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Politics and human rights

Assessment of the Draft Bill on Principles of State Language Policy

An analysis of the draft Law on the Principles of State Language Policy (No. 9073) and how it correlates with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

On 5 June the Verkhovna Rada passed in its first reading a draft Law on the Principles of State Language Policy (No. 9073), tabled by Vadim Kolesnichenko and Serhiy Kivalov. The explanatory note states that on adoption of the draft law, Russia will become a regional language in 13 (out of 27) administrative territorial units.  The adoption of the bill was accompanied by large-scale protest near the Verkhovna Rada and confrontation between the police and protesters.

The draft law was first tabled on 26 August 2011 and states that it is aimed at defining the principles, objectives and tasks of Ukraine’s official language policy, the status and way of using languages in different spheres of state and public life; establishing liability for infringements of language legislation as well as making amendments regarding language issues to a number of laws.  A note is included saying that the main language to be used for office work and documentation by the authorities and local bodies of local self-government   is the State language (i.e. Ukrainian – translator). However, Article 8 § 3 proposes that in areas where a regional language (languages) is (are) spoken, this (they) can also be used. The regional language (languages) can also be used for correspondence with higher level authorities. .Legal proceedings in civil, economical, administrative and criminal cases are to be in the state language, however in areas where a regional language (languages) is (are) spoken, they can also be in the regional languages by mutual agreement (Article 8 § 3).

The draft bill in general uses only some of the definitions from the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages*. This Charter was ratified by Ukraine’s Parliament on 15 May 2003.

The main challenge to its ratification came from a number of issues related to the Russian language, because defining this language as a regional or minority language remains up till the present day a threat to the existence of the Ukrainian language given Russian’s actual, as opposed to legal, status.

For example, according to the 2001 Census, the population was over 48 million with 134 minority groups making up 22.2% of the population.  The multi-ethnicity of the population is specific with 80% of all ethnic non-Ukrainians - ethnic Russians. Another complex aspect of Ukrainian multi-ethnicity is the issue of identifying the language identity as such. 5 and a half million ethnic Ukrainians, for example, named Russian as their native language. Various indicators suggest that there are three major linguistic groups in Ukraine: Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russian-speaking Russians. In this context it is rather difficult to call Russian a minority language.

The Law ratifying the Charter in May 2003 named the following regional or minority languages: Belarusian, Bulgarian, Gagauz, Greek, Jewish, Crimean Tatar, Moldavian, German, Polish, Russian, Slovak and Hungarian.  The issue of use of the Karaim and Krymchak languages has not yet been settled, nor has the question of protecting Jewish language – Hebrew or Yiddish. Additionally, the draft law includes adoption of decrees on regional identification with regard to 18 languages whereas the law on ratifying the Charter stipulated 13 regional languages.

The draft law is in line with political traditions established via political negotiations following the ratification of the Charter with regard to the Russian language which can scarcely be considered  a minority language. Parliament’s Legal Department states that the Russian language is mentioned in the draft law 9 times, it is at the first place in the list of regional or minority languages; and Article 10 § 1 would allow the  highest bodies of state power to publish documents in Ukrainian, Russian or other regional or minority languages. .

Separate norms proposed by the lawmakers are not in keeping with Ukraine’s Constitution and international documents ratified by Ukraine, in particular the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Constitutional Court Judgement from 14 December, 1999 No 10 рп/99 providing an explanation of Article 10 of the Constitution with respect to use of the State official language. The draft law includes compilations of separate definitions used in the Charter such as “region”, “regional or minority language” etc, which do not correspond to the initial definitions used in the document and the existing definitions used in Ukrainian legislation, which defines “a region” as “a territory of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, oblast, Kyiv and Sevastopol cities”, but does not speak about the rayon or village as proposed in the draft bill.

The draft law proposes to protect national minority languages by identifying and protecting “regional or minority languages” on the territory of specific administrative-territorial units where regional language speakers make up 10% of the population. These territories may vary from the level of a region to rayon, city or a village. The rights of minorities to speak their language according to the document “should be legislatively protected in state management, education, the court system, culture, mass media, advertising, etc. The draft law does not however include a parity mechanism for law implementation in cases when several minorities or language communities live in the same territory, or the speakers of minority language live dispersed and do not make up 10% of one region’s population. Moreover, the borders of administrative-territorial units do not always correspond to the place where a minority lives. It should also be noted that the Charter does not include a 10% barrier for providing language protection.

The draft law proposes to use regional or minority languages alongside the state language virtually throughout the entire country, yet this question is contentious since regional authorities and bodies of local self-government are not competent in defining “regional languages”, as Article 10 of the Constitution does not give them the right to set a regional or minority language alongside the state language at public administration level. In fact, adoption of these norms will lead to a review of the corresponding Constitutional norms.

At the same time the Parliamentary Legal Department rightly noted that the Charter does not, in its list of steps that should be taken in order to protect and develop those languages, envisage the need to adopt special decisions by the authorities or bodies of local self-government  on declaring a regional language as a language spread at the territory of a specific administrative-territorial unit”, but includes measures aiming on popularizing the use of regional or minority languages in public life according to Article 2 § 2 of the Charter. By adopting a law, regional languages should be used alongside with the state language” in the spheres of education, mass media, public administration in most regions of Ukraine which does not correspond to Article 10 of the Constitution.

The amendments envisaged to 33 laws and bylaws regulating the spheres of education, cinematography, court system  would  significantly limit the use of the official State  language. These changes may also cover other fields and policies besides language. Yet regional languages should be used “alongside the state language” in the spheres of education, mass media, public administration in most of the regions of Ukraine this not complying with Article 10 of the Constitution.

The draft law does not include information about the sources of funding for initiatives in the sphere of language policy. It is asserted that the draft law does not need any additional budget funds as funding is already foreseen for the development and usage of Ukrainian as a state language and for the implementation of the law ratifying  the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages”. This seems quite unrealistic since if  the law is adopted, it may cover wider spheres in education, advertising and public services.

At the same time it is still not clear why Ukraine needs such language integration since the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages states clearly that “protection and encouragement of regional or minority languages should not be to the detriment of the official languages and the need to learn them”.

*  For ratification, a country must adopt 35 norms of the document and ratify it with three levels of obligations. Ukraine did it to the maximum.  The Preamble states that the Charter’s main aim is to protect the historical regional or minority languages of Europe, some of which are in danger of eventual extinction, contributes to the maintenance and development of Europe’s cultural wealth and traditions. The document stresses the necessity of intercultural dialogue and multilingualism and mentions that “the protection and encouragement of regional or minority languages should not be to the detriment of the official languages and the need to learn them”. Ratifying the document is was one of Ukraine’s obligations on joining the Council of Europe – it had to sign and ratify it within a year. The document was signed on 2 May 1996, but the process of ratification lasted until 2003.

