“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2013, #06
Political will missing on electoral code Politics and human rights
Why pay demonstrators if you can use administrative resource? Against torture and ill-treatment
Not just one trial The right to a fair trial
Moving Anti-Terrorist Targets Freedom of expression
Media Stockpiling Yanukovych and Azarov top the Enemies of the Press list Freedom of peaceful assembly
Ban on any peaceful assembly upheld The Police want to rewrite human rights activists’ freedom of peaceful assembly bill The right to health care
Another Kyiv SIZO detainee’s life in danger Environmental rights
Dnipropetrovsk Environmentalist hospitalized from toxic waste Children’s rights
Young people in conflict with the law also face torture or ill-treatment On refugees
Ukraine Security Services condemned for aiding abductions, disappearances and torture Ukraine in flagrant breach of commitments on refugees Interethnic relations
Anti-Semitic Mindsets Law enforcement agencies
Vradiyivka: Rule of Force rather than Rule of Law Vradiyivka residents storm police station after rape of young woman Police ruin their own image News from the CIS countries
OMON riot police storm Russian NGO For Human Rights A ’dark day’ for freedom of expression in Russia Levada Center, Russia’s Most Respected Pollster, Fears Closure
Political will missing on electoral code
Those in power are in no hurry to act on the recommendations of the Venice Commission and OSCE ODIHR regarding the need to adopt an Electoral Code, as well as to revoke the Law on National Referendum. Komersant Ukraine reports that members of the Venice Commission and OSCE have been told by the government and Party of the Regions that an electoral code will not be adopted, and that only a few amendments will be made to the referendum law.
The EU report on the roundtable is given below
An Electoral Code can be a tool to provide a solid regulatory framework for all types of elections and ensure protection of voting rights of Ukrainian citizens. This opinion was expressed by representatives of the EU, US, Venice Commission and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) at a round table hosted by the EU Delegation in Kyiv on June 20. They also stressed that the reform of electoral legislation is one of the benchmarks set by the EU on the way to the signature of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Opening the roundtable, Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, Ambassador Jan Tombiński said that electoral legislation should be adopted in “large consensus between different political forces, and between government, political parties and civil society.” He adds that the aim of the electoral legislation is to “ensure that the votes of all the voters are respected and reflected.”
US Ambassador John Tefft called Ukraine to ensure an “open and inclusive” electoral legislative process, involving the government, opposition, the civil society, and media. He reminded that Ukrainian 2012 parliamentary elections were criticised for the lack of the level playing field, caused by the abuse of administrative resources, non-transparent campaign and party financing, and the lack of balanced media coverage. The best way to resolve these drawbacks will be to adopt the Electoral Code building upon the draft developed in 2010, which “might be a good place to start, ” the Ambassador said. Speaking about the referendum law, he stressed that constitutional amendments “must be adopted pursuant to the procedures of the existing constitution, and not by popular initiative.”
Peter Paczolay, member of the Venice Commission and the President of the Constitutional Court of Hungary, reminded that last week the Venice Commission adopted two opinions: one on the Law on national referendum of Ukraine, and the other, jointly with the OSCE/ODIHR, on the country’s electoral laws. He reminded that the Venice Commission criticised the referendum law’s provision on constitutional amendment by popular initiative, which can bypass the role of the Verkhovna Rada, adding that this novelty can “undermine stability and legitimacy of the constitutional process in Ukraine”. Ukraine’s electoral legislation, despite introducing positive changes, still has important shortcomings, the expert said, pointing at the need to adopt a uniform electoral code, and reform the electoral system itself, specifically the current mixed system with single-mandate and proportional elements.
According to Jessie Pilgrim, ODIHR legal expert, Ukraine’s electoral legislation has improved over the past several years, but much remains to be done. Although the new legislative amendments improve considerably the “rules of the game” in the field for election actors, they still create barriers with regard towho is able get onto this field. The Joint Opinion of the Venice Commission and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights notes two significant limitations on the right to be elected: 1) 5-year residency requirement and 2) absolute prohibition of criminal convictions. Those limitations are “not acceptable, ” Pilgrim says. He also stressed the need to ensure the equal representation of women in Ukrainian elected bodies, adding that the adoption of a single Electoral Code can help to simplify the overly complex election field.
