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.


Memorandum on standards of coverage of election campaign

   Internews Ukraine and the Institute for the Development of the Regional Press have drawn up a Memorandum on Standards of Coverage of the Election Campaign.  The Memorandum was discussed and supported by the journalist community in the Crimea; the Mykolaiv, Odessa and Kherson oblasts.

They invite other journalists to join them.

1.  Adhere to principles of truthfulness, impartiality and balance in providing information about all candidates and political parties, as well as about any events of the 2012 election campaign.

2.  Uphold standards of editorial independence.  The information content of each programme or publication is determined by the editorial office and / or the creative editorial team.

3.  Do not avoid covering information of public importance even where there are “recommendations” to refrain from such publications. Demands to agree information before it is circulated, bans on circulating information or encouragement to circulate certain items are forms of censorship and prohibited by Ukrainian legislation.

4.   Avoid publishing “commissioned material” about candidates and parties paid for not in accordance with agreements on political advising. Each case of commissioned material without its being clearly marked as advertising must be viewed as a flagrant violation of ethical journalist standards and should face disciplinary measures.

5.  The principle of fairness means that the media provide a candidate or person involved in the electoral process with the opportunity to swiftly react with regard to information they consider wrong.

6.  Clearly distinguish between information reports and analytical material.

7.  In information adhere to standards of swift response; accuracy; reliability; fullness and clarity of expression; avoid excessively figurative language. Reports should be based on facts that have been checked and should be objective. Rumours must not form the basis of reports.

8.  Commentary and other value judgements are subject therefore they cannot be proven or disproven. However they should be based on a minimum factual basis and be honest, i.e. they should not conceal  or deny real facts and / or manipulate the audience.

9.   Any statements from third parties must be quoted without distorting their original content. Direct reference to the source of the information quoted is obligatory.

10.  Preparation of material which provides full and accurate analysis of the arguments of political parties and candidates, as well as their possibilities for carrying out their promises is a priority.

11.  Do not use your media for publication of unverified information provided by candidates about their opponents and deliberate information leaks without additional journalist checks and providing opportunity for comments.

12.  Avoid creating material which focuses attention solely on the positive or negative aspects of the activities of members of the election campaign.

13.  Information should be received through lawful means. Secret taping may only be used after the journalist has become convinced of its public significance for voters, and that it is impossible to receive the information through open means.  Decisions regarding secret investigations should be made at management level of the media source.

14.  Journalists should protect their sources of information. Details which make it possible to identify the source may only be demanded with a court order issued on the basis of law.

15.  Journalists should observe the principle of respect for human rights, including the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy.

16.  The media may not be used to circulate reports propagating violence, xenophobia, discrimination and other forms of intolerance. 

NDI: Immediate and concerted steps needed to increase voter confidence in parliamentary elections

  Noting a disturbingly low level of public confidence in political institutions, a National Democratic Institute (NDI) pre-election assessment delegation urged immediate and concerted measures to address problems, real and perceived, that threaten to undermine the integrity of October 28 parliamentary elections in Ukraine.

In a statement issued at a news conference on Monday, the delegation said, “Ukraine has experienced a number of impressive democratic achievements over the past decade.” But following several years of democratic setbacks, it continued, “political will and extraordinary efforts will be required to return to elections that are seen to reflect the will of the voters.” Challenges related to the legal framework, district boundaries, election commissions, the voter registry, intimidation of voters, abuse of administrative resources, procedures for complaints and adjudication, web cameras in polling stations, the media and campaign environments, women’s participation and election observation need urgent attention before election day, the statement said.

NDI said it welcomed President Yanukovych’s pledge that “the election must be perfect, in full accordance with international standards.” According to the delegation’s statement, “Ukrainians have the skills and capacity to meet the goals expressed by the president.” In light of the issue of selective prosecution of political leaders, however, the government faces a high threshold for regaining public trust. When serious doubts are raised about the fairness of an election, additional safeguards must be introduced, the NDI delegation said.

The delegation noted that much is at stake in these elections. “If the citizens accept the results as reflecting their will, the legitimacy of the parliament and government would be enhanced in the eyes of Ukrainians and the international community, ” the statement said. “It would enhance Ukraine’s leadership as it prepares to chair the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] in 2013. It would also help Ukraine tackle the domestic issues that its citizens care most about, including economic reforms and anti-corruption efforts. Further, these elections will set the stage for a presidential election in 2015, which will generate even greater scrutiny.”

The statement provided recommendations on concrete measures, some of which should be undertaken in the coming days and weeks, in time to impact the October balloting. Recommendations on additional changes that should be pursued soon after the elections were also provided.

The purposes of the September 10 to 17 mission were to accurately and impartially assess electoral preparedness in advance of the parliamentary elections; review the broader political environment; examine factors that could affect the integrity of the electoral process; and offer recommendations that could increase the prospect for credible elections and promote public confidence in the process.

The NDI delegation included Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Fuat Keyman, director of the Istanbul Policy Center; David McGuinty, Canadian member of parliament;, Mátyás Eörsi, former Hungarian member of parliament; Laura Jewett, NDI regional director for Eurasia; and Kristina Wilfore, NDI Ukraine country director.

NDI’s mission was funded through a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. More information is available at 

Politics and human rights

Chief Kharkiv opposition figure left without his business

Search of editorial office of the newspaper and Internet site Glavnoye which belongs to Avakov

The Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle writes that the police are carrying out large-scale searches at business enterprises belonging to members of the opposition Batkivshchyna Party. The opposition calls this political persecution, which the authorities deny.

At the end of August the National Bank of Ukraine passed a decision on withdrawing the licence of the Kharkiv Basis Bank and on its liquidation. The bank’s founder is former Governor of the Kharkiv Oblast and current leader of the Kharkiv Batkivshchyna Party, Arsen Avakov. As reported here, criminal proceedings were brought against Mr Avakov over alleged “abuse of power” in January 2012, and Mr Avakov has since then not returned to Ukraine. 

Deutsche Welle reports him awaiting political asylum in Italy, however this may not be the case. Certainly until recently Avakov, who hoped to take part in the October elections and is a popular politician in the area, had not wished to apply for asylum.

The Interior Ministry CID for the Kharkiv oblast asserts that bank officials over several years illegally withdrew assets worth 600 million UAH.

