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.


OPORA: Chances for competitive elections

  During their presentation of their fourth monitoring report, OPORA stressed that the coming parliamentary elections can be competitive if misuse of administrative resources and bribery of voters have legal consequences, and if candidates are equal before the law.

Olha Aivazovska, Coordinator of OPORA electoral programmes pointed to two important events over the last month which could influence the election campaign.

The first already reported here was Law No. 10681 which “parliament hurriedly and without full technical justification passed in full” on 6 July.  This allocates 993 million UAH for total video surveillance at polling stations.  Law

Then on 16 July the Cabinet of Ministers initiated the creation of a special interdepartmental working group “aimed at supporting coordination of actions by executive bodies in ensuring that the elections are held in public and open manner”,

With regard to the inter-departmental group, Ms Aivazovska says:

The powers of the group are disproportionately broad given the declared aims of work and its status as a “temporary consultative body of the Cabinet of Ministers”. It is not clear what information additional to that which the CEC [Central Election Commission] has that the Cabinet of Ministers is hoping to receive from local authorities and bodies of local self-government, enterprises, institutions and organizations, and with what aim and how representatives of these structures will be involved in the group.”

In the absence of clearly set out tasks and powers of this Working Group, there is a danger of it being a form of covert administrative interference in the electoral process by the central authorities. OPORA draws attention to the clear lack of correspondence between the official powers of some members of the Working Group and the formal tasks vested with it.

Olha Aivazovska calls the Law of 6 July and the establishment of video surveillance at polling stations “an inept attempt to copy western experience on ensuring that the electoral process is transparent and open. The proposed model of video surveillance at polling stations cannot be a serious impediment to infringements and avoid rigging during the parliamentary elections. Such conclusions are based both on the lack of specific detail in the law, and the technical parameters of the proposed system of video surveillance.”

Other issues

1.  Bribery, “presents” etc

According to a survey carried out by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation 10% of Ukrainians are ready to sell their right to free choice for between 50 and 500 UAH [very roughly 5 to 50 EUR), while 17.5% see this as a widespread form of campaigning permitted by legislation.  OPORA observers say that direct bribery and pre-election charitable actions by candidates have turned into the campaign’s trend.

OPORA stresses that bribery is a form of falsification of the election results which, if the negative practice continues will have an impact on the outcome.

The most widespread forms include gifts to medical institutions; the creation of children’s playgrounds; gifts to schools, religious communities.

2.  Due to electoral legislation being unregulated, political parties have over the last 4 months actively carried out election campaigning with unlimited gray-area election funds. Money spent before the official start of the campaign does not have to be accounted for.  Lack of transparency regarding election expenses is one of the main problems of this year’s election campaign.

3.  The process of putting forward candidates was not public

4.  Cases where “black PR is being used are becoming more widespread.

OPORA warns that the return to a majority electoral component to the election process has created extremely broad opportunities for systemic use by potential candidates mainly of material incentives.

The lack of harsh punishment in election legislation and limited practice in applying criminal legislation for those who bribe voters do not create the proper preventive measures against the mass use of such practice during the election campaign. 

Politics and human rights

Court in Strasbourg considers Tymoshenko Case

On Tuesday 28 August the European Court of Human Rights held a public hearing on the admissibility and merits in the case of Tymoshenko v. Ukraine concerning complaints related to the detention of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister.

The Court explains that Ms Tymoshenko’s application was lodged on 10 August 2011 and that it decided on 14 December 2011 to give priority to the case in view of the serious and sensitive nature of the allegations raised.

During the hearing, Ms Tymoshenko’s lawyers asserted that Ukraine’s government had concocted the case against her.  The new Representative for the Government, Nazar Kulchytskyy denied that there was any political motive and asserted that her complaints about prison conditions and injuries were unfounded.

The Court considered testimony pertaining to prison cell conditions, prisoner privacy, abuse and political retribution.  

Associated Press reports that “ Since the initial charges, the government has continued to build allegations against Tymoshenko: She went on trial in June on charges of evading several million dollars in taxes 15 years ago, and is the subject of a slew of other criminal investigations, including a murder case.

In April, Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike in jail, accusing prison guards of punching her in the stomach and twisting her limbs.

Since then, Western concern over her arrest has grown, and European leaders boycotted Euro 2012 soccer matches this summer to protest her detention.”

The following is from the Court’s summary.

On 30 December 2011 Ms Tymoshenko was transferred to the Kachanivska Correctional Colony in Kharkiv to serve her prison sentence. On 14 March 2012 she applied to the Court for an interim measure, asking to be transferred to an appropriate medical institution in view of her health. On 15 March 2012 the Court requested that the Ukrainian Government, under Rule 391 of its Rules of Court, ensure Ms Tymoshenko’s adequate medical treatment in an appropriate institutionalised setting. On 4 April 2012 she was offered a transfer to the Central Clinical Hospital of the State Railway (“Kharkiv hospital”). German doctors from the Charité Hospital then examined her from 13 to 15 April 2012 and also checked the quality of the hospital suggested.

On 20 April 2012 the Court invited the Government to inform the Court what steps had been taken to comply with the terms of the interim measure applied on 15 March 2012. On the same day at 11 p.m. Ms Tymoshenko was transferred to the Kharkiv hospital.

According to the applicant, she objected to the transfer and force was used, allegedly causing bruising to her stomach and arms. She refused medical treatment because of what she contended was the inappropriateness of that hospital for her needs. She declared a hunger strike in protest against the prison guard’s violence and her forced transfer. On 22 April 2012 Ms Tymoshenko was returned to prison. On the next day she filed a complaint with the Kharkiv Prosecutor Office about her forced transfer to the hospital. The prosecutor found no reason for opening a criminal case and decided not to investigate the case further.

On 25 April 2012 the Ukrainian (outgoing) Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova  made a public statement on Ms Tymoshenko’s health.

On 9 May 2012 Ms Tymoshenko was again transferred to the Kharkiv hospital where she started medical treatment under the supervision of a German neurologist. On the same day she ended her 20-day hunger strike. On 12 May 2012 her legal representative stated that she had been under permanent surveillance even while undergoing medical procedures and that the prison authorities had published the full report on her medical history.

On 21 May 2012 the Government made a formal request to the Court to lift the interim measure. They stated, among other things, that Ms Tymoshenko was receiving adequate treatment for her complaints in an appropriate institutionalized setting. On 31 May 2012 the Court decided to lift the interim measure as it found that the Government had complied with it. At the same time, the Court refused to grant a second Rule 39 request submitted by Ms Tymoshenko on 25 April 2012 in which she asked the Court to require the Government to allow her to be treated in the Charité Hospital in Germany. The Court noted in particular that Ms Tymoshenko was currently receiving treatment in the Kharkiv hospital, and that she was being supervised by an outside neurologist. The Court also requested the Ukrainian Government to submit further observations on the admissibility and merits of the case including the issues of the forced transfer to the hospital in the night of 20 April 2012 and the permanent surveillance


The applicant alleges, in particular: that her detention was politically motivated; that there has been no judicial review of the lawfulness of her detention in Kyiv SIZO no. 13; that her detention conditions are inadequate, with no medical care provided for her numerous health problems; and, that she was under round-the-clock surveillance in Kharkiv hospital.

