate. The Party of the Regions supported the new law because it believes that it will improve its prospects in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, some members of the opposition favored the new legislation because they maintain that it contains new anti-fraud features and will help stimulate the consolidation of opposition parties.

The president is elected to a maximum of two five-year terms. With the return to the 1996 constitution in October 2010, the president now dominates the political system. He issues decrees; exercises power over the courts, the military, and law enforcement agencies; appoints the prime minister with the Rada’s approval and removes the prime minister at will; appoints and fires all other ministers without the Rada’s approval; and appoints regional governors without consulting the prime minister. The Rada can dismiss the entire cabinet, but not individual ministers.

Political parties are typically little more than vehicles for their leaders and financial backers, and they generally lack coherent ideologies or policy platforms. Yanukovych is systematically eliminating opposition to his party, either through repression (as with Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party) or cooptation (as with Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko’s Strong Ukraine party).

Corruption, one of the country’s most serious problems, continues to worsen. Business magnates are presumed to benefit financially from their close association with top politicians. Yanukovych himself has become de facto owner of a huge estate outside of Kyiv, raising suspicions of illicit wealth, while his two sons have amassed both power and personal fortunes. The apparent corruption of his administration, and the precedent set by its politicized pursuit of charges against Tymoshenko and former members of her government, have increased Yanukovych’s incentives to remain in power indefinitely.

The constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and expression, and libel is not a criminal offense. Business magnates with varying political interests own and influence many outlets, while local governments often control the local media. Conditions for the media have worsened since Yanukovych’s election, and the president threatened one reporter at a December press conference who asked about his family’s growing wealth while many in the country face financial hardships. Some 69 percent of Ukrainians get their news from television, and the medium now features fewer alternative points of view, open discussions, and expert opinions. In April 2011, government pressure led the owner of the Kyiv Post to fire its editor, but the decision was reversed after the staff walked off the job and the international community expressed outrage. Three opposition channels in Kharkiv that were co-owned by Fatherland member Arsen Avakov were taken off the air in September. Journalists who investigate wrongdoing at the local level face physical intimidation, and local police and prosecutors do not energetically pursue such cases. Vasyl Klymentyev, a journalist who investigated local corruption in Kharkiv, disappeared in August 2010 and is presumed dead. In July 2011, unknown assailants barricaded the door and set fire to the apartment of the chief editor of the Donetsk regional website News of Donbass, Oleksiy Matsuka, but he was not home at the time; the site frequently criticizes corruption among the local elite. Former Interior Ministry official Oleksiy Pukach is currently on trial for the 2000 murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. In March 2011, prosecutors formally charged former president Leonid Kuchma with taking actions that led to the killing, but the case was dismissed in December after the main evidence was ruled inadmissible.

Internet access is not restricted and is generally affordable; lack of foreign-language skills is the main barrier. While the Access to Public Information Act passed in January 2011, it did little to improve the overall environment.

The constitution and the 1991 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religion define religious rights in Ukraine, and these are generally well respected. However, among other problems, Yanukovych publicly associates himself with one of the country’s competing branches of the Orthodox Church, and there have been some signs of anti-Semitism in political campaigns in recent years.

Academic freedom has come under pressure since Yanukovych took power. Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk has curtailed many programs designed to promote Ukrainian language and culture, and in 2010 he began a process aimed at bringing Ukrainian textbooks into line with those in Russia. Ministry budget cuts have focused heavily on schools with liberal reputations and universities in western Ukraine, while universities in the Donetsk region have gained more funding.

The constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly but requires organizers to give the authorities advance notice of any demonstrations. Yanukovych’s government has made it more difficult to assemble, and in 2011 there was a significant increase in the number of court rulings prohibiting peaceful assembly. The administration is also collecting extensive information on all protest organizers, including details about their professional activities, in order to exert pressure on them.

Although the vibrancy of Ukraine’s civil society has declined since the height of the Orange Revolution, social, political, cultural, and economic movements of different sizes and with various agendas remain active. Despite an increasing number of hooligan gangs that intimidate and destroy the property of anyone who supports the opposition, civic activism seems to be on the rise. Intellectuals, students, and Ukrainian speakers are mobilizing against Tabachnyk’s policies; the women’s organization Femen has drawn attention to corruption and social injustice; entrepreneurs are rallying against economic stagnation and the government’s tax policies; veterans have protested cuts to their benefits; journalists have protested crackdowns on the media; a new leftist movement is emerging in Kyiv; and teachers have protested budget cuts. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has expressed concern that civil society is not active enough in opposing the repressive actions by the government. Trade unions function, but strikes and worker protests are infrequent. Factory owners are still able to pressure their workers to vote according to the owners’ preferences.

The judiciary is subject to intense political pressure, as the Tymoshenko case demonstrated in 2011. Under the previous administration, the judiciary was an important arbiter in political battles between the president and prime minister, and all political factions attempted to manipulate courts, judges, and legal procedures. The Constitutional Court had largely remained silent in the face of politicians’ attempts to grab power. Under Yanukovych, however, the Constitutional Court has sided with the president, allowing him to form a parliamentary majority and overturn the 2004 constitutional amendments in 2010. Three Constitutional Court judges who were critical of Yanukovych resigned in September of that year, clearing the way for more supportive replacements ahead of the ruling on the 2004 amendments. Also during 2010, the parliament adopted a new law giving the Supreme Council of Justice the right to appoint and dismiss judges from their positions, in violation of the constitution. The council is now used as a tool of blackmail and pressure against judges, according to Valentyna Telychenko, the lawyer representing Gongadze’s wife in the trial of his alleged killers. Supreme Court chairman Vasyl Onopenko, a longtime ally of Tymoshenko, survived a no-confidence vote in March 2011, but his term expired on September 29. He decided not to run for a second term after the Pechersk District Court dropped criminal charges against his son-in-law, though he publicly denies a connection. On December 23, Petro Pylypchuk was elected head of the Supreme Court; he is expected to be more supportive of Yanukovych.

Reports of police torture grew during 2011. The number of raids by tax police and the security service against opposition-aligned businesses also increased. Since 2010, Ukrainian authorities have misused psychiatry to intimidate civil society activists.