In an interview to Deutsche Welle, Mr Avakov called the situation around the bank continued methodical destruction of his business which he says began two years ago after Party of the Regions candidate Hennady Kernes beat him with a tiny lead of 0.63% in the elections for Mayor of Kharkiv. He asserts that political expediency is being used as a pretext for making money out of the situation. He denies that Basis is bankrupt and says that if the National Bank carries out politically unbiased liquidation procedure, it will see that.  He is convinced that his business was brought to a state of artificial bankruptcy through manipulation by the local authorities and banks controlled by those in power. He asserts that several large enterprises long before the National Bank’s intervention in the activities of Basis had “after instructions from the Mayor’s Office stopped fulfilling loan commitments to the bank”.

The bank also lost almost 100 million UAH which, together with a foreign business, it had invested in the purchase and reconstruction of a hotel in the city centre. The hotel was returned by the court to the City Council, together with premises of the bank purchased back in the 1990s. The court applications were initiated by Avakov’s rival in the 2010 elections, H. Kernes.

Svitlana Semko, lawyer and City Council Deputy from the Batkivshchyna Party is convinced that the actions against Avakov must have received the go-ahead from Kyiv. She asserts that the law enforcement agencies are also being used against other Kharkiv businesspeople who support or are members of opposition parties. “All of this is being done to block financial support to the opposition in the run up to the elections”, she says.

Both the Kharkiv Governor, Mykhailo Dobkin and Mayor Kernes give a lot of attention to Avakov and his business on the official websites of the Regional Administration and the City Council. Dobkin, for example, did not exclude the possibility that the activities of the opposition were being financed through bank money.

He denies any politics, however, and claims the matter is economic and about a criminal offence.

Opposition political protests often blocked by the police

Political commentator, Yulia Bidenko considers “such scrupulous attention and the systematic nature of various actions by the local authorities specifically to Avakov fairly suspect”.  She notes however that Ukrainian businessmen engaged in politics have had similar problems to Avakov throughout Ukraine’s independence. “What is forgiven businesses run by Party of the Regions people, will never be accepted from opposition supporters”,  

She points out that the same problems have been encountered by media publications within Avakov’s business structure which were cut off a year ago.

As reported, in September 2011 three TV channels – ATN and two channels which broadcast ATN news – Fora and A/TVK – were removed from air.  The reasons given in each case were different, and convinced few. ATN news broadcasts were extremely popular in Kharkiv and provided hard-hitting questions and critical reports about the activities of the local authorities. The channels accused Kernes of direct involvement and concern was also expressed by Stop Censorship and other media organizations, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the OSCE Media Representative and many others.

Just a few of the details about how ATN ended up off air

On 22 July 2011, ATN  General Director, Oleh Yukht received a letter from the provider IT-Service terminating their contract to provide the channel with a signal. No explanation was given, there was only a reminder that ATN needed to pay money owing. Yukht replied that ATN asks the provider not to break the agreement, and to explain their reasons. He received no response, but the ATN News disappeared from the screen. Yukht asserts that the arrears were merely those which regularly arise during the normal working process, and there was no problem with paying the money due.  ATN was forced to turn on its on radio relay station. A resident of the neighbouring building, Anastasia Kobets complained that her health had deteriorated as a result of the radio relay. A few days after this she became the Head of the Kharkiv regional organization “Young Regions” which is a youth branch of the ruling Party of the Regions which Kernes represents.

It further transpired that ATN did not have a sanitary hygiene passport without which you can’t use a radio relay station. On 28 July ATN applied for this passport from the Sanitary Hygiene Service in Kharkiv. On 1 August doctors from his Service arrived at ATN to check whether they had such a passport, and on 2 August the Chief Sanitary Service Doctor Irina Zubkova issued a decision temporarily banning use of the radio relay station due to the lack of a sanitary passport. ATN approached the Health Ministry and a commission arrived in Kharkiv from Kyiv to ascertain whether the station’s work was detrimental to the health of people in adjoining buildings. On 1 September the channel received a certificate from the Chief Doctor of the Central Sanitary Hygiene Service, Lybov Nekrasova, confirming that the relevant building could house a radio relay station. However the Kharkiv Sanitary Hygiene Service did not remove its ban.

Information about Avakov, the bank etc, from an article at the Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle


«Here I stand before you, as if naked…»

On 6 September the Verkhovna Rada voted at different stages on a number of draft laws which concern human rights: on countering discrimination; improving the work of the Prosecutor’s Office; biometric documents; amendments to the Personal Data Act and others. All of them, we are assured, are aimed at meeting the requirements of the EU Visa Liberalization Action Plan or of the Council of Europe.  In fact, however, they either only partially meet these requirements or do not improve the human rights situation or on the contrary flagrantly violate these rights. For example, draft Law No. 10492 on a Single State Demographic Register, passed at its first reading, flagrantly infringes the right to privacy. We will endeavour here to demonstrate that.

A Single universal individual code

A personal identification number was introduced in 1997 for tax purposes however this has gradually begun to be used in other spheres. It determines passport details, is used for pension matters, is the key for access to personal vehicle registers, records of criminal convictions and a number of other registers. Without it you can’t open an account in the bank or get a document notarized. Privatization papers, shares, loans, insurance, purchases of property are all directly linked with this number. It is even added to a person’s passport, though it is unclear for what purpose. The SBU [SBU] should call that subversive behaviour since foreign security services get the chance to collect Ukrainians’ ID and tax numbers.

Over the last 15 years the tax number has de facto become the general individual code in all government and non-government registers.

Legalization of the gathering of personal data

In June 2009 the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a Concept Framework for the development of a State information system for keeping a register of individuals and their documentation. According to this Concept Framework, unlike in any other European country, the passport and registration processes are merged into one, while information within the system “is used for taking decisions regarding State demographic and social policy; implementing tasks on reducing the crime level; increasing the security of the public and of the country as a whole”.  Draft Law No. 10492 is supposed to establish at the level of the law the gathering and retention of personal data according to a single universal individual code, as well as the issue of biometric documents identifying a person.  It would be good if this was only passports so as to get across borders as quickly as possible. The International Civil Aviation Organization requires that passports are read by a machine. However besides passports, the draft law also introduces 13 other biometric documents, some of which are intended for use within the country such as Ukrainians’ internal passport [identify document] and driving licence. Yet where do we have the machines capable of reading the information? Only border guards have this. And who has calculated whether the state coffers of a country which is not well-off can afford such expensive technology for producing biometric documents?  How much will it cost Ukrainians to periodically receive these (according to the draft law an internal passport must be renewed every 10 years)? These are questions for which there are no answers.