Very slightly abridged (of substance only the details about the European Charter) from the text here

Latest hearing in Lutsenko trial

The trial continued on 13 June of former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko on the third change against him which was unexpectedly separated into a different trial late last year. 

Yury Lutsenko told the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv that he denied any guilt over the charges.  He is accused of having organized the unlawful surveillance on Valentin Davydenko, driver of the former Deputy Head of the SBU [Security Service] Volodymyr Satsyuk. Yushchenko had been taken ill in 2004 after dining with SBU people at the dacha of the SBU Deputy Head.

Lutsenko asserted that the Prosecutor General’s Officer was trying, though the charges of unlawful surveillance, to destroy the case over Yushchenko’s poisoning, “since Davydenko may be one of the key witnesses regarding the person who took the dioxin there”.

The Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka recently stated that they have grounds for terminating the poisoning case, but that they will wait until Yushchenko gives blood or until the end of the year if the former President fails to do so.

Davydenko was again not present in the court.  Yury Lutsenko’s lawyers said that the hearing could therefore not continue, however the judge quoted an old telegram where Davydenko asked for the hearings to continue in his absence.  Despite Lutsenko’s objections, the court is planning to simply read out Davydenko’s testimony.

As reported, , one of the reasons for separating out the surveillance charge was linked with problems over witnesses’ appearance. Yet on 18 May Judge Medushevska suggested that  the trial could continue without the alleged victim, i.e.  Davydenko, Following categorical protest from Yury Lutsenko and his lawyers, the Judge agreed to have Davydenko forcibly brought to the court, yet on 1 June the court hearing took place without Davydenko, the judge saying that he had sent a telegram saying his state of health precluded him from attending, but saying that he confirmed his testimony.

Yury Lutsenko again expressed his protest at Davydenko’s absence.

This was despite the fact that during the original trial witness after witness asserted in court that their testimony had been distorted, that they had been put under pressure or, simply, that the behaviour with which Lutsenko was charged, had been and remained standard practice within the Ministry.  All of this was ignored.

The sole witness questioned on Wednesday was Yevhen Troyan. He stated that he did considered continuation of the surveillance of Davydenko to have been lawful.

“I consider that the decision to continue the investigative operations, signed by Yury Lutsenko, was legally since later evidence came to light that this person might really be implicated in the crime.”

Following this Judge Medushevska adjourned the trial under 22 June.

Information from the People’s Self-Defence Party website

Against torture and ill-treatment

Despite certain positive changes the problem remains very serious


26 June is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Protests to mark this day took place in many Ukrainian cities. This is a report of the press conference which took place in Kharkiv.

26 June 2012

The use of torture is a flagrant violation of human rights and strongly condemned in international law, in particular in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; the European Convention on Human Rights which stated that nobody shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine is a systemic phenomenon as human rights organizations have repeatedly stressed in their reports which are used by national and international organizations to assess the general human rights situation in the country.

The press conference was given by:

Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of KHPG

Marina Shuhalyova, from the KHPG Advice Centre

Yevhen Zakharov:  “Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day in 1986 the Convention against Torture came into force. On this day our organization tries to give a summary of our work in fighting torture during the year; review new trends; new cases and tell journalists about this. In 2010-2011 the number of allegations of torture increased significantly. In 2009 sociological research showed that the estimated number of people who had suffered was a little higher than 600 thousand; over a year – in 2010 around 790 thousand; in 2011 0 984 thousand.  This number thus grew steadily. We are talking about victims of torture and other forms of unlawful violence by the police.

In 2010-2011 the conditions in some remand units where the number of people is much higher than the number of places worsened significantly. This is connected with the fact that there were more prosecutions, the courts passed more orders to remand people in custody and the number of places remained the same. At the same time the penal system was very poorly financed, with the public funding which was already insufficient not received in full with only 50% of the amount needed received. It therefore follows that there was much less money for providing food and medical treatment for prisoners which led in particular to an increase in the mortality rate in places of confinement by 45%  as against 2010.  Mr Zakharov noted that in the Lukyanov, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Crimean and Kherson SIZO [remand units] the conditions were very bad with the number of places much lower than the number of people.  “Therefore as far as I’m aware, in the Simferopo SIZO they have put in three-storey bunks so that each person has a bed for the night”. He also say that the State Penitentiary Service should be given its due, that despite enormous difficulties with funding it had completed long-term construction work begun earlier.  In Lukyanov this was a block for women and a block for minors; in these blocks the conditions are good. Mr Zakhaorv noted that in 2012 the situation has somewhat improved. In the first six months of this year 17 people have approached the KHPG Advice Centre with complaints about torture, while in the network of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] there have been complaints from 99 people.  For comparison, during the first 6 months of 2011 KHPG received 88 such complaints; while the UHHRU network which has 15 advice centres run by 15 members of the Union, there were 240. Mr Zakharov links this significant reduction with the following factors: “Firstly, the new Interior Minister Zakharchenko stated, and would seem to genuinely want this, that he sees one of his main tasks as to eradicate torture. Secondly, the Prosecutor in 2012, and in fact in 2011, began to pay attention to such types of complaints, began to initiate more criminal investigations than before. Whereas previously this was several dozen cases, now the number is over 100. Thirdly, the European Court of Human Rights adopted a pilot judgement Kaverzin v. Ukraine on torture which imposed harsh conditions, very stiff demands on the Ukrainian State to make significant changes to legislation, and practice in order to eradicate torture. This judgement is to a large extent based on our reports and asserts what we have spoken about for many years. For example, that one of the reasons for this situation is that the Prosecutor does not want to investigate allegations of torture due to an internal conflict of interest: on the one hand it supports the prosecution, on the other it is supposed to ensure that the police obey the law. It has no interest therefore in criminal prosecutions “falling apart” since the sentences are based on confessions received through coercion.”  When the European Court of Human Rights finds a violation of the right to a fair trial due to unlawfully received evidence, the only way of implementing this judgement would be to revoke all sentences which is what the High Court should do. Mr Zakharov also added that a large role has been played by discussion and adoption of the new Criminal Procedure Code which contains a fair number of measures against the use of torture. Reform of the Prosecutor’s Office is also under discussion.  “This is clearly all together and has led to a reduction in the number of allegations of torture. However there are unfortunately no statistics. The new Human Rights Ombudsman V. Lutkovska has begun visits to places of confinement together with members of human rights organizations – there have already been a good few such visits and there will be still more. A model is being created for an “Ombudsperson” national preventive mechanism: such visits will be carried out by a separate department together with human rights organizations. At present a list of the places of confinement with the most problems is being drawn up and it is to those places that visits will be made this year. “Despite certain positive changes which I have spoken about, over all this problem remains very serious, systemic which was noted by the European Court. This pilot judgement Kaversli v. Ukraine binds the State to take serious measures.  If there is the political will for the police to work different and to really reject assessment of their work based on the number of solved criminal cases as previously, in principle the need for violence at detective inquiry stage will disappear. But then the number of cases solved will fall to a very law figure. This is absolutely inevitable since unfortunately more often than not they don’t know any other ways in Ukraine for solving crimes. Particularly with the current staff in the police, in particular in the investigation service.”