While the country’s Romany population suffers from discrimination, the government has actively interceded to protect the rights of most ethnic and religious minorities, including the Crimean Tatar community. Tatars continue to suffer discrimination at the hands of local authorities and communities in Crimea in terms of land ownership, access to employment, and educational opportunities. Members of the gay and lesbian community also report discrimination.

Gender discrimination is prohibited under the constitution, but women’s rights have not been a priority for government officials. The current cabinet does not include any women, making it the first of 14 Ukrainian governments to be exclusively male. Human rights groups have complained that employers openly discriminate on the basis of gender, physical appearance, and age. The trafficking of women abroad for the purpose of prostitution remains a major problem.


Ukraine’s political rights rating declined from 3 to 4 due to the authorities’ efforts to crush the opposition, including the politicized use of the courts, a crackdown on media, and the use of force to break up demonstrations.


Tax Code protester asks for political asylum in European country

Journalist Yehor Sobolyev reports that “yet another person has fled from the lack of justice in Ukraine, and wishes him well. Serhiy Kostakov, who spent seven and a half months in custody from December 2010 charged with blocking the road and damaging a car during the mass peaceful protest against the new Tax Code in November 2010, is presently in a European country where he has asked for asylum.

 Sobolyev stresses that Serhiy is no politician or even member of a political party. His business involves isolating pipes.

In November 2010, hearing that the Tax Code protesters had nothing to eat, Serhiy gathered thermos flasks and headed off for Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square where the protest was taking place with a massive crowd around the anniversary of the Orange Revolution – translator].

On that day the protesters blocked one road and a few of them kicked at a car that tried to break through the blockade. Serhiy, who was accused of this, has analyzed the situation and believes that the attack was orchestrated by the police.

Yehor Sobolyev points out that if you look at the prosecutions over the Tax Code protesters it is clear that they were initiated not on the principle of who did what, but on whether a person had a criminal record.  The case against him back then was run by an officer and now the head of the nearest police station who was present during the events in November 2010.

The author writes that whereas with the others accused over the Tax Code protests (of damaging the granite stone on the Square], the judges were clearly not enamoured with the role being foisted on them, the judge in Kostakov’s case, Kristina Tarasyuk, insisted on bringing the case to a sentence. He recounts that the police officers who were summoned as witnesses and said in court that they didn’t remember anybody, with some even saying that they had never seen Kostakov, were asked by the Prosecutor Vitaly Panov if they could read the officers what they had stated during the criminal investigation.  The police witnesses agreed to listen to “how they saw Kostakov abusing or threatening the driver, or hitting the car”. After this they said that yes, they recalled that this was how it was. After that Judge Tarasyuk rejected Kostakov’s request that the officers at least point him out on the police video.

Serhiy Kostakov received a phone call from a stranger who told him that they were waiting for him in prison, after which he decided to flee, leaving his wife and daughter in Kyiv.  He is presently awaiting a decision regarding his application for asylum.

See the links below for more information about recent intimidation and the criminal prosecution. 

Ukrainian Security Service’s specific form of vigilance

The average person in any democracy is likely to be very vague about what exactly their Security Service does.  They will be much clearer about what it should not be doing.  Most of the activities of Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] over the last two years would fall into the second category.

There was alarm in early February when media magnate Valery Khoroshkovsky was replaced as Head of the SBU by Russian-born, KGB-trained Igor Kalinin.   This followed investigations into alleged spying by Volodymyr Strelko, Director of the Institute of Sorption suspected of leaking “secret information” from studies on the health impact of the Chornobyl Disaster.  It also largely coincided with the Presidential stamp of approval on two legislative moves which increase SBU scope and create a new subdivision for protecting “information security”. 

New reports of SBU activity suggest that the concerns were well-founded – and that those in power may be flexing all muscles before the coming parliamentary elections.

On Wednesday morning, well-known sociologist and intellectual, Yevhen Holovakha announced that all members of the Institute of Sociology’s Academic Board have been called for questioning to the SBU. This involves nearly 20 people, some with a high reputation in their field. The letter received threatens to bring them in for questioning by force if they don’t turn up, and warns of possible administrative or criminal proceedings. 

Following widespread media interest in this sudden flurry of activity, the SBU announced on their website that they were investigating a criminal case initiated on 15 February “over misappropriation of funds by individuals from the Centre for Adapting the Civil Service to EU standards of the Central Department of Ukraine’s Civil Service and the Institute of Sociology”   The presumption of innocence is not evident from the report, but the amount of 920 thousand UAH is mentioned.  The members of the Institute are to be questioned as witnesses.

The details in no way answer the points raised by Yevhen Holovakha, namely why all members of the Academic Council have been summoned and why the matter is under the SBU at all. 

Holovakha’s belief that the move is aimed at intimidation seems all the more credible given another report only two days earlier of similar SBU activities.

On Monday Mustafa Nayem reported at Ukrainska Pravda that teachers at the “Manager” specialized language centre had received “invitations” to the SBU “to give explanations”. The invitations were delivered by hand by people presenting themselves as SBU investigators.  There was no explanation as to why the people were being invited, only the signature of the Head of the SBU Department for Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime and reference to a particular article of the Law on the SBU.  The Law, neither in that clause nor elsewhere mentions authority to call somebody in “to give explanations”. 

It would appear that the Security Service measures which first set alarm bells ringing in 2010 are still continuing. The above measures, as well as ongoing “prophylactic” talks with civic activists and periodic suggestions that those receiving foreign grants are working against the State are depressingly reminiscent of Soviet times. 

The ideological coating has disappeared and the measures seem clearly aimed at keeping a grip on control.  It is no accident that the SBU conversations with civic activists, for example, from Democratic Alliance, have often focused on projects aimed at monitoring elections and their sources of funding.

These are not the tasks the Security Service of any democracy performs, nor are methods of intimidation and surveillance of members of civil society appropriate election campaigning methods.  

Afghanistan War Veteran alleges pressure after veterans snubbed Yanukovych

On 15 February around 200 Afghanistan War veterans deliberately snubbed President Yanukovych and other public officials by demonstratively turning their back on them. An UNIAN reporter spoke with one of the men, Oleksandr Kovalyov who also alleges that the police suggested that he leave the country. The police immediately denied any pressure on Kovalyov or the business he has a connection with.

