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.


Dodgy „parliament”, dodgy laws

During blackouts, looters grab their chance.  During any high-profile events or disturbances in Ukraine, it’s all too often parliament that needs to be closely watched.

In early November 2012, while international attention was focused on election irregularities, the ruling majority took the opportunity to pass a previously rejected version of a’highly dangerous Law on National Referendums.  On 4 July 2012, with mass protest throughout the country over adoption of the contentious State Language Policy Act a bill was passed which removed around a third of all public procurement from tender procedure. 

The situation on 4 April 2013 was different in that all eyes were certainly focused on the Verkhovna Rada. As much as they could be, since “parliament”,  we were supposed to believe, had split in two.  The opposition had been blocking the parliamentary tribune over the ruling majority’s refusal to call long overdue elections in Kyiv.  To avoid disadvantageous elections, but break the blockade, a meeting of some members of the Party of the Regions, communists and officially non-affiliated MPs decided to hold a “parliamentary session” at the parliamentary committee premises on Bankova St.  We may or may not believe in the physical presence of at least 237 MPs who supposedly attended this session and voted for various motions,  Even without clear infringements of procedural norms, there is also the fundamental problem that members of the parliamentary opposition were physically prevented from attending this event, call it what you will.  Yet we are informed by Serhiy Larin, Deputy Head of the President’s Administration that if the laws thus “adopted” are passed to the President in the proper manner, he will sign them.

Attention to what the MPs from the ruling majority got up to on 4 April is therefore imperative. 

The communists present recalled their traditional roots and voted against a Verkhovna Rada Resolution on commemorating the 80th anniversary of Holodomor [the manmade Famine] of 1932/1933 and also refused to observe a minute’s silence for Victims of Holodomor

They recalled their new affiliations through the other laws concerned, most particularly those on fighting corruption. Oleksy Khmara, Head of Transparency International in Ukraine, has listed the main laws with ramifications for fighting (or fuelling) corruption in Ukraine.

These include adding a “qualification requirement” to the public procurement system which, as he points out, can easily be used to knock out any inconvenient bidders by saying that they aren’t compliant.

The Health Ministry, for example, will be able to legally reject foreign producers of medicines because the latter don’t have production facilities in Ukraine.  That will either mean that medicines become as much as ten times more expensive because of the need for intermediaries to organize packaging in Ukraine, or those medicines which are available will become dangerously low-quality since their producers have an effective monopoly.

Three out of four anti-corruption draft laws drawn up by the government were scrubbed, being sent back for “reworking”.  These included №2033 on criminalizing corrupt acts presently subject only to administrative fines. All four were prepared in implementation of Ukraine’s obligations before the EU on fighting corruption and this new delay is another critical blow to chances for signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement 

The history of Ukraine’s failure to fight corruption precedes the current President.  On the other hand one of the norms which those present on Bankova St on 4 April hope to delay indefinitely - on liability for legal entities -  was in the 2009 anti-corruption legislation. This was cast aside after Yanukovych came to power supposedly because his regime was going to tackle corruption with renewed vigour.

As was demonstrated on 4 April 2013. 

Against torture and ill-treatment

Worth wanting to conceal, nonetheless …

After ignoring the total lack of evidence and sentencing three young men to 14 and 15 years imprisonment over the 2010 Church bomb in Zaporizhya, Judge Minasov has gone on holiday without providing a copy of the judgement.  Since there is a 15 day time limit for lodging appeals, and the clock began ticking on 2 April, this is a clear infringement which the defence will appeal against in court. 

Unfortunately the experience so far in this shocking case does not inspire one to confidence and a decision may need to be made as to what to do. 

As reported, since there was quite simply no evidence to convict the men, and the fact that they have retracted their multiple “confessions”, Minasov spent a lot of time during the announcement of the judgement citing a third forensic psychology assessment and its assessment of smiles and gestures as demonstrating “inclination to crime”,   Minasov had refused to call all three forensic psychologists in to be questioned. The defence’s application for this was entirely understandable given that the first two assessments found serious psychological pressure which they demonstrated through examples. The third assessment was ordered by Judge Minasov after the second confirmed the first. 

More detail can be found in No Miracle, No Justice here and on Kyiv Post

Please also see Lost in SIZO and No Duress? below for some examples of why the first two forensic psychologists concluded that the men had been subjected to pressure.

Any help in drawing attention to this case would be warmly welcomed!

No Miracle, No Justice

From left to right: Anton Kharytonov, Yevhen Fedorchenko and Serhiy Dyomin

On Tuesday 2 April Judge Volodymyr Minasov issued a guilty verdict in the trial of three young men charged with the 2010 Zaporizhya Church bomb. Two sacristans of the Church - Anton Kharytonov and Yevhen Fedorchenko – have been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, and Anton’s brother Serhiy Dyomin to 14 years.

As well as journalists, there were many residents of Zaporizhya who’d come to express their support for the three men.  The courtroom couldn’t fit them all.

Today’s verdict was a test for the judges involved – one that they failed.  None of this unfortunately, was unexpected.

The verdict will be appealed and all legal avenues exhausted in Ukraine.  Then, if necessary, justice will be sought – and found - at the European Court of Human Rights

Today’s judgement is profoundly frustrating in part because the Court in Strasbourg’s position does not need to be guessed.  It was clearly articulated in the case of Zamferesko v. Ukraine from 15 November 2012.  Since Viktor Zamferesko’s “confession” had been beaten out of him, ““the use of this confession to obtain the applicant’s conviction automatically rendered the whole criminal proceedings against him unfair.” (71).

Three men were convicted today of a crime where the only evidence is their multiple and contradictory “confessions” which all have retracted and have said were obtained through physical and psychological pressure.  Two authorized forensic psychologists have confirmed that the men were placed under severe psychological pressure during the formal interrogations and investigative activities 

Other grounds for serious concern about the seven confessions which have been used to justify 14 and 15-year prison sentences can be found here and in the other material listed. 

Formal complaints about the “defence lawyers” called in to be present and sign protocols during the first night interrogations were upheld by the relevant qualification commission which reprimanded one lawyer and stripped two others of their right to practise for six months. During those critical days the men were thus effectively denied legal defence.

All other formal complaints have been bounced back and forth between different government bodies, the Human Rights Ombudsperson and parliamentarians.  The European Convention obliges member states to ensure effective investigation into all allegations of torture. 

There has been no such investigation and Judge Minasov has consistently ignored or blocked all applications from the defence.  These included the obvious wish to question all forensic psychologists after the third assessment which he initiated denied the pressure identified so clearly in the first two assessments and instead spoke of the men’s “leaning to crime”..  Minasov rejected the application, while focusing on the third assessment in his verdict.  He was equally unperturbed by the prosecution’s amendment, two years into the trial, of the indictment removing, among other things, the time frame which gave all three an unbreakable alibi.

Even in a country whose law enforcement bodies are notorious for forcing “confessions” and where the acquittal rate has plummeted to 0.2 % of all court verdicts, the irregularities in this case are staggering.