Marina Shuhalyova tells of the case of Ivan Romanov.

“The case is linked with psychiatry and violence in the police. Who is Romanov? I received permission from his mother to speak openly, to give his full name. This is a young men, born in 1984, with invalid status from child linked with a psychological disorder. In July 2010 he was beaten by police officers from the Kievsky District Police Station in Kharkiv who needed, it would seem, to “write off” a crime. The police tried to force Ivan’s mother to testify against her son which she didn’t do. After being beaten, Ivan Romanov ended up in the fourth city ambulance hospital with very serious head injuries. In his recommendation the neurologist wrote that Ivan Romanov needs further hospital treatment with a neurosurgeon which is evidence of the severity of the injury.

However the court ordered that Romanov be remanded in a SIZO. The cell he was held in was overcrowded, and the detainees slept in turns. “It is impossible to call these conditions acceptable. These conditions can be called torture, torment for a person, particularly for a person who is unwell”, she said. “Thanks to certain actions by the investigator, Yana Fedorchenko, measures of a coercive medical nature were applied, and having been held in SIZO for 7 months, he was sent to a Ukrainian psychiatric hospital with strict surveillance in Dnipropetrovsk. I have visited him there twice. The first time they didn’t allow me to meet him although I am his legal representative; the second time I was able to meet with him.  Before being placed in hospital he weighed 120 kg., when I met him 70 maximum, his hands were twisted as when a person is paralysed, they had applied treatment which was harmful for him.  We submitted a complaint against the actions of the police which the Prosecutor of course rejected but on 16 January 2012 our complaint over unlawful use of measures of a medical nature was accepted by the Kievsky District Court. A review is now underway of all actions by police officers.

… we lodged a complaint over the decision to refuse to initiate a criminal investigation against investigator Fedorchenko with the Kievsky District Court in Kharkvi and our complaint was allowed.  That ruling was appealed and in June the cassation level issued a ruling that the Romanov case be sent for examination to an appeal court. The Court of Appeal in December applied an incorrect norm of the law … It has turned out that we have as it were jumped from the first instance court to the cassation court because the appeal did not apply the necessary law and issued a wrongful judgment. This case could be reviewed in view of all the circumstances which we are presenting in all our complaints. This is for the future, we’ll see how it ends. I would also like to add that to hide Ivan’s illness from the Prosecutor’s office, investigator Fedorchenko took the medical records from the hospital and we even have a record that the medical records with such and such a number were taken by senior investigator Fedorchenko on a particular date. That is, we have been up till now unable to get an independent expert assessment and it was only after turning to the head of the investigation department that the medical records were put where they’re supposed to be and we could make a copy”.

Answering journalists’ questions, Yevhen Zakharov said that there are few people who make complaints of ill-treatment. If one compares the number of complaints with the estimated number of people who have suffered according to the sociological research, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. If we say that in 2011 there were around a million victims, and 12 thousand complaints over a year and half have been received by the Prosecutor, then only very few make complaints. They make complaints when the beating is such that there is proof, the person ended up in hospital, was taken from the police station by ambulance, there are pictures of the beatings and injuries. This was the case with Zvenigorodsky who simply died after being taken out of the regional police department and put in a park from where an ambulance took him to the hospital where he died.  That was on the same day, 30 March 2011 that the Prosecutor General’s Office had an extended meeting where there was talk of the need to fight such a phenomenon. And this case was not stall since the latest campaign began. Now all three police officers have been convicted in this case with a fairly large sentence.

Prepared by V. Batsunov

Freedom of expression

Fighting terrorism or pluralism?

Picture :

President Yanukovych has issued a decree ordering implementation of a National Defence and Security Council Decision ostensibly aimed at heightening measures against terrorism in Ukraine.  The “manifestations of terrorism” listed in the Decision in the light of increasing encroachments on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly cannot fail to arouse concern.

The Decision’s assertion regarding a “heightened terrorist threat in Ukraine” will be addressed later. First, let’s see what is understood as terrorism.

“The main reasons for terrorism are radicalism; extremism; politicization of issues concerning inter-ethnic, ethno-faith relations; the spread of public intolerance and confrontation, particularly with respect to socio-political relations; as well as the negative impact of international terrorist and religious-extremist organizations.

Radically disposed forces are attempting to use difficulties linked with the accumulation of many unresolved social problems for their narrow corporate aims.

Displays of a terrorist nature cause considerable harm to the life and health of citizens and render ineffectual the efforts of the country’s leadership aimed at modernizing society.”

There are clear echoes here of similar moves in neighbouring Russia where the terms “terrorism” and “extremism” have over recent years been used in a dangerously imprecise and loose manner.  The range of words or deeds which are, according to Ukraine’s Defence and Security Council, “terrorist” is also disturbingly broad.  It is not difficult to imagine how “the spread of public intolerance and confrontation, particularly with respect to socio-political relations” could be used against the opposition during an election campaign.  The third paragraph above, with the inexplicable “displays of a terrorist nature” seem particularly suited to abuse.

The Decision envisages preparation by 31 August of a Concept Framework for Fighting Terrorism and other measures which deserve scrutiny precisely because of the all-purpose definition given of terrorism. The Cabinet of Ministers is also instructed to draw up amendments to laws enabling, among other things, dissolution of “terrorist” organizations, and extra powers to law enforcement bodies.

So what is this heightened risk of terrorism in Ukraine?

In November 2011 President Yanukovych stated that opponents of the authorities were amassing weapons for attacks on bodies of power.  This was widely reported, unlike the demand from a prominent member of the opposition BYUT faction in parliament, Mykola Tomenko that the Security Service and Police provide evidence.

Almost immediately Ukraine’s increasingly subservient media began reporting that the police were finding huge numbers of weapons held by members of the public.  The lack of any connection between the President’s very serious, and totally unsubstantiated, allegations and firearms held by individuals was never addressed, , with the second news story quietly replacing the first.