The creation of a single register masks the merger of all personal data of people living in the country from various databases, including official, into one single database, with this now on an entirely legal basis. A person will have no idea what information about them has been gathered for an unspecified period and unclear purpose. Such actions by the State are a flagrant violation of Article 32 of the Constitution, international agreements and the Personal Data Protection Act.  Not to mention the poor protection of this data since it remains possible without any great difficulty to obtain fresh copies of tax number databases.

With the adoption of this draft bill and fully-fledged implementation of the above-mentioned Convention, Ukrainians’ lives under the close scrutiny of the State could quite easily become hell, as in the imaginary dialogue here.

Ordering a pizza (end of 2017)


The metallic voice of an electronic operator: “Thank you for your call to our telephone pizza order service.”

– I’d like to make an urgent order.

– Please give me you ID number.

– 6109049968.

– Thank you Mr Mykhailo Mykhailovych Petrenko. You live in Kyiv on Moskowska St, no. 15, flat number 15 and work at the Volya Cable company on 27 Raduzhna St. Your home phone number is 111111, your work number – 222222, and your mobile number is 3333333333. You’ve phoned from your home line so would you like the pizza to be delivered to your home?

– Yes, I’m at home right now. But how do you know all those telephone numbers?

– We’re connected to the State Information System.

– OK, do you have pizzas with meat and mushrooms?

– We don’t think that would suit you.

– Why not?

– According to the Health Ministry records you have high blood pressure and a high level of cholesterol.

– OK, so what can I have?

– We’re sure you’ll like our soya-yoghurt pizza.

– Why on earth that?

– Last week you ordered a recipe book for a soya diet on the Internet, and last month you bought a yoghurt blender.

– Right, and how much does that pizza cost?

– You’re at home with your wife and two children so you’ll need to order two large pizzas which will cost 200 UAH.

– OK, I’ll pay by credit card, I’ll give you the number.

– According to information from your bank, your account is in overdraft so you’ll have to pay cash.

– It’s good that I managed to get a bit of money out of the cash machine.

– Going by information from the cash machine and about your previous purchases, you won’t be able to pay for home delivery of the pizza, but you can pick up your order yourself.

– Give me the address and I’ll come by car in half an hour.

– You’d better use your bike. You haven’t renewed your mandatory car insurance and therefore aren’t allowed to drive it.

– …..!  I completely forgot.

– You should watch your language – you’re still within the administrative penalty period imposed for foul language in the metro which the surveillance system detected.

– The customer sniffs into the receiver.

– Good, your order’s been received and will be ready in half an hour. Anything else?

– Nothing, but your advertisement promised a free bottle of Pepsi for each pizza bought.

– Sorry, but the Pension Fund’s Directive prohibits us from giving that drink to people inclined to diabetes like yourself.

How is it elsewhere?

Use of multi-purpose identification numbers considerably simplifies the carrying out of State functions.  The numbers themselves are convenient and economical means of increasing efficiency of governance. They were therefore introduced in many countries in the 1960s-1980s. However people realised that that would lead to a considerable increase in the influence of the State on people’s privacy.  Civil society in most countries got restrictions on these projects and adoption of laws on protecting personal data.  There are, for example, well-known judgements from the Constitutional Court of Germany stating that the introduction of a personal ID number can pose a threat to human dignity. Hungary’s Constitutional Court found the introduction of a singe ID number to be a violation of the right to privacy and the single number was cancelled. Article 35 of Portugal’s Constitution links a ban on sharing information between databases with the ban on giving residents of the country a single identifier. In Australia a draft plan for giving each holder of a personal card an identification number was rejected, and the use of tax numbers significantly restricted.  New Zealand decided against introducing a single number after mass public protests for religious reasons. When the Social Insurance Number [SIN] in Canada became the most commonly used personal ID number, the Federal Government stated that it would prevent it turning into a universal ID number. Since 1988 any new use of the number has only been possible with parliament’s agreement.  They usually speak of widespread use of the analogous number in the USA, however in fact in the US there are 16 different types of ID numbers and the law prohibits ministries and official departments sharing information among themselves without the consent of the person.  There are plenty of other examples.

In my opinion biometric documentation should be restricted to passports and draft Law No. 10492 should be brought into line with the Constitution and Personal Data Protection Act.. It should clearly stipulate the purpose of creating a demographic register; the purpose of processing personal data; the grounds for inserting data into a register, the scale of the information inserted and scale of biometric information with the exclusion of a digital signature. 

All-out biometric

  By bringing in a State Demographic Register, MPs want to have total biometric records on Ukrainians. Much more information will be included than Ukraine’s international commitments demand.

As reported, on 6 September 2012 the Verkhovna Rada passed in its first reading a draft Law on a Single State Demographic Register submitted by Party of the Regions MP Vasyl Hrytsak. The MPs supported it in its first reading claiming that such haste was needed due to urgent demands by the EU on introducing a system of biometric data on passports, this being needed for visa liberalization with EU countries.

Several similar laws have previously got through parliament but then been vetoed by the President. Now Hrytsak is trying again.

According to the Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-ethnic Relations, Viktor Taran from the opposition BYUT faction, the committee supported the bill as “seeming the most realistic from among the other bills. It’s cheaper and not about corruption”. He asserts that previous draft laws demanded bringing in a citizens’ ID card as well as a passport, and that this entails extra cost to the state. He adds that these cards were to be prepared by a commercial structure, and that the EU has long been reminding Ukraine of its promise regarding biometric passports.

Viktor Tymoshchuk from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform disagrees and says that the draft bill contains much more than is demanded by the EU.

He says that biometric information will be stored in both the normal passport for travelling abroad, and in Ukrainians’ internal passport.

A mega database is also planned with the numbers of all documents which a person receives.

The bill envisages new-born babies being issued with a passport with biometric data with this then being renewed every 10 years.

He sees this as yet another attempt to table a draft law working in the interests of commercial structures. He points out that Hrytsak is closely associated with the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System) which wants to produce the biometric passports.

The draft law proposed by the Justice Ministry was, despite being much more substantive, rejected.

Hrytsak’s latest draft law envisages that aside from biometric data, the State Demographic Register will contain all important information about a person, from their date of birth to death certificate. He warns that in Ukraine nobody guarantees the inviolability of this data. This is not denied by Viktor Taran but the latter claims that this is the reason for creating a single register.