In an appeal signed by a number of former political prisoners, lawyers, journalists and concerned members of the public, we asked representatives of the EU to raise this issue with Ukraine’s leaders given the very serious concerns over this case, and the destructive effect on Ukrainian society of any trial whose outcome is widely seen as connected with factors unrelated to the guilt or innocence of the defendants.  The fact that the prosecutor and judge have stubbornly insisted on such a verdict confirms fears that the assurances given President Yanukovych on television by the then Interior Minister that the culprits had been found have been deemed to outweigh the cause of justice.

They do not. 



Photo from here

Halya Coynash

Police officer gets long sentence for raping detainee

A Donetsk court has sentenced one police officer to 10 years imprisonment for raping a male detainee. He must also pay 20 thousand UAH. Two other officers received 4 and 5 year suspended sentences.

The victim had asked 2 million in compensation, but received only 250 thousand UAH.

The man was detained last year at a coach station for pouring out beer in a public place. The officers took him away, supposedly to draw up a protocol, but instead subjected him to the attack which he needed six months treatment to recover from. 

Typically none of the three officers was charged under Article 127 of the Criminal Code (Torture). All three were accused of exceeding their official powers (article 365) with only one receiving a real term of imprisonment.

Oleksandr Bukalov, Head of Donetsk Memorial which particularly focuses on prisoners’ rights,  welcomed the severe sentence. He says that such punishments are seldom meted out with police not being afraid of being made to answer for their actions.  He notes also that judges are frightened to treat such behaviour as torture.  He says that he doesn’t know what their reasons are but they clearly avoid that sentence.  Perhaps because it’s so seldom applied, they feel nervous using it.

He points out that Donetsk Memorial has for the last 8 years being producing an annual report on prisoners’ rights, in which they give statistics for the number of acquittals. As reported here the numbers are truly pitiful.  Mr Bukalov notes that 13-14 thousand people each year are held in SIZO [remand units] and then do not end up imprisoned any longer (not because they’re acquitted, but because they’ve spent so long in SIZO; or through a sentence not involving imprisonment. This means, he stresses, that 13-14 thousand people are being remanded in custody on suspicion of really quite minor offences.


The right to a fair trial

Lviv Lawyer achieves “the impossible”


It is next to impossible to get a criminal case terminated in Ukraine through the lack of elements of a crime, yet it is precisely this that Maria Kaminska, a lawyer from Lviv, has succeeded in doing.

The prosecution had claimed that in 2009 Mr D. “unlawfully obtained 3 packets of a substance of plant origin with a green colour … and illegally kept this at his place of residence in order to later sell it”.

By the time Maria Kaminska took on the case, D. had “confessed”; drugs had been taken from him as evidence; and a supposed buyer had also confessed.

Despite this apparently hopeless situation, the young lawyer based her defence on total rejection of her client’s guilt. And she won.

She began her defence by establishing that during the first two days, D. had been held in a police station (which is, in itself, prohibited); had not been given food or drink; that a confession had been beaten out of him; while no procedural moves had been carried out. She proved numerous violations during the detective inquiry (diznannya) and criminal investigation.  During cross examination of the supposed buyer and the police she managed to get them to testify against the prosecution’s case, and proved that the administrative detention had been illegal.

She lodged two suits regarding the illegal actions by the police; wrote several complaints to the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding the actions and inaction of the investigators. She managed to get disciplinary proceedings initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office against officers of the police station who’d arrested D.

The decision to terminate the criminal prosecution contains an acknowledgement that “during the pre-trial investigation there were probably cases where demands of criminal procedure legislation were not observed by the detective inquiry and criminal investigators”.

This took 3 years to achieve, with Mara having taken on this case when she still didn’t have her lawyer’s final qualification. 

Maria Kaminska is one of the lawyers of the Network for Legal Aid to People with HIV and Drug Addicts.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Group, with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation, is endeavouring to ensure timely assistance to people from vulnerable groups, including those in replacement therapy and people living with AIDS/HIV.

KHPG invites people needing help or knowing of others to contact  [email protected] or phone ХПГ 057 7006772.

Ludmla Nikitkina: Political Prisoner or Economic Hostage?

Ludmila Nikitkina, Deputy Head of the United Opposition’s Pervomaisk Election Headquarters has been in custody since July 2012.

Pressure on the courts in Ukraine comes in all shapes and sizes.  The real or entirely illusory threat of such pressure has long been used as a convenient means of keeping people behind bars.  A person can be held in a SIZO [detention centre) for years on the nebulous grounds that he (or she) could try to divert the course of justice.  A week ago MPs who sought to act as guarantors in order to secure the release of Ludmila Nitkina, in custody since July last year, were told by the judge that their action was aimed at putting “pressure” on the court.  Since Ms Nikitkina remains in the Kyiv SIZO, that is clearly one form of pressure to which Judge Berbele proved insusceptible.

One of the MPs, Mykola Knyazhytsky believes Ms Nikitkina to be a political prisoner – simply not high-profile enough to capture the attention of the Cox and Kwaśniewski EU Delegation.

The problem is, I suspect, more complex.  Alarm bells ring when we learn that a major political opponent of the current President has been arrested, or when a candidate in with a good chance of winning the elections has been placed on the international wanted list (like Viktor Romanyuk, or, a year ago, Arsen Avakov)

Such alarm bells did indeed ring back in July and early August 2012.  On 7 August the election watchdog OPORA reported that the 30 July custody order against Ludmila Nikitkina, Deputy Head of the United Opposition’s Pervomaisk Election Headquarters had been upheld.  A protest had taken place outside the court.

Ludmila Nikitkina was arrested on 27 July with the charges related to her position as Financial Director of the limited liability company “Agrofirma Kornatskykh”  The charges are under Article 191 § 4 of the Criminal Code (embezzlement, misappropriation or acquisition of property through abuse of official position). She is accused of having embezzled public funds in receiving subsidies back in 2008.  The amount supposedly stolen from the State was 149 thousand UAH (around 14 thousand EUR).

With the same bells sounding all too often, the problem is precisely what makes such charges a perfect weapon.  They are difficult to check, while the political motive for ongoing prosecution does not seem entirely clear.  

Pervomaisk was certainly one of the most scandalous of all electoral districts in October 2012 with the Central Election Commission having initially stated that 100% of the votes had been counted and that Anatoly Kornatsky from the United Opposition had won, and then changed this to give the victory to the Party of the Regions candidate Vitaly Travyanko. While Ludmila Nikitkina would have been involved in campaigning for Kornatsky, and works for his company, it is harder to see how her arrest could have impact on Kornatsky or the United Opposition. Nor is the situation so obvious as to make other party campaigners feel warned off by her experience.  

Another motive has been put forward by Volodymyr Boiko in an article which includes an interview with Anatoly Kornatsky.  The latter asserts that there has been a battle for some years now with people very close to Artem Pshonka, son of the current Prosecutor General.  He speaks of criminal cases, unscheduled checks and other forms of pressure having been used in an effort to force him to relinquish the lucrative agricultural business.  There were a number of criminal investigations in 2010 and 2011 which do not appear to have gone any further.

The allegations are serious and would have to be verified. The urgent need for such a check is clear since f they are true then Ludmila Nikitkina’s prosecution may well be part of this pressure 

Knyazhytsky asserts that no independent audit has found any irregularities, and that the documents which supposedly incriminate Ms Nikitkina were not, in fact, signed by her.