She relies principally on Article 3 (prohibition of degrading treatment or punishment),  Article 5 (right to liberty and security), Article 8 (right to private life) and Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling on Ms Tymoshenko’s cassation appeal is due on Wednesday.

The Language Law: Creeping Russification?

  On August 13 the Odesa Local Council approved the decision to grant the Russian language local status by virtue of the Law “On the Fundamental Principles of the National Language Policy”, which took effect on August 10.  Then the local councils of the Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson oblasts approved similar laws. All the councils corroborated their decision on the basis of data of the nationwide census conducted in 2001 according to which more than 10% of the respondents in the aforementioned regions claim that Russian is their native language.

What will be the social repercussions from the adoption of the language law?

What impact will this have on the ratings of the country’s main political forces?

Promises, promises, Dear Mr. President…

The commotion after President Viktor Yanukovych signed the law “On the Fundamental Principles of the National Language Policy” was a logical conclusion of the process of its drafting and adoption. Although it was clear that Yanukovych supported this law from the very start, he was reluctant to ink the legislative act until the very last moment.   

Accordingly, legitimize the signing of this law the president met with members of the Ukrainian intellectual class on August 7. In response to their demands that that the president veto the law, Yanukovych promised that he would propose amendments and the very next day put his signature to the document.

As a result, the interlocutors of the president became the next victims of manipulation by the ruling power, which forcibly pushed through the language law. Indeed, in two rounds of voting for the law in the Verkhovna Rada a number of legislative and regulatory norms were breeched and President Yanukovych legalized such violations using props in his dialog with the members of the intellectual class.

Moreover, there are serious doubts that the president will fulfill his promises to make amendments to the law. Indeed, on August 7 the head of state declared his intentions of submitting the corresponding amendments to the parliament in September. Then on August 14 he stated in Sevastopol that amendments to the law will be made only if necessary. This in essence means that the law will not be amended before the parliamentary elections in October.

Domino effect

The immediate reaction of a number of local councils to the language law taking effect came as no surprise to the majority of political analysts. It is glaringly obvious that the law was adopted to grant the Russian language regional status in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine so that the ruling Party of Regions can win the votes of local residents. As such, we can expect that soon this trend will spread to other oblasts and cities in these parts of Ukraine.

Furthermore, local councils will continue to exploit imperfect mechanisms written into the law, namely, passing decisions on the basis of the census that has been in effect for the past eleven years. The legitimacy of such documents is quite dubious as none of the local councils even tried to organize the collection of signatures of regional residents in favor of granting the Russian language regional status.

Accordingly, as was anticipated lawmakers assure that the law is aimed exclusively at raising the status of the Russian language. The situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) is a subliminal confirmation of this fact. Unlike other local bodies, the Supreme Council of Crimea tabled the decision on granting certain languages regional status until September.

Deputy Chair of the Crimean People’s Mejlis Refat Chubarov says this is motivated by the fact that the local parliament is not willing to grant the native Crimean-Tatar language regional status based on the results of a census for 11.4% of the residents of the Crimean peninsula.

Assistant Chief-of-staff of the Presidential Administration Hanna Herman said the possibility of raising the percentage barrier required to grant the language regional status from 10% to 20% or even 30%. If this comes into effect the Crimean-Tatar nation will lose its right to contend for the status of a regional language in Crimea and the Russian language will lose its competitiveness in the majority of region in Ukraine.

Clearly, such regionalization of the Russian language could have serious negative consequences in Ukrainian society. On the one hand, in conditions of legally fixed coexistence of the Ukrainian and Russian languages the latter will win thanks to the subjective preferences of many civil servants and objective market conditions.

In short, the Ukrainian language faces the threat of extinction not only in the television, mass media, advertising, publishing and movie production sectors, but also in local and state government administration.

On the other hand, given the serious regional differences in the usage of the Russian language the raising of its status in one part of the country could spark social conflicts on linguistic grounds. There is also a high probability that such discord will grow proportional to the heightening of the aforementioned trend of the squeezing out of the Ukrainian language.

Electoral fruits

Members of the Party of Regions hope to exploit the abovementioned threatening processes to increase their ratings. Raising the status of the Russian language is likely the only promise that the presidential team fulfilled over the two and a half years in power. However, at the moment the attitude of the people towards the law on the language policy remains unclear. First of all, the latest political ratings do not show an increase in the popularity of the Party of Regions. According to the data of the sociological group Rating, from May to July the party’s rating fell by 2%.

Secondly, research conducted by the Razumkov Center in June showed that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are well aware of the pre-election nature of the government’s language initiative. Indeed, 65.1% of the polled supported this fact, among which 52.6% live in the southern oblasts and 51.8% - in the eastern provinces.

Thirdly, based on the final results of polling the implementation of the language law may add some electoral points to the opposition parties that will give them a chance to consolidate their proponents around the idea of defending the Ukrainian language.

The impact of granting the Russian language regional status will become clear very soon. It is totally obvious that during the election campaign the majority of politicians running for a seat in parliament will actively exploit the language issue.


In closing, the process of granting the Russian language regional status by local councils in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine is a logical consequence of the adoption of the law “On the Principles of the National Language Policy”.

On the one hand, the Party of Regions is exploiting a number of councils that is has control over to increase its popularity among the Russian-speaking population, though its success in its efforts seems rather doubtful.

On the other hand, the implementation of the new language law may precipitate extremely negative trends that might pose a threat to the status of the Ukrainian language and the regional integration of Ukraine.


Yanukovych’s record-breaking legislative feat

Now it would not be easy to explain the staggering contempt for Ukraine’s Constitution, laws and the opinion of a considerable percentage of the population shown by President Yanukovych in signing the contentious language law on 8 August. It is, nonetheless, scary to think that the country is in the hands of people able only to come up with the following: “The President has signed the Law and instructed the Government to create a working group”. 

The President and his Administration still appear to be basking in the illusion that all they need is another “working group” for astounding indifference to democratic principles, Ukraine’s citizens and the country itself to pass unnoticed.

Record-breaking stupidity or phenomenal cheek?  That to a large extent depends now on the public’s response.

This latest working group is supposed to be created “with the involvement of the public, well-known figures in education, the arts and sciences, leading specialists on language issues in order to draw up and introduce systematic proposals on improving legislation regarding the procedure for use of languages in Ukraine.