Human rights activists, however, are adamant that before the next vote on the bill, measures must be taken to prevent the data’s free sale. Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union says that biometric passports are indeed an EU requirement and cannot be avoided. However in European countries, he points out, there is a developed system for protecting personal data. “Here all databases can be bought at the Kyiv Petrivka Market.

Hrytsak’s draft law he also believes is ill-suited for present Ukrainian reality and does not take Ukrainian citizens’ interests into account.

Freedom of expression

Libel Law: Where next?

A Resolution on cancelling the vote in its first reading of the much criticized draft law recriminalizing libel has been registered in parliament.  Roman Kabachiy from the Institute for Mass Information asks whether this necessarily guarantees that the law will be withdrawn.  The draft law in question was passed in its first reading on 18 September and proposes amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code reintroducing criminal liability for what courts decide is “libel”.  Roman Kabachiy writes that the discussion the bill has arrived has highlighted four key questions: why it has appeared at all, why now, who it’s convenient for and what we should expect.

Why at all?

The author writes that the answer to this lies “in the overall situation in the country which makes it impossible to doubt the deliberate reduction in freedom of speech by the authorities under the Party of the Regions and Viktor Yanukovych in particular.”

He points to other laws.

Back in 2011 this was the Law on Court Duties which removed the progressive norm meaning that those who demanded astronomical (and crippling) amounts in compensation from media sources and journalists had to themselves pay large amounts of duty.  The norm had been highly instrumental in putting an end to such civil suits being used to destroy inconvenient media publications.

(See Parliament upholds law which could signal crippling defamation suits against the media )

In September 2012 there were two documents of note: .

Cabinet of Ministers Directive No. 672 “On information and explanatory measures in the area of fighting terrorism”. 

In this the government demands from the enforcement bodies and the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee ““timely identification and prevention of the circulation of material containing calls to violent change, the overthrow of the constitutional order; seizure of state power; to encroachments on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability; with incitement to national, racial or religious enmity and hatred; to the carrying out of terrorist acts and actions which threaten public order;…”

(a translation can be found of this worrying document here: Government steps up measures against “actions which threaten public order”)

The very next day the law tabled by Party of the Regions MP V. Zhuravsky on criminalizing libel was passed in its first reading.

Why now?

Zhuravsky himself was open about this saying that it was during the election campaign that there was “a need to introduce such a concept” (as criminal liability for defamation).

Who is it convenient for?

The author clearly sees Zhuravsky’s role as symbolic – somebody had to table the draft law.  In fact, he says, the document was created on a computer in the President’s Administration.

“The Verkhovna Rada after the vote in its first reading does not necessarily have to listen to Zhuravsky (who in theory withdrew the bill on 25 September – translator) like it listened to Yanukovych.  The advantages to the party in power, and it was with a majority from their votes that the law was adopted in the first reading, are clear: to have a dampening effect among journalists already now, before the law is passed. With the deferment of the adoption of the law (since it’s hard to believe that it will be withdrawn considering the thinking of some members of the Party of the Regions) the Party of the Regions has artificially gained a few election points.  It looked better also for Yanukovych who publicly made his “opposition” known and “could demonstrate all the democratic nature and openness of the regime” at the UN General Assembly in New York.

What should we expect?

The author writes that we mustn’t sit and await anything, but fight for the revoking of the vote in the first reading. Taras Shevchenko, Director of the Media Law Institute is convinced that the next parliament will be less obedient and those elected in single-mandate electoral districts will not simply do what they’re told.

From an article by Roman Kabachiy, Institute for Mass Information, posted on Telekritika

Parallel Media Worlds

Demonstration in support of independent channel TVi

We overestimate the importance of multiple media sources at our peril.  Our favourite websites, newspapers, contacts on social networks all know about the hard-hitting questions put to President Yanukovych last week at the YES Yalta Annual Conference. They can repeat the stern words about the risks to EU integration, Ukraine’s possible isolation - and, of course, the importance of fair elections.

In that parallel world inhabited by a very large number of Ukrainian voters there is only the news on national television channels, including the State-owned UTV-1.  That, on the contrary, was only upbeat.  Ukraine, we are told, is “accelerating integration”. It “is gradually moving towards signing the EU Association Agreement. The Head of State promises that after the parliamentary elections this process will speed up”. 

The President’s own words were heard at the Conference by participants who knew well what the “additional questions” he mentions are.  TV viewers have no such insider information.

Another brief news item that day stated the following: “EU Commissioner Štefan Füle supports Ukraine’s integration plans. … In his address to the Yalta Summit he stated that the parliamentary elections would determine the future prospects for relations between Kyiv and Brussels

Not in the slightest inaccurate, of course, but scarcely informative. In fact, the very rationale behind the heavyweight presence at the conference is difficult to fathom.  The response from Yanukovych, his Foreign Minister and others was absolutely predictable, but so too was the fact that most Ukrainians would hear only a carefully constructed version of the event.  What did the honourable EU representatives really expect their words about the importance of honest elections to achieve?  Surely not enough to compensate for the propaganda effect of such events on an increasingly duped audience. 

The EU cannot be blamed if Ukraine’s leaders are willing to throw away European integration rather than play by democratic rules, but they should not help prop up a charade.  The very fact that a huge number of Ukrainian voters have no chance of learning why this integration is at threat already casts doubt over the fairness of the coming elections. 

This has been the case for the last two years or more. What, however, has intensified is the assault on one of the last relatively independent TV channels – TVi 

Over the last two months we have seen serious attempts to block voters’ access to one of the last sources of criticism of the current government, hard-hitting questions and investigations exposing corruption and other infringements.  Some 80 cable providers have by now removed TVi from their packages or, like the Kyiv Volya provider, moved TVi to a much more expensive package.  TVi believes that the National Broadcasting Council is behind this behaviour which, from any business point of view given the channel’s popularity, is quite irrational.

On 12 September TVi lost its appeal against the results of the check carried out by the State Tax Administration.  The Administrative Court of Appeal thus revoked the ruling of the first instance court which had been in TVi’s favour. It is worth noting that in July the tax authorities carried out a check leading to criminal proceedings being brought against the General Director of TVi, Mykola Knyazhytsky. He was accused of not having paid 3 million UAH in taxes. Mr Knyazhytsky asserts that this was money owed the channel in VAT.  It was over this that, prior to July, a court found in TVi’s favour. 

Following intense criticism including from international bodies, the Prosecutor General announced that the criminal proceedings had been terminated.  There was no cause for relief since at the same time we began hearing that one after another cable provider had removed the channel.  And now the inconvenient court ruling in TVi’s favour has been revoked.