Of considerable concern is the fact that Ms Nikitkina is imprisoned in the Kyiv SIZO and the above-mentioned court case was under Judge Berbele in the Svyatoshynsk District Court.  Berbele is presiding judge in the case of three young men in detention for well over a year now over highly dubious terrorist charges.  The men are accused of planning to blow up the monument to Lenin on the town square in Boryspil, Kyiv region.

Why Ludmila Nikitkiva is in Kyiv at all is unclear with the charges against her solely linked with her work in Mykolaiv. 

It is less than likely that this was so that protests held since Ludmila Niktikina’s arrest, including a letter to the President signed by 1348 women from Mykolaiv did not “put pressure” on the courts.

With concern so rife about Ukraine’s justice system and the purposes it serves, judges have shown themselves to be quite impervious to any publicly articulated pressure.  

Ludmila Nikitkina, who is not a young woman and who suffers from high blood pressure has been held in detention now for almost nine months.  Public scrutiny cannot be pressure unless there is something to hide.


Astounding Appointment

Vasyl Hrytsak’s career as Party of the Regions MP ended – for him – on a high note late last year with his seriously dangerous “biometric” law – and the SSAPS Corporation he has close links with finally receiving the green light.   A Presidential decree has just crowned this career and given Hrytsak extraordinary scope for reaping personal benefit.

President Yanukovych has made many eyebrow-raising appointments over the last three years.  Considering the stiff competition, this may not be the worst, but with respect to corruption it is perhaps in a league of its own. Vasyl Hrytsak has been appointed Deputy Head of the State Migration Service, the body given responsibility for implementing this same highly controversial law. 

Vasyl Hrytsak in December 2012 received the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s annual anti-award Thistle of the Year.  In fact on that occasion he got the Gold Thistle for the most flagrant intrusion into privacy and for the most dangerous legislative initiative in the field of human rights.  This was over the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register which gives one private outfit - the SSAPS [Single State Automated Passport System] consortium whose interests Hrytsak has lobbied for years enormous  profits by forcing Ukrainians to obtain around 13 biometric documents. The State Migration Service is given overall responsibility for their issue. The law also introduces a single database, without proper protection, with different authorities sharing an unlimited amount of confidential information about each Ukrainian citizen, their signature, biometric details, etc.  Hrytsak first received a Thistle of the Year for much the same legislative initiative in 2007.  (More details in What Now?)

Serious criticism and calls to veto the law were ignored by President Yanukovych who signed it into law after a brief pretence of a “veto” which in fact made only cosmetic changes. 

President Yanukovych, incidentally, also received a 2012 Thistle of the Year, together with the then Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn for contempt for Ukraine’s Constitution and legislation, in particular over their signing of two laws: the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy and the Law on Public Procurement (which removes State enterprises from tender procedure).

The scope for corruption in the effective monopoly given the SSAPS consortium is also massive, especially given the quite inflated number of documents which now need to have biometric data.  The excuse for the law constantly presented had been compliance with EU requirements for EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization.  The EU, however, only required that biometric passports for travel abroad be introduced.

Vasyl Hrytsak has now been offered new opportunities.  The appointment for those seeking asylum in Ukraine, or for any number of other reasons having dealings with the State Migration Service can only be described as disastrous.

It is probably worth noting the report by Nashi Hroshi [Our Money]  late last year which stated then that it was not only Vasyl Hrytsak and the SSAPS Consortium which stood to gain from this law.  Yury Nikolov asserted that by signing the law, President Yanukovych had opened the way for officials to pocket large amounts of money which Ukrainians would  be forced to pay in “administrative services”.  The point, he said, was in three short sentences deftly added to the final provisions of the Law  These made changes to the relevant articles of the Budget Code, with the same words each time “including payment for the provision of administrative services”.

What this means in human language, he explained, is that money for such “services” which was previously considered State revenue will now be carved up between officials. 

Such “services” are also provided by the State Migration Service of which, in accordance with President Yanukovych’s Decree, Vasyl Hrytsak has now become one of the very top officials.  

Freedom of expression

International concern grows over situation at TVi


Reporters without Borders has condemned the sudden change in management at TVi, while the International Federation of Journalists has backed the strike by TVi  staff and called for transparent and regulated media ownership in the country.

IFJ/EFJ Back Strikers at Ukrainian TV Station

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and its European member, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), have backed a strike by staff from Ukranian broadcasting station TVi and called for transparent and regulated media ownership in the country.

According to IFJ affiliate, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine (IMTUU), staff from TVi began the strike on Wednesday, 24 April, following an aggressive overnight takeover by the station’s new owner, America businessman Alexander Altman, and new director, journalist Artem Shevchenko, which journalists only learned about when they arrived at work to find the building surrounded by heavy security on Tuesday morning.  

The IMTUU says the strike was also called because the new director forbid journalists at the station from producing any stories about the events of the takeover on the station’s evening programme. While the new management issued assurances that there would be no change to the editorial line, within 24 hours Pavlo Sheremeta, who heads up the evening news programme, was informed that his contract was terminated.  

“It is shocking that an unknown group can take control of a major media company overnight and call in the police the following morning to protect the building before any of the staff have even arrived. Similar reckless treatment of media and staff are likely to occur if the principles of media ownership in the country remain unclear, ” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. 

“We call for full transparency and regulation over media ownership in the Ukraine and the introduction of legislation that guarantees transparency, pluralism and limits on media ownership. 

“The current situation is harming the reputation of the channel and is weakening freedom of speech within the Ukraine, so we also encourage the management to enter a dialogue with the journalists to settle the dispute and protect the reputation of this respected media organisation.” 

The IMTUU, which has formed a branch within the TV station that will encourage discussion between the two parties, says the situation began when journalists were prevented from entering the station’s building by armed guards when they arrived for work last Tuesday, 23 April. The station’s previous owner and director were also prevented from entering.  

Later that same day, the new owner and director called a general meeting with staff where the new director told journalists they could not comment on the situation in the station’s evening news programme. According to the IMTUU, it was this action that led to the decision to strike. 

“Once again we see important media institutions, essential for the Ukrainian democracy, being treated as toys by the rich and powerful, ” said EFJ President Arne Konig. “ It is little wonder that the journalists doubt the commitments of the new owner to maintaining the same standards and editorial lines when they are greeted by armed guards and the first protests result in the termination of a leading news presenter’s contract.’ 

“We urge the new owner to start an immediate dialogue with the journalists and the IMTUU to resolve the differences and that will guarantee the continued rights and conditions of the employees.” 

The IMTUU says it is observing the strike and will provide legal and political support for staff members if there is a violation of their rights.

TVI’s broadcasts suspended after new management bars journalists

26 APRIL 2013.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the sudden change of management at the opposition TV stationTVi, announced three days ago, and is disturbed to learn that ensuing internal disputes have resulted in broadcasting being suspended.

“We deplore the new management’s appalling treatment of this independent TV station’s journalists and we urge it to recognize the new TVi journalists’ union and to accept its demands, ” Reporters Without Borders said.