The problem is not only in the mental acrobatics required to see Russian-speaking Prime Minister Azarov as a defender of the Ukrainian language. It is no easier to believe in the “involvement of the public” when by signing the Law on the Principles of Language Policy Yanukovych has broken all records as regards contempt for that very same Ukrainian public.

He has ignored:

Ukraine’s Constitution;

flagrant infringements of procedure in the adoption of the law;

the opinion of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission

the advice of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek;

the opinion of all profile institutions of the Academy of Sciences (the Institute for Language Studies; the Ukrainian Language Institute;; the Institute for Political and Ethno-National Research; the Institute for State and Law

the assessments of the Chief Legal Department of the Verkhovna Rada; the Ministry of Finance, Justice Ministry and at least two parliamentary committees;

the appeal from the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations

the statement from the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine [VAAD]

the appeal from the First December Initiative signed by prominent Ukrainian public figures including the former Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Cardinal Lyubomir Huzar; former dissidents and political prisoners Myroslav Marynovych, Yevhen Sverstyuk, Semyon Gluzman, historian Myroslav Popovych, Ivan Dziuba and others

the appeal from a number of public figures and civic organizations, including other former dissidents, writers and academics

assessments by analysts from the Razumkov Centre, the Ukrainian Independent Political Research Centre, the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, by Mykola Riabchuk and others;

the position of numerous scholars, writers and others, as well as of human rights and civic organizations, including:

the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine;

the Association of Ukrainian Writers;

the Secretariat of the National Union of Writers of Ukraine;

the Centre for Political and Legal Reform

the Kharkiv Human Rights Group;  and very many others;

the appeal by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union;

the Centre for Civil Liberties;

the Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives; and many others.

I will refrain from rhetorical questions since it is, after all, entirely clear whose interests the President is protecting. And even if this time he may have plunged headfirst into a bog, the damage to the country is undeniable

The sole representative of civil society in the President’s “Anti-Corruption Committee” warned some time ago that he would leave if the President signed a law legalizing corruption (he did), and this language law (ditto).

There remains only one question: why anyone would continue to take part in the dangerous and increasingly unconvincing imitation of public dialogue offered by all these working groups and committees.

On second thoughts, that too is purely rhetorical. 

Language Law vs. Ukraine’s Constitution

One of the peaceful protests against the language bill forcibly (and roughly) dispersed by police in Cherkasy

On 31 July Ukraine’s Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn changed his stand, taken only 3 weeks earlier, and signed the highly contentious Kivalov-Kolesnichenko language bill which under the guise of protecting “regional languages” significantly increases the role of the Russian language.  The concerns from civic and religious organizations about this law are well-summarized in a statement from the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine [VAAD]: “The draft law poses a threat to Ukrainian society since it disregards the State status of the Ukrainian language, does not protect minority languages at risk and arouses dissent and tension in Ukrainian society”.

What Lytvyn’s motives are can only be guessed since on 4 July, following a blitzkrieg and highly irregular “vote” in parliament during his absence, he handed in his resignation.  Certainly one of the reasons for parliament being recalled on Monday was the issue of Lytvyn’s post as Speaker. This followed truly record-breaking speed from MPs from the ruling majority who on 9 July submitted a constitutional submission and from the Constitutional Court which by 11 July had produced a judgment making it considerably easier to replace Lytvyn with a more cooperative Speaker.  

There is now only one step remaining -  the President’s signature.  Viktor Yanukovych has on many occasions promised to make Russian a second State language and at first glance it seems most improbable that he will use his power of veto. 

On the other hand, the civic partnership New Citizen has received a categorical response from Marina Stavniychuk, Adviser to the President on Constitutional Modernization. She states in her letter that the draft law was adopted on 3 July 2012 with serious infringements of the Verkhovna Rada Regulations, and that a considerable number of the provisions do not comply with Ukraine’s Constitution and international documents including the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, as well as a Constitutional Court Judgment from 14 December 1999.

The situation has now gone far beyond the standard pre-election hyping of the “language issue” which in all public opinion polls is actually given a very low place in people’s list of concerns.  The stakes are high both because of the divisive nature of the law, and due to the flagrant violations of legislative procedure and economy with the truth regarding the law itself, as well as democratic principles of public consultation.

The bill’s authors - Party of the Regions MPs Vadim Kolesnichenko and Serhiy Kivalov, as well as their party colleagues, continue to assert that the law is in keeping with the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages and has received a favourable Council of Europe’s Venice Commission assessment.  The latter’s criticism of the bill is admittedly only in English but it is likely the authors are aware of its actual substance and simply assume that the public are not.  Nor does public clarification help as we saw last week when Knut Vollebaek, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities followed up a visit to Ukraine with a public statement calling the situation around the new language law “deeply divisive” and urging the authorities to engage in dialogue.

Kolesnichenko’s response cannot be considered either adequate or helpful given that Ukraine is scheduled to hold chairmanship of OSCE in 2013.  Mr Vollebaek’s comments, according to Kolesnichenko, show the desire of European politicians to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, while the comment that “all countries in which Vollebaek worked as a diplomat have faced inter-ethnic conflicts” is not only offensive, but seriously off-track.  As is his claim that Mr Vollebaek’s position clashes with the supposedly “positive assessment” from the Venice Commission.

The Party of the Regions which is pushing this bill is not only distorting the position taken by European bodies.  The same criticism has been made by all profile institutions of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, the Verkhovna Rada’s Legal Department; the Finance and Justice Ministries, the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Spiritual Matters; the Congress of National Communities; the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations and a huge number of civic organizations. 

The technique is brutally simple: ignore all well-argued objections and just ladle on the distortions and the emotional rhetoric.  The latter will be remembered especially given the pro-government slant of most media coverage.

It is perhaps unfortunate that a majority of the population (65.1%, according to a survey by the authoritative Razumkov Centre) see this bill as election campaigning, while nobody is in any doubt that its aim is not to protect genuinely under-supported regional languages in Ukraine, but to allow Ukrainian to be effectively ignored in most parts of the country.  Such cynical realism means that the financial consequences, already highlighted by the Finance Ministry, were the law to really fulfil its declared aim, could either be crippling or lead to the courts being inundated with civil suits by members of minorities whose rights, now supposedly enshrined in law, continued to be flouted.

Brawls, “adoption” of laws with most “votes” being cast in the MPs’ absence (in clear breach of Article 84 of the Constitution) and other irregularities are also standard in Ukraine although the sheer audacity of the breaches in this case is breathtaking. 

 There had already been a number of infringements to procedure during the first reading on 5 June with such a controversial bill being voted on without discussion and with a large number of MPs absent.  The requisite month had not elapsed, nor had many amendments been discussed and added when, in the absence of Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and the Deputy Speaker from the opposition, the other Deputy Speaker Martynyuk basically bulldozed a “vote” through in record time. 