Lana Samokhvalova from UNIAN says that a week ago she received a text message from Kovalyov’s wife saying that her husband was not in Kyiv, that she would like to discuss possible developments with the journalist.

They met in a café where Tetyana Kovalyova explained that they had been told that there were plans to arrest her husband and carry out a search of the flat, and that they might plant weapons or drugs.  They are presently preparing themselves, trying to ensure that nothing can be planted if a search does take place.

Tetyana adds that she was recently summoned by an investigator over a car accident she was involved in. Fortunately, she says, her husband was not in the country at the time.  “A forgotten case where there is a court ruling and no mutual grievances suddenly proved of interest to the police”.

Asked whether she would be happy to have journalists present at the search, as happened after a search of the central office of the veteran’s movement “Nobody but Us” following the September protests outside parliament, Tetyana answered yes, if it would help.

“A week passed. At the Donetsk business, where five searches were carried out and which for a long time Oleksandr Kovalyov was a co-owner of, the accounts were blocked and other shareholders continued to undergo “prophylactic talks”.

Oleksandr Kovalyov has still not returned to Kyiv. There is a message on the website of his organization saying that provocation is planned against Kovalyov, and that the organization is calling for general mobilization.

On skype, Oleksandr Kovalyov stressed to UNIAN that he is not a politician but a member of a civic organization fighting for citizens’ rights.  He says that there are many decent people in the MIA and that he knows that an instruction has been issued to imprison him on any pretext. He adds that information about their organization is regularly reported at MIA meetings.

He says too that some other members of the organization have been picked up and they’ve had conversations with them.

He says that they are planning to assert that he’s a drug addict, or was hold weapons. He adds that the Department for Fighting Organized Crime is following members of the organization.

“When in October there was a search of the central office of Nobody But Us, within half an hour “two hundred” Afghanistan War veterans had gathered”.

Asked why they are being subjected to pressure, Kovalyov answered that he has two versions. One – revenge over the snub on 15 February. The other – they’re frightened by the growth of “Nobody but Us”

From the interview at UNIAN

European politicians urge UEFA to stand in support of democracy in Ukraine

Deputies of the European Parliament, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and German Parliament have issued the following open letter calling on UEFA President Michel Platin to join the international community in its demands to the Ukrainian authorities concerning the persecution of members of the opposition: 

Dear Mr. President: 

In less than 100 days, the UEFA EURO 2012 will have its first match. The championship will partially take place in Ukraine. The signatories of this letter are deeply concerned about the current political and judicial situation in the country. Without exaggerating, we have the impression that the Ukrainian Government will try to use the sportive event as a huge PR campaign for its own purpose, while opponents of the President are still in jail, the critical media cannot work according to international standards. 

Especially the situation for imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko, former Prime Minister of the Ukraine and main opponent of President Yanukovytch, is deteriorating. The decision by a Kiev court to jail Tymoshenko for seven years for abuse of office is an unambiguous signal. It says that Yanukovych does not really care what the EU thinks about him. It also confirms what Yanukovych’s critics have been saying for some time – that under his leadership the country is sliding towards a "managed democracy" and autocratic rule. 

Since taking power, Yanukovych has rapidly reversed the fragile democratic gains of the Orange Revolution. He has put a squeeze on the country’s independent media, with TV now in the hands of a bunch of pro-regime oligarchs. Opposition journalists – such as the investigative reporter Vasyl Klymentyev – have disappeared. In parliament, Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions has, using dubious means, achieved a majority. And politically motivated prosecutions have been brought against Tymoshenko and other senior members of her bloc. 
But what is clear is that the case was designed to nobble Tymoshenko and to cripple the pro-western, anti-Yanukovych forces she represents. The trial bears comparison with that of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch who fell out with Vladimir Putin. 

She is now unable to participate in Ukraine’s next two elections: parliamentary ones in 2012, and the next presidential election in 2015. 
Western parliamentarians, like members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, are not allowed to visit Ms. Tymoshenko in jail and verify her physical and mental condition. All Western European governments and parliaments made their position clear: They are not willing to tolerate a regime in Kiev, that suppresses all major fundamental European and international human and civil rights. 

Although the UEFA is not a political institution, we know that the organization’s power does not end at the football stadium. But as the EURO 2012 was and is one of the most important sportive and social events in Europe, it also gives an example, how society, European organizations and sport can have an influence on political surpression in regimes like Ukraine. You might heard that some managers of successful European football teams already announced, that they will boycott the Ukrainian EURO 2012, not traveling to the country, even not watching it on TV. 
Therefore, we would like to ask you as the President of the UEFA not to close your eyes on what is happening in the Ukraine. Please mention the issues of political suppression and injustice in public, talk about it with Ukrainian officials and the government. 

You represent the official and only European football organization, a sport that is not only challenging for the teams, but is also in general a part of the broader European idea. Therefore we urge you to serve as a representative of those rights, that are essential for our international community and raise your voice, not only for the people in Ukraine, but for all Europeans. 
We are looking forward to hearing from you. 

The letter was signed by: 
Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament 
Viola von Cramon MP, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Speaker on Foreign Relation of the European Union of the German Parliament 
Walburga Habsburg Douglas MP, Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly 
Michael Laubsch, President Eurasian Transition Group 
Matteo Mecacci MP, Chairman Third Committee of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly 
Charles Tannock MEP, ECR Group Coordinator on Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament

Against torture and ill-treatment

Yakiv Strogan released from custody; impunity intact

  On the very day that a campaign was planned in support of Yakiv Strogan, the wonderful news came that after 14 months remanded in custody, he has at long last been released on a signed undertaking not to leave Kharkiv.

The news is wonderful for Yakiv, his wife and small son.

It unfortunately leaves the question which began the introduction to our appeal unanswered: Where do you turn for protection from lawlessness? 

The case of Yakiv Strogan has demonstrated new depths of police impunity in Kharkiv. 

For almost 4 months after a scuffle between Strogan and a neighbour in August 2010 Yakiv Strogan consistently accused police officers of torture aimed at extorting money from his family. He was questioned by experienced lawyers from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group who stated equally publicly that he had spoken of things he was most unlikely to have come up with himself.  Strogan tried to get a criminal investigation initiated, spoke out publicly, even at parliamentary hearings.   