“These demands are release of information allowing the station’s new owners to be identified, restoration of the previous programming schedule, and revocation of the unjustified dismissal of one of the journalists.

“We also urge the new management not to try to divide its staff by exploiting personal disputes and to guarantee the editorial independence of the station’s investigative reporting and news services.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We are disturbed by the lack of financial transparency surrounding certain media owners in Ukraine and the increasing concentration of ownership in few hands, which threatens diversity in the provision of news and information.”

TVi’s press department announced changes in the station’s sources of financing and its top management on 23 April.

The new management said Alexander Altman, a US businessman of Ukrainian origin, had legally obtained a controlling interest, replacing Konstantin Kagalovsky, a British citizen of Russian origin and former shareholder in the Russian oil company Yukos, who founded TVi along with Russian oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.

It was also announced that Artem Shevchenko, one of the station’s presenters, had replacedNatalka Katerynchuk as its chief executive. The former management described these developments as a “raid.”

Altman and Shevchenko reportedly portrayed the changes as the only way to prevent the station from being sold to government supporters. Thanks to them, the stations would “remain out of the control of any political group, or business group or the present government” and would continue to be an “objective news source.”

The station’s journalists were denied access to their offices on 23 April and Shevchenko cancelled plans to broadcast a debate in which the various parties to the dispute would explain their positions. Following this decision, almost all the journalists went on strike.

Altman was not yet unveiled his business strategy for the station or explained the implications of an authorization that would allow its signal to be carried on national TV broadcast networks in the near future.

No information as to the identity of the people who are backing Altman has been provided by either Shevchenko or Mykola Knyazhitsky, a former TVi chief executive who is now an opposition parliamentarian and a member of the Freedom of Information Committee.

One of TVi’s presenters,  Mustafa Nayem, told Reporters Without Borders he was concerned about the possible involvement of government officials in the takeover. “We want to know what is really going on and why the police have not reacted, ” he said. “For the time being, the suspension of programming seems to have bothered no one.”

TVi has until now been regarded as one of Ukraine’s two opposition TV stations. A court stripped it of its main over-the-air broadcast frequency in 2010 as a result of a case brought by Inter Media Group, a rival broadcasting company.

Last year, TVi was the subject of a tax audit and many cable TV operators were forced to drop its signal, causing it to lose a third of its viewers.

Ukraine fell 10 places in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index

TVi Journalists present their demands

 Mustafa Nayem 

Following the dramatic events on Tuesday at TVi, the journalists on strike have formed a trade union, headed by Mustafa Nayem.  The latter appeared on TVi for 12 minutes on Wednesday evening in a special broadcast replacing the normal daily “Syohodni pro holovne”.  Clips were shown of the events of the day before, as well as comments from the presenter of Proti Nochi, Pavel Sheremet, who was fired on Wednesday and from Artem Shevchenko who was on Tuesday presented as the new General Director, replacing Natalya Katerynchyk.

The current situation is of immense concern but remains unclear with conflicting statements being issued for a second day running, including with respect to who the "real owners" of the channel are. The following are the demands issued in full.  More details can be found in the statement here and in Effective Hatchet Job?

The Demands

“Article 24 of the Law on Information prohibits interference in he professional work of journalists; control over the content of information circulated, including in order to circulate or not circulate certain information; the muffling of publicly needed information; the imposition of bans on coverage of particular topics, on showing certain people or disseminating information about them.

Article 25 of the Law on Information stipulates that a media journalist has the right to refuse to acknowledge authorship (sign) material if its content following editorial corrections (editing) runs counter to his or her beliefs.

In accordance with Item 16 of the Ukrainian Journalists’ Ethical Code, “Journalists may not be officially forced to write or undertake anything if it runs counter to their own convictions or principles”.

On the basis of the above, the TV Channel TVi Trade Union Committee demands:

1.  That the contract of employment between the manager of the TV company Teleradiosvit Artem Shevchenko and the head of Interprofit Oleh Radchenko be terminated. They infringed labour legislation and journalists’ professional rights by obstructing journalists from carrying out their professional duties, by cancelling broadcasts on 23 April 2013; through demands not to circulate information; through the muffling of publicly needed information regarding the events on the channel; by imposing a ban on coverage of particular subjects; showing particular people or circulating information about them; obstructing guests invited by the journalists to come and take part in the programmes; flagrant violation of labour legislation regarding Natalya Katerynchyk; unexplained cancellation of the programme “Proty nochi” with Pavlo Sheremet.

2.  That acting heads of the TV company Teleradiosvit and of Interprofit be appointed until the dispute is resolved between the founders and investors of the channel through the courts, and only after agreement with the primary trade union “TV Channel TVi Journalists”.

3.  That a transparent ownership structure with the legal entities which are the owners of TVi be published and announced with documentation confirming the final beneficiary.

4.  That the makeup be announced and a meeting held urgently of the channel’s editorial council; that the council’s powers regarding formation of editorial policy be increased, and that internal editorial disputes be resolved.

5.  That the broadcasting schedule is not changed and that there is no interference in the professional activities of journalists; that all programmes as per 22 April 2013 are able to be broadcast.

6.  That no dismissals of journalists and technical staff involved in producing programmes on the channel as on 22 April 2013 are made;  that current contracts and agreements with producers of TVi content which were in force on 22 April 2013 are not terminated

 7.  That no sanctions are applied against participants in the strike either in the form of termination of contracts or through suspending agreements. 

Photo from Ukrainska Pravda, full text posted by Telekritika

TVi journalists’ statement

Journalists of TVi, virtually the only relatively independent TV channel left in Ukraine, are on strike after a day of scandal and conflicting reports. The following is the statement issued on Tuesday evening after the journalists were prevented from broadcasting it on their own channel.

“This morning, 23 April, members of staff of the TVi channel found themselves in a situation which in its appearance and formal features bears the hallmarks of a seizure of the channel. The General Director of the TV company Teleradiosvit, Natalya Katerynchyk, together with the owner over many years of the channel Kostyantyn Kahalovsky, was not allowed into her workplace, . On the official website press release was issued which stated that the structure of the company’s ownership had been changed; that Artem Shevchenko had been appointed the new head and that Natalya Katerynchyk had accordingly been dismissed. At a meeting of the staff American businessman Alexander Altman was presented as new investor; and the previous owner was declared to not exist.

The first step of the “new” management as represented by Artem Shevchenko was to not allow the formally legitimate General Director Natalya Katerynchyk on air. The new management shortly removed the programme “Syohodni pro holovne” [Today’s main stories] from air completely, replacing it with a repeat. TVi editors and journalists were not able to put forward their position regarding the situation on the channel.

TVi journalists demand:

that a stop be put to the seizure of the TV channel;

that the journalist be given the opportunity to present their statement on the situation during a live broadcast on the channel;

that the law enforcement bodies establish whether the change in channel  management and investors is legal;

that a policy of non-interference in the work of the channel is ensured and that a stop is put to the cases of censorship which have already appeared on TVi

Until such time journalists will not present the news. In addition today Pavlo Sheremet’s programme “Proty nochi” will not be broadcast; nor the programme “Alberteinstein” and “Tender-News with Natalya Serletska”.  Yury Makarov also decided to not broadcast his programme “Civilization”, however since it had already been put together, it was broadcast against the author’s wishes.”