The roundtable was also attended by Ukrainian officials and politicians. Olena Lukash, Minister of Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers, Inna Yemelianova, Ukraine’s first deputy justice minister, Andriy Olefirov, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Zhanna Usenko-Chorna, deputy head of Central Election Commission, Vitaliy Klychko, the leader of the UDAR political party, Arseniy Yatseniuk, head of the political council of Batkivshchyna party , David Zhvania, MP from the Party of the Regions, and Yuriy Noyevyi, Head of analytical department of All-Ukrainian Movement “Svoboda”, exchanged their opinions about the major issues of Ukraine’s election legislation. Civil society experts Ihor Koliushko (Centre for Legal and Political Reforms) and Olga Ayvazovska (OPORA) also provided their assessments and criticisms of the new amendments to Ukrainian electoral legislation and referendum law.
Politics and human rights
Why pay demonstrators if you can use administrative resource?
Students and public sector workers complain that they are being forced to take part in political meetings. This, according to the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] can only be considered use of administrative resource.
A student from the Donetsk National University who did not wish to be named told Deutsche Welle that they had had their lectures cancelled, and been forced to attend an “antifascist rally” “You had to sign that you would attend, otherwise, they said, you’d let down the lecturer”. There had also been rumours that you could lose your student grant if you didn’t attend.
In another institute, the students say they were warned that attendance was compulsory by faculty deans. One of them explains that they all understood what the consequences for their future studies would be of not going.
People working in state enterprises speak of the same pressure. This included, for example, pressure to attend a rally in Donetsk officially called “antifascist” which demanded a ban of the VO Svoboda Party. Around 10 thousand were gathered from around the oblast.
Some students, however, have dared to complain to their deans over being forced to join rallies. They have also complained to human rights organizations as was confirmed to Deutsche Welle by the Head of the Donetsk branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Serhiy Tkachenko.
Deutsche Welle quotes officials who swear blind that such behaviour is at the initiative of individual lecturers.
Serhiy Tkachenko is convinced however that there is compulsion and says that there are plenty of complaints both from students, and from public sector workers. While it isn’t direct compulsion as in 2002-2004, it is clear that those in power see the public sector workers as being their own resource. The instructions, he says, come from above to ensure that meetings are well-attended., and nobody at local level wants to be seen not fulfilling these demands.
There is also danger in the creation of artificial causes, issues etc, like these “antifascist” demonstrations.
From the Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service report here
Against torture and ill-treatment
Not just one trial
In an interview otherwise unconstrained by considerations of accuracy, Prime Minister Azarov did get one thing right. It would indeed be unwarranted to link Ukraine’s European integration with one trial alone. The unique opportunity offered by the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement may be lost due to a number of unresolved issues, not only the politically motivated prosecution of the President’s main opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Analysts recently published their monitoring report on Ukraine’s (non-) implementation of the EU’s eleven criteria for signing the Agreement. They found that with respect to four, some degree of progress had been made, though not enough to meet EU requirements. On five criteria there had been minimal progress and on two – none.
Not that you’d get an inkling of this after ploughing your way through Azarov’s “interview”. This in itself goes some way to explaining why electoral reform and balanced media coverage are one of the criteria where no progress was found. On the media front there has in fact been noticeable regress over recent months. After persistent attempts by tax authorities, communications providers and others to crush or at least marginalize the relatively independent TVi channel, the latter’s owner suddenly changed. The situation remains unclear, but the results are already being seen with monitoring less than a month after the takeover finding that the number of news stories presented from different points of view had halved. Serhiy Lyovochkin, together with Dmytro Firtash, now own one of the main television channels TV Inter; Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov would also seem to be amassing media publications, and three heavyweight analytic publications, including Forbes Ukraine, have just been taken over by a young oligarch, Serhiy Kurchenko, with close links to those in power.
Follow all State-owned or otherwise controlled media and you’ll get only upbeat noises from Yanukovych and Azarov about the Association Agreement. The hope may be that the EU will feel worried enough about Russia to accept Tymoshenko’s departure “for treatment” to Germany as sufficient “implementation” of the 11 criteria.
This seems unlikely, but also highly unwise both for Ukraine and the EU. Put most ponderously, all criteria are vital for democracy and rule of law in Ukraine.
The latest media ownership upheavals are almost certainly aimed at ensuring “loyal” coverage as the Presidential elections approach. This means distortion or concealment of news unfavourable to the President and his people; the blocking of the political opposition, of criticism altogether. All of this has one end: to con as many voters as possible. Intransigence over regulating electoral legislation and the seriously dangerous law on referendums makes it abundantly clear that means of influencing the outcome of the Presidential – or any – elections will not stop there.