Until one evening in December when police officers from the same police station turned up and arrested Yakiv Strogan, accusing him of attempted murder way back in August 2010.  The neighbour with whom Strogan had had a run-in and who had fallen on a broken bottle was now presented as the victim of an attempted murder, with his wife the star witness and a knife, without finger prints, but supposedly the weapon.

Strogan was taken into custody and by the time he was brought to court the next day had clear signs of beating. They were reported by human rights group representatives and journalists in the court and ignored by the judge who remanded Yakiv Strogan in custody. 

He was held there until 12 March 2012.

There has been no investigation of his allegations of torture in August, with all courts rejecting appeals against the Prosecutor’s refusal to initiate a criminal investigator and the Supreme Court’s judgement awaited.

The Prosecutor has similarly refused to initiate an investigation over torture in police custody on 9 December, despite the number of witnesses able to confirm the difference in Strogan’s condition by his court appearance the next day. 

The road to the European Court of Human Rights seems depressingly clear, as does the Court’s likely judgement.

The hearings into the charge against him began in spring last year. Spring is once again in the air but there is not a sign of any movement towards resolution.  For some time the judge even refused to allow Strogan’s lawyer to see his client.  It seemed clear that the trial was being dragged out.

There are serious grounds for concern about the course of the trial as well. The judge, for example, refused to hear the testimony of a witness, the wife of the building janitor, who saw the broken glass with blood on it which Strogan has said from the outset was how his neighbour injured himself.

The forensic report which supposedly substantiated the claims of attempted murder was, back in May 2011, so demolished in court that the judge agreed to the defence’s demand that the author of the forensic examination be questioned in court.  She also demanded other documentation with that, and the forensic expert’s questioning, enabling a decision to be made as to whether a repeat forensic examination was to be called for.

On 21 September another forensic examination was ordered in Kharkiv.  There was one more court hearing at which the forensic expert asked for more documents.  Since then there has been silence. 

It is excellent that Yakiv Strogan has finally been released from custody and can be with his family. 

It remains as deeply disturbing as ever that the law enforcement bodies and court persist in refusing to investigate serious allegations of torture against police officers.

In December 2010 the message intended seemed entirely clear: those who dare speak out against lawlessness will live to regret it. 

14 months on that message rings out very loudly.  It spells danger to any Ukrainian or visitor to the country. 

The right to a fair trial

Diminishing public access to court rulings, increasing pressure on the courts


In an interview for OstroV, Roman Kuybida from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform explained the new worrying restrictions on which court rulings the public will get to see.

As reported, on 20 October 2011 the Verkhovna Rada passed a law which, among other things, effectively removed the public’s right to learn about all court rulings.  Law №3932-VI, apparently about something else altogether, contains an insidious clause 3 § 3 stating that “the list of general jurisdiction court rulings which are to be added to the Register is approved by the Council of Judges, after agreement with the State Judicial Administration”. 

On 10 November President Yanukovych ignored calls from civic and human rights organizations, as well as the Association of Ukrainian Banks, to use his power of veto and signed the bill into law.

At the time Roman Kuybida stressed that the Single Register of Court Rulings had been created on the initiative of civic organizations against the wishes of many dishonest judges who were afraid of court rulings which widely available. That openness has now been removed, with judges able to decide what the public should or should not see..

The Council of Judges has now set out the documents which are to be entered into the Single Register of Court Rulings.  Having analysed the relevant decision passed by the Council of Judges, Roman Kuybida finds that a number of court decisions and rulings from local general jurisdiction courts to specialized courts will not get into the Register.

Asked if there were objective reasons for restricting the amount of material input into the Register, he pointed out that the problem could only be with a server not being able to cope with the volume. He adds that USAID funds were spent within the framework of several projects on improving the technical base for the Register.

“The most interesting thing is that the initiative on restricting the Register did not come from the State Judicial Administration which is responsible for the Register, but from the Council of Judges.”

There had already been problems with the Register not including all rulings. They had encountered the situation, for example, where a first instance court ruling on cases regarding peaceful assembly was not included, while the appeal court ruling was. 

If this happened before, one could make a formal request to the registrar who was in turn supposed to ask the court why the ruling was not there.

Now some rulings can simply not be entered.

Roman Kuybida explains that with regard to bans on peaceful gatherings, the final rulings much be included in the Register. However it will not include decisions to hold people liable for “an unauthorized meeting”. “This concept is applied by the courts yet from a legal point of view it is meaningless since one does not need “authorization” to hold a meeting. Nonetheless people who did not notify the authorities about a meeting have been prosecuted, as was the case recently when members of an action which involved handing out condoms with an image of Yanukovych on them got 15 days. However whether there was in fact a relevant court ruling and what the justification we can no longer check.”

They have been monitoring court bans on peaceful assembly since 2010, he explains, when the problem became more acute, though they have taken court rulings from 2009 for comparison.

He says that the authorities now more often apply to the courts for bans, with the percentage of such bans very high.  This is especially noticeable in Kyiv where in 2011 they found only one rejection by a court of an application to ban a meeting.  He says in fact that he has the impression that the refusal was deliberate in order to blur the image of the courts allowing all applications from the Kyiv authorities.

The Centre has not observed any link between the number of peaceful gatherings and number of bans.  It all depends on the region, with gatherings taking place in some regions without any obstruction.

With respect to other trends, he mentions criminal justice where the number of acquittals is falling each year, from 0.5% to 0.3%, while in 2011 it fell to 0.2%.  Lawyers who worked in the Soviet period say that even then the percentage of acquittals was higher.  He believes the trend may reflect an increase in the influence of the Prosecutor’s office on the courts.

He says that it is common for a judge who hands down an acquittal to be held liable, on the initiative of the Prosecutor’s office for some infringements in another case.

“In one of the regions there was  a case where a judge handed down an acquittal, and the Prosecutor’s office raised the question of bringing disciplinary proceedings over infringement the time limits for examining the case.”  The reason for the delay, he stresses, had been because additional expert assessments were called to check the quality of the investigation. There were grounds for asserting that drugs had been planted on the defendant.  They were wrapped in the page of a journal and one of those involved in the arrest was studying law and writing a work on that subject at the time.

