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.


Election Day: 18 infringements of journalists’ rights

The Institute for Mass Information reports that on Election Day there were 16 reported cases where journalists were obstructed when carrying out their work. There was also one attack on a journalist and a case involving indirect pressure.

Most often journalists were not allowed into polling stations either during voting or the vote count, or else they were thrown out.

In Yarevyshche in the Volyn oblast the head of the Precinct Electoral Commission [PEC] from the Party of the Regions Ludmila Hrinchuk threw out journalist Volodymyr Voloshyn who was recording the spoiling of ballot papers.

In Dyula in the Transcarpathian oblast the Village Mayor Oleksandr Shopi took journalists ID away and pushed them away from PEC No. 210089.

Journalist from Halytsky Korespondent Markiana Prokhasya and several other journalists and observers were not admitted to the morning sessions of PEC No. 260430 in Kosmachi, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast.

In Krasny Luch, Luhansk oblast, Oleh Yatsenko from the newspaper Ukraina Moloda was thrown out of PEC No. 440898 (No. 108 electoral district) as he “got in their way”. The members of the committee did not provide a copy of the decision to remove him.

There were also cases where journalists were prohibited from videoing electoral commissions’ work.

The Head of the District Electoral Commission [DEC] No. 156 Serhiy Loskutov in the Rivne oblast stopped Georgy Oliynyk from taking photographs and threw him out of the building.

Loskutov also obstructed the work of journalists from the local TV channel RTB, lunging at a video camera and trying to grab the lens.

In Brovary, Kyiv oblast near the building housing DEC for District No. 97 somebody smashed the video camera belonging to Andriy Kachora, journalist from the Internet publication You have the right to know. The journalist was filming a member of the DEC Oleksandr Hrytsai giving comments to the State-owned UTV-1 and saying that the situation in Brovary was even calmer than they’d expected. The police who were present did not react.

There were a number of DDoS attacks on Internet publications and the sites of NGOs monitoring the elections or reporting such monitoring.

There were also “troll attacks” on the mobile telephones of various journalists and media lawyers.

There were less calls than in 2004 to journalist help-lines which Roman Holovenko from IMI suggests may be because journalists are better prepared for work on Election Day and more aware of their rights.

“For the first time we noted that during incidents of obstruction or misunderstandings at polling stations, journalists mainly turned to the police and not to the CEC or DEC. A duty police officer helped journalists in negotiations with members of the PEC, but refused to record violation of their rights. That did not apply to the situation in Kyiv where police officers pretended that they didn’t see the conflict”.

Part of monthly monitoring by the Institute for Mass Information with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy


OPORA: The Elections did not meet democratic standards

  The election watchdog OPORA has found that this weekend’s parliamentary elections were a backward step away from democratic standards. It issued its report a day later than planned due to a major DDoS attack on the day of the elections.

The statement goes on to say that “the 2012 parliamentary campaign was marked by competition in the election process being artificially restricted and by flagrant violations of the principle of equal opportunity for political parties and candidates.  Given a mixed electoral system, non-lawful techniques for use of administrative resources and bribery of voters had a decisive impact on the campaign which in general did not promote fairness of the outcome. These violations were of a systemic nature and there were no legal consequences for the election players who resorted to them. Bearing in mind the factor of Election Day, the elections may be described as having not met basic democratic standards.  This is due to the lack of equal conditions for different candidates and parties to run their campaign; an unprecedentedly large number of “technical” participants in the elections; the lack of balance in the make up of electoral commissions; and bias in the presentation by the media of information about parties and candidates.

Conclusions and trends

Ukraine’s return to a mixed (parallel) electoral system which was used in 1998 and 2002, with a majoritarian component encouraged widespread use by election players of dishonest campaigning methods in single-mandate electoral districts. In countries without established traditions of democracy, and where the public are to a large degree tolerant of day-to-day and political corruption, the majority component also corrupts the election process.

The authorities failed to ensure impartial treatment of all election players. Using the lack of regulation in electoral legislation which does not clearly differentiate between campaigning and the carrying out of official powers, public officials systematically used the public resources and powers available to them for campaigning purposes.  The most widespread example of this was in the abuse of publically funded administrative resources. Candidates or parties close to the authorities received considerable indirect investments from the municipal or State budgets for their campaign. This created unequal conditions for election players and misled the voters who did not have the possibility of distinguishing between manipulation and a candidate’s real achievements.

Indirect bribery of voters by candidates and parties through the use of charitable activities proved to be the main technique for influencing the outcome of the elections. Candidates’ charitable funds proved to be an additional instrument for funding the election campaign which directly infringed the norms of the law stipulating that campaigning is only funded from official election funds. This exacerbated the problems with lack of transparency of campaign funding. Another widespread and systematic form of indirect bribery was seen with candidates buying goods, services, works, material benefits which were illegally given to voters for campaigning purposes.

The use of a controversial draw to select members of district and precinct electoral  commissions resulted in unbalanced representation of key election players in such commissions with the dominance of “technical parties” (i.e. parties or candidates with no electoral backup and organizational capacity for the commission members’ work who use other election players to artificially increase their quotas). This resulted in the electoral commissions’ work being marred both before and on Election Day by constant conflict and a lack of public confidence in the commissions to administer the election process.

Election Day

OPORA writes that in 91% of the polling stations no infringements able to influence the outcome were reported.

Of the remaining 9% (OPORA talks of 9% of incidents, but presumably polling stations), the following was seen:

3%      infringement of secrecy of the vote;

3%      photographing the ballots in the polling booth;

Both of these, OPORA points out, may suggest that voters have been bribed.

2%      issue of ballot papers to people who did not show their identity documents;

1%      organized transport to polling stations

1%      damage of ballot boxes.

There were no problems with the voter list in 55% of the polling stations.

In 42% , up to 50 people could not find themselves on the list for the same district;

In the remaining 3% this was the problem for 50 to100 people.

OPORA says that carousel voting or attempts to take ballot papers out of the polling station may indicate unlawful interference in the election process.  It says that the extent of such interference is difficult to assess.

It points, however to other infringements on 28 October which could significantly affect the outcome in certain constituencies.

With tabulation and passing on protocols from the DEC, observers recorded procedural violations which included:

stamps being removed from the polling stations which is against the law;

PEC procrastination in signing the vote count protocols;

frequent return of protocols by DECs to PECs for information to be checked.

Particularly indicative was the level of observer confidence in the results of the vote count at certain polling stations and the lack of transparency of the procedure. If observers and others present are unable to properly witness the content of a ballot to verify whether the mark is in the appropriate box opposite a candidate or party, this influences the overall credibility of the data on the protocol. 