Nothing needs to be predicted since it’s all happening already. The use of hired thugs during the Party of the Regions’ “antifascist” stunt diverted attention from other, more standard, methods of obstructing protest and ensuring “support”. Traffic police and other aw enforcement bodies are regularly used to stop protesters reaching their destination while public sector workers and students report being forced to attend pro-government events.
It probably suits the current regime to pin the fate of the Association Agreement on Tymoshenko. Even back in 2011 discussions about response to clearly politically motivated prosecution of opposition leaders had a disturbing tendency to founder on people’s personal likes and dislikes. After two years of concentrated efforts to present the former Prime Minister as a criminal, failure to understand the real issues at stake is common.
These issues are most definitely not about one trial alone. Nor are they necessarily politically motivated. There are at least two other trials at present which graphically demonstrate dangerous degradation of law enforcement bodies and the courts and do so in the public domain.
Three young men have been remanded in custody (in SIZO) for almost three years now since a bomb blast in an Orthodox Church in Zaporizhya on 28 July 2010. The explosion, which killed an elderly nun, came exactly one year after a court ruling against the supermarket chain which had a land dispute with the Church.
Why this possible motive has been of no interest to the investigators and the court can best be understood by recalling President Yanukovych’s response to the bomb on national television the following day. The heads of the Security Service, Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General were effectively told to “find” the culprits within the week. The Interior Minister announced publically before the week was out that all the culprits were in custody, the crime solved, and that the enforcement officers involved would receive awards.
The first young man – a former sacristan of the Church - was taken into custody the next morning, though formally detained only 13 hours later, immediately prior to his first “confession”. Anton Kharitonov gave four confessions in total; his brother – Serhiy Dyomin – two. The second was made after explosives experts rubbished his confession that he had prepared the homemade explosive device. They and a third young man, also a sacristan of the Church, were interrogated without proper lawyers present and all have retracted their confessions, saying that they were extracted through torture, threats and other forms of pressure.
Two recognized forensic psychology institutes assessed the interrogations and found severe psychological pressure. Judge Minasov ordered a third assessment which denied any pressure. The judge then rejected the application to have all psychologists called to explain such diametrically opposite assessments. He paid no heed to flagrant infringements at the investigation stage, and did not batter an eyelid when, almost two years into the trial, the prosecution changed the indictment, removing among other things specification of time so that the alibi which all three young men had would not be a problem.
No investigation has been made into their allegations of torture or any of the other infringements. On the basis of seven confessions from three men and no other evidence, the investigators sent the case to court, the Prosecutor demanded 14 and 15 year sentences which the Judge duly passed down at the beginning of April.
The President’s “personal control” over this case back in July 2010 brought it to prominence. It remains well-known precisely because the three defendants are widely believed to be innocent yet their conviction and long sentences were expected from the outset. Politically motivated trials are a major threat to Ukraine’s democratic development and impediment to European integration. Yet so too is a case where justice itself is hostage to an order issued by the President on national television.
The right to a fair trial
Moving Anti-Terrorist Targets
Dnipropetrovsk, 27 April 2012 - the investigation, arrests and ongoing trial of those accused in connection with the bomb blasts arouse serious concern
A draft bill in Ukraine proposing real control over the Internet has apparently been shelved. The amendments to the notorious Public Morality Act would have made it possible to close down sites within 24 hours, and its scope for abuse was clear. Unfortunately, despite the unexpected thank you expressed by ruling party MP Oliynyk to journalists and the public, the likelihood that he withdrew it after being alerted to its dangers seems remote. A virtually identical bill had been proposed less than a year ago, and aroused the same opposition before being rejected. Both then and now public concentration on the “Internet bill” was at the expense of other legislative moves also manifestly warranting close attention.
The lack of interest in another bill at present is particularly baffling given its authorship. It is the latest legislative offering from Vitaly Zhuravsky whose attempt last year to recriminalize libel led to a major journalist campaign within Ukraine and expressions of concern from the international community.
Zhuravsky has now turned his attention to the “fight against terrorism” with his bill № 2219а registered at the same time as Oliynyk’s. It has passed almost unnoticed, as have a number of earlier moves extending the powers of the authorities without any clear understanding who it is that they are fighting.
The terminology in the new bill is just as woolly and vague as its predecessors, not to mention that classic of the genre – Ukraine’s Public Morality Act. The assertions about a supposed threat are openly manipulative and exaggerated. We are told in the explanatory note that “over recent years the propaganda of terrorist acts has become widespread. New Breiviks appear virtually every week in European countries”.