Worth noting also that on 23 November 2011 the District Administrative Court in Donetsk banned a protest by former Chornobyl clean-up workers “due to the threat of a terrorist attack”.  The court accepted the vaguest of statements from the police as cited by the City Council in applying for the ban.  No terrorist attack was reported, nor was it ever clear how a demonstration by former Chornobyl clean-up workers outside the Regional Pension Fund could be linked to any such “threat”.

The Dnipropetrovsk bombing which injured 27 people on 27 April 2012 has supposedly been solved with the police asserting that the bombs were planted to extort money.  The bombing occurred as world attention was focused on imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko’s allegations that she had been beaten in prison and ever louder calls for a boycott of Euro 2012 in protest at politically motivated prosecution of opponents.  The enforcement bodies and the President declared that the crime had been solved and the perpetrators arrested just days before the Euro 2012 Championship was due to begin. These details and others have spurred rumours and sceptical commentary regarding the case.

The arrests in March this year in Odessa have unfortunately received considerably less press after a first flurry of superficial reports. We learned then that criminal proceedings had been initiated under Article 161 § 1 of the Criminal Code (inciting racial and religious enmity) against the leaders of an Islamic organization called Direct Path.  The Prosecutor claimed that members of the organization had distributed literature aimed at inciting inter-ethnic enmity as well as “carrying out prohibited religious activity”, and that an Egyptian and Syrian, , both with Ukrainian citizenship, had been remanded in custody. The reporting was typically sloppy with some publications claiming that weapons and / or explosive devices had been found at the men’s homes, others reporting officials as saying that such information “was being checked”.  The men appear to still be in custody, yet the ongoing investigation appears to be only about incitement to enmity, an article with no link to terrorism, attempted murder etc.  

The reports also claim that an “expert assessment” has found that a brochure entitled “Violation of Monotheism” contains calls to religious enmity.  It is asserted that the material pushes “the ideology of the Islamic fundamental Vakkhabit movement which uses radical political means with respect to members of other religions”. It is difficult to know what exactly is meant by this, and it is also disturbing that the same vague and unclear term “vakkhabit” is being used as in Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation despite very little definite information. Vakkhabism appears to be a movement within the Sunni tradition which calls for a return to the faith’s origins. Uzbekistan the charge of being part of this movement is often laid against Muslims whom Karimov’s regime has long been persecuting. 

Over recent weeks the Security Service has carried out searches of the homes of people it considers to be linked with Direct Path. The NGO Human Rights Movement of the Crimea can name and provide the written statements regarding 14 such searches, and believes the figure to be higher. All pertain to the investigation over Article 161, incitement to racial enmity.  Somebody has provided a supposedly expert assessment of religious literature finding that it incites religious enmity.  It is not clear why, nor what qualifications the person giving the assessment has. With so little transparency, it is hardly surprising that many Ukrainian Muslims feel that they are under attack. .. 

Intelligence services in all countries are reticent in how much they reveal to the public – and rightly so if divulgence would further endanger human lives.  In Ukraine where the authorities initiate criminal investigations, conceal or divulge information for their own ends, confidence is strained.  We remain with a very blurred picture of what, if any, is the real threat of terrorism in Ukraine, with a National Security Council Decision which defines terrorism in disturbingly broad terms – and parliamentary elections on the horizon. 

IMI Enemies of the Press headed by Mohylyov and the Broadcasting Council

Antoly Mohylyov, fromer Interior Minister then promoted by the President to Head of the Crimean Parliament (Photo: UNIAN)

On 6 June, Journalist Day, the Institute for Mass Information and Independent Media Trade Union also published their Enemies of the Press in Ukraine list.  First (and worst) in the list was the former Interior Minister, Anatoly Mohylyov, while the worst offender among State organizations was the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council. The organizers would particularly note that a considerable number of the nominees for Enemy of the Press are current officials and deputies belonging to the Party of the Regions.

Former Interior Minister, Anatoly Mohylyov

Police aggressive behaviour with respect to journalists – seen during the trials of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko; and during protests outside parliament;

10 August 2011 the police beat Kharkiv journalist Denis Korniyev;

11 October 2011 Natalya Kravchuk from Korespondent was injured by a Berkut riot police officer outside the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv where the sentence was being passed down on Yulia Tymoshenko;

3 November 2011  journalists were injured during a protest outside the Verkhovna Rada.

Ihor Kolomoisky, media owner

Closure of Gazeta po-kievski in March-June 2011

Closure in July of the journal Profile and serious reductions in the television channel City in January 2012 with a lot of jobs lost

Oleksy Kostusyev, Mayor of Odessa

Destruction of media publications, restriction of access to public information

The independent TV channel “Krug” stopped being broadcast;

There was permanent conflict with a number of newspapers: Chornomorski Novyny; Yug; Vechernya Odessa; the site Vzglyad iz Odessy and the TV company Nova Odessa.

Yury Ivanyushchenko, MP (Party of the Regions)

Pressure on journalists via the law enforcement bodies and court

“It was learned that the MP’s lawyers are planning to “clean” his reputation through the use of defamation suits

20 June 2011  The Internet publication Ostrov accused the police of unlawfully seeking access to information on their servers.  The Editor Serhiy Harmash believes that this was linked with a civil suit against him by Ivanyushchenko.

Hennady Kernes, Mayor of Kharkv and Mykhailo Dobkin, Kharkiv Region Governor

Removal from air of TV ATN and two channels broadcasting its news

See: Removal from air of Kharkiv TV channels more than just business relations  and links below

Serhiy Budnyk, Senior Investigator for Donetsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office

Several Internet publications in Donetsk received calls from Prosecutor investigators regarding material about MP Yury Ivanyushchenko (known as Yura Yehakivsky).  The person who introduced himself as Budnyk wanted to know about the motives behind publications on the Donetsk site Pro-test.

Anatoly Blyznyuk, former Donetsk Regional Governor and Minister for Regional Development

Censorship on the Internet and social networks

Blogger Mykola Sukhomlyn received threats upon publishing a picture of the Governor’s car on facebook; on 1 June his profile on facebook was deleted;

Donetsk Regional TV and Radio journalists complained that “temnyky” (instructions on what to cover and how, what to ignore) had returned  (they had disappeared after the Orange Revolution – translator).

One such temnyk is a detailed plan of the main news items which are deemed to be official events in which Blynyuk and his deputies took part.

Yury Uzdemir, Head of the Cherkasy Regional TV and Radio Broadcasting Company

Censorship on TV Ros

Inna Bohoslovska, MP (Party of the Regions)

Pressure on the media using the law enforcement agencies  see: Threats against a Deputy or against Ukrainska Pravda?