The TVi team  (22 signatures)

4 brutal attacks on journalists in March

While detentions are taking place and Party of the Regions MPs claiming attempted murder over a snowball onslaught, those who attack journalists go unpunished and sometimes unimpeded by police officers

The Institute for Mass Information has pointed to a disturbing increase in the number of brutal assaults on journalists in the course of their work. “While deputies from the Party of the Regions are outraged by an attack with snowballs on some members of their political party after a session of the Verkhovna Rada and are even trying to claim that this was attempted murder,   those who order and carry out brutal attacks on journalists go unpunished.

According to IMI’s monthly monitoring, March 2013 saw four brutal attacks on members of the press. There were 80 cases in all during 2012 of aggressive treatment of journalists (beatings; assaults; physical violence; and 18 cases where journalists were threatened).  This was almost three times higher than the figures for 2011. Despite promises from the police and Prosecutor’s Office to look into the attacks on journalists last year, only about 5% of assailants face any sort of punishment. Impunity for attacks on journalists is one of the reasons for the rising number of such attacks.

5 March: three men savagely beat up Taras Chornoivan, Chief Editor of Tarasova Pravda near his own home. He ended up in hospital with severe injuries.

Chornoivan believes the attack to be linked with the last issue of the newspaper which had a satirical collage on the front and strong criticism of MP Oleksandr Dombrovsky.

6 March: a film crew from Novy Kanal was attacked in Ivano-Frankivsk while filming a feature for the programme “Revizor” in the Corida café, Olha Freimut, the presenter of the programme was injured by the owner of the café who began actively pushing her out of his kitchen. Another woman journalist, Hanna Zhyzha and some of the guys in the film crew were also set upon, and a video camera was damaged.

13 March: a film crew from the information agency Tavria News was set upon in Kherson. Cameraman Valery Myronyuk and journalist Oleksandr Tarasov were assaulted while filming the eviction of the Sorozhin family which has many children. Some young thugs turned up together with the owner of the disputed flat Serhiy Sotnykov, and used violent means to obstruct the filming.  One of them seized Tarasov by the neck, pushed him down onto the stairs and began beating him.  The police officers present did not intervene.

28 March: In Kyiv a journalist from the 2 + 2 Channel, Yevhen Aharkov was attacked by the husband of the Deputy Director of the Kyiv Higher College of Sewing and Hairdressing. The incident occurred near the college when the journalist was using his mobile to photograph huge icicles hanging from the building.

IMI stresses that an attack on any citizen is just as much of an offence as an attack on an MP and that a criminal investigation must be launched within the next few hours.  It urges the law enforcement bodies and courts to not apply a selective approach in investigating this or that case linked with assaults on journalists in the course of their work. 

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Why a law on peaceful assembly is needed

  With bans on peaceful assembly ever more frequent and all-purpose, banning any meetings in a particular place or timeframe, the need for legal regulation is clear.  It is just as clearly missing at present

In an article for Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Volodymyr Yavorsky explains why the need for a decent law in Ukraine on freedom of peaceful assembly is so urgent.

First some more details about the ever worsening situation in this area. The number of court bans of peaceful gatherings is increasing radically.  A particularly worrying feature is that “more and more often such bans apply not to one event, and over a lengthy period, territory or indefinite number of meeting organizers. In 2011 there were at least 203 such bans; in 2012 already 313.  There has been a sharp rise in the number of cases where organizers of peaceful gatherings face administrative charges. Last year there were over a hundred.

The law enforcement bodies often illegally ban events; unwarrantedly detain their organizers or people taking part; restrict the routes they can take; block access to the place where such gatherings are planned; or don’t protect protesters from attacks.

Volodymyr Yavorsky believes that the reasons are not only political, but also related to the lack of a law on freedom of peaceful assembly.

He sets out arguments for swift adoption of a law, these being in brief, the following

There is no clear legal regulation of freedom of peaceful assembly

The authorities, courts and police use three mutually exclusive sources of regulation:

i) Unfortunately, least often, solely the Constitution (Article 39 stipulates only that notification is needed, not permission, and gives a list of reasonable grounds for bans);

ii) In at least 50 cities decisions by bodies of local self-government which are dubious from a constitutional point of view are used in place of a law;

iii)  Reference is made to the notorious Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 28 July 1988 «On the procedure for the organization of meetings, political rallies, street events and demonstrations in the USSR”.

The Decree establishes a permission-based system for peaceful assembly and stipulates that applications must be filed 10 days before the planned gathering. 

The other problem, however, is the highly questionable validity of a decree issued by a no longer existing country.

Yavorsky writes that one can argue about which of the above three forms of regulation are correct, but practice shows that all of them are used.

This means that for organizers of a peaceful gathering, the consequences of their action cannot be foreseen.

Volodymyr Yavorsky represented Oleksiy Vyerentsov who recently one his case at the European Court of Human Rights.  A brief summary of the Court’s position as well as of the case can be found here

Most crucially, the Court found that the Vyerentsov case disclosed a structural problem, namely a legislative lacuna concerning freedom of assembly which has remained in Ukraine since the end of the Soviet Union.  It noted the existence of only one document establishing procedure for holding demonstrations, the 1988 Soviet Decree which it said is not generally accepted by the Ukrainian courts as still applicable.

“Therefore, under Article 46 (binding force and implementation), the Court invited Ukraine to urgently reform its legislation and administrative practice to establish the requirements for the organisation and holding of peaceful demonstrations, as well as the grounds for their restriction”.

While acknowledging that time was needed given the transitional period Ukraine has been going through, however more than 20 years cannot be considered justified.

There has been some argument among NGOs regarding whether a special law on peaceful assembly is needed, with those who believe it isn’t citing the European Court of Human Rights as purportedly backing this. 

Yavorsky rightly notes that the Court in Strasbourg cannot tell Ukraine how it must resolve the current situation however it makes it abundantly clear that regulation is required.

While a law cannot eliminate the scope for officials to abuse their powers and restrict freedom of assembly, it can narrow their options.

Yavorsky notes that the authorities use lack of legal certainty to prevent peaceful assembly.  Rules must be set which apply throughout the country 

TOP 6 absurd court bans on peaceful assembly

The bans can seem simply absurd, but are always enforced, with riot police, detentions and often gratuitous force (Photo from Reuters)

Members of the Partnership “For Freedom of Peaceful Assembly” have issued a list of the TOP 6 court orders which violated the right to peaceful assembly.

6th Place

The Kharkiv District Administrative Court in Ruling No. 25872222 from 6 September:

“City residents and visitors with underage children visit the central part of the city for cultural recreation and the rally by members of the Kharkiv NGO Democratic Alliance shouting slogans can arouse a negative reaction and well-founded indignation”

5th Place

The Kharkiv District Administrative Court in Ruling No. 21793310 from 27 February 2012

It should be noted that the above-mentioned event is planned during the winter period (in conditions of low air temperature) and as a result, the use of heating devices is possible.