The very many warnings about the deeply divisive nature of this law deserve the President’s attention, as do the shocking irregularities in the way the draft bill has been pushed through.  In the face of clear public concern and infringements of the Constitution, President Yanukovych’s signature would deliver a grave blow to Ukraine’s already beleaguered democracy.  

The right to life

Government must condemn killing of Volodymyr Honcharenko as crime against free expression

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Ukrainian government to publicly condemn the killing of environmental information activist, Volodymyr Honcharenko as a crime against free speech and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice via an independent and transparent process. Volodymyr campaigned for environmental information in Ukraine and died on 3 August.

On 1 August 2012 Volodymyr Honcharenko, a well-known ecologist and public activist, who was critical of the authorities for their lack of accountability with regards to environmental safety and security, was stopped in his car on the road and beaten by unidentified men. Despite the serious head trauma he had suffered, Honcharenko managed to get home and explain what had happened to him, but later lost consciousness and passed away in hospital on 3 August.

Volodymyr’s colleagues and family are convinced that his work - in particular his latest public appearance - were the reason for the brutal attack on him. At his last appearance in a press conference on 27 July, Volodymyr warned of a potential ‘chemical time bomb’ in the Saksaganskyi Region of Kryvyi Rog, where Volodymyr and his colleagues had discovered that 180 tons of chemically-contaminated and radioactive scrap metal were being moved around freely.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the investigation into Volodymyr’s killing is treated as a random criminal act rather than an act aimed at preventing him from talking about issues he raised. Violence and other crimes against those exercising their right to freedom of expression are crimes against this right as a whole and should not be regarded as ‘ordinary’ crime.

Furthermore we are concerned that any failure to recognise the free expression aspects of Volodymyr’s case would constitutes a severe blow to freedom of information in the country. Similarly, impunity in Volodymyr’s case, as has sadly been seen in the cases of killed journalists in Ukraine like journalist Georgiy Gongadze who was killed in 2000, would also undermine freedom of expression in the country.

States have a positive obligation under international human rights law to protect those exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists, human rights defenders and public activists and investigate and punish those responsible for crimes against them.

The three special mandates for protecting freedom of expression – the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression – set out standards relating to violence and crimes against freedom of expression. Their 2012 Declaration, adopted in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on 25 June 2012, includes the following relevant standards:

State officials should condemn attacks committed in reprisal for the exercise of freedom of expression

The authorities should make all reasonable efforts to expedite investigations, including by acting as soon as an official complaint or reliable evidence of an attack against freedom of expression becomes available

Sufficient resources should be allocated to ensure that investigations into crimes against freedom of expression are thorough, rigorous and effective and that all aspects of such crimes are explored properly

Investigations should lead to the identification and prosecution of all of those responsible for crimes against freedom of expression, including direct perpetrators and instigators, as well as those who conspire to commit, aid and abet, or cover up such crimes

Investigations should be conducted in a transparent manner, subject to the need to avoid prejudice to the investigation.

In view of the above standards ARTICLE 19 calls on the Ukrainian authorities to:

Unequivocally condemn the killing as an attack committed in reprisal for the exercise of freedom of expression

Provide sufficent resources for the investigation, which should be prompt in order to prevent losing evidence

Ensure that both the perpetrators and instigators of Volodymyr’s killing are held to account

Thoroughly investigate the circumstances of Volodymyr’s death in light of his active disclosure of facts relating to environmental pollution; including radioactive, lead and chemical contamination in the Dnipropetrovsk region that could be a potential threat to public health

Inform the public on a regular basis about the progress of the investigation and the proceedings against the persons responsible for the attacks.


For more information, please contact Nathalie Losekoot [email protected] +44 20 7324 2500

Last month, a report entitled "Make freedom of expression a reality, Mr President" - A Report on Press Freedom in Ukraine, was published by several media and human rights groups including ARTICLE 19, after an international joint mission to Ukraine in April 2012.  The report outlines concerns ‘regarding media freedom in the country and calls on President Yanukovich to ensure the right to freedom of expression.

The right to a fair trial

Still no aggrieved party, but prosecution demands 2.5 years for Lutsenko

The trial of former Minister of the Interior and opposition leader, Yury Lutsenko over surveillance of the Security Service Deputy Head’s driver  Valentin Davydenko in connection with the poisoning of Yushchenko is drawing to a close with the allegedly aggrieved party still conspicuous by his absence.

On 10 August the court once again received a telegram in which Davydenko again stated that he does not consider himself to be aggrieved, and that no moral nor material damage in the course of the investigative operation was inflicted.  He asked to not be disturbed any further over the case and also asked the court to pass a just ruling.

As reported, Lutsenko and his lawyers have consistently objected to the absence of the sole “aggrieved party”, and are adamant that continuation of the trial is in breach of the law and his right to question Davydenko.

Since the trial was coming to an end, Lutsenko asked that TV and other cameras be allowed, but Judge Medushevska refused, asserting that there was not enough room to accommodate them.  Lutsenko in response asked why she was afraid of demonstrating the defence’s arguments during an open trial.  He accused her of denying his right to defence, to a public trial.

The Prosecutor accused Lutsenko of “having distanced himself” from contol over investigation into the case regarding the poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko.  Dmytro Luban claimed that Lutsenko had deliberately not put a date on the documents of the investigation into the poisoning so as to later put the dates wheh he himself was on leave.

Loban demanded that the former Minister and opposition leader be sentenced under Article 387 § 1 of the Criminal Code to 2 years 6 months restriction of liberty and a ban on holding managerial posits for three years.

He asked that the other two defendants not receive punishment.  This was supported by Prosecutor Klymenko.

Later in the day Yury Lutsenko gave his last address in which he stressed the idiocy of the charge, and stressed that the decision regarding the charge made no reference to any witness.  He said that there had been no evidence against him and once again asked where Davydenko was.

He insisted that the surveillance had been lawful, in accordance with a ruling from the Court of Appeal. He promised to prove at the European Court of Human Rights that the trial had been unfair, that he had not been given medical assistance.

“My victory in Strasbourg will be not only legal, but also political: in Ukraine the days of the dictator are short. The trials of those who carried out and ordered the political prosecutions will take place in a different fashion than my trial and that of Tymoshenko”

The verdict in this case is due on 17 August.  

Yury Lutsenko was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment in February over the first two charges brought against him.  The third charge was unexpectedly separated into a different trial late last year.  His conviction and the new trial have been widely condemned as politically motivated.

Lutsenko 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.