Yehor Benkendorf, Director of the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Company / UTV-1


See State-owned UTV-1 refuses to broadcast opposition forum even for a fee

On 10 May 2012 UTV-1 presenter Natalia Rozynska refused to cover events around preparation for Euro 2012 because of the unofficial instruction to cover this only in a positive light.

Public bodies

National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council

Censorship, pressure on the media, reduction in media pluralism

Warning issued in November 2011 against TVi

Competition for frequencies placed many regional and national channels in difficulty and according to Reporters without Borders most frequencies went to channels known for their links with those in power.

Kyiv City Council

Central Department for Fighting Cybercrime and Human Trafficking of the Kyiv Police


The organizers point out that although President Yanukovych and Prime Minister Azarov are not on the list, it is they who bear personal responsibility for the reduction in freedom of speech in the country, the numerous violations of journalists’ rights.

From the report here

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Can the new version of the law on peaceful assembly make a difference?

Roman Kuybida, Deputy Head of the Centre for Political and Legal Reform has recently been part of the working group formed to make important changes to a controversial bill on freedom of peaceful assembly.   Over the last four years, he says, Draft Law No. 2450 On the Procedure for Organizing and Holding Peaceful Gatherings has aroused a lot of criticism, as well as two critical assessments from the Venice Commission.

In March this year, the Verkhovna Rada returned the bill for a repeat second reading, with a larger number of representatives of civic society included in the working group on amendments.

He considers that the version that they have achieved, while not ideal, can change the authorities’ attitude to the fundamental human right to freedom of peaceful assembly. It is important, he stresses, that the authorities stop seeing meetings as a threat and that they recognize their role as indicators of social problems that need to be resolved.

The draft bill was considered on 6 June by the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-Ethnic Relations which recommended that parliament adopt it.

He points to the following ways in which the reworked bill differs from its predecessors:

 “The working group agreed that the law is aimed at ensuring freedom of peaceful assembly and restricting interference with exercising this freedom, and not regulation of the procedure for holding peaceful gatherings, and not protecting the population or the authorities from peaceful demonstrators.” The new draft bill is thus to be called “On Freedom of Peaceful Assembly”.

Notification of a planned meeting should now serve as a signal for measures to be taken to ensure safety, not as time for the authorities to organize a court ban.

The period required for notification has been halved, with it now being no less than 2 working days before the beginning of the meeting.

However even this period was of concern to the members of the working group from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Movement For Peaceful Protest.  They proposed 12 or 24 hours. Roman Kuybida says that in the present conditions of court bans, including over not notifying in enough time, he sees the issue as relevant.  He believes, however, it will cease to be so critical since the draft law does allow for spontaneous peaceful gatherings, i.e. gatherings caused by an event which could not be foreseen and therefore notified of. On the other hand, the authorities can be notified even by phoning 102 of such a spontaneous meeting and from the moment they are told, the authorities bear responsibility for ensuring the safety of those taking part and of public order.

In addition, failure to notify at all or within the stipulated timeframe cannot be grounds for any restrictions since the gatherings are peaceful.

Nor can such failure to notify at all or within the stipulated timeframe be grounds for administrative liability.

Unfortunately the transitional provisions do not contain amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences, with Article 185-1 which is the most repressive norm still intact, This makes it possible to bring administrative proceedings, even impose administrative arrest (i.e. imprisonment) for so-called “unauthorized meetings”.

On the other hand, Roman Kuybida notes, an hour before the Parliamentary Committee’s meeting, Yury Miroshnychenko tabled in parliament a draft law which would make amendments to some laws on peaceful assembly.  Most of the provisions were also drawn up by the same working group.  If both are passed and come into effect, most of the problems will be removed.

A progressive feature of the draft law is that peaceful gatherings may take place in any public place.  At present the authorities quite often breach the Constitution by passing local acts restricting where meetings can take place.

The draft law now suggests a list of places with no public access.  Unfortunately however the list is not exhaustive and the possibility is envisaged of other laws establishing other such restrictions. Kuybida says that this does not promote legal clarity since it makes identification of such places harder.

He says that it is impossible that the provisions of the law are aimed at reducing the number of applications to the court regarding restriction of freedom of peaceful assembly.

The constitutional grounds for applying to the court for a ban on a peaceful gathering have been set out in more detail.

The recent appeal from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union states that The law must not allow any grounds for restricting peaceful gatherings aside from those set down in Article 39 of the Constitution.  There should be no provision allowing for restriction of the right to peaceful assembly on the grounds of “the imposition by decision of the Cabinet of Ministers on the relevant territory of quarantine in accordance with the Law on Protection of the Population from Infectious Illnesses, if this envisages the possibility of restriction by the court of freedom of peaceful assembly in order to protect the population from epidemic (outbreak) of a particularly dangerous infectious illness”, since this is in breach of Articles 22, 39, 64 of the Constitution, by reducing the scope and content of this right.

At least with regard to the provision about quarantine, this does not appear to have been heeded.

Roman Kuybida lists them, ending with “the gathering is aimed at obstructing the exercising by others of their rights and freedoms” and says that only this last involves a fair degree of value judgement.  He points out that the courts should interpret this in line with European Court of Human Rights case law. 

The fact of obstruction merely because a large number of people will be gathered is insufficient. Restrictions are only warranted of meetings aimed at obstructing others from enjoying their rights and freedoms, i.e. by physically preventing believers from entering a church. In fact, the draft law envisages ways around a total ban even in such situations, Roman Kuybida says.  For example, it can restrict the amount of time the protesters can stand there in order to enable believers to enter after the protesters have expressed their views.

Importantly, the draft law does not allow peaceful assembly restrictions on the grounds that another is planned, i.e. counter-demonstrations, or concerts etc. These are the grounds at present most often used for banning peaceful gatherings.

All of this, Roman Kuybida writes, should make it possible for judges to refuse to take on themselves responsibility for public order when this in fact lies with the law enforcement agencies’

The draft law also stipulates that if an authority wishes to apply to the courts, it must initiate negotiations with the organizers of the meeting objected to and attempt to remove the grounds cited for restricted peaceful assembly.

Roman Kuybida believes that adoption of the draft law could prove an important step towards overcoming present repressive practice by the Ukrainian authorities. He stresses that work will also be needed to educate those involved in implementing the law.

From the article here:

UHHRU calls on MPs to rework draft law on peaceful assembly

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has addressed an open appeal to the members of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-Ethnic Relations. It calls on them to rework Draft Law No. 2450 On the Procedure for Organizing and Holding Peaceful Gatherings and only after that submit it to parliament to be voted on.