OPORA reports abnormal deviations in the sequence of procedure in the following oblasts: Dnipropetrovsk (17% of the polling stations); Chernivtsi (13%); Cherkasy (12%), Kyiv and Uzzhorod (10%), Donetsk and Sumy ( 7%). . At around 11% of the polling stations observers were unable to see the marks on the ballots during the vote count. This lack of transparency was particularly observed in the Cherkasy oblast  (30%) of the polling stations, Crimea (27%), Kirovohrad region (17%), Poltava and Kiev oblast (15% each), Donetsk oblast (14%), Dnipropetrovsk and Khmelnytsky oblasts  (13% each) and in Kyiv (10%).

Observers also say that consideration of complaints from election players or members of the public has been carried out in a formal manner. At a quarter of the polling stations where complaints and reports were received on Election Day, the members of commissions spent no more than half an hour on considering them. 

Dodgy Election Techniques: Keeping the Voter uninformed

 Efforts to ensure that all infringements on Election Day in Ukraine were reported hit a major hurdle at around 14.00 with a number of sites coming under a DDoS attack.  The most prominent election monitors – OPORA and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] – were clearly targeted however the hackers did not stop there.  As late as 22.00 the sites of the CVU,   the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and presumably others were still down.

With supreme irony, the KHPG site finally disappeared entirely just as reports came through of the use of “carousel” voting in Electoral District No. 53 (Yenakiyeve, Donetsk oblast).  CVU observers had reported that a black jeep and white Chevrolet Lacetti were seen near several polling stations (140841, 140855 and 140871). They followed the movements of five people in each of the cars who went in and voted at each of the polling stations listed. This information has been passed to the Donetsk Regional Prosecutor.  It remains to be seen whether anything is done about it.  Certainly the Deputy Interior Minister V. Ratushnyak later stated that the police had not noticed any cases of “carousel” voting.  That information was gleaned from the Ministry’s website which, unlike the sites of the above-mentioned civic organizations, was not hacked.

Given the problems over access to information, the scale of infringements on Election Day can only be guessed.  With many of the concerns over recent months having been in shenanigans over formation of electoral commissions and secrecy over important decisions, there must be at least as much concern over the vote count. 

There are, of course, other reasons why any assessment of these elections from the point of view of fairness and transparency is seriously impeded.  The most glaring is the fact that major opposition figures are either imprisoned –  Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko – or facing arrest if they return to Ukraine – the prominent leader of the Batkivshchyna Party in Kharkiv and former Governor of the Kharkiv Oblast Arsen Avakov.

Then there is the undoubted manipulation of public opinion on national television channels with one of the worst offenders being the State-owned UTV-1.  This has been reported on very many occasions with specific examples given.  The amount of evidence was so overwhelming that the only surprise in recent weeks came from the State TV and Broadcasting Committee which suddenly began “monitoring” television channels before the elections and, lo and behold, found that the opposition received considerably more coverage on Ukrainian television than the government.  NGOs monitoring the elections and media content immediately slammed the State Committee’s methodology.  Since the latter’s reports have been sent to all embassies, etc, the motives for such a flurry of activity must also be questioned.

The State Broadcasting Committee took part in a meeting with observers last Wednesday, together with representatives of various ministries, and also the Human Rights Ombudsperson.  The Ombudsperson asked observers to avoid such terms as “technical parties” and said that all parties must take part in the elections or their registration is cancelled.  Since the law states only that political parties must take part in elections over the space of 10 years, this information was somewhat misleading.  The role of the electoral commissions will be vital in the next hours and days and it is no wonder that election watchdogs have drawn attention to the bizarre draw for membership of electoral commissions. This has led to a number of extremely marginal parties receiving the chance to be represented where much more prominent parties were not. Doubts about the real nature of such parties are surely also inevitable when the same candidates have been put forward from different parties, and when in some cases the original candidate was almost immediately replaced by a supposed member of the Union of Anarchists, for example, who at the 2010 presidential elections represented the Party of the Regions

What happens during both voting and the vote count is obviously very important.  Important enough to block the flow of information, as are the other circumstances that have distorted these elections and made words like free and fair seem depressingly hollow.

Disturbingly misleading monitoring from the State Broadcasting Committee

NGOs have reacted with concern at an attempt to use the results of monitoring by the State Committee on TV and Radio Broadcasting [the Committee]  to manipulate public opinion in Ukraine and abroad.

The Ukrainian Press Academy, the Equal Opportunities Committee and the Civic Organization Telekritika have responded to the circulation of data from the Committee’s weekly monitoring of leading nationwide channels around embassies and foreign monitoring missions.  On 5 October the Committee published its results of monitoring of coverage of different political parties on UTV-1; inter; ICTV; 1 + 1; Novy Kanal; STB; TRC “Ukraina”; and 5 Kanal.  The results of their monitoring are opposite to the results of monitoring carried out by the Ukrainian Press Academy, the Equal Opportunities Committee, and Spilny Prostir both before the start of the election campaign and during it.  

Asked by Telekritika why reports about the President and Prime Minister are not considered election PR for the party in power, the head of the Committee Oleksandr Kurdinovych asserted that the President and Cabinet of Ministers are not participants in the election process and therefore monitoring of their coverage is separate from that of political parties.  

The Head of the Equal Opportunities Committee Oleksandr Chekmyshev points out that they distinguish such reports according to whether the person involved is simply fulfilling duties or is engaged in promoting one side.

Please see a recent example of coverage on the State-owned UTV-1 Parallel Media Worlds showing why this position is at least disingenuous.  On virtually every news report on UTV-1 Prime Minister Azarov or President Yanukovych are presented making extremely upbeat remarks about the economy, investment, European integration or similar.

The NGOs are forced to conclude that the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee has carried out monitoring for the first time, using its own members of staff without high-quality technical backup and software.  There are two groups doubling each other’s work, meaning that estimates of how many times a political party is mentioned are per force inaccurate.

The Committee does not appear to have held any consultations with professional sociologists or other monitoring organizations.

Such results could not hope to be reliable and it is no surprise that they do not correlate with those of NGOs.

This is not, however, the end of the story.  While the Committee apparently acknowledges its limited experience and expertise with regard to monitoring, this did not stop it sending material around to embassies and other international bodies.

In a report of the Committee’s monitoring sent to the Canadian Embassy, t was asserted that the monitoring had found that opposition parties were given 1.5 times the coverage of pro-government.  The full report can be found here

This places a somewhat different complexion on the situation and the NGOs state the following.