Two days ago the President’s Press Service reported that Yanukovych had instructed the Broadcasting Council to look into the actions of the cable providers. Sounds fine, means little. On 19 September he “called on local authorities to prevent pressure on the media during the elections”. 

Most laudable and his words will doubtless be heard throughout the country.  Including by some of those viewers whose access to less bland fare has been removed.

The danger to fair and honest elections can be gauged already. With such flagrant disregard for media freedom and the right to information, perhaps international observers and EU representatives could make better efforts to ensure that this is understood now. 

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Call on politicians to defend freedom of peaceful assembly in Ukraine


Members of NGOs and other concerned members of the public have endorsed an open appeal to Ukraine’s politicians regarding legislation in parliament on peaceful assembly.

They write that, united by common interests with respect to freedom of peaceful assembly, they have reached consensus over the following.

Shared concern over the increasing number of court bans on peaceful gatherings in Ukraine and number of cases where people face administrative liability for infringements of the procedure for organizing and holding meetings, rallies, street processions and demonstrations;

Application by the courts as grounds for restrictions on peaceful assembly of Soviet legislation and acts issued by bodies of local self-government  which do not comply with Ukraine’s Constitution; as well as arbitrary interpretation of constitutional norms running counter to European standards demonstrates interference by the State in freedom of peaceful assembly;

The Law on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly should be adopted in a form complying with European standards and the interests of civil society.

We would ask all political groups represented in the Verkhovna Rada, regardless of the polarization of views typical for an election campaign, to confirm the priority importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms and support our shared position.

We call on members of different factions to jointly submit for parliament’s consideration a draft bill agreed with civic organizations which would, for example, prevent the arbitrary application of administrative penalties.

We suggest that until such a draft bill has been adopted in its first reading, that draft Law No. 2450 (On Freedom of Peaceful Assembly – translator) should not be put to the vote.

We call on the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-Ethnic Relations to recall draft Law No. 2450 for reworking, in particular regarding the following:

1)      Establishing a minimum period for notifying of a planned meeting in calendar days or hours, rather than working days (Article 7);

2)      Revise the list of grounds for restricting peaceful assembly (Article 16) and the list of rights and obligations of the organizers (Article 5);

3)     Review the list of places where peaceful gatherings are not permitted (Article 9).

After taking proposals from NGOs into consideration and agreeing the versions of both draft laws, these should be adopted simultaneously with their entry into force also synchronized.

The results of monitoring of observance of freedom of peaceful assembly which NGOs will continue to carry out systematically should be taken into consideration and should help to remove obstructions.

Roman Kuybida                  Centre for Political and Legal Reform

Volodymyr Chemerys         The Republica Institute

Arkady Bushchenko          The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Mykhailo Svystovych         The Civic Movement Vidsich

Maxim Latsyba,                 Ukrainian Independent Political Research Centre

Roman Romanov               The International Renaissance Foundation

Oleksandr Severyn             Vsesvit ; Maidan-Monitoring

Viktor Taran                         The Centre for Political Study and Analysis

Mykhailo Kamenev             The Regional Initiatives Foundation

The appeal is open for endorsement at:

UHHRU Position on the Peaceful Assembly Draft Law


Following all kinds of rumours and inaccuracies regarding the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s position on draft Law 2450 on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, the Head of the Board and Executive Director have issued a statement.

In it they confirm UHHRU’s view that the situation with regard to peaceful assembly in Ukraine is extremely bad.  Courts are more and more frequently imposing bans, generally applying legislation from Soviet times which is in breach of Ukraine’s Constitution.

Monitoring has shown that in 90% of all cases examined by the courts, bans are issued. The grounds are often absurd and the courts often extend the ban to cover an unlimited range of people and a long period of time that the ban is in force.

A law based on European standards would be able to influence the situation and strengthen legal forms of protection of freedom of peaceful assembly. For this reason, UHHRU representatives took part in the working group on revising Draft Law No. 2450.

On 5 June 2012 UHHRU addressed an open appeal to the members of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-Ethnic Relations. At the time, unfortunately, it had not been possible to gain consensus between members of the working groups on a number of issues and UHHRU therefore made public proposals put forward by members of various organizations. 

The main point which was unresolved was the unwillingness of members of the Verkhovna Rada Committee to include final provisions in the draft law envisaging 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).as well as amendments to the Law on Local Self-Government and the Administrative Justice Code.

UHHRU also supported proposals on shortening the minimum timeframe and differentiated times depending on the type of meeting.

Unfortunately the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-Ethnic Relations decided to stop work on the draft law and adopted it, with votes from both the ruling majority and the opposition. UHHRU found that it had not been possible to resolve all issues but that the working group had managed to introduce important amendments which are worth noting.

1,   Spontaneous gatherings are envisaged with these not governed by the general time frame for notification, as well as counter-meetings and simultaneous gatherings which at present almost never take place being banned by the courts.

2.  Very rare, clear and exhaustive grounds are stipulated for restricting freedom of assembly, and measures are introduced which are less restrictive than bans.

3.  A ban on restricting freedom of peaceful assembly on the grounds that notification was not given or not given on time.

4.  Restrictions on the place where peaceful gatherings can be held are based only on the law, and not acts issued by bodies of local self-government, as happens now.

5.  Local authorities will not be able to demand information from the organizer on how rubbish will be taken away, who will provide medical assistance etc since all these things are the direct obligation of the local authorities.

6.  The courts will not be able to apply bans covering an unstipulated number of gatherings over a certain time on a particular areas as has been frequently happening of late.

Furthermore, MP Miroshnychenko supported and submitted to parliament draft Law No. 10569 which envisages amendments to the above-mentioned laws as UHHRU demanded.

This includes exclusion of punishment in the form of 15 days administrative arrest for infringements of procedure for holding peaceful gatherings, and liability can apply only where there are negative consequences. Amendments to administrative proceedings would mean that the authorities had one day for approaching the court, as well as short time frames for lodging appeals, so that if there had been prior notification the organizer could quickly obtain the final ruling. This would make bans issued by courts sitting late at night impossible.  The court would also have the obligation to justify decisions to restrict peaceful assembly in accordance with European Court of Human Rights criteria – those necessary in a democratic society and proportionality of the restriction. These amendments significantly improve the situation and strengthen protection of organizers and participants in peaceful assembly.

In view of this, on 6 September UHHRU joined other organizations in calling for draft Laws No. 10569 and No. 2450 to be passed, and for a widespread information campaign on explaining their provisions.