UHHRU is convinced that the draft law must incorporate the following principles and norms:

  1. a differentiated term for notification of plans to hold peaceful gathering. It must  fix a minimum timeframe for notification of no longer than 24 hours.
  2. The draft law must not impose additional obligations on organizers and participants in a rally other than that the gathering should be peaceful and that the authorities or bodies of local self-government  should be notified, i.e. those obligations which are clearly outlined in Article 39 of the Constitution.
  3. The law must not allow any grounds for restricting peaceful gatherings aside from those set down in Article 39 of the Constitution.  There should be no provision allowing for restriction of the right to peaceful assembly on the grounds of “the imposition by decision of the Cabinet of Ministers on the relevant territory of quarantine in accordance with the Law on Protection of the Population from Infectious Illnesses, if this envisages the possibility of restriction by the court of freedom of peaceful assembly in order to protect the population from epidemic (outbreak) of a particularly dangerous infectious illness”, since this is in breach of Articles 22, 39, 64 of the Constitution, by reducing the scope and content of this right.
  4. The law must not contain a provision which would make it possible to restrict freedom if “the gathering is aimed at obstructing enjoyment by others of their rights and freedoms”, since this creates the possibility of banning any peaceful gathering without any real grounds, and in accordance with the position taken by the European Court of Human Rights renders meaningless Article 11 of the European Convention (the right to peaceful assembly). In other words, the inclusion of such a provision in the law would be in breach of Article 39 of Ukraine’s Constitution and Article 11 of the European Convention.
  5. Tthe law should allow in the final provisions for the abolition of administrative liability for infringements of the procedure for organizing and holding peaceful gatherings (i.e. exclusion of Article 185-1 of the Code of Administrative Offences).

If these proposals are not taken into consideration, the draft law will be in breach of the provisions of Ukraine’s Constitution, will reduce the content and scope of the right to peaceful assembly, and will be capable of worsening the situation with peaceful assembly in Ukraine.

This concerns first of all the possibility of repressive influence on the organizers of meetings and unwarranted court bans. A law which does not comply with the above-listed demands will not enable Ukrainian citizens to properly foresee the consequences of their actions and place in jeopardy Ukraine’s implementation of its human rights obligations. It will have an extremely negative impact both on Ukrainian society and on the country’s standing in the world. 

The right to health care

Too high a price for football


Ukraine has no facility for lifesaving bone marrow transplants for children.  Nor will it in the foreseeable future for a brutally simple reason: the government has channelled money into the Euro 2010 football championship.

Public protest on 1 June (International Children’s Day) over a recent Cabinet of Ministers decision to use 200 million UAH earmarked for the vitally needed new part of the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital prompted a flurry of denials from Prime Minister Azarov, Deputy Prime Minister (responsible for Euro 2012) Kolesnykov and the Health Ministry.  Kolesnykov’s assertion that the construction of part of the Oxkhmatdyt Children’s Hospital “is included in the Euro 2012 program” was baffling, but at least succinct.  The other statements were a labyrinth of words.  It is considerably harder to get lost reading the actual Cabinet of Ministers Resolution No. 443 from 21 May 2012.  

This states that “the Cabinet of Ministers has decided 1) to transfer 200 million UAH budgetary allocations envisaged in 2012 for the Health Ministry in the general fund of the State Budget for Program 2301820 “Construction of a modern diagnosis and treatment complex within the Oxkhmatdyt National Children’s Hospital” to the National Agency for Preparing and Holding the Final Part of the Euro 2012 Football Championship in Ukraine and the sale of infrastructure projects under the Program 6651250 “Implementation of the State Targeted Programme on Preparing and Holding the Final Part of the Euro 2012 Football Championship in Ukraine”.

Wordy, yet surely clear who is losing the vital funding and who will receive it.  The remaining items in the Resolution are merely about carrying this shameful transfer out.

Countries compete for the chance to host sports tournaments for two reasons. With calls to boycott the matches in Ukraine because of political persecution of the opposition and warnings about racism, the less said about the good image motive, the better.

Any words about benefit to the economy are also hollow.  Huge amounts of money have apparently been spent, vital green areas such as a large area of Gorky Park in Kharkv illegally felled supposedly as part of Euro 2012 preparations.  In many such cases those who have directly benefited can be difficult for the public to gauge; those who lost out clear - ordinary Ukrainian citizens

Especially badly affected have been socially vulnerable groups in society who have already suffered from cuts in social benefits, as well as rising prices, communal charges, etc.  Such problems are being faced by most European countries, and Ukraine’s social security system is desperately in need of reform.

Reform, however, is needed to revitalize the country’s economy and ensure that its citizens have a decent standard of living.  Not so that the political elite can make fortunes from lucrative privatization deals and enjoy a standard of living increasingly far removed from that of most Ukrainian citizens.

Court cases aimed at wrenching out information about taxpayer-funded elite housing and privileges for officialdom and MPs’ income have been lodged, with some being rejected at all stages in domestic courts, leaving yet again only the European Court of Human Rights.  Perusal of the public information which cannot be concealed suffices to show that the President, his Administration, MPs and other high-ranking officials have no problems supplying money for their own comfort..

Many are known to be great football fans.  Like a lot of the children who so desperately need proper medical treatment, and whose lives are on the line. 

Environmental rights

Legislative slight of hand

Ukraine’s ruling majority has once again made use of confrontation over one draft law to whip in others.  On Tuesday, ahead both of parliamentary schedule and of planned protests, a law was passed in full enabling social benefits to be cut or axed for certain groups in society.  That draft law had, not unsurprisingly, aroused vehement protest back in the autumn and was likely to do so again.

Another bill reported here has thus far failed to attract wide attention beyond environmental groups.  This is to be regretted since Draft Law No. 10218 gives enormous scope for corruption and without major amendments could have catastrophic consequences for the country. There had been calls from environmental NGOs to reject the bill, and these appeared to have been heeded, with the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental Policy also recommending on 11 April this year that the bill be dropped.  This has not happened, and the draft law submitted by the President’s spokesperson in parliament, Yury Miroshnichenko would seem to have the support of those in power. 

The voting on 5 June – World Environment Day – bears this out. There was near total support from the ruling Party of the Regions, backed by two of the three main parties in the ruling majority.  The only exception was the Communist Party which simply failed to participate in the vote. “Consideration” of the legislative initiative and its adoption at first reading all took just 10 minutes.

In the present political situation, the block support from the Party of the Regions, as well as the fact that the bill is from the President’s representative give grounds for fearing that the bill could be pushed through without major change.