1.  From a methodological point of view the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee’s monitoring is totally unqualified. This is flagrant falsification, aimed at discrediting independent monitoring missions and misleading the international community and observers.

2.  The circulation by the Foreign Ministry of the State Committee’s monitoring discredits Ukraine in the eyes of the world community since it demonstrates systemic inability by a range of public bodies to act in accordance with democratic standards and properly fulfil the functions they have been entrusted with.

From a report at Telekritika


Uncontrolled snooping versus “universally accepted European practice”

Ukraine’s media have reported that President Yanukovych is “inclined” to sign the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register and Documents which confirm citizenship, identify a person or their special status and that representatives of the EU have said that they cannot comment since they have not been sent the draft law.

Since the law in question, passed by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on 2 October, is alleged to be needed to implement the EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization Action Plan, it seems imperative that EU representatives are fully aware of the grave concern over this bill expressed by a large number of human rights and civic organizations. 

They are urging the President to veto the law as it runs counter to GRECO standards on combating corruption, poses a serious threat to the right to privacy and allows the authorities to gather and share an unwarranted amount of information about each Ukrainian citizen.

What information and why?

Human rights groups have raised the alarm over this proposed «Unified State Demographic Register»

No indication is given of the purpose behind gathering the information as is required by EU and international documents on protection of personal information.  This was the stated reason for President Yanukovych’s veto on the draft bill in June this year.  The law is largely unchanged with no greater clarity on the aim of collecting information.

The list of types of information held is not comprehensive, while as many as 13 documents are envisaged as containing biometric data. The number of different government bodies involved; the very loose wording of the law, as well as the lack of a stated aim make abuse and excessive breach of privacy more than likely.

The authorities will thus be able to keep tabs on virtually all areas of a person’s life, quite conceivably without their knowledge. 


Concerns over this bill are not only linked to the obvious scope for intrusion into people’s privacy.  It is no accident that the bill’s author Vasyl Hrytsak is closely associated with the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System]. This consortium stands to make millions, if not billions, out of the ongoing business in production of biometric documents, while the Register itself will likely be under the control of the police. 

A commercial structure will receive vast amounts of highly-lucrative business from this law without any competitive tender.

It will also have control over access to huge amounts of information about Ukrainian citizens.  The fear would seem entirely justified that such information could soon find its way to, for example, the Petrivka Market in Kyiv where it is already easy to purchase databases.

Where is the EU in all this?

The explanatory note states that “the aim of the law is to introduce universally accepted European practice on the creation and functioning of a register of the population, as well as fulfilment by Ukraine of its obligations before the European community on its way to membership of the European Union, as regards the State’s provision of documents with an electronic chip.”

It would be most helpful if the EU could clarify its position regarding fulfilment by Ukraine of its obligations under the EU Visa Liberalization Action Plan. 

It is quite clear that Ukrainians travelling abroad should have a biometric passport.

It is considerably less obvious why an internal identity document (internal passport) and driving licence are required to have biometric information.

Viktor Timoshchuk from the Centre for Legal and Political Reform has pointed out that there is no clarity as to:

-          the cost of such documents (in the case of the internal passport, renewable every 10 years0;

-          the exact list of documents;

-          who will pay for all these documents when even without a monopoly by a commercial outfit, the cost would be prohibitive for many Ukrainians;

-          why there is no mention of place of residence, meaning that none of the 13 documents can be used to confirm address.  This means that not only is the list of biometric documents unnecessarily large, and worryingly open, but it leaves scope for officials to demand what is not set down in law, i.e. what they feel like.

For the reasons above, Ukrainian civic organizations are convinced that the level of personal data collection, number of documents containing  biometric information entrusted to a commercial structure in the law on a unified State demographic register have very little in common with universally accepted European practice.  President Yanukovych has stated that while inclined to sign the bill, he will first consider expert assessments.  These within Ukraine have been damning.  Attention from the EU would be most helpful.

More questions about passports, biometric details and Hrytsak’s plans


Viktor Tymoshchuk, Deputy Head of the Centre for Political and Legal Reform has already expressed criticism and grave concern over the implications of the Law on a Single State Demographic Register passed by the Verkhovna Rada at the beginning of October.  His concerns are linked with the unnecessary number of documents with biometric information and the excessive amount of information the authorities will gather about members of the public, as well as the lack of safeguards ensuring that such data does not, as often, end up freely available for sale. They are shared by many human rights organizations, for example, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.

Mr Timoshchuk was scheduled to have a studio discussion at Radio Svoboda with author of the law Vasyl Hrytsak.  The latter is known to have close links with the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System) which wants to produce the biometric passports and has tabled many such bills over the last few years.

Mr Hrytsak did not, however, arrive and questions to him were put by the presenter by telephone.

Viktor Timoshchuk says that the only information which Mr Hrytsak gave was that the cost of an internal passport (the identity document each citizen has) would be 120 UAH.  According to the law, this must be renewed every 10 years, making it a reasonable expense for a large number of people.. Mr Hrytsak also directly acknowledged that the new universal database would be serviced by the police.

This, Timoshchuk says, is no real surprise since it is stated in the law, only in much more bureaucratic language. “However this does not make one feel better. In a country with authoritarian tendencies parliament has allowed the police to gather maximum information about each individual.”

With regard to money, the author has done the relatively simply calculations and found that just on internal passports, Ukrainian taxpayers will be forking out almost 900 million UAH, and this is merely taking those under 16 into account – almost 7.5 million people at 120 UAH per passport.

“Later there’ll be new billions earned on documents since another 38 million Ukrainians will gradually come for new internal passports.

Incidentally, from the text of the law it’s not clear who’ll pay these 120 UAH -  the State budget or the individual ordering a passport.”.

The author points out that a lot of people still have Soviet driving licences which will also need to be replaced.  The price will not be less than 120 UAH since the technology behind the preparation is the same. Good profit can therefore be expected from the forced change in these documents which has to take place by 1 January 2014.

Since the author was either unable to put many questions to Hrytsak, or unable to receive an answer, he formulates them in his text.

What is the purpose of creating an integrated database – the Single State Demographic Register which already at the first stage will include the databases of the Interior Ministry; State Migration Service; Public Registry Offices; then later the information systems of other state bodies?

Do “official information systems” including the databases of the Justice Ministry; the Tax Administration; the Ministry of Social Policy; the Central Election Commission and so forth? Does MP Hrytsak understand that the creation of such a database is in breach of the Constitution and international standards on personal data protection?

Why does a law presented as a step towards implementation of the EU Visa Liberalization Plan for Ukraine affect documents which have nothing to do with this issue, including internal passports and driving licences?