“What is interesting is that the Prosecutor did not so much take revenge on the judge as put pressure on other judges. At appeal level the acquittal was revoked and the case sent for a new examination.  The new judge knew that his predecessor was undergoing disciplinary proceedings. In the end the Prosecutor’s application for disciplinary proceedings to be brought was dismissed, but only after the new judge had convicted the person.

There was a kind of “compromise” between the court and the Prosecutor: the person got a suspended sentence.” Kuybida points out that the judge’s doubts were clear since the defendant had already served a year for an analogous offence, and one would normally expect a harsher sentence for a repeat offence.  The judge, however, was clearly scared to hand down an acquittal.

He believes it likely that the Prosecutor’s office even receives a reprimand from the next step up if an acquittal is passed, with them somehow needing to defend the honour of their post, and the idea that an acquittal proves that they did a bad job.

The Register will no longer hold decisions allowing or refusing to allow the Supreme Court to review high court rulings. Previously this could be monitored. It could be seen what cases this entailed, and how justified the refusals to allow review were. This, Kuybida points out, could indicate whether a judge was biased. It will now be difficult to carry out such monitoring.

The rulings of the High Administrative Court to return or leave without examination a legal suit will not be placed in the Register.  This refers only to rulings issued at first and final level, i.e. those not subject to appeal. This, Kuybida says, is extremely strange. Various minor legal suits will be published while the rulings of the High Administrative Court at first and final level will not.  These rulings after all concern suits against the Verkhovna Rada, the President, the High Council of Justice and High Qualification Commission.

Kuybida points out that the High Administrative Court’s practice has been inconsistent. In one case it refused to initiate proceedings over a suit demanding that the court order the President to present his income declaration. In another case the suit trying to compel the President to react to the claimant’s violation of rights was returned as unfounded. Yet both cases should have been examined on their merits.

The Register will now not contain rulings on withdrawal of a judge or refusal to withdraw them.

Nor will it publish court orders allowing various investigative activities to be carried out.  These were previously published though  later so as not to obstruct the investigation. It is extremely important to be able to analyze such rulings since they concern fundamental human rights – confidentiality of correspondence, inviolability of one’s home and so forth.

Asked if this frees the hands of the police and SBU [Security Service], Kuybida answered that yes, it does.

He stresses that the point of the register had been in being able to follow a case and determine whether a judge had been biased or had an interest in a particular outcome, whereas now we see only pieces of such cases.

Roman Kuybida believes that the present restrictions to the Register were made in order to not provoke an outcry.  He adds that despite everything, the decision is a compromise one. However the Council of Judges can in future review the decision, still further restricting the Register, that the law enables them to do so.

From the interview at OstroV

Zaporizhya Church bombing: serious questions remain

Well-known journalist Yury Lukanov has looked into the explosion in a Zaporizhya Church on 28 July 2010 and the subsequent investigation, arrests and prosecution of three young men.  The study is to be welcomed given serious grounds for concern over the case.

The home-made bomb exploded in the Svyato-Pokrovsk Church in Zaporizhya, wounding 6 people, one of whom, an 80-year-old nun died later in hospital.  There was apparently also damage to church property estimated at 400 thousand UAH.

The bomb exploded during the first visit to Ukraine of the Moscow Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Kirill, a visit treated with unprecedented pomp and ceremony by the new regime under President Yanukovych. 

A meeting was televised the very next day between Yanukovych and the then Minister of the Interior and Prosecutor General. The President demanded that the Prosecutor General immediately solve the case “establish the nature of this crime, what the bandits wanted to say by it”.

The Prosecutor General promised to solve the crime within seven days, and the media reported that the former head of the SBU [Security Service] had issued the same instruction.

On 6 August the then Minister of the Interior, Anatoly Mohylyov also reported to the President during a direct broadcast that the crime had been solved and that three people were in custody.  He asserted that their guilt had been proven by the testimony of witnesses and material evidence.

The case was passed to the court in October. The prosecution claims that Anton Kharytonov was dismissed from his post as sexton at the Svyato-Pokrovsk Church over unlawful conducting of rituals and theft of money. Anton believed that he had been unfairly dismissed. His elder brother is supposed to enter into a criminal conspiracy with Anton out of a wish to avenge his brother for his unfair treatment.  They are supposed to have decided to put a bomb in the church.  Serhiy is alleged to have bought the device, passed it to Anton who then gave it to a sexton at the church and his friend, Yevhen Fedorchenko. The latter is supposed to have been dissatisfied with the situation in the church and have therefore agreed to help them.  He is alleged to have put the bomb, set to go off at 6 o’clock in a sports bag left for the poor, and then taken it out and placed it in the church itself.

Olha Dyomina, mother of Anton and Serhiy, says that on 29 July around 12.00 a person who said that he was from the SBU [Security Service] rang Anton on his mobile. He asked for a meeting, saying that they were questioning all churchgoers about the explosion in the church, . He met with Anton in a park and spoke with him for a couple of hours. The next day, three police officers found Anton with his mother in the bank and asked them to come to the police station for Anton to look at some photos.  They were separated, and when she finally insisted on seeing her son at 9 in the evening, she was appalling to see that there were big holes in his trousers, where the pockets had been cut out. She believes that they cut them while Anton was wearing them as a form of psychological pressure. She asserts that they threatened to cut off his genitals if he didn’t sign a confession saying that he and his brother had blown up the church.

These trousers with the pockets cut out were caught on the video footage taken during the re-enactment of the crime, and were shown in court.

All of the police officers questioned in court claim that they don’t remember why Anton’s trousers were in such a state.

Serhiy was arrested two days later. He asserts that he was beaten and forced to sign a confession. As a result of the beating he can hardly see in one eye. His mother alleges that he was beaten by police officer Oleksandr Ryabukha.

All three young men have retracted their confessions in court and stated that they were pressured into writing them.

Ryabukha now says that he has retired and doesn’t remember anything.

A number of complaints alleging torture of Anton Kharytonov were returned without any explanation from the Prosecutor General’s office to the Zaporizhya Regional Prosecutor.

Home-made or bought?