In accordance with the Fire Safety Regulations in Ukraine registered by the Justice Ministry on 4 November 2004 as No. 1410/10009 p.5.2.11, the use of temporary stoves in premises is not normally allowed. Lighting fires, burning waste, packaging; throwing out burning coal and ash within 15 metres of buildings and constructions, as well as within limits imposed by building norms against fires, is not allowed (p. 4.1.20). Buildings, structures, premises, technological installations must be provided with primary means for extinguishing fires (p. 6.4.8). 

In addition fire safety in holding such events inside a city requires the distraction of a considerable number of personnel from the Emergencies Ministry and the production of the relevant permits.

4th Place

The Mykolaiv District Administrative Court Ruling No. 23550147 from 29 March 2012

“The court considers that the holding of a protest near the Mykolaiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office during which it is planned to hold a portrait of the Prosecutor of the Mykolaiv oblast V. Haltsov upside down with the portrait then thrown into a rubbish bin breaches the moral principles of democratic society, poses a real threat of disruption of public order; protection of health or morals and defence of the rights and freedoms of other individuals, and the given actions can also lead to disturbances between members of the protest and other individuals”.

3rd Place

The Mykolaiv District Administrative Court Ruling No. 25440043 from 6 September 2012

“On 14.02.2012 the Mykolaiv City Council’s Executive Committee received an application – notification PERSON _ 4 on holding a protest “Burning the portrait of the City Mayor PERSON _6 and the Head of the Housing and Communal Services Department PERSON_7 “ aimed at expressing protest over the actions of public officials.

The court considers that if the actions indicated in the application – notification of the respondent are carried out, there is a danger of disturbances since the given protest will be carried out in a manner dangerous to health and influence on the psyche of people and of the organizer himself”.

2nd Place

The Ruling of the District Administrative Court in Kyiv which banned peaceful gatherings from 4 to 9 July in the centre of Kyiv, including the protest outside Ukraine House against the Kivalov – Kolesnichenko Language Law.

One of the reasons for banning peaceful gatherings in Kyiv at the beginning of July was the marking of US Independence Day. The court referred to the importance of this festive day and “the real threat of terrorist attacks”. “The US Embassy in Ukraine … sent a letter to the Kyiv City State Administration in which it asks it to expedite and ensure a ban on public events and demonstrations by other organizations around the residence of the US Ambassador”, the court ruling stated.

1st Place

The Cherkasy District Administrative Court Ruling No.20963324 from 14 January 2012

“The norms of Law No. 3206-VI do not envisage the right of the public to hold peaceful gatherings as a measure to prevent and counter corruption.”

“Thus no proof suggesting corrupt actions by the head of the Cherkasy Regional Administration PERSON _2 has been provided, and the holding of a peaceful gathering aimed at fighting the corrupt actions of the head of the Cherkasy Regional Administration PERSON _2 will lead to the circulation of wrong information which will adversely affect the authorities’ image”. 

Social and economic rights

Anti-corruption measures don’t apply to most corrupt areas

The Justice Ministry has stated that the losses from corruption last year came to nearly 1.8 billion UAH. Experts believe that the real figures are many times greater and point to the inadequate anti-corruption legislation. The profile parliamentary committee claims that draft laws have been drawn up and will soon be considered.

According to the Finance Ministry’s report, the overall figure of losses incurred through corruption-linked administrative offences in 2012 came to 1.191 billion UAH, and in criminal – 577.8 million UAH.   Justice Minister Lavrynovych says that the resport is based on information received from central and regional authorities and specially authorized bodies on fighting corruption.

Vitaly Shabunin, Head of the Centre on Countering Corruption, the fact that administrative offence losses so considerably outweigh criminal offences is highly indicative. He says that the main perpetrators are thus doctors, teachers and village heads who as a rule end up accused of administrative offences.

Viktor Chumak, Head of the profile parliamentary committee (from the opposition UDAR party) believes that the real figures are much higher than those named by the Justice Ministry.  He and a number of analysts point to the fact that the most corrupt areas concern public procurement and land relations with neither of these attracting the attention of those formally fighting corruption.

Oleksy Shalaisky, Editor of “Nashi Hroshi” [Our Money] which monitors corruption linked with public procurement believes that one corrupt scheme alone concerning public procurement could outstrip the figures cited by the Ministry. According to Nashi Hroshi estimates, about a quarter of the overall amount of 500 billion UAH spent on public procurement is siphoned off. As reported here many times, legislation in this field does nothing to eradicate such corruption.

“99% of corrupt tenders are in accordance with legislation. A typical set up is where bids are submitted by two firms who are “in”, while those who aren’t don’t even get invited to tender. Or they’re scared off through checks or hints that they won’t get paid because the money in the budget will run out”.

Oleksy Shalaisky says that although the authorities have promised to introduce a more transparent system of electronic public procurement, the system is unlikely to appear before 2015 at the earliest.

Viktor Chumak says that draft bills which could fight the situation have been drawn up and registered in parliament. These include a law on special confiscation for offences and also criminalization of administrative offences.  He adds that the authors are from four factions, including the Party of the Regions. There is also one draft bill on financial control and conflict of interests.

In fact, however, the government draft law on criminalizing some of the offences presently considered administrative offences was one of those rejected by the extraordinary “parliament session” which met on Bankova St on 4 April (see: Dodgy Parliament, Dodgy Laws):  Viktor Chumak, however, says that they have drawn up a new draft law with more chance of being passed.

An Anti-Corruption Programme for the record

Early this week Transparency International Ukraine warned that the 2011-2015 State Anti-Corruption Programme worth 820 million UAH is virtually not being implemented, with it getting an assessment right now of 2.7 out of 5.

There were supposed to be 135 anti-corruption measures from the anti-corruption programme from 2011 to 2012.  . 

More than 95% of the programme, which is one of the most expensive of all state programmes, is earmarked for creating an electronic system within the Health Ministry for medical forms. Transparency points out that this is not directly related to fighting corruption, and notes that the document also contains a number of mistakes and misprints making its implementation impossible.  Anti-corruption measures at local level are not envisaged at all.

The problem with non-implementation is that there isn’t a great deal new to say.  Most of the complaints about this programme have been made before. 

On 6 March Transparency International in Ukraine and other NGOs held a public protest over the lack of any progress with the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and State Programme on Preventing and Countering Corruption.

Those bearing personal responsibility are supposed to be the Prime Minister and Justice Minister – Oleksandr Lavrynovych (designated the coordinator of the State anti-corruption programme) as well as Andriy Klyuev, Executive Secretary of the National Anti-Corruption Committee under the President.

Civic experts in this field have just presented the results of their monitoring at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Fighting Organized Crime and Corruption.

They demonstrated specific miscalculations in the following:

Improving the system for use of State property and public funding;

Preventative measures against increase in the shadow economy;

Reduction in administrative pressure on businesses;

Reduction in the level of corruption in the law enforcement; medical; land; educational; tax and customs spheres

Oleksy Khmara, Head of Transparency International in Ukraine, calls on the President to take the situation under his personal control.  The next urgent need, he says, is for the State programme to be updated, and cosmetic changes are not enough. 