Zhuravsky is still hell-bent on imposing criminal liability but this time “for the propaganda and dissemination of the ideology of terrorism, as well as public incitement to carry out activities defined as terrorist”. In the draft bill itself he specifies that “the propaganda of the ideology of terrorism is to be understood as activity which involves the systematic dissemination and elaboration of the views of a certain community whose ideals are phenomena linked with the escalation of violence in the form of terrorist acts”.
It requires only scrutiny of the component parts of this definition to see that the scope for application is alarmingly broad. It becomes clearer why the authorities are so eager to “fight terrorism”. It is considerably less fathomable why there is so little attention to such attempts.
Zhuravsky is also proposing to add a paragraph to Article 258 of the Criminal Code (Terrorism). This offers total freedom from prosecution for a person who, although involved in preparing a terrorist act, voluntarily comes forward and informs the law enforcement bodies about it, “helping to avert an act of terrorism”. Even in countries with an independent judicial system and well-developed mechanisms of public scrutiny over law enforcement bodies, trust is not unlimited. A person’s voluntary rejection of a criminal plan is of course taken into account. However the possible consequences of a total guarantee of immunity from prosecution for reporting an alleged terrorist plan are terrifying.
At the beginning of November 2011 President Yanukovych stated that the opposition was amassing weapons and planning armed attacks on State authorities”. This seemingly shocking information coming just weeks after the regime’s main opponent had been sentenced to 7 years imprisonment was received by many with skepticism, and elicited challenges from the opposition to provide evidence. The police clearly had difficulty with proof and the media obligingly fell silent on the subject of “armed attacks”.
Not that those in power had any intention of forgetting such “threats”. Just three weeks later the President submitted a draft law on creating a new division within the SBU with new powers to defend the “legitimate interests of the State “in the information security sphere”. There was relatively little interest despite the obvious carte blanche for monitoring and blocking what somebody regarded as “subversive” or “dangerous” information.
Six months later we learned of a supposed “heightened terrorist threat” which the Security and Defence Council responded to with a Decision on Anti-Terrorist Measures in Ukraine from 25 May 2012. The Decision is disturbingly similar to analogous initiatives in the Russian Federation and states the following:
“The main reasons for terrorism are radicalism; extremism; politicization of issues concerning inter-ethnic, ethno-faith relations; the spread of public intolerance and confrontation, particularly with respect to socio-political relations … Radically disposed forces are attempting to use difficulties linked with the accumulation of many unresolved social problems for their narrow corporate aims.”
It would seem that the Ukrainian authorities have the same attitude to “information security” and “terrorism” as Humpty Dumpty to words. The woolly terms mean just what those in power need them to mean – no more, no less. The fight against them is equally specific.
On 12 September 2012 the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Instruction No. 672-r “On information-explanatory measures in the sphere of fighting terrorism”. This is aimed against “terrorist acts and actions which threaten public order” and enlists a formidable number of ministries and State departments, including the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee in ensuring the right public attitude to terrorism and State measures against it (English translation here)
We can only guess how some departments are implementing the instruction, but saw within a month how the State-controlled UTV-1 responded. The film “Adov Ad” about the bomb blasts in Dnipropetrovsk in April 2012 was shown twice during prime time a week before the parliamentary elections. The film’s clear message was that the authorities had caught the right men, probably averted even greater terrorist actions with a pronounced political flavour. The presenter openly claims that a major terrorist plan involving two of the men on trial and an opposition MP was narrowly averted. Despite provable distortion and downright lies, the Kyiv Court of Appeal in early June overturned a court ruling ordering the channel to retract defamatory statements about one of the accused men, Dmytro Reva. The Prosecutor is blocking criminal proceedings against the Security Service officer who just as demonstrably falsified the evidence against Reva used as grounds for remanding him in custody. The “anti-terrorist” role thus played by State television is manifestly dangerous.
The media are regularly fed – and unthinkingly regurgitate – stories about supposed terrorist threats averted, arrests etc. In the summer of 2012 a large number of Ukrainian Muslims were taken in for questioning, and two men were remanded in custody over highly nebulous charges of "extremism!.
In another case against three members of the extreme right Patriot of Ukraine organization who have been held in custody since August 2011, the young men appear to be accused of having planned to blow up a monument to Lenin which has long been dismantled.
Nobody expects the fight against terrorism to be open, however there must be some clarity as to who is viewed as presenting a danger. In Ukraine at present there is next to none. If passed, Zhuravsky’s draft law would heighten a much more immediate threat in Ukraine, that being of anti-terrorist measures becoming part of the arsenal of weapons used for propaganda purposes or against opponents of the regime.