Change in legislation will make it possible to achieve different practice in enforcement of the law than that which is presently seen. We will continue efforts to improve the text of the draft law the possibilities of which have not been exhausted. UHHRU proposals will soon be presented. However we consider that the position of activists who view the present situation with freedom of peaceful assembly as acceptable and are extremely disappointed with the negative result of the vote in parliament on the highly important draft Law No. 10569 as flawed. Such a situation can in no way be considered likely to succeed.

The statement is signed by Yevhen Zakharov, Head of the UHHRU Board and Arkady Bushchenko, UHHRU Executive Director.

On refugees

Amnesty International urges Ukraine not to extradite refugee to Uzbekistan

  Amnesty International calls on the Ukrainian authorities not to extradite Ruslan Suleymanov to Uzbekistan where he would be at risk of torture and other grave human rights violations. In accordance with its international obligations Ukraine should not extradite refugees or asylum-seekers to any country where they would face a serious risk of the death penalty, torture or other grave human rights abuses.

Amnesty International urges the Ukrainian authorities to immediately release Ruslan Suleymanov so that he can take up the offer of resettlement in a third country.

Ruslan Suleymanov was working as a manager in a very successful private construction company “Karavan Bazar”, in Uzbekistan. Starting in 2008, the company was reportedly raided by influential individuals. When the company refused to hand over shares in the company, many managers in the company faced charges related to economic crimes.

Fearing that he too would face prosecution and an unfair trial, Ruslan Suleymanov moved first to Kyrgyzstan where he applied for and gained citizenship and then in November 2010 he moved to Ukraine. On 25 February 2011, he was detained in Chernigov when he went to the Ministry of Interior branch there to apply for a work permit. In violation of Ukrainian law and international standards, he did not have access to lawyer until 18 May 2011. On 12 May 2011 the General prosecutor’s Office approved his extradition to Uzbekistan to stand trial for economic crimes. On 20 May 2011, Ruslan Suleymanov applied for asylum in Ukraine. His application was rejected on appeal on 2 July 2012, and is currently being considered by the Higher Administrative Court. Ruslan Suleymanov also applied for complementary protection in Ukraine, and that application is under consideration. His appeals against the extradition order have also been unsuccessful. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) recognized him as a refugee under the UNHCR mandate on 18 May 2012 and proceeded to seek his resettlement. Under Ukrainian law a person may be detained for extradition no longer than 18 months after which they must be released. The 18 month period is due to expire on 25 September. He was moved from Chernigov detention facility to a detention facility in Kyiv on 7 September in preparation for extradition. As there are direct flights to Tashkent from Kyiv on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Kyiv it is feared that he will be extradited on Thursday night.

Despite repeated assertions by Uzbekistan that the practice of torture has significantly decreased over the last years, Amnesty International has continued to receive reports of widespread torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners. According to these reports, in most cases the authorities failed to conduct prompt and impartial investigations into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. Amnesty International is concerned that impunity prevails as prosecution of individuals suspected of being responsible for torture or other ill-treatment remains the exception rather than the rule. Reports of torture or other ill-treatment stem not only from men and women suspected of membership of banned Islamic groups or Islamist parties or of having committed terrorist offences, but from all layers of civil society, including human rights activists, journalists, businessmen and former - often high-profile - members of the government and security forces. Amnesty International’s research has found that most of those forcibly returned to Uzbekistan are held in incommunicado detention, thereby increasing their risk of being tortured or otherwise ill-treated. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued multiple rulings prohibiting states from returning persons to Uzbekistan on the basis of a risk of torture. For example, the ECtHR ruled on 10 June 2010 in the case Garayev v. Azerbaijan that the extradition of Shaig Garayev from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan would be in violation of Article 3 [prohibition of torture] of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court stated that “any criminal suspect held in custody [in Uzbekistan] faces a serious risk of being subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment both in order to extract a confession and as a punishment for being a criminal.” The ECtHR has issued at least 10 more rulings prohibiting the return of criminal suspects to Uzbekistan on the basis of a risk of torture.

As a state party to the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the Ukrainian authorities must not forcefully return refugees or asylum-seekers to any country where they would face a serious risk of the death penalty, torture or other grave human rights abuses. Furthermore, the authorities must ensure that Ruslan Suleymanov has access to fair asylum procedures, including a thorough review of his asylum claim on appeal.

Interethnic relations

VAAD expresses concern over Kyiv-Mohyla inaugural lecture by anti-Semitic historian

The banner reads Anti-Semitism is Barbarism - photo from

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (VAAD Ukraine) has issued a statement regarding the decision by the Kyiv –Mohyla Academy [NaUKMA to invite historian Serhiy Bilokin to give this year’s inaugural speech at the university. The university has, in previous years, invited such renowned people as Paul Ricoeur, Sergei Averintsev, Ivan Dziuba, Lina Kostenko, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Mykhailyna Kotsyubinska and Adam Michnik. 

VAAD Ukraine is therefore surprised and disturbed at the invitation to a historian notorious for anti-Semitic views which he in no way attempts to conceal in academic and publicist writings. It mentions, for example, an article in which Bilokin seeks to reveal “the decisive role of Jewry” in the events of the Revolution and subsequent “Ukrainian national Catastrophe”.  The other quotes cited from Bilokin’s writings are thoroughly offensive.   VAAD mentions that in 2003-2004 Bilokin had links with the activities and publications of the notoriously anti-Semitic Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, better known as MAUP.

VAAD stresses the authoritative position held by the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and its “unique atmosphere in which new generations of Ukrainian intellectuals gain their education and are formed.”

It points out that for over 10 years it has been running various joint programmes with Kyiv-Mohyla, and that from this year they are together beginning the first ever Ukrainian Masters Course on Jewish Studies.  “Together with the Congress of National Communities we are drawing up and implementing unique projects aimed at developing tolerance which, after being tried out in Ukraine, we are presently developing in Moldova and Belarus, Georgia and Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan.

This makes it even more regrettable that an anti-Semite should have been invited to give NaUKMA students the address marking the beginning of the academic year”.

A report on the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress site says that the address was accompanied by protest with a banner being unfurled reading “Anti-Semitism is Barbarism.”. 

Law enforcement agencies

UHHRU: New Law on Prosecutor does not remove unconstitutional supervisory role

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has issued a statement in which it warns that the amendments to the Law on the Prosecutor’s Office do not resolve the problem arising over the existence of “overall supervision” not envisaged by the Constitution.