On 3 July the European Court of Human Rights announced its judgement in the case of Lutsenko v. Ukraine with respect to the initial detention. It unanimously found violations of Articles 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security); 5 § 2 (right to be informed of the reasons for one’s arrest); 5 § 3 (right to be brought promptly before a judge)-trial detention; 5 § 4 (right to challenge the lawfulness of one’s detention) with respect to the initial detention of former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko

From the report here

  Judge Medushevska

Freedom of expression

“Most journalists in the regions are in fact State Administration employees”

Dementiy Bily is well-known as the head of the Kherson Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU], a journalist and the person who finally won his case against the deputy from the Party of the Regions Deputy of the City Council, Viktor Shevchuk.  As reported here, on 14 September 2010 Dementiy Bily was pushed out of the theatre where the Mayor of Kherson was giving his “report” to a closed audience and beaten up.  He had objected to the refusal to allow members of the public into the theatre despite there being seats free and, taking a microphone, called on the Mayor to have them admitted. Instead three men shoved Dementiy out into the foyer, where one proceeded to inflict blows to his face. The police did nothing until Dementiy’s camera hit the main assailant - Viktor Shevchuk, on the forehead as he tried to break free.  They then drew up a protocol against Dementiy Bily for an administrative offence as supposedly having caused the fight.  More details here

Roman Kabachiy from the Institute for Mass Information noted that throughout the country there is an increase in commissioned political material and asked about the situation in Kherson.

Dementiy calls “jeansa” or commissioned material a typical phenomenon for the local press and a means for journalists to earn money during the election period which they look forward to for this reason. He says that the Law on the Elections encourages this, since according to it, jeansa is political advertising.

Roman Kabachiy points to 2 issues of the regional newspaper New Day which is headed by Anatoly Zhulyna, member of the Commission on Journalist Ethics. Both issues have commissioned material in exactly the same places about two candidates – Oleksy Zhuravko and Kateryna Samoilyk without any marking.

Dementiy Bily confirms that this will continue until the elections, since the spots have already been bought, with this being a problem for other candidates. Only the strongest morally speaking editors mark advertising as political.

He mentions the local newspaper Trudova Slava” whose Chief Editor Valery Horobets, member of the board of the National Journalists’ Union is not afraid to mark such material as political advertising. However in most district newspapers in the Kherson regions one doesn’t see this. At district level it all depends on the editor’s strength of will.

Roman Kabachiy asks whether it is not only the district authorities, but also political parties that put pressure on editors. Dementiy Bily says that certainly political parties don’t want to use signs indicating that something is political advertising since that makes people wary.

He believes that the majority of readers do not realize that they are being fed political advertising and that most people trust the printed word.

With regard to TV, Dementiy says that their CVU branch began monitoring the situation two weeks ago, analyzing local TV programmes, as well as newspapers. “Local television doesn’t ever show anyone without money”.  They sometimes show CVU events, but that depends since CVU on principle will not pay. When they invite television channels to their events they don’t generally come.  Unless there’s some member of the local authorities, or if according to the Party of the Regions plan they need a feature about “honest elections”.

In Kherson and the second largest city in the oblast Nova Kakhovka, there are some newspapers, he says, that have editorial policy. However the absolute majority of regional media publications are under municipal ownership or under the City Council.  Most of them bring their issues to be checked before publication to the district administration.

Summing up, he says that the majority of journalists at local level are not in fact journalists, but employees of the district administrations. Others are caught by the need to earn money. Not one newspaper has a magnate behind it providing funding. The only choice they have is whether they mark material as advertising or don’t.

Three regional newspapers can afford to criticize the authorities but over specific cases. They are capable of taking a balanced position. Since the public are critical of the authorities themselves, they welcome such criticism.

From the interview at IMI

RWB concerned by dangerous draft law seeking to criminalize defamation

Paris, 31 July 2012

Dear Members of Parliament,

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that campaigns for freedom of information, wishes to inform you of its profound concern over draft law n° 11013, presented to Parliament last week, which is designed to amend the criminal code and the code of criminal procedure regarding defamation.

It is more than 10 years since the Ukrainian Parliament decriminalized defamation. When it adopted its new criminal code in January 2001, Ukraine took an encouraging first step towards greater protection for freedom of expression, which is indispensible for democratic debate.

Draft law 11013, presented by Vitaly Zhuravskiy, a member of the Party of Regions, and aiming to recriminalize defamation, is a dangerous backward step. We believe its adoption would be a serious blow to freedom of the press.

The penalties for which the bill provides are harsh indeed. Sections 145.1.2 and 145.2.2 state that information deemed to be defamatory or insulting “published openly in the media” would be liable to a fine of between 500 and 1, 500 times the minimum wage of the individual concerned (i.e. up to approximately 14, 000 euros) or a sentence of between one and two years’ community service, and even, in the case of defamation, suspension from work or a ban of between one and three years on “occupying certain positions or carrying out certain activities”.

Paragraph 5 of section 145.1 provides for a possible prison sentence of between three and five years if the defamatory act “damages the health” of the victim.

Such penalties are clearly disproportionate and in breach of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The lack of clarity surrounding the definition of defamation, which the bill describes as “disseminating false information, insulting the honour and dignity of a person or damaging his or her reputation", arouses fears of abuse resulting from varying interpretations.

Criminal proceedings could be taken against journalists for publishing articles on the activities of politicians or influential businessmen. Where journalists face imprisonment for publishing investigative stories, this puts the very operation of an independent media under threat.

These provisions are in breach of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ukraine is a signatory. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, an independent body that oversees the application of the covenant, said in its General Comment No. 34 in July last year that defamation laws “must be crafted with care” to ensure that they comply with the test of necessity and “that they do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression” and that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty” for press offences (paragraph 47).

International experience has shown that making those responsible for press offence criminally liable helps to create an atmosphere of intimidation that is likely to discourage journalists from tackling sensitive subjects. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey on 5 April 2011 for interfering in the work of the writer Fatih Tas, ruling that the penal nature of his conviction was likely to discourage him from contributing to public debate on issues affecting the life of the community.

Mr. Zhuravskiy says he took his inspiration for drafting the bill from neighbouring Russia, which approved a law on 13 July recriminalizing defamation. We should like to remind members of Parliament that this was condemned by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and that it seriously damaged that country’s international reputation.

Reporters Without Borders urges you to abandon this bill, which appears to us to be repressive, punitive and counter-productive.

While we understand the government’s desire to do all it can to protect Ukraine’s citizens, we have serious doubts about the spirit of this law, which seems to be aimed at curbing the independent media and encouraging self-censorship on the part of journalists.

I thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Olivier Basille  

Secretary General, Reporters Without Borders

Social and economic rights

Kharkiv Chornobyl clean-up workers begin indefinite protest

From an earlier demonstration in Kharkiv (January 2012)

Several hundred people who took part in the clean up after the Chornobyl Nuclear Disaster in 1986 have declared an indefinite protest action in Kharkiv.  They came out onto Freedom Square on Tuesday and plan to hold 2-hour protests each day.

Volodymyr Proskurin from the All-Ukrainian Association of Chornobyl Veterans told Radio Svoboda that the protest on Tuesday was attended by around 300 former clean up workers.  They held banners demanding implementation of the law on victims of the Chornobyl Disaster and withdrawal of the draft Social Code of Ukraine.