Freedom of expression
Forget calendars, preparations for the 2015 Presidential elections are already underway. The latest in a series of media ownership changes can probably best be viewed as forward planning. There’s time enough for all the customary denials of any change in course or any interference in editorial policy to seem vindicated. There’ll also be ample time to ensure “proper” coverage during the election campaign. A government draft bill on ensuring transparency of media ownership, which would prohibit non-resident offshore ownership, has possibly been thrown in now to keep carping critics at bay.
Not a chance – the stakes for journalists, and all who want democracy in Ukraine are too high, and the assault on irritating pluralism and freedom of expression painfully obvious.
The last few months have seen a large number of media resources being bought by people considered close to President Yanukovych and his sons,
The latest upheaval came last week with the announcement on 17 June that the Ukrainian Media Holding [UMH’] had sold the Focus project (including the journal of this name) to the Ukrainian company Vertex United, owned by two men from Odessa – Boris Kaufman and Oleksander Granovsky. The real bombshell, however, came on Thursday night with two announcements on Forbes.ua. One informed that UMH (the owner of Forbes.ua, as well as Korrespondent and other publications] had sold the holding to SEPEK [or in Russian VETEK]. The new owner is thus Serhiy Kurchenko, a young oligarch with a football club, no links with the media world, but seemingly plenty with those close to the President, in particular the current First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov.
The second was effectively a letter of resignation from Forbes Chief Editor Volodymyr Fedorin. He writes that he considers the sale of Forbes Ukraine to be the end of the project as it has existed. He is convinced that the buyer has one or all of the following aims: to shut journalists up before the presidential elections; to whiten his own reputation and / or to use the publication for purposes that have nothing in common with media business.
Kurchenko’s assurances that he will not be interfering in editorial policy have been heard too many times over recent times to be convincing.
In February this year, for example, the Inter Media Holding, including one of the major nationwide channels TV Inter, was sold to Dmytro Firtash, and Serhiy Lyovochkin, Head of President Yanukovych’s Administration. From back in 2010 TV Inter, owned by Valery Khoroshkovsky had been up there with the State-owned UTV-1 for worst infringements of journalist standards and muffling of issues unflattering to those in power. This changed fairly dramatically after Khoroshkovsky left the government following the 2012 parliamentary elections. Thus far fears that the Inter buyout by two people loyal to the present regime will lead to a reversal in that progress have not been reflected in monitoring. On the other hand confidence is not inspired by the return of Yegor Benkedorf who from March 2010 oversaw the transformation of the State-owned UTV-1 into a propaganda mouthpiece for the regime.
Monitoring results after just one month under the controversial new ownership of TVi found that the number of news items shown from different points of view had halved.
Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov was rumoured to have bought out the TV channel Business in March. He is also believed to now own the publication Vzglyad though denies this. His example alone makes it quite clear why the draft law on transparent media ownership is for appearance only and will not help to find out who is pulling media strings.
Demoralization among journalists is palpable, and confidence in reassuring noises about non-interference minimal. Nor have the country’s present leaders given any grounds for optimism. Within months of the change in leadership in 2010, most national television channels had become alarmingly bland, lacking in balance and with a formidable and ever-increasing list of muffled issues of public importance.
One of the first casualties was analysis on television programmes, together with presentation of different points of view. TVi was so popular with viewers, and constantly under fire from the authorities, precisely because it offered more analysis and hard-hitting journalist investigations. On the eve of Journalist Day in early June, a number of Ukrainian NGOs expressed concern that “all is being done to purge the media once and for all of isolated centres of independent thought, information, communication and broadcasting, and to intimidate journalists”.
It does not seem accidental that the latest media buyout concerns three socio-political publications providing analysis, sometimes hard-hitting criticism of those in power.
Forbes Inc. which issued a licence to UMH for Forbes Ukraine has a reputation to protect and will be watching developments closely. Others should do so as well, and not just for a month or two. This is not the way you fight democratic elections.
Yanukovych and Azarov top the Enemies of the Press list
On Journalist Day the Institute of Mass Information and Independent Media Trade Union published their list of Press Enemies.
1. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov
As the Head of the Government – for artificial restriction of communication between ministers and journalists and as formal head of the Party of the Regions – for pressure on the media, censorship and obstruction at all levels.
Azarov was in second place on the list in 2010
2. President Viktor Yanukovych
In tenth place in 2009 for threats against Serhiy Leshchenko, Ukrainska Pravda journalist and for insisting that all questions were agreed in advance
3. Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko
4. Party of the Regions MP Vitaly Zhuravsky (nominal author of the libel law which proposed recriminalization of libel
5. First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov
Arbuzov is believed to be the owner of a media holding including a number of media channels and publications. He denies this.