On 10 September 2012 the President signed the Law on Amendments to Some Legislative Acts on Improving the Work of the Prosecutor’s Office.

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union notes that the law was adopted against the background of promises made over many years by Ukraine to carry out fundamental reform of the Prosecutor’s Office in order to bring the system and work of prosecutor’s offices into line with the generally accepted standards of the European community.

We would stress that reform of the Prosecutor’s Office remains an urgent task for the Ukrainian government and the law adopted can only be considered a small, overly cautious step in that direction. We would point out that this law in no way resolves the problem arising over the existence of “overall supervision” by the Prosecutor’s Office which is in breach of the Constitution which does not envisage such oversight. We are concerned that a country which calls itself law-based is, via this law, yet again legitimizing the ongoing situation where the Constitution is being flouted despite certain reduction in the boundaries and means of general supervision.

not envisaged by the Constitution

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union stresses that the existence of general supervision by the Prosecutor’s Office hampers other legal reforms, in particular reform of criminal court proceedings, a component of which is the new Criminal Procedure Code. Retention of the Prosecutor’s considerable extra-procedural powers devalues many progressive provisions of the CPC and the possibility for persecution given the Prosecutor’s Office under the pretext of Prosecutor checks to a large extent turns the CPC into mere decoration.

We call on:

The President and Verkhovna Rada to:

once again confirm that their intention to fundamentally reform the Prosecutor’s Office system and work remains unchanged;

accelerate work on reforming the work of the Prosecutor’s Office;

activate cooperation with experts from the Council of Europe and Venice Commission;

carry out further measures on reforming the Prosecutor’s Office basing this on their conclusions and recommendations.

We call on the Working Group on Reform of the Prosecutor’s Office and System of Defence Lawyers to continue its work on drawing up proposals for comprehensive reform of the Prosecutor’s Office system in accordance with generally recognized international democratic standards, taking into account  the recommendations and comments of experts from the Council of Europe and Venice Commission.

Head of the UHHRU Board Yevhen Zakharov

Executive Director Arkady Bushchenko

Dissidents and their time

Book about Ukrainian Helsinki Union receives Radio Svoboda Award

No one book received the overall award at the Publishers’ Forum in Lviv, however the panel of judges chose 18 which it considered the best books, and Radio Svoboda presented a special award to the publishers of “The Ukrainian Helsinki Union in reminiscences and documents” for preserving Ukraine’s national memory and covering its human rights activities.

The book follows the history of Ukraine’s becoming independent from the end of the 1980s. On over 800 pages more than 40 of the leaders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union and participants in those events share their memories. They include Levko Lukyanenko (one of the founders of the original Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1976 – translator); Mykhailo and Bohdan Horyn; Oles Shevchenko.  There are also dozens of secret KGB documents published for the first time, and unique photos. On one of them Viacheslav Chornovil is reading the declaration of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union [UHU].

UHU was a social, political and human rights organization, whose creation was announced at a 50-thousand strong rally in Lviv on 7 July 1988.  The significance of this event for the future course of history was epoch-making. The UHU emerged as a federal association of self-governing human rights groups and organizations in the regions, districts and cities of Ukraine and beyond. Unlike the Ukrainian Helsinki Group which was made up of a core of human rights defenders prepared to sacrifice themselves, the UHU which arose on the basis of the UHG became the first mass opposition organization in the Soviet Union which served to activate the public and had its own political program, entitled the “UHU Declaration of Principles”.

The basic principles included:

The restoration of Ukrainian statehood as safeguard for all the rights of the Ukrainian people;

Full abolition of the Stalin – Brezhnev constitutions, the safeguarding of rights and freedoms according to international conventions, the retention at the union level of only consultative – coordination bodies and the transfer to sovereign republics of all control over economic, political and cultural life. 

By September 1989 the UHU openly began espousing Ukraine’s independence);

Constitutional recognition of Ukrainian as state language;

The provision of guarantees of cultural and national autonomy for national minorities.. The restoration within Ukraine of a Crimean autonomous republic with the organized return of the deported Crimean Tatar people;

The establishment of diplomatic relations with other countries on the level of embassies and consulates, mutual representation of agencies of mass information and the independent representation of Ukraine at international conferences, sporting events and competitions and at artistic festivals;

The transfer of real power in the republic from the Communist Party to councils of deputies elected on an alternative basis, for not more than two terms, the right to put forward candidates should be held by all parties, unions, informal associations and initiative groups;

A market economy and free price-fixing; encouragement of private initiative, the reformation of a part of state industrial enterprises into share-holding or cooperative ventures;

The voluntary departure of people from collective farms with mandatory provision of land for them;

The establishment of a minimum subsistence level, state assistance for the unemployed and incentives for charitable activities;

Reduction of government structures, the abolition of all without exception privileges for those belonging to the Party and Soviet bureaucratic apparatus;

The termination of construction of new atomic power stations, the phasing out of those already functioning and their replacement with alternative sources, the suspension of export of electricity. Nationwide debate on major projects of industrial construction;

The safeguarding of freedom of speech, the right to form independent civic organizations and media outlets, the right to hold rallies, gatherings and demonstrations, free access to information, including to archives, to all normative acts, diplomatic documents, and books kept in the special archives;

The legalization of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the revival of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the liquidation of the state department on religious affairs;

The principles of the UHU declaration were reflected in the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada two years later on 16 August 1990.

The authorities treated the creation of the UHU as a challenge to the Soviet state. The governing Party bodies, KGB and police directed their efforts to countering the newly-emerged and daring opposition, using official and unofficial warnings, intimidation, detentions, administrative arrest, campaigns to discredit and of disinformation in the Party press.

However the UHU’s authority only increased as a result. It began to make international contacts and under its influence the Popular Movement of Ukraine [RUKH] became more radical, this making it possible for national democratic forces at the elections to the Verkhovna Rada in March of 1990 to gain a full victory in Kyiv and western regions of Ukraine. 12 members of the UHU became State Deputies, and hundreds – deputies of local councils.

The founding congress of the UHU where 500 delegates represented 2, 300 UHU members from all regions, took place in Kyiv from 29-30 April 1990. It decided to transform the UHU which was effectively a pre-party into a political organization – the Ukrainian Republican Party, with Levko Lukyanenko elected leader.  Those members who were more concerned with human rights issues created other human rights movements.