He stressed that people are demanding that the government pay pensions as per the Law on the Status and Social Defence of People who Suffered as a Result of the Chornobyl Catastrophe.

“Our demands are the same as they were last year: that the provisions of current legislation are implemented fully. Chornobyl clean-up workers now receive much smaller pensions than set down in the law. They are ignoring the law, as well as court rulings”.

A new demand has been added, this being to withdraw a draft Social Code which has been registered in the Verkhovna Rada.

“In this draft social code they’ve mechanically combined several laws and removed from them what is inconvenient for the government and taken what suits the government. Parliament is planning to vote for that version.”

Mr Proskurin said that the Chornobyl clean-up workers would be holding a protest from 10 a.m. until their demands are met. 

Chornobyl clean-up workers begin indefinite protest in Luhansk

Photo by Konstantin Melnytsky, Kommersant

Ukrainian News reports that around 100 former Chornobyl clean-up workers have set up a tent camp outside the Luhansk Regional State Administration. They are protesting against a reduction in social benefits and demanding payment of their pension as per the law in full.  Kommersant Ukraine puts the figure at around 150, and says that people came from all over the Luhansk oblast.

On 5 September some are planning to begin a hunger strike.

As reported,   at the beginning of June amid public outcry over the controversial Kivalov-Kolesnichenko language law, the ruling majority in parliament passed a law on guarantees of implementation of court rulings which envisages cancellation of benefits for specific categories of the public. The draft law received 259 votes.

Consideration of this draft law in autumn 2011 led to protests and confrontations with riot police.  Former Chornobyl clean-up workers and veterans of the Afghanistan War tried to storm the Verkhovna Rada in September and protests continued throughout the country.  It is possibly no accident that the bill was deftly passed on a day when the mass protests against a highly contentious language bill had distracted people’s attention.

In December 2011 Ukraine’s Constitutional Court declared it constitutional for the Cabinet of Ministers to be allowed to determine the size of social payments depending on the financial resources available.

The judgement was announced on Tuesday, 27 December by the Chairperson of the Court, Anatoly Holovkin, and met with cries of “shame!” from opposition MPs present.

Mr Holovkin that Item 4 § 4 of the Final Provisions to the Law on the State Budget for 2011 complied with the Constiutiton.

This states that in 2011 the provisions for former Chornobyl clean-up workers,  children of the War, pensioners and military servicemen are applied according to the procedure and amounts fixed by the Cabinet of Ministers on the basis of the financial possibilities of the 2011 Budget.

Penal institutions

On the illegal use by the Penitentiary Service of special purpose units


The human rights organization Donetsk Memorial has addressed an open appeal to the President, Prosecutor General and Human Rights Ombudsperson regarding what it calls systematic violations by the State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine’s Constitution and laws.  It states that rom 2008 to 2012 the Penitentiary Service has used militarized special purpose [“spetsnaz”] units without proper legislative regulation of their activities. What is particularly dangerous is the fact that they are used to carry out functions which are not envisaged by law.  Article 19 § 2 of the Constitution states that:

Bodies of state power and bodies of local self-government and their officials are obliged to act only on the grounds, within the limits of authority, and in the manner envisaged by the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine

In 2008-2012, Donetsk Memorial points out, the only legislative grounds for the existence of such units were found in Articles 6 and 12 of the Law on the State Penal Service.  These mention “militarized formations created to carry out tasks of the State Penal Service.

Article 12 of the same Law states that:

“Militarized formations are units which in accordance with the law act within the makeup of penal bodies and institutions, isolation units and are designated to guard them and prevent and stop actions which disorganize the work of the corrective institutions”.

Donetsk Memorial states that there must clearly be a normative legal act for such militarized formations to function.  Yet the State registration of Order No. 167 of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences from 10.10.2005 regulating the work of a special purpose anti-terrorist unit was cancelled on the basis of a Justice Ministry Opinion No. 15/88 from 24.12.2007.  The Order was removed from the State Register of Normative Legal Acts on 14.01.2008.

The main reason for this step was that the Order did not comply with human rights standards, including international standards.  The use of such special purpose units after cancellation of the Order was possible only on condition that new Regulations were passed which complied with human rights standards.

Attempts were made to update the Regulations, Donetsk Memorial writes, but none complied with human rights standards and all were returned by the Justice Ministry for reworking.

“This demonstrates the enormous importance of norms stipulating the competence and functions of such special purpose units.

Without such legislative provisions the use of militarized formations is inadmissible and against the law since they infringe Article 19 of the Constitution.

Yet the Penitentiary Service is breaching the Constitution and using them”.

In 2010 such units were used 253 times, in 2011 – 306 times.

According to First Deputy Head of the State Penitentiary Service Sydorenko in a letter from 20 January 2012:

special purpose units of the Penitentiary Service used measures aimed at avoiding and stopping actions which disorganize the work of penal institutions and isolation units, ensuring the safety of remand and convicted prisoners…”

It is not clear what these measures were and what exactly the units did, for example, in the Donetsk SIZO [isolation or remand unit] 38 times in 2010 and 78 times in 2011.

It is known that such units are brought in to carry out searches. Donetsk Memorial points out that such a function is not envisaged by the Law and is therefore in breach of Article 19 of the Constitution. Yet such violations take place regularly.

Donetsk Memorial asked about the legislative grounds for the special purpose units’ activities and was informed in a letter from S. Sydorenko as Acting Head of the Penitentiary Service from 14 March 2012 that the special purpose units are in accordance with Articles 6 and 12  of the Law on the State Penal Service, i.e. “units which in accordance with the law act within the makeup of penal bodies and institutions, isolation units and are designated to guard them and prevent and stop actions which disorganize the work of the corrective institutions.

According to Article 4 of the Law on Fighting Terrorism, the Penitentiary Service is among the main objects directly involved in fighting terrorism on the territory of our country. The Penitentiary Service is directly vested with the tasks of carrying out measures to avoid and stop crimes of a terrorist natures in elements of the Penal Service.

The official duties of Penitentiary Service personnel are directly set out in instructions for officials.

It should also be noted that an updated version of a draft order on approving Standard Provisions on a special purpose unit of the State Penitentiary Service is under consideration in the Justice Ministry”.

The Head of the Penitentiary Service has thus confirmed that the only grounds for the existence of a special purpose unit lie in Articles 6 and 12  of the Law on the State Penal Service which do not contain the functions and competencies of such units, methods of their work. There are no other normative documents and standard Provisions have not been passed (over the space of four and a half years).

And in the meanwhile such units are being used.

“We are convinced that the inability of the Penitentiary Service over more than four years to prepare a normative act which complies with human rights standards demonstrates the persistent indifference of its management to the need to observe human rights and the Constitution and cannot justify infringements of Ukraine’s Constitution.”