6. Head of the Verkhovna Rada Office Valentyn Zaichuk
7. Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka
8 Opposition MP Mykola Knyazhytsky (former head of the independent channel TVi who supported the apparent seizure of the channel in late April.
9. Head of the State Security Department Serhiy Kulyk
10. General Director of the 1 + 1 Media Holding Oleksandr Tkachenko.
Freedom of peaceful assembly
Ban on any peaceful assembly upheld
The Kyiv Court of Appeal on 20 June 2013 upheld a court order banning any peaceful protest outside the Prosecutor General’s Office.
A number of NGOs had lodged the appeal over a ruling from the District Administrative Court in Kyiv on 28 February. This ruling was in response to an application from the Kyiv City State Administration and banned any meetings at all outside the Prosecutor General’s Office for two months, from 1 March to 30 April 2013.
The arguments given for this ban included protecting the peace and quiet of residents in adjacent buildings, the educational process in the nearby school, as well as the claim that street protests disturbed the peace.
Perfectly peaceful protests thus banned included protests against illegal extradition of refugees; a demonstration in support of Vinnytsa Human Rights Group Coordinator, Dmytro Groisman; as well as against blanket bans on peaceful assembly.
The blanket ban meant that in each case the organizers of the planned protest were not even able to appear as parties, opposing the ban.
The NGOs plan to appeal against this new ruling to the High Administrative Court. If necessary, the Without Borders Project, one of the NGOs involved says, they will take this to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Police want to rewrite human rights activists’ freedom of peaceful assembly bill
A Stop Censorship protest with protesters donning Yanukovych masks
The Partnership “For Freedom of Peaceful Assembly” points out that information provided by the Deputy Interior Minister Viktor Ratushnyak regarding a ban on wearing masks in the draft bill on freedom of peaceful assembly is not correct. In the draft law prepared by human rights groups and put forward for MPs to table, there is no such ban. The circulation of such information from the police indicates the intention to supplement the draft law with amendments which violate human rights.
The ban on wearing masks does not comply with international standards, for example, item 98 of the Explanatory Note to the Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly adopted by the ODIHR / OSCE and Venice Commission. According to international standards, the wearing of masks may not be prohibited, and the police may demand that a mask be removed only if the person wearing it has committed an offence or is demonstrated a clear intent to commit such an action.
Members of the Partnership “For Freedom of Peaceful Assembly” are against the Interior Ministry’s initiative to issue an absolute ban on the use of masks during peaceful gatherings for the following reasons also:
it can make dramatized forms of peaceful assembly impossible. For example, participants in a protest may put on masks with the faces of politicians expressing in this way their attitude to them; or gas masks, protesting against torture by the police;
where tear gas is used, members of a gathering, like anybody else, must be able to protect their health by using means of individual protection.
Interior Ministry and Department of State Security officers do not usually have means of individual identification during peaceful gatherings. In the event of unlawful actions or inaction, the public are restricted in their possibility to identify the offender. Therefore such proposals from the Interior Ministry should be preceded by the introduction of individual badges and sewn on patches with first and last names, the name of a person’s department and rank on the staff of all officers of the Interior Ministry and Department of State Security involved in maintaining order during peaceful gatherings.
The Partnership “For Freedom of Peaceful Assembly” calls on all human rights organizations to unite in upholding the liberal text of the draft Law on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly where the law enforcement bodies try to introduce dangerous amendments.
The right to health care
Another Kyiv SIZO detainee’s life in danger
A person suffering from AIDS in advanced form has been detained and held in the Lukyanivsk SIZO in Kyiv. He could die from a simple cold if he does not receive proper medical care. At present S. lacks both proper medical care and decent nourishment. His case is under review and he therefore does not have to be held in detention.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Group is calling on the Penitentiary Service to have S. transferred to a medical institution for examination and proper medical treatment.
We are asking also that the law enforcement bodies and courts consider a different preventive measure, thus preventing further violation of Article 5 of the European Convention.
On 10 June the Prosecutor’s Office initiated a criminal investigation on the application of the mother of a detainee – Serhiy Demko – who died in the Lukyanivsk SIZO. The previous investigation was terminated by the police investigator on 18 April without a proper check having been carried out.
Serhiy’s mother wants those guilty punished and believes that this will help to save others.