The book has been compiled by one of the members of UHU – Oles Shevchenko, and there is a fair amount of information in people’s accounts about passing information about its activities to Radio Svoboda.  The latter’s award was therefore particularly appreciated, as the Chief Editor of the publishing house Yaroslav Val, Pavlo Shchyryts stressed.  “The Ukrainian Helsinki Union is what the younger and next generations should be brought up on in order to understand who they are”, he said.  He added that it was an award for Oles Shevchenko and Yevhen Sversyuk who had created the work and Mykailo Slaboshlystsky who published it.

From the report at Radio Svoboda and information previously written by Oles Shevchenko

News from the CIS countries

Greetings to Ales Bialiatski!

Ales Bialiatski, imprisoned Head of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is spending his 50th birthday on 25 September in prison. 

Viasna is calling on us all to send our warmest greetings and wishes, including of course for his release. 

Please tell others and, if you can, begin your own actions.


1. Send a birthday card:

213807, 1 vul. Sikorskaha, Babruisk, Mahiliou Voblasts, penal colony No. 2, unit No.14, Ales Viktaravich Bialiatski 

2. Send a birthday telegram:

Just dial 166 when you are in Minsk and your Belarusian or Russian are good enough (you will have to specify the recipient’s patronymic).   

3. Send your photo with greetings for Ales:

e-mail: [email protected] – the photos will be published in a birthday booklet to be sent to Ales. 

4. Send a birthday letter through the online service

Write your birthday greetings online, to be sent by regular mail free of charge by a team of volunteers.

5. Post Ales’s photo as your userpic in social networks:

You will thus call your friends to join the birthday week actions.

Download userpic samples:

Ales Bialiatski was convicted of “tax evasion” in November 2011 and sentenced to 4.5 years.  The charges, condemned throughout the democratic world, were in connection with accounts opened and used to transfer money from abroad to Belarus to help victims of political repression, since Viasna was officially dissolved by the Belarusian regime in 2003.

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

In December 2011 Bialiatski was named Human Rights Defender of the Year by leading Belarusian human rights organizations named Ales Bialiatski Human Rights Defender of the Year.

Russia: New law could make you a spy without your knowledge

Russia’s FSB [Security Service] is proposing to introduce criminal liability not merely for divulging state secrets, but for receiving them.

The State Duma has adopted in its first reading a draft law to this effect. The draft bill would also extend the concept of state treason which could be regarded as cooperation with international NGOs.

On Friday deputies passed a draft law formally from the government, but effectively prepared by the FSB.  The document first tabled in the State Duma in 2008 would make amendments to both the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.

The changes would include a new article (283.1) of the Criminal Code which would prohibit not only divulging, but also « receiving information constiutting a state secret via seizure, fraud, bribery, blackmail, compulsion or the threat of violence ».

This would carry a punishment of up to four years imprisonment or a fine of from 200 to 500 thousand rubles. If the act was committed by a group of people, or with the use of special devices for illicitly receiving information, it could carry a sentence of eight years imprisonment.

Human rights workers point to the danger of imposing criminal liability for receiving information related to state secrets. Igor Kalyapin, Head of the Committee against Torture notes that a person who has not been given access to a state secret may not know that it is such.  He adds that human rights workers in the North Caucuses keep coming up against problems with the interpretation of state secrets. He recounts that he was once accused of divulging state secrets over several important photos taken at a base of the Chechen OMON [riot police].  He only later learned that the territory was classified as secret.  Such situations are not isolated cases in the area.

The draft law also allows for criminal prosecution for passing on information constituting a state secret “causing harm to the security of the Russian Federation” not only to a foreign government, but also to international NGOs.  According to the draft law, a person could hear such information at work or in their studies. If the law is passed, then what is defined as treason will include financial, material and technical, consultative or other assistance to a foreign government or organization “whose activities are directed against Russia”.

Igor Kalyapin calls the situation extremely worrying and says that it would be possible to commit treason or espionage according to the draft bill without even suspecting for a second that the information that you’ve received is a state secret.

The FSB apparently objects to the fact that at present the defence can argue that “hostile” activity has not been proven. They therefore propose removing this wording and declaring any activity which helps foreign governments and organizations whose actions they regard as causing damage to Russia to be a crime.

The authors of this draft law believe that potential spies in Russia are particularly interested in secret information regarding investigative operations.  The information could pertain to geology, geodesics, cartography, topography and economic activities.

From a report here


Memorial will not comply with “Law on Foreign Agents”

On 21 September the International Memorial Society issued a statement regarding the Law “on regulating the activities of non-commercial organizations carrying out the functions of a foreign agent”, generally known as the law on foreign agents.

It states that this law, which is due to come into force on 20 November, is anti-law and immoral in its very essence. It is anti-law since it gives the executive the prerogatives of the court and immoral because it a priori presumes that organizations receiving money from abroad are acting on the instructions of their sponsors, i.e. that those who pay call the shots.

Memorial points out that the law means that at any moment they or any other organization receiving foreign donations can be forced to add themselves to a list of “foreign agent organizations” functioning on Russian territory and place the corresponding stigma on the books they publish and their websites. “In other words that we acknowledge ourselves to be an organization acting in the interests of some unknown foreign forces”.

“This assertion is an overt lie however the point is not just in that. Memorial, as an organization working with historical memory is obliged to remember – and remind the public – that in our country’s recent history campaigns about “foreign agencies” supposedly working in our country frequently served as propaganda to provide for state terror and persecution of dissidents. We need only recall 1937-1938 when they extracted confessions from hundreds of thousands of people that they were supposedly “foreign agents”, and during later periods critics of the regime were often declared “hirelings of the West”.  Not to mention the fact that corrupting the national consciousness with KGB stories about “foreign agents” is a tried and tested method for avoiding resolving real social problems.

Memorial will not take part in action aimed at destroying Russian society and will not disseminate knowingly false information about itself. If Memorial is asked to add the organization to a list of “foreign agents”, it will oppose this, in the first instance through the courts.  We as a human rights organization will do everything to defend the law, basing our actions on the law.

We are not claiming that this is the only possible way. Each organization will of course decide for itself how to oppose this absurd law. The strength of civil society can demonstrate itself not only in unity of actions, but in their diversity.

Obviously in all cases the natural principle of our behaviour will remain mutual solidarity and help to those organizations that experience difficulties after 20 November.

We are convinced that in the end calm and restraint from Russian civil society will prove stronger than the diseased fantasies of our legislators.

The International Memorial Society Board

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2012, #09