Why is the list of documents to be prepared with the use of the Single State Demographic Register not exhaustive and not disclosed?

What is the purpose of Ukraine’s introduction of expensive production and implementation of a new internal passport with an electronic chip?

How much will it cost a person to receive an internal passport? 

How much will the production and issue of an internal passport cost the State budget? What equipment is needed and how much will the job cost and the machine for reading the information?  How much equipment, and therefore funding, will be needed to provide for this equipment by the authorities at different levels?

How will banks, employers and others carry out identification of citizens and establish their place of residence?

Why does the internal passport not envisage mandatory indication of residence and how will a person be able to confirm this?

Why do people with Soviet driving licences need to replace them with the new type even if they’re not planning to travel abroad?

Is it known how many people will be affective and how much the new document will cost for each person, bearing in mind also the cost of receiving a medical certificate and other related expenses? Why has only one year been set aside for this?

Why is MP Hrytsak against the passports being printed by State enterprises?  Why is there no open tender on the printing of passports, driving licences etc?

Why has Hrytsak initiated amendments to the Budget Code regarding payment of administrative services? Does this mean that citizens will continue to pay state duty for administrative services, and also additional payments of dubious legitimacy established by Cabinet of Ministers acts “for preparation and issue of a passport”, “for the form”, “for a form when renewing a passport after 10 years” and so forth?

Why does the law not specify the specific cost of each document?

Why does the law not regulate the procedure for issue of documents, the list of documents required for receiving each, the specific prices etc?

Why did the pro-President majority ignore the last Presidential address to parliament where he named among priority tasks the need to delegate bodies of local self-government   functions on issuing internal documents and registering place of residence?

There are of course many other questions, however in fact it is for citizens to choose whether to accept such mockery from such laws.

Viktor Timoshchuk adds a PS stressing that the Centre for Legal and Political Reform fully supports the passing of a law regulating documents for travel abroad, including the use of biometric information. 

This law must not, however, include the creation of an integrated inter-departmental database nor affect other documents, like driving licences.

From an article at Ukrainska Pravda

Freedom of conscience and religion

Call to veto law restricting freedom of worship

from NGOs, community leaders and scholars to the President of Ukraine V. Yanukovych on the need to veto the draft law № 10221 to prevent restriction of freedom of religion in Ukraine

Dear Mr. President!

We, representatives of human rights and other public organizations, express our concern over the adoption by Parliament on October, 16 2012 the law intended to make significant changes to the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" (draft law № 10221), which in the case of coming into force creates considerable obstacles in implementing the constitutional right of citizens to freedom of religion.

The declared objective of the Law is a necessity to adjust legislation with the Constitution of Ukraine in paragraph of redistribution powers between the President of Ukraine and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in connection with the administrative reform.

Meanwhile adopted Law introduced significant changes to the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" on which the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations expressed their objections. During May-July 2012 there was a series of consultative meetings with the author of the draft law Y. Miroshnychenko, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture, Ukrainian Council of Churches and experts. As a result there were approved significant changes to the text of the draft law. However, during the second reading draft law № 10221 was hastily voted without any discussion and without table amendments for the second reading from the Committee.

In our opinion, the above mentioned Law (draft law № 10221), adopted on October 16, 2012, should be put upon veto and returned for revision to the Parliament of Ukraine in consideration of the following basic precautions:

1. Approved amendments to the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" considerably complicate the procedure for obtaining by religious organizations the status of the legal entity (Article 13, 14) in connection with the introduction of two inconsistent registration procedures: registration of statutes and state registration (inclusion in the Unified Register of Legal Entities). This approach doesn’t comply with the objectives of administrative reform aimed at introduction of the "single-window" principle to provide administrative services, reduce corruption factors and bureaucratic obstacles in the activities of non-governmental institutions.

2. Adopted Law establishes discriminatory provisions in the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" on the order of organization of peaceful assemblies initiated by believers or religious organizations (Part 5, Article 21), which puts them at a disadvantage with other legal entities in the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by Article 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine. In particular, there is a permission-order organization of peaceful assembly, including the requirement to obtain permits at least in 10 days before the desired date of the meeting.

3. The draft law № 10221, like in the days of the Soviet totalitarian past, provides for the right to monitor the implementation of legislation on freedom of conscience and religion to the public prosecution bodies, the Ministry of Culture and other ministries and local authorities (Article 29 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience). At present, the authority of state control in this area is within the competence of local councils and their executive committees. We believe that expanding the list of regulatory bodies will not contribute to guaranteeing the right to freedom of religion, because it is the authorities often are violators of the law in this area.

These and other remarks lead to the need for a substantial revision of the Law before its entry into force.

In this regard, we urge you to veto the Law "On amendments to some legislative acts of Ukraine (on the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture and other central executive bodies whose activities are directed and coordinated by the relevant ministers and State Space Agency)" adopted on October 16, 2012 (draft law № 10221), and return it for revision to the Parliament of Ukraine considering expert opinions and proposals of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.


1. Yevhen Zakharov – Head of the board of "The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union" (NGO), Co-chairman of the "Kharkiv Human Rights Group" NGO;

2. Arkadiy Bushchenko – Executive Director of "The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union" NGO;

3. Anatoly Kolodny – President of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies, Professor, Honored Scientist of Ukraine;

4. Myroslav Marynovych – President of the Institute of Religion and Society of the Ukrainian Catholic University;

5. Maksym Vasin – Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom NGO;

6. Mykhaylo Kamenev – Deputy Chairman of "Foundation of Regional Initiatives" (All-Ukrainian youth NGO);

7. Tatiana Bordunis – President of "All-Ukrainian Human Rights Movement «Dignity»" NGO;

8. Oleksiy Honcharuk – Representative of the "Association of the affected investors" NGO;

9. Andriy Rohanskiy – Representative of the "Institute for Legal Research and Strategies" NGO;

10. Oleksandra Matviychuk – Head of the board of "Center for Civil Liberties" NGO;

11. Lyudmyla Kovalchuk – Representative of the Center "La Strada – Ukraine";

12. Liydmyla Fylypovych – Executive Director of the Center for Religious Information and Freedom, Ph.D., Professor;

13. Liydmyla Koval – Expert on human rights of Kharkiv Human Rights Group NGO;

14. Lyudmyla Kovalchuk – Representative of "La Strada-Ukraine" Center;

15. Taras Antoshevskiy – Director of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine;

16. Oleg Huculak – Representative of the Center for East and West "Meso Eurasia";

17. Olga Dobrodum – Associate Professor of journalism in Odessa I.I. Mechnikov national university;

18. Lilia Kompaniets – Associate Professor of cultural theory and philosophy of science of philosophy faculty in V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University;

19. Igor Kozlovskiy – president of the Center for Religious Studies and International Spiritual Relations, Chairman of Donetsk regional branch of the Ukrainian Association of Religious scholars;

20. Oksana Gorkusha – Researcher of the Institute of Religious Studies Department of Institute of Philosophy in the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine;

21. Vyacheslav Artyukh – Associate Professor of Philosophy in Sumy State University;

22. Sergiy Sannikov – President of the Euro-Asian Accreditation Association;

23.Maksym Balaklytskiy – Associate Professor of journalism in V.N.Karazin Kharkiv National University.