A witness who claimed that he had constructed and passed Serhiy the detonator has since retracted this in court, saying that his evidence was beaten out of him.

Lawyer Oleh Veremiyenko says that his testimony is anyway absurd. At first the investigators claimed that the young men had themselves prepared the bomb. There is a video on which Serhiy very uncertainly describes how he supposedly made the bomb.

Yet the forensic report found that the construction which Serhiy described was not that which was in the actual bomb.

Oleh Veremiyenko says that all three young men have watertight alibis yet neither the investigators nor the court are taking them into account.

The investigators are now claiming that the explosive device was bought at a market.  There are now, Veremiyenko says, two mutually contradictory versions in the indictment. He says there are only the confessions which all the young men have retracted in court.

A version not considered

The religious community which the Svyato-Pokrovsk Church belongs to, owned a certain piece of land which they decided to sell to a Donetsk firm for 8 million UAH (around 1 million USD). The firm made a preliminary payment of 1 million UAH but then the community changed their mind. The court ordered that the million be returned to the firm.

The Bailiffs report that they had a writ for the money but this was withdrawn by the firm in October 2010, seemingly because by now the Svyato-Pokrovsk Church had handed the particular land over to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate and no longer owned it.  The firm thus never got their money back which the author suggests could be a reason for wanting revenge.  The explosion, he points out, happened a year to the day that the Economic Court ordered that the Pokrovsk Religious Community return the 1 million.

Oleh Veremiyenko notes that the highest leadership in the country had ordered the local enforcement bodies to catch the culprits immediately. The pressure to get results was enormous.

At the end of last year, similar orders from the President also resulted in record-speed arrests.  There has since been silence in that case, though the men are clearly still in custody. See Rubber Stamp Courts.

From the report by Yury Lukanov here  His investigation was carried out with the support of the Human Rights Information Centre

Freedom of expression

Excuses for instructions to provide PR for President’s “social initiatives”

"Correct opinion" (cartoon from Glavnoe)

The State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee has found a new explanation for its instructions to regional heads of TV and radio channels to create programmes explaining President Yanukovych’s social initiatives. It claims that these fall within the Law on the Procedure for Covering the Activities of State Authorities and Bodies of Local Self-Government by the Media, and the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution on Regulations on Public Procurement of Production and Circulation of Television and Radio Programmes.

As reported, a letter was sent on 13 March from the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee to regional TV + Radio Companies [TRC]. It demands that they urgently broadcast special programmes from 15 March explaining President Yanukovych’s “social initiatives”.

All regional State TRC and the “Crimea” State TRC were also sent a letter asking them to give coverage in their evening news broadcasts or special sections to the meeting between Yanukovych and the President of Turkmenistan; the meeting between Yanukovych, the Verkhovna Rada’s Speaker and leaders of parliamentary factions; the meeting between Prime Minister Azarov and members of foreign companies working in Ukraine; and other such items.

The Head of the State Broadcasting Committee Oleksandr Kurdinovych told Telekritika that the Committee in this way is forming public procurement and directing State TV and radio companies in their coverage of the activities of higher bodies of power.

The State Broadcasting Committee provided a long “legal” explanation for their actions, citing the above-mentioned law and resolution, other laws as well as Ukraine’s Constitution.

The instructions which the Committee is trying to justify were known as “Temnyky” under President Kuchma.  These were instructions from above on what to cover and how, and also, importantly, what was not to be mentioned.

These largely disappeared under President Yushchenko, but would now appear, whatever the coating provided, to be returning under President Yanukovych.

New information from Telekritika

State TV and radio channels once again receiving instructions on content

The gravestone visible in full says: The press under pressure (photo from Radio Svoboda)

A letter has been made public which suggests Ukraine’s leaders may have restarted the tradition under President Kuchma of “temnyky” – instructions from above on the material to be given coverage and how.

The letter was first posted by but has now been reprinted by a number of media outlets.  It is from the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee; signed by its Head, Oleksandr Kurdinovych, and sent to regional TV + Radio Companies [TRC]. It demands that they urgently broadcast special programmes from 15 March explaining President Yanukovych’s “social initiatives”.

The letter tells the heads of the TRC to create or adapt existing formats of TV or radio programmes and broadcast them from 15 March.  These should involve the heads or representatives of the local authorities, well-known specialists and be devoted to explaining and discussing the social initiatives which President Yanukovych announced at an extended meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers on 7 March 2012.

Such programmes should be broadcast at least twice a week.

The TRC directors are ordered to report on the results of their work and the planned time of broadcasts by 16 March.

On the same day, 13 March, Oleksandr Polyvach sent all regional State TRC and the “Crimea” State TRC a letter asking them to give coverage in their evening news broadcasts or special sections of the following:

the meeting between Yanukovych and the President of Turkmenistan;

the meeting between Yanukovych, the Verkhovna Rada’s Speaker and leaders of parliamentary factions;

the meeting between Prime Minister Azarov and members of foreign companies working in Ukraine;

and others of a similar nature.

The Head of the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee, Oleksandr Kurdinovych confirmed the authenticity of the letter and that of Oleksandr Polyvach, but told Telekritika that he did not consider them to be “temnyky”.

He called his letter to the heads of the TRC “a normal usual document giving instructions”. “Within the framework of public orders for the production of programmes for State needs, where there is a large proportion of information and publicist programmes, we ask for such work to be organized since indeed, in our view, the President’s social initiatives, which he put forward at the extended meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers are extremely important for citizens of our country. And our citizens should be informed and know as much as possible about these initiatives”.

Kurdinovych added that this work was part of coverage of the authorities, and said it was neither the first nor the last such text.

He also asserted that his instructions are mandatory since this is a part of public commissioning.

Kurdinovych said that the letter from Oleksandr Polyvach giving a list of topics was about the State Committee helping the regional TRC.

He claims that all the above has nothing to do with temnyky, but is part of ordinary information work.

From a report at Telekritika

Stop Censorship wants investigation into commissioned news stories

Well-known journalist Mustafa Nayem on Wednesday put forward demands from the civic movement Stop Censorship at the latest meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech.