Donetsk Memorial therefore calls on the President, Prosecutor General and Human Rights Ombudsperson to take immediate steps to:

prohibit the use of special purpose units of the State Penitentiary Service and other militarized formations of the same body without clear legislative designation of their functions and powers;

ensure publication of the draft Order and draft standard Provisions on special purpose units submitted to the Justice Ministry by the State Penitentiary Service;

hold to answer persons implicated in the unlawful use during 2008-2012 of special purpose units of the State Penitentiary Service and other militarized formations of the same body whose activities are not regulated through legislation;

 inform the public of measures taken to ensure compliance with Ukraine’s Constitution regarding use of the State Penitentiary Service special purpose units or the grounds for not applying such measures.

31 July 2012 

News from the CIS countries

Belarusian prisoner of conscience Zmitser Dashkevich faces extra prison term



YOUTH LEADER FACES longer prison sentence

Zmitser Dashkevich, a prisoner of conscience in Belarus, is facing another year in prison for allegedly violating prison rules. He has spent almost his entire sentence in punishment cells.

Zmitser Dashkevich, leader of the youth opposition movement Young Front, is serving his original sentence in the prison colony Glubokoe, northwestern Belarus, where he was transferred on 27 September 2011. This week Amnesty International learned that the administration of the prison colony has forwarded his case to the Investigation Committee of the Republic of Belarus. The Investigation Committee will now decide whether there is enough evidence in order to open a new criminal case against Zmitser Dashkevich under Article 411of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (“deliberate disobedience to the correctional institution administration”). In response, Zmitser Dashkevich wrote a letter to the head of the colony saying that he knowingly refuses to comply with certain requirements of the prison administration, as he considers them to be illegal.

Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to two years in a labour colony on 24 March 2011 for alleged assault under article 339 (“hooliganism”) on 18 December 2010, the day before the election. Amnesty International believes the charges against him are unfounded and that the charges were fabricated in order to prevent him taking part in the demonstration on 19 December 2010. Since his conviction in March 2011, Zmitser Dashkevich has repeatedly been exposed to a pressure from the prison administration. By September 2011, he had been placed in a punishment cell eight times, and he has spent most of his time since then in the punishment cell. Conditions are particularly harsh in such cells: prisoners are allowed no bedding, the temperature during the winter often falls to 15 degrees Celsius, and they are allowed no visitors or correspondence. In September Zmitser Dashkevich was offered the chance to apply for a Presidential pardon if he admitted his guilt, but he rejected the offer. Zmitser Dashkevich is considered to be a “malignant violator” of the prison rules and he is not allowed to have family visits. The continuing harassment of Zmitser Dashkevich for allegedly violating prison rules appears to be intended to put physical and psychological pressure on him.

Please write immediately in Belarusian, Russian or your own language:

Remind the Belarusian authorities that Zmitser Dashkevich is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of his human rights and that he should be released immediately and unconditionally;

Remind the Belarusian authorities that they have a duty to protect the physical and psychological wellbeing of those in custody;

Call on the Belarusian authorities to stop the harassment of Zmitser Dashkevich.


General Prosecutor

Alexander Koniuk

Ul. Internatsionalnaya 22

220030 Minsk,


Fax: +375 17 226 42 52

(call during office hours, GMT +3)

Salutation: Dear General Prosecutor

Minister of Internal Affairs

Igor Shunevich

Ul. Gorodskoi Val 4

220030 Minsk,


Fax: +375 17 203 99 18

(call during office hours, GMT +3)

Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to:

Chief of the Department of Penitentiary

Institutions at the MIA

Sergei Doroshko

Ul. Vokzalnaya 42

220007 Minsk, Belarus

Fax: +375 17 226 18 06 (say “fax”, and call during office hours, GMT +3)

Salutation: Dear Sergei Doroshko

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.


yOUTH LEADER FACES longer prison sentence


Zmitser Dashkevich is one of four prisoners of conscience who are currently imprisoned in Belarus in connection with a largely peaceful demonstration that took place on 19 December 2010. Tens of thousands of Belarusians gathered in central Minsk to protest against unfair elections. The demonstration was mostly peaceful, but when a violent incident broke out at the doors of Government House, riot police moved in to disperse the crowds.

Over 700 people were detained, the overwhelming majority of whom had been peaceful participants and bystanders. Most of the detained were charged with administrative offences and sentenced to 10 – 15 days’ imprisonment. However, a considerable number, including six of the seven opposition presidential candidates, other opposition activists and leading independent journalists, were charged with criminal offences including with ‘organizing mass disorder’. Since the demonstration, the authorities have conducted country-wide searches of opposition and media offices, and human rights defenders, lawyers and other civil society activists have witnessed an unprecedented clampdown on their activities. Many have been detained in the months following the demonstration.

Many who were sentenced for participating in the demonstrations in December 2010 have been released after they agreed to sign a confession for organizing or taking part in “mass disorder”.

Those four prisoners of conscience are:

Mykalau Statkevich was sentenced to six years on 26 May 2011.

Pavel Sevyarynets was sentenced to three years on 16 May 2011.

Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to two years on 24 March 2011.

Eduard Lobau was sentenced to four years on 24 March 2011.

In Kazakhstan, a season of murder and a lost local hero

Panayot Zakharopulo and his wife, Irina -- pictured here at their home in Almaty in October 2009 -- were both found dead.

Panayot Yevstafevich Zakharopulo was an imposing mountain of a man, who at the age of 76 could still perform the sign of the cross while holding a massive barbell.

But his strength -- as well as his reputation as the fearless protector of one of Kazakhstan’s most cherished nature preserves -- was not enough to prevent his murder in the country’s latest bizarre mass killing.

Zakharopulo, who had served as chief ranger of the country’s Ile-Alatau national park for more than three decades, was found dead on August 13 outside his home on the park grounds. He had been stabbed 26 times.

Police eventually discovered a total of 11 bodies, including Zakharopulo’s wife, Irina, and several other relatives and co-workers.

The family’s Niva off-road vehicle was found some distance away, empty, its interior streaked with blood.

Further off, the Nissan Patrol of Zakharopulo’s son, Igor, was found crashed against a barrier -- also bearing traces of blood, but with no sign of the driver or his fate.

Five of the bodies were found inside the charred remains of a second ranger’s house a significant distance from Zakharopulo’s. The bodies were burned beyond recognition and a full list of victim identifications has yet to be made.

Police have launched a manhunt for Igor Zakharopulo, saying he does not appear to be among the dead and suggesting he may be involved in the killings.

Journalist Gennady Benditsky is covering the case for Kazakhstan’s independent "Vremya" newspaper. He says the son’s apparent disappearance has only added to the peculiar nature of the crime, which follows the suspicious death last year of an older son, Yevgeny, apparently killed by an acquaintance during a brawl at the family’s forest home.