October 30, 2012

>>> SIGN Open Letter: [email protected]

Parliament increases control over religious organizations

  Despite agreement with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, on 16 October the Verkhovna Rada adopted in full draft law No. 10221 which makes major amendments to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations.

The Religious Freedom Institute reports that the law makes the procedure by which religious organizations gain legal entity status considerably more difficult.  This is due to the introduction of two types of registration procedure which are not coordinated: registration of documents of association and State registration – insertion in the Unified Register of Legal Entities.

Draft Law No. 10221 also makes the procedure more difficult for foreign religious figures to receive agreement for their being in Ukraine this being needed for the issue of visas.  The agreement required for all religious organizations will be organized by the Ministry of Culture which means in Kyiv, this being in breach of Article 24 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations.

Furthermore, like in the times of Soviet totalitarianism, the right to oversee adherence to legislation on freedom of conscience and religion is given to the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Culture and other ministries, as well as local administrations and bodies of local self-government.

Parliament has thus totally ignored the position of the religious community and the agreement reached betweeb the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations and the President’s Representative in the Verkhovna Rada, Yury Miroshnychenko and the relevant person in the Justice Ministry.

There was no discussion in parliament at all and the whole process of voting in the law took less than a minute.  The parliamentary profile committee on cultural and religious matters where the majority is held by the opposition had not prepared the draft law for its second reading which made it impossible to take the amendments proposed by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations into consideration.

The preparation of the bill by the Justice Ministry and its adoption by parliament all took place despite the promise made by President Yanukovych to the heads of churches and religious organizations during their meeting on 21 April 2011.  it had been agreed then that no amendments would be made to the Law if there was no consensus from different faiths.

The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations has already prepared an appeal to the President asking him to veto the law. 

On refugees

Mossad, FSB, and others: make yourself at home!

  Marina Hovorukhina from the Human Rights Education Centre has responded with biting wit to the remarks already reported by Interior Ministry spokesperson Volodymyr Polishchuk.   She suggests that the message to Mossad, FSB, (the Belarusian) KGB, MI5 and other security services is that Ukraine “respects your dangerous and highly necessary work. You can abduct people from our territory and we will call it a special operation and are ready to turn a blind eye to these actions of yours.

We also have experience of successfully shutting our eyes. We want you to feel as comfortable as possible in our country”.

This she says is how one could understand the following words of the Public Relations Spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, Volodymyr Polishchuk

“If there was a criminal offence, i.e. if a person was abducted, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Ukrainian or Russian Federation citizen, such material reaches the police in the form of a statement or information, it’s registered and an investigative check is carried out.  On the basis, in fact, of an appeal from a lawyer, a woman born in 1983 that a person has been abducted. However the next day that person was alive and well and accompanied by the RF Security Service.  It’s clear therefore that here it wasn’t criminals who abducted the person, or terrorists, but that an operation by other enforcement officers has been undertaken on Ukrainian territory.”

This is despite the infringement of all procedures which should have been followed, regarding extradition etc.

She quotes Mykhailo Tarakhkala from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union who is clear that the abduction of a person from Ukraine by foreign security services is a serious human rights violation.  This means that the authorities have effectively admitted that foreign security services act with impunity on Ukrainian soil and do what they want.

If, however, the Ukrainian Security Service was involved, this means that the laws in Ukraine are not the same for everybody and if officials want, they can extradite anybody without any legal grounds. That, he warns, is merely the first step. “If a person continues to get in the way, he can simply be forced to disappear or got rid of some other way.”.

He adds that the unwillingness by the Interior Ministry to initiate a criminal investigation indicates unwillingness to investigate and provide explanation.

Marina Hovorukhina notes that this is not the first abduction from Ukraine. In December 2009 refugee from Uzbekistan Khamidullo Turhunov was abducted, then in 2011 Palestinian Dirar Abu Sisi, most likely by Mossad.

No reaction from Ukraine’s security service.  Iryna Fedorovych from the Without Borders Project assumes that the SBU is either doing nothing or is helping foreign colleagues and bypassing the law. Either inaction or collaboration is a threat to Ukraine’s national security.

The author suggests that this means that people will continue to be abducted or disappear without any plan to fight this. “After all they need to maintain friendly relations with neighbouring countries.”

On the abduction of Leonid Razvozzhaev (open for endorsement)

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union is disturbed by information regarding the abduction of Leonid Razvozzhaev in Kyiv on 19 October 2012.  From the many reports in the media, including an interview with Mr Razvozzhaev, one can conclude that the Russian Federation’s Security Service was involved in his abduction and in taking him to Moscow.

Publicly available information does not enable an unequivocal conclusion about the role of the Ukrainian authorities in this abduction.

Regardless of whether the abduction was with the assistance of Ukrainian agencies or was the result of the relevant agencies’ inability to prevent the activities of foreign agents on Ukrainian territory, this case serves to confirm the deep crisis in the organization of activities by the authorities responsible for safeguarding Ukraine’s sovereignty. It is a worrying indication that the authorities are incapable of ensuring security and legal order in Ukraine.

It should be noted that this is not the first case where a person has been abducted while on Ukrainian territory. At the beginning of 2011 Palestinian engineer Abu Sisi was abducted from Ukrainian soil and soon turned up in an Israeli prison.  The circumstances behind that case were never satisfactorily explained by the authorities.

Ukraine’s state bodies also on occasion demonstrate contempt for generally accepted international norms regarding protection of asylum seekers in Ukraine.  The recent case where Magomed Nalgiyev who had been given asylum in Finland was sent back to the Russian Federation is one of the flagrant examples of questionable cooperation with the RF enforcement agencies taking precedence over international law.  The passing to the Kazakhstan enforcement agencies of confidential information from the Baisakovs’ refugee documents is also in this league. A number of these shameful events demonstrate the lack of sufficient competence from the heads of Ukraine’s enforcement agencies which would enable them to maintain the level of security in the country at an appropriate level.