He asked MPs to react to the huge number of commissioned news stories in the media and asked the Committee to officially call on the management to TV channels and printed publications to clearly mark material presented to viewers or readers on an advertising basis.  This concerns all material and the marking should make it immediately clear to the audience that they are dealing with advertising material.

Stop Censorship also asks the Committee to officially call on the management to TV channels and printed publications to make public a list of all commercial products, as well as their pricelist. “We are seeing how on many channels there are some kind of material, accompanying reports, interviews. We later find out that this was on a commercial basis, yet the viewer did not know this. We also know that there are interviews in a lot of journalists which were ordered by the advertising department. We consider that it is the duty of all media publications to observe legislation on advertising and information”.

Mustafa also remind the Committee about the assault on journalists in a Donetsk supermarket (the journalists were trying to do a feature about items beyond their sell-by date). He asked for clarification for journalists and the heads of commercial structures regarding whether journalists have the right to take such video footage.

He similarly asked for clarification regarding the statement on Wednesday from the SBU [Security Service] suggesting that journalists filming with concealed cameras could face criminal liability.

The Committee decided to review the last two questions in detail at their meeting on 11 April.

With regard to the Stop Censorship statement, they will comment after considering its content in detail. 

Human rights protection

Yevhen Zakharov: Speech in Parliament during the election of Ombudsperson


The address given by one of the candidates for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson – Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union before the vote for Ombudsperson on 15 March. As reported, neither candidate gained the requisite parliamentary majority.

After greeting the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and the deputies, Yevhen Zakharov stated: “I have been involved in human rights work for 40 years, over the last 20 years on a professional basis. I have never been a member of any political party and am free from political influences.  I learned a long time ago from older friends – Larisa Bogoraz, Sergei Kovalyov, Yevhen Sverstyuk – the main principles of human rights protection: independence, especially from the authorities and from politicians; non-discrimination, which means defence of victims of human rights abuse regardless of their convictions and party affiliation; race; skin colour; ethnic origin; language; religion, etc.  And maximum honesty regarding information, saying only what I think and calling things by their real name.  This is what I would like to tell you.

If between 2005 and 2009 we reported that government policy on human rights was ineffective, unsystematic and chaotic, today we are forced to state that during the last two years there has been no such government policy at all, and human rights are not a priority for the leaders of the country. The norm of Article 3 of the Constitution, stating that the main duty of the State is to affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms seems a pure mockery. The authorities are clearly demonstrating contempt for human rights and flagrantly putting pressure on society, violating the Constitution and laws, the principle of rule of law, civil rights and political liberties; destroying the rudiments of judicial independence; turning judges into obedient implementers of others’ will.

The State is working solely on “improving the life already today” of its own elite, and treats other Ukrainians with humiliating contempt. We have not seen anything like it in 20 years of independence! At present a quarter of the population considers itself poor, while according to UN standards for Europe, 80% of the people are poor. The authorities pay no attention to criticism and at best merely imitate cooperation with the public. Instead of dialogue with the public as with an equal partner, they instead resort to political persecution of their opponents and protest movements, trying to intimidate them, using the law enforcement bodies and courts for this.  This is staggering, with the authorities acting as though there was no divine punishment!

I would say in other words that historical experience proves that a political regime which violates human rights ever more and more, is doomed. In these circumstances the government swiftly loses legitimacy. The present situation can be compared to a forest fire and therefore fighting worms on a particular tree to a large extent becomes senseless.  Undoubtedly, stopping human rights violations in specific cases is an important task for the Ombudsperson, however this or her first task at the present time is to obstruct the present systemic and widespread human rights violations and speak about the potential threats to human rights contained in the laws passed by decisions of the executive branch of power and bodies of local self-government. To this end the Ombudsperson must put legal questions about this before the Constitutional Court, actively using the Ombudsperson’s right to make constitutional submissions.

The Ombudsperson should publicly set out the main human rights issues in the country. I am certain that as of today that is the destruction of the foundations of the justice system. A strong, independent and fair judiciary is the main prerequisite for the protection of human rights. Without it human rights protection turns into a fiction. Saint Augustine said that a state without an independent court is not a state, but a pack of robbers.

The Ombudsperson should be active in the information realm and speak about threats to human rights. He or she should actively work with NGOs, create regional offices, specialist Ombudspersons on minority rights, the rights of the child; freedom of information and personal data protection; the rights of people in confinement with the relevant powers to significantly increase the number of people focusing on active protection of rights.

I hope to be heard, and show your our latest report which for the seventh year in a row has been prepared by human rights NGOs together. This is the report for 2011 and I wish to present this report to the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada.

Thank you for your attention. 

Human Rights in Ukraine – 2011 Report issued

A press conference on Tuesday presented the report issued by human rights organizations under the auspices of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union – Human Rights in Ukraine – 2011.

The report identifies three danger trends which emerged last year: increased poverty; political persecution of the opposition and civic movements, as well as the destruction of judicial independence.

The presenters called the situation with social and economic rights catastrophic. According to the data contained in the report, a quarter of the population consider themselves to be poor. 85% of Ukrainians, in order to survive, have to economize on food, clothing, leisure and holidays.

The government has adopted a harsh position on stopping or reducing social payments to former Chornobyl clean-up workers; Afghanistan War veterans, children, etc, and in response to protests has effectively resorted to political persecution.  Instead of reviewing their position, they have tried to intimidate protesters, using the law enforcement bodies – the MIA, the Security Service and the Prosecutor. ,

The authors stress that the trend towards use of enforcement bodies as an instrument of political persecution of opponents is extremely dangerous for human rights. This can lead to a spiralling of repression which will then be hard to stop. Political repression at that point against imagined enemies can turn into repression against everybody.

Disrespect for the justice system is another negative trend in Ukraine. This leads to chance criminal prosecution and courts falling under the control of the Prosecutor’s Office and bodies of local self-government. The authorities called the court trials of former government officials a travesty of justice.

There has been no improvement in the situation regarding the use of torture and ill-treatment. If in 2010 more than 790 thousand people suffered from unlawful violence at the hands of the police this figure in 2011 stood at 980 thousand.  Torture most often goes unpunished or, what is worse, is viewed as the norm. This leads to an increase in arbitrary behaviour and impunity from the law enforcement bodies on the one hand and an increase in the sense of vulnerability among the public on the others.