KHPG points to infringements by representatives of the Interior Ministry; the Health Ministry; and Penitentiary Service. The police staff delayed in calling for an ambulance; the ambulance staff did not provide proper treatment, and the Penitentiary Service had failed to provide his methadone replacement therapy for the 14 days that he had been held in the SIZO.
As reported, Serhiy died during the night from 25 to 26 March in the Kyiv SIZO. Born in 1987, Serhiy had been on methadone replacement therapy since July 2012. He was arrested on 11 March as being on the wanted list and taken to the police station. After he told the police that he was on replacement therapy, he was sent straight to the SIZO and not held in the police temporary holding facilities.
Dnipropetrovsk Environmentalist hospitalized from toxic waste
A serious case of chemical poisoning has taken place in Krasnopolye, Dnipropetrovsk oblast, and once again it is environmentalists who are forced to sound the alarm.
Two weeks ago electrolytic which local residents had used to clean rust from car roofs and bumpers was spilt on the road. Now residents of the city are complaining that they feel ill, and Serhiy Petukhov, an environmentalist who took soil samples ended up in hospital with chemical poisoning.
He is thankfully better now and took part in a press conference on Wednesday to warn of the problem.
He explained that after a truck in the middle of the day poured the sizzling liquid straight onto the road, virtually all local residents have suffered ill health – tickling in the throat; difficulty in breathing and other signs of chemical poisoning.
Natalya Kozhyna, Head of the Environmental Organization “For Citizens’ Right to a Save Environment” said that when they arrived a few days later, there remained an unpleasant chemical smell in the air.
The soil samples from where the spill took place were sent for a chemical analysis in an independent laboratory. This found that the soil contained 5 times the norm for concentration of lead, phosphorous and nitrogen, as well as being far in excess of the norm for concentration of iron.
The analysis makes it possible to conclude that electrolyte with lime poured over it to reduce its acidity was spilt. This has led to considerable damage to car wheels, bumpers, and of course, people’s health.
There is a lake and canal near the place of the spill, with an unidentified white liquid apparing. Locals say that it’s virtually impossible to remain close because of the acrid smell and air. The water in the lake is gray and murky. It should be noted that this water flows into the Sura River where people swim and catch fish.
Locals suspect that a factory which processes used batteries is responsible for such serious contamination of the water and air. Back in 2008 700 people in Krasnopolye signed a petition saying that they were against such production in a residential area. There was no answer and the production was launched.
Now local residents are forced to breathe contaminated air and travel on roads covered in poison.
They want to see those responsible punished and are trying to draw the attention of the city and oblast authorities to the problem.
Young people in conflict with the law also face torture or ill-treatment
New research has been published on prevention of torture and ill-treatment of children and adolescents in conflict with the law in Ukraine.
The two studies – Torture and Ill-treatment of Children in Ukraine and The Rights of Children in Social Rehabilitation Institutions in Ukraine: Special Report on Implementation of the National Preventive Mechanism were prepared by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and Kharkiv Social Research Institute.
The reports found that children who have broken the law or are suspected of having broken the law face violence both when being detained and questioned (with the main aim being to get testimony, confessions) and in places of confinement. Physical violence is most often in the form of beating, however some of the kids spoke of torture through asphyxiation (gas mark or bag over the head) or blows using means that don’t leave obvious marks on the body.
The Head of the UNICEF Office in Ukraine, Yukio Mokyo said that UNICEF welcomes the creation of a National Preventive Mechanism as a step towards overcoming the problems linked with torture and ill-treatment. She added that the adoption of a Conception Framework for the Development of Juvenile Justice and the adoption of a new Criminal Prosecution Code would also help to observe children’s rights in the criminal justice system. She pointed out however, as shown by the research, that children are victims of physical violence; they’re illegally detained in police stations and forced into making confessions; left without legal assistance. She said that UNICEF urges Ukraine to take the measures need to ensure that all children who come into contact with the law are treated with respect; are not humiliated but helped to become active members of society in the future.
Around 100 minors serving sentences in special educational institutions or released from places of confinement were surveyed, as well as minors in social rehabilitation schools and colleges. One described how there were only police present, no parents, lawyer or other adults. One of the officers beat them and put handcuffs on him. He said he was held in handcuffs about half an hour and in the police station all day. One of his friends had a bag put over his head and was on one occasions hit so hard that he went flying into the wall.
The survey showed that when being detained and interrogated, violations were most often seen in the failure to inform relations about the detention and the minor’s whereabouts; not providing defence at the right time; beatings; threats; the creation of inhuman conditions.
Ill-treatment was also seen in many places of confinement – social rehabilitation schools and colleges; reception and distribution centres for minors; SIZO and prison colonies. However the mechanisms are missing which would enable children to complain of torture or ill-treatment.