Image from

The right to health care

Health reforms hazardous to health

Human rights organizations have released their annual report on Human Rights in Healthcare – 2012. Its authors note that during the year the situation only improved in the sphere of palliative medicine.  The rights of people with HIV and of prisoners continue to be violated. The current medical reforms, they say, have worsened the situation with respect to help for vulnerable groups in society.

The report was compiled by around 20 NGOs including the Kharkiv Human Rights Group; the Institute for Legal Research and Strategy and the International Alliance on HIV/AIDS, using information received from patients, expert assessments as well as media reports. The report outlines the violations found in the implementation underway of medical reforms, and proposes ways of eliminating them.

With respect to palliative care there were improvements – registration of tablet form morphine; a Health Ministry Order changing the system of healthcare for those with chronic pain syndrome, and the new Human Rights Ombudsperson began working with human rights groups, Olha Lubyana from the Institute for Legal Research and Strategy says.

In general, however, the reforms have worsened the availability of medical care. Reorganization of hospitals has led to a reduction in the number of hospital places and the closure of medical establishments.  The “primary healthcare centres” created in their place, especially in rural areas, fail to take into account the difficulty for the elderly and the disabled to get to them.

The report also criticizes changes to the ambulance system. The time frame set for arrivals, it says, fail to take into account the state of the roads, traffic jams, lack of numbering on houses etc.  Doctors are leaving because of the low salaries and impossible demands and the workload is therefore increasing. In one region of Kyiv there are 15-17 ambulances, but doctors work only on 4-5, with the others going out to patients with medical assistants.

HIV-positive patients

The report speaks of the underfunding of the State programme on countering HIV/AIDS with only 80% of the amount actually allocated.

Only 986 out of 6, 347 HIV positive prisoners receive antiretroviral therapy.

The report with recommendations has been sent to the Human Rights Ombudsperson; the Health Ministry; the Ministry of Social Policy; and the State Penitentiary Service. 

On refugees

Abducted in Kyiv. Whereabouts presently unknown

The lawyer representing Leonid Razvozzhaev, the Russian opposition activist who was abducted from Kyiv in October while in the process of seeking asylum,   says that neither he nor Razvozzhaev’s family have any idea where he is being held. 

“What is more, lawyer Ivanets who went to see Razvozzaev in the SIZO remand prison on Monday, was at first allowed in and told that Razvozzhaev was on his walk was then told that the latter was not in the SIZO. Or supposedly wasn’t.  All of this looks very suspicious”, Dmitry Agranovsky said.  He added that he has learned from unofficial sources that Razvozzhaev has been moved to Khabarovsk and is asking the Human Rights Ombudsperson to intervene.

According to It was learned on 11 March that Razvozzhaev had been moved from the Irkutsk (Siberia) SIZO but there was no indication of the destination.  Agranovsky said last week that he believed his client to be scheduled to return to Moscow.  Khabarovsk in that case will indeed be a blow.

The lawlessness in this case has been truly breathtaking.

Leonid Razvozzhaev was abducted in the middle of the day on 17 October 2012 when he stepped out for a break while completing his application for asylum at a Kyiv partner to the UNHCR partner.  He was heard crying for help and seen being forced into a car with Ukrainian number plates.  He was then taken across the border into Russia, where on 19 October a Moscow court remanded him in custody for 2 months, with this later extended.  He had supposedly “handed himself in” and “confessed”, however was able in court to shout out that he had been tortured. He has since retracted the “confession” he says was beaten, threatened and blackmailed out of him.

There had been no extradition request and Razvozzaev was in Ukraine legally.  He was also, effectively, an asylum seeker and therefore under international protection.

The Ukrainian authorities said nothing at the time, and have largely given fob off statements or vague promises of investigations since. Valeria Lutkovska, Human Rights Ombudsperson, was reported as having asked the authorities for information but has since consistently ignored questions regarding their response.  She was just as unforthcoming over the forced return of another asylum seeker to the Russian Federation in August 2012.

The  response from the Interior Ministry was particularly memorable. On 24 October spokesperson Volodymyr Polishchuk announced  that no criminal investigation would be initiated since a foreign national had been abducted by a foreign security service and the latter did not share their information.


It should be noted that back in October, the only charges against Razvozzhaev were based on an anti-opposition television programme on the pro-Kremlin TV channel NTV. 

This charge “of organizing mass riots” remains.

The Russian investigators are also claiming that he illegally crossed the border into Ukraine, though this seems to clash with Ukrainian reports.

A new charge was then laid, literally days before it would have become time-barred because the 15 year period had elapsed.  This is in connection with a 1997 criminal case, with Razvozzhaev accused of having taken part in an armed attack on a Siberian fur dealer and theft of 500 fur hats and video camera.  There is a positively Soviet ring to the way the investigators have responded to understandable scepticism about the reinstatement of a 15-year-old case.  They claim that the wife of the fur dealer contacted the relevant authorities expressing indignation that nobody had been prosecuted.

This charge may well have been laid in order to get Razvozzhaev out of Moscow.  Siberia is very far away, and as demonstrated now, it is hard to keep track of a remand prisoner, let alone having proper access to him.

The last (to date) charge is particularly cynical. On 18 January Russia’s Investigation Commission informed that Razvozzaev has been charged under Article 306 § 2 of the RF Criminal Code – knowingly false allegations (literally, denunciation).  The Commission’s Central Investigation Department has supposedly checked out Razvozzaev’s allegation that he was tortured by an investigator from the same Commission during the period from 19 to 21 October 2012.  His allegations were not found justified, and therefore Ravozzhaev was warned of criminal liability if he continued to make them.  Since he remains adamant that he was subjected to torture and pressure, he now faces a new – fourth – charge of making knowingly false claims which, were he to be convicted, would carry a sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment.

This last charge, if they continue with it, would create a truly terrifying precedent.  Both Russian and Ukrainian investigators are notorious for unlawful methods of interrogation, or more bluntly, of beating confessions out of people.  The European Court of Human Rights would almost certainly consider such charges in response to allegations of torture to be in breach of the European Convention, but how many people in custody would choose to keep quiet rather than risk charges over “false allegations”?

This case, in short, is becoming more and more shameful by the day.

News from the CIS countries

Russian Commission Blames Authorities For ’Bolotnaya’ Protest Violence

 Russian opposition activist Aleksandra Dukhanina is one of more than 20 demonstrators charged with provoking mass unrest on Bolotnaya Square in the May 2012 march.

An independent investigation has blamed the Russian authorities and police for the violence that erupted at an opposition protest on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square last year. 

The investigative commission, composed of leading public figures and rights advocates, released its findings late on April 22 at a public event in Moscow. 

The report blames riot police for "excessive use of force" against demonstrators on May 6, 2012, resulting in numerous injuries.

Authorities have only recognized injuries sustained by police officers.

More than 20 demonstrators have been charged with participating in "mass unrest" and assaulting police. 

Fifteen remain in pretrial detention and four are under house arrest. All face prison if convicted. 

Georgy Satarov, the head of the INDEM think tank in Moscow and a former aide to Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, co-authored the report. 

He told RFE/RL that the demonstrators' reactions were understandable.

"They defended themselves and they defended others. Many of those who were not arrested and are now free would have done the same, " Satarov said. 