We demand that:

The Verkhovna Rada undertake a parliamentary enquiry into the events around the abduction of Leonid Razvozzhaev;

The Human Rights Ombudsperson initiate proceedings over this abduction;

The President suspend the Heads of the Security Service and State Border Guard Service pending clarification of the circumstances behind the abduction of Leonid Razvozzhaev and of possible involvement of the Ukrainian enforcement agencies in this abduction;

The Prosecutor General’s Office carry out a full investigation into the circumstances behind the abduction and publish the results;

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs demand an explanation from the Russian Federation regarding statements from spokespersons of the Russian authorities regarding the involvement of the Russian Security Service in the abduction and send a note of protest asking for clarification of the legal grounds for the actions of the Russian Security Service on Ukrainian soil and cessation of actions which violate Ukraine’s sovereignty.

All Ukrainian authorities take measures to ensure the protection of asylum seekers in Ukraine.

Arkady Bushchenko, UHHRU Executive Director

Yevhen Zakharov, Head of the UHHRU Board

The appeal is open for endorsement by adding ones name to the comments here:

Russian activist abducted in Kyiv, jailed in Moscow

  Russian opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhaev has been remanded in custody for two months just two days after being abducted in broad daylight from outside the UNHCR Office in Kyiv. Razvozzhaev had just lodged an application for political asylum.  There would seem very little doubt that this brazen behaviour in breach of international law was carried out with at very least the knowledge of the Ukrainian SBU or Security Service.   

According to Russian MP Ilya Ponomaryov, Razvozzhaev had been in Kyiv since 17 October and decided to seek political asylum after learning on Friday that he had been placed on the international wanted list.  He left for Ukraine soon after being taken in for questioning in Moscow, together with fellow Left Front activists Sergei Udaltsov and Konstantin Lebedev.  A criminal case has been launched after the second part of an anti-opposition programme – Anatomy of a Protest, Part 2 was broadcast by the pro-Kremlin TV channel NTV.  The programme has been slammed as a flagrant cut and paste attempt to pour dirt on the opposition and analysts had already spoken of plans to prepare material to demonstrate the scam.  The authorities, however, leapt in first with the law enforcement agencies acting on the programme’s allegations that members of the opposition were working with Georgia in an attempt to overthrow the government.  Sergei Udaltsov is presently under a signed undertaking not to leave Moscow, while Konstantin Lebedev was immediately remanded in custody for at least two months. He is charged with plotting to organize mass riots and could face a 10-year prison sentence.

Razvozzhaev was not on the wanted list when he entered Ukraine but was clearly under surveillance in Kyiv and was grabbed after lodging his application with the UNHCR.  Cries for help were heard after he left the building and he would seem to have been thrust into a car without number plates.  From then on all contact was lost until Sunday when Ilya Ponomaryov reported that the Basmanny Court in Moscow had remanded Leonid Razvozzhaev in custody for two months.  To compound the lawlessness still further, the court hearing on his remand in custody took place without his lawyer being present.  Violetta Volkova will only be allowed to see her client on Monday.

According to MP Ponomaryov, Razvozzhaev was taken to Moscow by private plane.  The lawyer provided by the UNHCR in Kyiv immediately demanded that the Ukrainian police look for her client and it was reported that they were doing so.  It would strain credulity too much, however, to believe that the Ukrainian authorities were not involved in at least expediting Razvozzhaev’s abduction.  His forced return to Russia flagrantly runs counter to international agreements on asylum seekers and extradition. 

The Internet publication reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv on Friday.  It was announced that day that President Yanukovych would be meeting Putin on 22 October.  The Ukrainian media reported that the meeting was to discuss gas.  Any agreement would clearly be a coup on the eve of the elections.  Both sides are fully aware of this, and seem little concerned about such niceties as democratic standards for free elections, reasonable grounds for criminal prosecution and imprisonment and international agreements to which both countries are signatories. 

Law enforcement agencies

One policeman vs. Interior Ministry and Security Service

  The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union reports one cheering victory for an honest police officer who turned to them, after he was fired for the second time. 26-year-old Serhiy Chubun won his first case in 2010 and returned to the Shevchenkivsky Police Station in Kyiv.  One can assume that the management was not overly pleased at his success in court.  He was again dismissed, though this time the story is worth telling in detail.

The Head of the Kyiv Police received "a letter from the SBU [Security Service] which presented Mr Chubun as an out-an-out drug addict selling drugs.

The letter states that “according to our information S. Chubun, together with unidentified individuals, organized the growing, production, transportation and sale of narcotic substances: amphetamine and marihuana in huge quantities in the Kyiv region. “

He was also accused of having strong ties with people from the criminal world and selling them some secret information.

On the basis of this letter Serhiy was sent for tests which supposedly found traces of marihuana in his organism.  He insisted, however, on being tested in an independent laboratory which found no trace of any drugs. Despite this, the committee of police officers carrying out the investigation recommended that Serhiy Chubun be dismissed for taking drugs and having contact with people who illegally sell drugs.  All of this solely on the basis of the SBU letter, no proof.

Serhiy Chubun was again dismissed.  However this time he turned to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.  A civil suit was lodged which Serhiy again won. No evidence of the accusations put forward by the SBU was found.

Serhiy when asked why the management is so against him replies that he does everything in accordance with the law and instructions and tries to avoid obeying orders in breach of legislation.  Maybe that is what annoys them. 

He says he is ready for the fight if he is dismissed again.

Vadim Pyvovarov, Executive Director of the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement, around 30 police officers turn to them each year over infringements of their rights. 

Human rights protection

Ukrainians “complain to the UN” over corruption, discrimination and torture

 In September, as part of the campaign  “Human Rights in Ukraine: Your Vote is Important”, Ukrainians were asked which rights are most often violated in Ukraine. The results of the survey were passed to the UN member states who on 24 October during Ukraine’s Universal Periodic Review will be assessing how Ukraine is fulfilling its human rights obligations. Around 4 thousand people took part in the survey which was held both on the Internet, on the website of the Human Rights Information Centre, on social networks, as well as on the street in 6 cities (Kyiv; Lviv; Kherson; Simferopol; Sumy and Luhansk).

The respondents were asked to answer 13 questions relating to various human rights, including: Are Ukrainians protected from discrimination?  Is it possible to effectively complain about unlawful action by police officers? Is there freedom of speech in Ukraine?

59% if respondents asked on the street said that they had encountered infringements of their rights over the last four years, with the percentage as high as 75.4% of those who answered on the Internet.