Both Igor and Yevgeny, however, were seen as working closely with their father, with no hint of animosity, in what they called the "family business" of guarding Ile-Alatau.

Another puzzling aspect of the crime, says Benditsky, is that despite the presence of several sophisticated hunting rifles in Zakharopulo’s home and in the Nissan Patrol, it was a knife that was used for the killings.

"There were many stab wounds. It took numerous stab wounds to kill [Zakharopulo], who was physically very strong despite the fact that he was an elderly man, " Benditsky says. "There were 26 stab wounds in his body. In others, there were 18, 10, six, eight. Usually, a single stab wound is enough to kill a man. You can say whoever killed them was kind of hacking at them."

​​​​Police have offered few details about the case and have even courted public assistance, asking for people who may have visited the park during its busy weekend hours to step forward with information.

The killings, committed in the heart of a vibrant nature preserve, have sparked suggestions the crime may have been prompted by Zakharopulo’s avid battle against poaching.

Ile-Alatau, located along the northern Tien Shan mountain range, is home to a rich variety of local vegetation, including rare breeds of tulips and peonies, as well as endangered animals including the distinctive argali mountain sheep, black storks, and snow leopards.

The natural abundance of the park has proven a draw for poachers, including teams of high-placed businessmen who have traditionally looked at Ile-Alatau as an ideal getaway for a weekend of drinking and hunting.

Benditsky says Zakharopulo -- who came to be known as the "Brest Fortress" of Ile-Alatau, a reference to the popular symbol of Soviet resistance against Nazi forces in World War II -- had maintained an uncompromising stance against unlicensed hunting. He often personally trolled the forest with his sons in search of undocumented visitors, and even confronted his own bosses when they attempted to sanction lucrative logging deals in the park.

"He was very strong physically. And he was also strong in terms of character, " Benditsky says. "There are officials and high-ranking policeman who try to use their positions to get what they want. Those things didn’t impress him. He was fired several times because of that. And each time he went to court and got his job back."

​​The Ile-Alatau murders have sparked comparisons to the shooting deaths in May of 14 border guards and a forest ranger at the remote Arkankergen outpost on the mountainous Kazakh-Chinese border to the east of Almaty.

Although authorities quickly settled on a chief suspect in the murders -- the sole remaining border guard, 19-year-old Vladislav Chelakh -- many doubts remain about the case and motives behind it.

Chelakh has complained that he was beaten and threatened with rape by interrogators eager to extract a confession. This week he was officially questioned by officers investigating his torture claims.

The bizarre nature of the Arkankergen killings -- and the fact that Chelakh, like Zakharopulo, is a member of Kazakhstan’s ethnic Greek minority -- has prompted speculation of a direct link between the two cases.

Both the Interior Ministry and observers like Benditsky dismiss the notion of a connection in the two killings.

Officials, meanwhile, on August 17 turned their attention to a fresh killing -- a shootout between alleged militants and security forces that left nine people dead outside of Almaty.

The incident prompted prosecutors to offer a hasty assurance that, again, no link to the Ile-Alatau murders was suspected.

But Turysbek, a doctor in the capital, Almaty, said the uncustomary season of violence has left many ordinary Kazakhs unsettled.

"Of course, it’s alarming, " he says. "This kind of thing never happened before, but now it’s happening often. At this point we don’t know exactly what happened. But I would say that the fact these types of tragedies are taking place so frequently now probably means that our law-enforcement system and general law and order are getting worse."

Elsewhere, other Kazakhs mourned the death of the man they credited with protecting one of the country’s most beloved natural treasures. "There are very few people who put nature before family interests or material concerns, " one person commented on the website of the Kazakh news website Megapolis. "I’m so sorry for them, that the whole family was killed."

RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service contributed to this report

Russian blogger Navalny charged with embezzlement

Alexei Navalny is one of Russia’s most influential opposition leaders

Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has been charged with embezzlement in a case he describes as "strange and absurd".

Federal investigators in Moscow brought charges over a timber deal in the Kirov region in which he was involved as an unofficial adviser three years ago.

The case was previously investigated and dropped by regional prosecutors.

Mr Navalny, who was also ordered not to leave the country, suggested the new charges were aimed at discrediting him.

Supporters of the anti-corruption lawyer, who led mass protests in Moscow against Russian leader Vladimir Putin this winter, demonstrated outside the offices of the Investigative Committee (SK) in Moscow, where he was charged on Tuesday.

Under Article 160 of the Russian criminal code on "misappropriation or embezzlement", Mr Navalny faces between five and 10 years in prison if convicted.

Reacting to news of the case, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter: "We should be concerned with attempts in Russia to silence fierce opposition activist Alexei @navalny."

New accusation

The original case related to a loss-making contract concluded by a state-owned timber company in Kirov, a region just west of the Ural Mountains, with another company.

The Kirov regional budget for 2009-10 reportedly suffered a loss of 1.3m roubles (£26, 000; $40, 000) and Mr Navalny was investigated as he was acting at the time as an adviser to Kirov’s governor, Nikita Belykh.

Federal investigators initially sought to charge Mr Navalny with causing "damage to property by means of deceit or abuse of trust" but they proceeded to more serious charges after reviewing the evidence, SK spokesman Vladimir Markin told reporters.

The new charges were posted on the website of the SK, a federal body set up to act as the equivalent of the FBI in Russia.

Mr Navalny is now accused of colluding with the heads of the two companies involved to organise the theft of timber worth 16m roubles (£300, 000; $500, 000).

The anti-corruption campaigner pointed out that he had gone to the SK expecting to be charged with the lesser offence, only to find the case had been altered against him into something much more serious.

"This charge is strange and absurd, " he said after emerging from the building. "They have completely changed the essence of the charge."

"This is a mega-strange thing, " he added. "Even the very figure of 16m roubles has not been explained at all."


This winter saw the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Moscow since the fall of the USSR. Protesters rallied around Mr Navalny, who accused Mr Putin’s allies of rigging elections.

Since Mr Putin was re-elected president in March, legal action against opposition figures has increased markedly. A tough new law was passed on public order offences and tight curbs were placed on non-governmental organisations.

In recent weeks, Mr Navalny, a lawyer by training, turned his fire on the SK’s chief, Alexander Bastrykin, reports the BBC’s Moscow correspondent, Daniel Sandford.

Mr Bastrykin denied Mr Navalny’s allegations that he had undeclared business interests in the Czech Republic.

He admitted once owning a flat there but said he had given it to his first wife. As for commercial activity, he said: "I was never in business. Business in the sense of aiming to make a profit. If they can find a single euro in profit, I’ll resign."

Mr Navalny vowed on Tuesday to continue his political activities despite the case against him.

"I will continue doing what I did before - nothing has changed for me, " he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2012, #08