The report says riot-police officers beat up "helpless, unarmed people, " including women and elderly people.  It blames police for deliberately creating bottlenecks by blocking the protesters' path, contributing to tensions. 

'Agents Provacateurs'

It also accuses the authorities of sending a "significant number of provocateurs" into the crowd to spark clashes -- a claim backed by witnesses as well as the Kremlin's human rights council.  

Satarov said the pieces of asphalt that some the defendants are accused of throwing at police had been placed on the square ahead of the rally.  

"Bolotnaya Square was cordoned off overnight, it was surrounded by a tight fence inside which the asphalt was cut into pieces, " Satarov said. 

"This circumstance was fully used by provocateurs. There are a multitude of other signs that indicate a planned provocation by authorities."

One of the defendants in the so-called Bolotnaya case, Maksim Luzyanin, has already been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty and cooperating with investigators.

Authorities say their probe into the other defendants is nearing completion. 

Investigators are still tracking down some 70 other protesters they suspect of disruptive behavior at the rally.

The investigative commission plans to send its report to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament, and the United Nations.

It was formed by the opposition party RPR-PARNAS, the December 12 Roundtable civil group, and the May 6 Committee. It includes top rights activists like Lyudmila Alekseyeva and a number of prominent public figures such as economist and former Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin.

Purge on NGOs in Russia gathers pace

A mass protest on 12 February 2012 called for honest elections, and in part prompted by election monitoring by Golos, now under fire frrom the Russian authorities

The Russian Justice Ministry has initiated legal proceedings against the election watchdog Golos for not having registered as a „foreign agent”.  A court hearing is due on Wednesday which could impose an absolutely prohibitive fine:  600 thousand rubles against Golos, and 300 thhousand against its Director Lilia Shibanova.

At the same time, RIA Novosti cites the Justice Ministry’s report as saying that 9 thousand applications have been sent to the courts to have NGOs dissolved;

21 organizations have been suspended;

over 45 thousand warnings have been issued;

5, 61 thousand cases involving administrative proceedings have been initiated (i.e. like the case against Golos.)

Lilia Shibanova asserts that Golos has not received foreign funding since the law on “foreign agents” came into force.

It is hardly an accident that the first application of this draconian law is against an NGO which published information about election rigging in the last parliamentary elections which prompted mass protest in Moscow and other cities. The BBC points out that Golos used to be partly funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), but that body ended its work in Russia last year on an order from the Russian authorities.

The move to open a legal case against Golos comes in the wake of nationwide NGO inspections that have been taking place in Russia since March. Most observers linked them to the new law. Many NGO activists have complained about unexpected and time-consuming raids.

Recently targeted NGOs include the Moscow offices of Human Rights Watch, corruption watchdog Transparency International and the Kazan-based advocacy group Agora. Agora provides legal support to many political activists.

From reports at RIA Novosti and the BBC

Fears for NGOs in Russia as tax raids multiply

An earlier protest against the law on NGOs, saying that the amendments to it mark the road to fascism

Senior EU officials have voiced concern as checks by Russian tax inspectors on foreign-funded non-governmental organisations multiply.

On Wednesday searches took place at the Moscow offices of Human Rights Watch and Transparency International.

Two German political NGOs were searched earlier in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned the number two diplomat at the Russian embassy in Berlin to relay his "concern over the concerted action".

Other NGOs in Russia have also been searched by prosecutors and tax inspectors in recent weeks, with reports that hundreds may have been affected across the country.

A Russian law passed in July obliges foreign-funded NGOs involved in political activity to register as "foreign agents". Failure to comply is punishable by heavy fines and even a two-year prison sentence.

The Kremlin says the controversial law is needed to protect Russia from outside attempts to influence internal politics, but critics argue it is a mechanism to crush dissent after the mass protests against the ruling United Russia party early last year.

'Totally unacceptable'

Confirming that a search was under way, Human Rights Watch official Rachel Denber told Russia's Interfax news agency: "This wave of checks is pressure on civil society in Russia."

Both the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) in St Petersburg and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Moscow were investigated earlier.

The KAS think tank is linked to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, while the FES is close to Germany's main opposition Social Democrats.

"Hampering the activity of German foundations could inflict lasting damage on bilateral relations, " a German diplomat told Spiegel Online.

"We have made this clear to the Russian side."

The Christian Democrats said the Russian authorities had seized computers from the KAS office in a "totally unacceptable" action.

"The political foundations from Germany are making an important contribution to the development of democratic structures, the building of a state based on law and the encouragement of civil society, " CDU general secretary Hermann Groehe said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday she was "concerned with the ongoing actions of the authorities against the NGO community" in Russia.

Among the NGOs targeted was the human rights organisation Memorial, which was visited by Russian officials three times inside a week. Amnesty International was also targeted.

A number of NGOs have challenged the authorities to justify the searches.

Russia’s Memorial and other NGOs searched

Memorial reports that the Prosecutor’s Office, Justice Ministry and Tax Service appeared on Thursday at its office in Moscow to carry out a check.  This was apparently one of hundreds of similar “checks” of NGOs in the latest worrying slide into Soviet tactics.

What marked the visitation to Memorial was the appearance ahead of all the others of a producer from the pro-Kremlin NTV channel together with a cameraman.  Their arrival and activities had not been agreed in advance with Memorial.

It is most unlikely that they would have been agreed given NTV’s recent prowess in producing – almost certainly to order – anti-opposition “documentaries”. 

The abduction of Leonid Razvozzhaev from the centre of Kyiv when he was applying for asylum and his return to Moscow came after interrogations of leftwing opposition figures, including Razvozzhaev and Sergei Udaltsov, , following allegations in the second anti-opposition programme on NTV.

RfEL reports that there were similar visitations throughout Russia.  It points out that the notorious law requiring NGOs which receive funding from abroad to register with the Justice Ministry as "foreign agents.” “make it possible for targeted NGOs to be subjected to regular and unannounced inspections. Violations of the law are punishable by sizeable financial penalties or potential imprisonment.”

The Head of Memorial, Alexander Cherkasov says that in the Rostov area, prosecutors arrived at one organization with health officials who demanded documents proving no one there had tuberculosis. 

Similar searches were being conducted at NGOs across Russia.

In an interview with RFE/RL, member of the Presidential Human Rights Council said that thousands of organizations had been searched. "These inspections should be completed by the end of April and there will be a summary report generated by the Prosecutor-General's Office."

Chikov is also the head of the Russian nongovernmental organization Agora, which provides legal services to civic activists. He said inspectors were checking a wide variety of organizations.

"In Krasnodar Krai, for example, computers were seized from [nongovernmental] organizations. In several regions, they've been checking ethnic and cultural autonomies and religious organizations, "  "In Rostov Oblast, for instance, they inspected a Roman Catholic Church parish, and in Novosibirsk, police showed up at a mosque."

Chikov said the prosecutor general's office had ordered every region in Russia to check all religious, political, and social NGOs for violations of Russia's vaguely worded "extremism" law.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL that Washington has shared its concerns about the raid with Moscow and will "continue to keep in close contact with those organizations affected."

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2013, #04