Respondents in the street survey considered the following to be the worst infringements of their rights:

Issues over social benefits: pensions, social assistance etc                        22.5%

Corruption                                                                                                  13.4%

Poor medical care                                                                                     10.7%

Those who responded to surveys on the Internet named the right to a fair trial as being the biggest human rights violation, with the following in second place: corruption; lack or restriction of freedom of speech.

The respondents also feel that the government does not protect them from various types of discrimination (disabilities; age; social status etc), and that they are also not protected from torture by the police. According to one respondent  “there’s nowhere to complain to. There are any number of examples of the police torturing detainees to extract evidence. And when the case is sent to the Internal Security Service or the Prosecutor’s Office, pressure on the victim becomes even greater and so he withdraws his statement.”

As reported, Ukraine is due to present the government’s report for the four-yearly Universal Periodic Review on 24 October. This will be the second time that Ukraine is reporting with the UN wanting to know about Ukraine’s fulfillment (or otherwise) of the recommendations which it agreed to in 2008.  These included passing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation; strengthening judicial independence; prevention of torture promotion of children’s rights.  There were more than 30 recommendations in total with these of a strategic nature regarding fulfillment of obligations under international agreements.  The Universal Periodic Review is the largest-scale mechanism for monitoring human rights within the UN system.

Victims of political repression

Sandarmokh 1937

75 years ago between 27 October and 4 November 1937 1, 111 prisoners of the Solovky Labour Camp were executed at the Sandarmokh Forest Clearing in Karelia.  

Many were members of the intelligentsia of almost all nations of the USSR imprisoned at the Solovky Labour Camp.  Among them were 290 Ukrainians.  Labelled  “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists”, those murdered included the neo-classic poet and professor of Kyiv University  Mykola Zerov, the creator of the theatre “Berezil” [“March”] Les Kurbas; the playwright Mykola Kulish; Anton. Ostap and Bohdan Krushelnytsky, the writers Valeryan Pidmohylny, Pavlo Filypovych, Valeryan Polishchuk, Oleksa Slisarenko, Myroslav Irchan, Hryhoriy Elik, Marko Vorony, Myhkailo Kozoriz, Mykhailo Yalovy;  the historians Academician Matviy Yavorsky, Professor Serhiy Hrushevsky; the scientists Stepan Rudnytsky, Mykola Pavlushkov, Vasyl Volkov, Petro Bovsunivsky, Mykola Trokhymenko; the founder of the Hydro-meteorological Service of the USSR, Dutch by origin,   Professor Oleksiy Vangenheim; the Minister of Finance of the Ukrainian SSR Mykhailo Poloz and others.

There had been executions at the Clearing earlier, nor did they end with these murders carried out to a “quota” of 1, 825 executions imposed on the head of the Solovky Labour Camp.  Thousands of victims of the Stalin Terror lie buried in the Clearing. 

The mass grave was found and identified in July 1997 by the Karelian and St, Petersburg branches of Memorial.  On 27 October 1997 the victims of the Sandarmokh Executions were properly honoured for the first time, with a small oak cross To the Slaughtered Sons and Daughters of Ukraine taken to the Clearing by Yevhen Sverstyuk, himself a former political prisoner.  Nearby in the clearing there are Crosses erected by Poles and by Russians, Muslim and Jewish Memorial Stones, while in the forest there are around 150 Karelian signs with memorials. The Russian Orthodox Church has built a chapel. At the entrance to the memorial there is a monument with the words inscribed: “People, do not kill each other”.  The St. Petersburg chapter of “Memorial” brought the stone here from Solovky.

Every year on 27 October a memorial gathering is held in Kyiv near the Memorial to Les Kurbas on the intersection of Prorizna St and Pushkinska St in Kyiv).  Delegations also travel to Solovky and Sandarmokh in early August every year.

Вічна пам’ять  Eternal Memory

News from the CIS countries

Memorial: Russia pushed onto a customary and tragic path

38 years ago, on 30 October 1974 prisoners of the Mordovia and Perm labour camps, as well as the Vladimir Prison for the first time marked Political Prisoner Day in the USSR by holding hunger strikes and other protests.

Today we mark 30 October not only as Remembrance Day for the Victims of Political Repression, but as Day of the Political Prisoner – now in contemporary Russia.

Events of the last weeks have shown that in dialogue with the opposition, the Russian authorities intend to primarily use the language of repression – arrests, trials, camps. Once again, as in the 1920s and 1930s experience in fabricating political trials is in demand.  Yet again we are hearing incantations about “foreign agents”. They’ve also found a need for recent “Caucasus” experience of abductions and secret prisons.

Russia is again being pushed down a customary and tragic path.

We are not invoking a sense of responsibility before history from our State leaders -  they would appear to be devoid of such a feeling. We are not calling to the sense of self-preservation of the Russian ruling elite. For that sense to be felt, there needs to be at least an approximate understanding of reality and this understanding among those now in power is effectively missing.

We are turning to the public, relying on their civic maturity. We do not have a recipe for preventing Russia from slipping into new spirals of revolution and State terrorism. We must seek ways together to counter the insane suicidal steps taken by the regime. The only thing that we believe we must call on all civic forces regardless of their political orientation to do is to unconditionally reject violence in any form. We call for calm, wisdom and endurance.

We are capable of defending freedom, relying on the law and not on force.

The Board of the International Memorial Society

Sergei Magnitsky’s mother seeks justice in Strasbourg

The mother of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian anti-corruption whistle-blower who died in detention in November 2009, is taking the search for justice for her son’s death to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

A detailed complaint, filed with the court on behalf of Natalia Magnitskaya by the Open Society Justice Initiative, argues that Russian law enforcement authorities manipulated the criminal justice process to silence her son, after he exposed a $230m tax fraud involving officials of Russia’s powerful Interior Ministry.

When he refused to withdraw his allegations, Magnitsky was placed in inhuman conditions of detention, denied life-saving medical treatment and, in the final moments of his life, subjected to physical violence.

“Sergei Magnitsky was wrongly detained and tortured because he unearthed evidence of grand theft at senior levels of the Russian government, then refused to back down, ” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative and the lead lawyer on the case.

“Though Mr. Magnitsky’s courage was unusual, his fate is not. His case shines a spotlight on the corruption and abuse which pervade Russia’s justice system.”

The complaint argues that Magnitsky’s death at the age of 37 was the result of deliberate abuse while he was in detention, which included persistently denying him medical treatment for a life-threatening illness, and a beating by guards just before he died. At the time of his death, Magnitsky had been held in pretrial detention for 358 days, while supposedly under investigation by the same Moscow Interior Ministry officers he had originally accused of corruption.