This would mean:

- dissolution of Environment Ministry departments at local level, with all their functions being redistributed between local State administrations and the Cabinet of Ministers.  Monitoring of environmental protection, issue of special permits for use of natural resources, environmental impact assessments, protection of reserve land, etc will thus be carried out by people who at very least are not specialists.  In most cases, however, a worse scenario can be anticipated, with corruption and short-term interests gaining a free hand.  This was seen with the destruction of century old trees in Kharkiv’s Gorky Park where the local Environment Ministry Department came out on the side of the law and civic society against the actions of the Mayor and Council. .

effective removal of the controlling powers of the Environment Inspectorate;

- unwarranted power vested with both the Cabinet of Ministers and local State Administrations.

- abolition of the National Commission on Ukraine’s Red Book with the Cabinet of Ministers and other executive bodies being left to consider proposals for adding animal and plant species to the Red Book.

Environmental NGOs stress that with Ukraine’s environment in a catastrophic state, proper coordination of environmental policy is vital at all levels.  The structures presently in place within the Environment Ministry must be retained, with maximum effort made to increase its professional level, including through the employment of competent professionals.

A statement has been issued by environmental NGOs which points out that EU has agreed 35 million EUR Sector Budget Support assistance to Ukraine in implementing its State Environmental Policy Strategy and National Action Plan on Environmental Protection.  Should parliament pass a draft law so wantonly destroying the structures now in place, the EU would have all grounds for refusing to continue providing assistance.

This would be yet another step backwards for Ukraine and benefit only those who in pursuing their own nearsighted interests are oblivious to the harm they cause Ukraine. 

Law enforcement agencies

Fake letters from “concerned citizens” as grounds for tax and other checks

  Ihor Koliushko, Head of the Centre for Political and Legal Reform writes that he received a letter on 23 May from the Verkhovna Rada Office telling him that “his” letter to the Verkhovna Rada had been received and sent for consideration to the Cabinet of Ministers Secretariat.

The first name, patronymic and last name were all correct.  There were, however, two problems.  Instead of the name of his organization, the letter gave “Freedom House Ukraine”, nor had Mr Koliushko sent any such letter.

Believing it to be a simple mistake, he rang the Verkhovna Rada where he was assured that all was correct, they had received a letter addressed to 13 State bodies with his signature and Freedom House underneath.

He asked people on Facebook what this was all about and got the answer that it was normal practice for the tax and other control bodies.

He decided he had to react, after all they couldn’t falsify documents quite so brazenly.

Returning from a business trip on 29 May he found two letters from the Cabinet of Ministers and Prosecutor General’s Office.  Both informed of a letter supposedly from himself regarding the legality of the actions of officials of the Lutsk Automobile Factory; and the Cherkasy Bus share companies and other issues.

Ihor Koliushko says that he hadn’t had time to put the new information on Facebook when on 31 May he read on Ukrainska Pravda that the tax police had been carrying out a check of the Lutsk Automobile Factory (linked with Petro Poroshenko) and when challenged had claimed that they were simply responding to a letter from a member of the public

It would thus appear, Mr Koliushko writes, that the law enforcement agencies are manufacturing grounds for carrying out checks.

He is preparing a letter to the Prosecutor’s Office demanding:

1) a stop to unlawful activities by control agencies based on fictitious appeals;

2) a copy of what is supposed to be his letter and that they find those responsible for producing it.

He says that only ascertaining the source of this provocation, will it be possible to determine whether he should take the matter to court and the amount of moral compensation sought.

Ihor Koliushko’s report of this, together with copies of the official letters, can be found in Ukrainian at

Deported peoples

One step closer to law reinstating the rights of deported peoples

18 May 2012 remembering the 1944 Deportation in Simferopol

The Verkhovna Rada with a large majority has passed in its first reading Draft Law No. 5515 on Reinstating the Rights of People Deported on Ethnic Grounds tabled by Mustafa Dzhemiliev.

The same bill was sent back for reworking on 16 May after failing to get enough votes.  That was when the leader of the communists, Petro Symonenko got up in parliament and tried to justify Stalin’s Deportations, and repeated the lie officially acknowledged as untrue back in the 1960s about collaboration, claiming that on one day the entire Crimean Tatar people switched allegiance to Hitler.  His comments were widely condemned.  This time the communists in parliament restrained themselves, however they were still the only party which did not vote for the draft law.

Mustafa Dzhemiliev points out that in May many MPs explained their reason for not voting for the law as being that it did not state where the funding would come from for its implementation.

He stressed that the “state will expend available resources depending on the economic situation in the country. While the law covers all minorities deported during the War, Mustafa Dzhemiliev says that it will be mainly of relevance to the Crimean Tatars.

The fact of having been deported would be confirmed by the relevant certificate or document issued by Ukrainian bodies or those from former Soviet republics.  In the absence of such documents, the fact of having been deported is established via the court. Deported persons have the right to free consultation and help linked with receiving deported person status (there is no explanation of what documents are needed to prove entitlement to the free consultation – translator).

If the law were passed as a whole, it would entitle former deportees to the right to settle in the boundaries of the administrative-territorial units where they or their parents or grandparents were living at the time of the Deportation.  Buildings and other property removed at the time of the Deportation would be returned to the person or their heirs in kind. If there was no possibility of doing that, the person would be paid the cost of the building or property. Such claims would have to be made within three years of the person having gained deported person status.

The financing for this would come from each year’s general and local budgets. Funding from international organizations and foreign governments allocated for these persons are also possible.

Helping former deported people and their families set themselves up, and help with integration and adaptation into Ukrainian society would be carried out according to state target programmes affirmed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

News from the CIS countries

In Russia books about Bandera and Holodomor classed as extremist


In the Russian Federation you can get a prison term for possession or circulation of books about the Ukrainian liberation movement, nationalism or Holodomor 1932-1933.  This can be seen from a list of the publications on the RF Justice Ministry’s site.

The Federal List of Extremist Material contains the names of 1271 publications prohibited in Russia.  The grounds for banning them is giving in brackets.

From the list one can draw the conclusion that the overwhelming majority of publications are about Nazism, the national liberation movements in the Caucuses and in Ukraine. it is noticeable that there are many publications which are not banned in Ukraine or the world.

There are publications about Holodomor as an act of genocide of the Ukrainian people, as well as material about the crimes of the NKVD, the nationalist leader Stepan Bandera etc.