The presenters asserted that a political regime which violates human rights is every more doomed to failed. They stress that the human rights situation will improve only with a radical change in the country’s leaders’ attitude to their main constitutional duty – affirming and protecting human rights. 

The Human Rights in Ukraine reports are used by national and international organizations for assessing the human rights situation in the country in general and trends and developments in the specific year. They have been published on an annual basis since 2004.  Over 30 human rights organizations from all over the country took part in drawing up the report which contains 26 sections. 

News from the CIS countries

Dozen arrested as Moscow protesters call for new elections

About a dozen protesters were arrested by the police on March 10 as several thousand pro-democracy demonstrators attended a rally to denounce the March 4 presidential election that was won by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front movement, was among those arrested while trying to conduct an unsanctioned march on the margins of the main, officially sanctioned demonstration.

Udaltsov has been charged with failure to obey a police officer and could face up to 15 days’ administrative detention. He had called on supporters to leave the sanctioned rally and march to Pushkin Square to "discuss" the latest protest.
Earlier, Moscow police detained about 25 ultranationalists who tried to hold an unsanctioned march in a nearby part of the city.
At the main, sanctioned protest on Moscow’s Novy Arbat Street, demonstrators carried white balloons and banners and wore white ribbons to highlight alleged falsification of the presidential election and the December 2011 legislative elections.
There was a heavy police presence surrounding the demonstration, as the Interior Ministry reported some 2, 500 troops would be on duty.

"I counted about 19 buses and trucks with police in them on the main Novy Arbat track. There’s a police helicopter -- actually, there’s a helicopter in the sky that presumably is police because you can’t fly in Moscow skies, " RFE/RL correspondent Tom Balmforth reported.
​​Demonstrators repeated calls for new elections and for Putin to stand aside. Udaltsov told Reuters that the current Russian authorities were "illegitimate."
"We don’t recognize the current authorities, the elected Duma, the elected president as legitimate. So we should act according to that position, " Udaltsov said.
"The quicker we liberate the country with peaceful, but decisive methods, from the illegitimate, unlawful authorities, the better for all of us."

Putin was awarded about 63 percent of the vote in the election, which international election monitors have said was clearly skewed to Putin’s advantage.

Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov also told the crowd that the legislative and presidential elections were illegitimate and said the movement would continue to press its demands.

"So far the authorities have no intention of moving toward serious, complex reforms. And they do not intend to hold new snap parliamentary and presidential elections, " he said. "We will continue to demand from them systemic political reforms and new elections. We will continue to demand the release of all political prisoners."

’What Are We Here For?’

Police estimated the crowd in Moscow to be about 10, 000 people, while demonstration organizers put the figure at 25, 000-30, 000, significantly lower than was seen at demonstrations in December and January that brought up to 100, 000 people into the streets.
There were smaller demonstrations in other cities around Russia on March 10. In Nizhny Novgorod, about 100 people gathered in an unsanctioned demonstration and as many as 60 were detained by the police.
In St. Petersburg, about 40 people were detained trying to hold an unsanctioned demonstration. In Yekaterinburg, at least 2, 500 people demonstrated, and no arrests were reported.
Speaking to Reuters in Moscow, one demonstrator explained his reasons for protesting: 
"Putin destroyed the constitution, and went for a third term. And in our country, not the higher court, nor the constitutional court can say to him that he has no right to go for a third term, " he said. "And that’s why we have this disarray in society."
In comments to RFE/RL, another demonstrator who identified himself as Sergei, a 49-year-old businessman, said he was demonstrating for free elections. "I want Russia to be a free country. I don’t want them to deceive me during the elections, " he said. "I want it to be so that when I vote for something, my vote isn’t stolen. I want it to remain where I put it. That’s all."
​​The opposition movement is struggling to maintain its momentum in postelection Russia. Speakers on March 10 had difficulty rallying the crowd.

High-profile socialite Ksenia Sobchak told the crowd that it was time for the opposition in Russia to stop protesting against the authorities and to lay out its own positive program.
"We all know what we are against, " she said. "Now we must very quickly formulate what we are for. We are for judicial reform, for a free press, for broad political reforms."

In comments to Interfax, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov -- who did not attend the rally because of a cold -- said it was now necessary for the opposition to prepare for upcoming elections at all levels -- local, mayoral, and gubernatorial.
He supported a call made at the demonstration by Udaltsov to hold a million-person rally in Moscow on May 1.
"Definitely, it is not a bad idea, " Nemtsov said. "Of course, it is hard to say if a demonstration with 1 million people could be pulled off, but making a clear, unified demonstration right on the eve of the presidential inauguration would be very good."
Putin is expected to be sworn in as president in the Kremlin on May 4.

Mediocre Turnout

Many of the demonstrators were supporters of oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who came in third in the presidential race. Sergei, 49, is a Moscow businessman who said he was not worried that the crowd at the demonstration seemed noticeably smaller than the one that gathered the day after the election.

​​"It is completely to be expected that the level of activity on the street inevitably has to fall. The people who come here have a lot of things to do, as a rule, " he said.

"I have my own business, for example; other people have a lot of work. We can’t come out into the streets every week, can we?"

Nonetheless, the crowd in Moscow represented a broad spectrum of the country’s political opposition united under the For Free Elections slogan.

""All the various parties are represented here. There’s loads of nationalist flags, Solidarity flags, Yavlinsky flags. There’s even a Facebook flag -- I don’t know what the message is there, " RFE/RL’s Balmforth noted.

"There isn’t really much of a festival atmosphere or jovial atmosphere as there was the other day, " at the rally on March 5.

It was estimated that some 20, 000 people participated in the March 5 Moscow rally and some 200 people were detained by police. There were smaller protests in other cities, and police arrested about 300 demonstrators in St. Petersburg.

Another participant in the demonstration, who identified herself as Yektarina and said she was an architectural historian, expressed hope that Russia is moving into a period of greater democratic development.

" I know the history of Moscow well -- particularly, the Soviet period and the history of architecture -- and I know that after difficult periods of suffering there come periods of liberation and I hope that now we are emerging onto the general path of world development, " she said.

"At least, I hope so."

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2012, #03