Magnitsky, a married man with two young children, was head of the tax practice at the Moscow offices of Firestone Duncan, a U.S.-owned law and accounting firm, whose clients included the Russian subsidiaries of the Hermitage Fund, founded by William Browder.

In June 2007, when Hermitage was the largest foreign investment firm in Russia, its offices were raided by Interior Ministry officials who seized documents that subsequently allowed the fraudulent take-over of three Hermitage subsidiaries.

In December of that year, and in record time, the new owners of the stolen Hermitage subsidiaries were granted a 5.4 billion ruble ($230m) tax refund on taxes that had been paid when they were under Hermitage’s control.  Magnitsky testified in October, 2008 that Interior Ministry officers were involved in the fraudulent refund claim. The following month he was arrested, marking the start of a campaign of persecution by senior law enforcement officials including the officers he accused.

Magnitsky was moved between five different detention centers while in custody, and filed some fifty complaints about poor conditions. In June 2009, more than six months after his arrest, he was diagnosed with pancreatitis that required further diagnosis and surgery. The following day a senior Interior Ministry official arranged for his removal to a different detention center, notorious for its poor conditions and lack of even rudimentary medical facilities. Over the following months, his health deteriorated markedly until his death in November.

The complaint provides a familiar account of the grim state of many Russian pre-trial detention centers, where thousands of people await court appearances in often overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, with regularly inadequate access to medical care.

But, citing his own detailed complaints and his diaries, it also argues that in Magnitsky’s case these conditions amounted to torture and ill-treatment aimed at forcing a false confession or a retraction of his politically explosive allegations of wrong-doing.

Pavel Chikov, head of AGORA, a Russian regional human rights association, said that the complaint highlights the common but illegal practice in Russian pretrial custody of using the denial of medical treatment of other basic services as a means to put pressure on detainees: 

“If someone is ill and needs medical help, specific medicines and medical specialists are used as currency against the detainee. The guard will hope for a bribe, and the police or the investigator – for a confession, testimony, or information. A refusal to ‘cooperate’ may guarantee a denial of medical requests, as well as minimally-decent conditions of detention.”  

The complaint  also notes that, shortly before Magnitksy died, other Hermitage employees received threats to the effect that “any man can be killed;” and that his body showed numerous physical injuries which, like his death, have never been satisfactorily explained. To the contrary, from the moment of Magnitsky’s death, official explanations have been riddled by inconsistencies.

The complaint asks the court to find that the Russian Federation has violated six articles of the European Convention of Human Rights: Article 2 (denial of right to life); Article 3 (torture); Article 5 (unlawful detention); Article 10 (retaliation against whistle-blowers); and Article 13 (failure to provide an effective remedy).

The Open Society Justice Initiative promotes human rights and builds legal capacity around the world. Its work includes strategic litigation and advocacy aimed at reducing, and promoting alternatives to, the arbitrary and excessive use of pretrial detention. 

Belarus Prison abuse reports spark concerns about jailed dissidents

Zmitser Dashkevich (left) and Ales Bialiatski

Concern is mounting over the well-being of jailed opposition figures in Belarus amid reports of prison abuse, including threats of torture, rape, and murder.

Human rights campaigners in Belarus and abroad are calling on Minsk to end what they describe as the mistreatment and intimidation of inmates held on politically motivated charges, in particular opposition figures Zmitser Dashkevich and Ales Byalyatski.

"The situation with political prisoners has been quite dire. People held on politically motivated charges have been singled out in detention, " says Human Rights Watch’s Yulia Gorbunova.

Human Rights Watch accused Belarusian authorities on October 2 of "retaliating against their critics even after they are thrown in jail" and urged Belarus to immediately investigate all instances of mistreatment.

The global rights group says ill-treatment of political detainees appears to be on the rise in Belarus, with inmates increasingly facing verbal abuse, unfair punishments, and psychological pressure.

Gorbunova says Dashkevich has also been subjected to alarming threats from prison staff, including "threats of rape by other inmates and of physical violence, up to murder. He’s also subjected to verbal abuse and he’s facing a lot of arbitrary punishment, including restriction on meetings with his relatives."

Platform, a Belarusian rights group monitoring the treatment of prisoners, sounded the alarm last week by filing a complaint to the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture.

Increasing Pressure

Rights groups have denounced a rollback on freedom since the reelection of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in December 2010.

The election sparked massive street protests that led to the arrest of almost 700 people and the sentencing of dozens of protesters to jail terms.

Rights groups accuse Belarusian authorities of intensifying their crackdown on dissent over the past two years, detaining opposition activists, disbarring lawyers who defend detainees and intimidating rights campaigners and journalists.

​​A dozen opposition activists detained during or since the postelection protests still remain in detention.

These include Ales Byalyatski, the head of the Belarusian human rights center Vyasna, sentenced in November 2011 to 4 1/2 years in prison on charges of tax evasion; former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich, jailed for six years in May 2011 for "organizing mass disturbances" following Lukashenka’s reelection; and Dashkevich, the leader of the youth opposition movement Young Front, convicted to two years in March 2011 for hooliganism after an alleged brawl on the eve of the presidential election.

’Time To Clamp Down’

Dashkevich is barred from family visits and has spent months in an isolated cell. In August, he was sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of repeatedly disobeying the prison administration.

Relatives and friends are worried about his health, which they say has been deteriorating in recent months.

On September 21, two days after being transferred to a new penal colony in the southwestern city of Mazyr, Dashkevich declared a hunger strike to protest what he said was "inhumane treatment" at the prison.

His fiancee, Nasta Palazhanka, has filed a request asking prosecutors to investigate the alleged abuse by prison authorities in Mazyr.

"As soon as he arrived there, attitudes toward him changed completely. Apparently they decided that it was time to clamp down on him, to further bear down on him. There were constant insults, insults to his dignity, his human dignity, " she says.

"In order to put an end to this campaign of harassment, Dzmitser went on a hunger strike. So of course I’m worried about him, because of this hunger strike and this treatment of him in Mazyr, and because of the whole system of pressure that is bearing down on him."

Palazhanka says she has not seen Dashkevich since April 2011.

Constant Punishments

Human Rights Watch says Byalyatski has been barred from seeing his relatives since May. In June, he was declared a "repeated violator" of prison rules, making him ineligible for amnesty.

Activists say Byalyatski is subjected to routine reprimands, including restrictions on his mealtimes and on permissions to receive parcels and visits. Other prisoners are allegedly prohibited from talking to him.

Byalyatski, Dashkevich, Statkevich, and several other Belarusian detainees have been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Written in Prague by Claire Bigg based on reporting by Aleh Hruzdzilovich in Minsk

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2012, #10