Here is a list of the books with their numbers in the federal list

1149   Printed publication by Ruslan Viktorovych Chasty “Stepan Bandera. Myths, Legends, Reality”, 2007 (ruling of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow from 01.12.2011)

1150   Printed publication by Viktor Roog “Youth and nationalism”, 2002  (ruling of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow from 01.12.2011)

1151  Printed publication “Holodomor 1932-1933 in Ukraine. Material of the criminal case No. 475”  (ruling of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow from 01.12.2011)

1152  Printed publication by Yury Shapoval, Volodymyr Prystaiko, Vadim Zolotaryov “Cheka – GPU – NKIVD” in Ukraine: people, facts, documents” 1997  (ruling of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow from 01.12.2011)

1153  Printed publication by Vladimir Vasylenko “Holodomor 1932-1933 in Ukraine as the crime of genocide: legal assessment, 2009”   (ruling of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow from 01.12.2011)

1154  Printed publication by Vasyl Morochko (the name is in fact Marochko) “The Genocide of the Ukrainians” Series Holodomor 1932-1933 Holodomor 2007  (ruling of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow from 01.12.2011)

What is interesting is that they were all banned by a ruling of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow from 1 December 2011.

On 18 May the Russian Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the Association of Ukrainians of the RF and remove them from the Single State Register of Legal Entities.

After this Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it stated that the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation demonstrated a biased attitude in Russia to the Ukrainian Diaspora.

On 9 April the RF Justice Ministry registered a new Federal National-Cultural Autonomy “Urainians of Russia” to whose founding congress Ukrainian journalists were not admitted, and the Ukrainian Diaspora stated that it had been created without their knowledge.

On 28 May 2012 in Moscow representatives of the Ukrainian Diaspora adopted a decision to create the Ukrainian Congress of Russia, an all-Russian organization of the Russian Ukrainian community.

27 June 2012 

Russians protest against Putin despite pressure

Tens of thousands of Russians marched through Moscow amid a stream of banners demanding President Vladimir Putin step down and challenging new laws designed to curb protest against his strongly centralized rule.

Protesters chanting "Russia without Putin!" and "Putin is a thief!" moved in pouring rain down a central boulevard and packed a square in the first big opposition rally since the former KGB officer’s return to the Kremlin for a six-year term on May 7.

"We propose to rid the country of this usurper who wants to rob us and rule for life, " former deputy premier Boris Nemtsov told the crowd, repeating accusations that Putin, still unrivalled in popularity by any opposition figure, had ’stolen’ March presidential elections by fraud.

On Monday, police searched the homes of several opposition leaders and summoned them for questioning an hour before Tuesday’s march, a tactic Kremlin critics said smacked of the days of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Putin, 59, who built wide popularity by restoring strong central rule in Russia from the chaos of the immediate post-Soviet era, made no direct reference to the protest during a national day ceremony in the Kremlin. But he said those who rocked the boat were out to undermine Russia.

"For us, anything that weakens the country or divides society is unacceptable, " he said. "Any decisions and steps that can cause social and economic shocks are impermissible."

The web sites of at least two media outlets critical of the Kremlin, including a television station trying to stream the demonstration live, were taken down in actions reminiscent of December parliamentary election that critics say were, like the later presidential poll, rigged.

Police, who had beaten protesters at a rally on May 6, the eve of Putin’s inauguration, stood along the route of Tuesday’s march. Helmeted riot units lined one short stretch, but the security was lighter than at previous protests dating back to the December polls and no arrests were reported.

However, the arm of the judiciary was on display, albeit subtly.

At one point in the rally, a police officer mounted the protest stage and discreetly handed summonses to Nemtsov and leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov to report for questioning by federal investigators.

One of the weaknesses of Russia’s opposition is its failure to produce a clear popular leader. Ksenia Sobchak, a socialite who has become a Putin critic despite her late father’s close ties to the president, is perhaps one of the best known through appearances on television and in the pages of glossy magazines.

"I never thought we would return to such repression in this country, " she said on Twitter after police searched her home on Monday, entering at 8 a.m. and seizing what they said was more than 1 million euros in cash.

Sobchak, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and another opposition leader, Ilya Yashin, were questioned for hours on Tuesday by federal investigators as witnesses in a criminal case over violence at the rally on the eve of Putin’s inauguration.

"I have the feeling this is some kind of political reprisal, " Sobchak, who did not attend that rally, said of her 5 1/2-hour questioning in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. "It was all aimed at humiliation, not at getting information."

After his questioning, Navalny was taken to an office he uses by police who searched there late into the evening. Nemtsov’s home was searched by investigators after the rally.

Yashin, who came to the protest after, he said, refusing to answer all 56 questions investigators posed to him in a six-hour session, said he was summoned to return on Friday, as was Sobchak. Udaltsov was told to report on Wednesday.


A spokeswoman for internet-satellite TV channel Dozhd (Rain), which was broadcasting live from the rally, said its site faced a "denial of service" attack by unidentified hackers, and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper’s site was inaccessible.

"We have got used to things like this - it seems every time there is a mass demonstration against the government our site is taken down, " Novaya Gazeta deputy editor Vitaly Yaroshevsky said. "The hackers play to the benefit of the authorities."

The site of liberal Ekho Moskvy radio, was inaccessible intermittently, including during the interview with Sobchak.

Udaltsov ignored the summons he was issued when investigators entered his apartment on Monday and led a group of marchers carrying red flags and chanting "Putin to jail!" and "All power to the people!"

"More than 100, 000 people have come out today in a rebuke to this repression, " Udaltsov told the crowd from a stage where speakers denounced Putin. "This is our answer to the crooks and thieves - we are not afraid."

Police put the crowd size at less than 20, 000 but that was clearly far below the real number, which opposition lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov estimated at more than 70, 000.

Authorities gave permission for Tuesday’s rally and many demonstrators said they would not let the new protest law, under which they could face crippling fines if order is deemed to have been violated, keep them at home. The law passed despite reservations expressed by constitutional advisers.


"Those who fought are beyond being scared, " said Valery Zagovny, 50, who served for the Soviet army in Afghanistan and was wearing the medals to prove it. "Let those behind the red-toothed walls of the Kremlin be scared."

Putin initially tolerated the protests, which began in December after a disputed parliamentary election. He has taken a tougher line since returning to the Kremlin after four years as premier, a post he took on to remain Russia’s paramount leader because of constitutional term limits.

His promises of stability finds deep support among the elderly and many outside the cities, as have his strong measures against the protesters, accused by some of his backers of being spoilt urbanites financed by foreign powers.

But opposition leaders say Putin’s heavy-handed tactics show that he is worried by the protests that have undermined his once iron-clad authority.

Many protesters are middle-class city dwellers who have benefited from the oil-fuelled boom Russia has experienced during Putin’s years in power but want more of a say in politics and fear his prolonged rule will bring economic stagnation.



“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2012, #06