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group pointed out that there are no special normative actis regarding minors in conflict with the law, regarding investigation of complaints of torture or ill-treatment; rules for the use of physical force; special means and weapons in respect to minors by all law enforcement bodies; rules for medical treatment; involvement in work in educational colonies. He says that these need to be drawn up in accordance with international standards and implemented.
In order to prevent torture or ill-treatment, the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner’s Office has created a National Preventive Mechanism [NPM] according to the model Ombudsperson +. That means that members of civic institutions concerned about people, including minors, will be able, after the relevant training, to carry out visits to places of confinement together with members of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner’s Secretariat. Regular visits to places of confinement will help to reduce and prevent abuse and violence against minors.
Denis Kobzin, Director of the Kharkiv Social Research Institute says that the NPM visits have shown that the social rehabilitation system in Ukraine is outdated and does not meet contemporary standards of humane treatment of children.
This, he says, is seen in everything – from the procedure for placing minors in places of confinement to the banal lack of a toilet on the premises. These factors, as well as the total ban on contact with the outside world creates serious risks for minors who can be there for months, sometimes years, leading to violations of children’s rights.
Valeria Lutkovska, Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner pointed to the need to introduce an effective system for prevention of offences by minors and reforming existing social rehabilitation institutions, humanizing institutions for re-educating minors who have overstepped the law. She said that her Secretariat’s monitoring had shown that the rights of minors in conflict with the law are not being fully observed in Ukraine.
Ukraine Security Services condemned for aiding abductions, disappearances and torture
Ismoil Bachajonov’s family campaigns to get justice after he died as a result of torture in detention in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 2011.
© Amnesty International/BHR
Amnesty International has published a new report entitled Return to Torture in Central Asia in which it accuses the security services of Russia, Ukraine and the Central Asian republics of colluding in the abduction, disappearance, unlawful transfer and torture of wanted individuals
In a press release issued on 3 July, it states that Return to torture: Extradition, forcible returns and removals to Central Asia exposes the ease with which Central Asian States are able to secure the return of individuals from other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). It is unusual for extradition requests to be rejected as good relations and the perceived mutual interest in combating terrorism are overwhelmingly privileged over the human rights of individuals wanted for extradition.
When the handover of wanted individuals is obstructed, for example by the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, cynical subversions of international law are employed to secure the transfer.
“Twenty years after the break up of the Soviet Union, old collegiate ties, common institutional cultures and the shared perception across the region of the threat from Islamist extremist groups bind together the successor institutions to the Soviet KGB, ” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.
“Old habits die hard. These renditions would not be possible without the complicity of public officials in the judicial and law enforcement structures. Nor would they be possible without CIS states wilfully disregarding the absolute ban on torture and their obligation not to return people to countries where they may be at risk of torture.”
In recent years several CIS nationals have been abducted by foreign security forces operating in Russia and forcibly returned to Central Asian countries, in spite of European Court of Human Rights’ rulings blocking their extradition until it could rule on the merits of their cases.
“The authorities protest innocence and ignorance about abduction cases but this lacks all credibility. It is virtually impossible for a wanted individual to disappear on release from a prison in one country and reappear shortly afterwards in prison in another, without the involvement – and close cooperation – of the secret services of both countries.”
There are numerous reports of the security services from one CIS country interrogating – and torturing – people in detention in another; clearly with the consent and cooperation of the security services of the latter.
There is overwhelming evidence of pervasive torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by regular police and security services in all five Central Asian states. Over the past two decades thousands of people across the region have said they have been arbitrarily detained and tortured or ill-treated in custody in order to extract a forced confession or money from relatives. Those detained on charges related to national security or “religious extremism” are particularly at risk.
Civil society activists, members of Islamist parties and Islamic groups and wealthy individuals who have fallen foul of the regimes are all at risk of being returned to countries where they may face torture, irrespective of their status as asylum-seekers or refugees and regardless of staying orders from the European Court of Human Rights.
“What is striking about the abductions, renditions and returns to torture in the former Soviet Union is that there is nothing secret about them. They have been exposed by countless European Court of Human Rights rulings and the findings of UN mechanisms. And yet, the silence of the international community is resounding, ” said Dalhuisen.
“This silence would appear to owe much to the fact that western governments maintain similar forms of cooperation with security and intelligence services all over the globe - including in the CIS - as part of their own counter-terrorism efforts. The net effect, however, is a dramatic challenge to the integrity of international human rights framework and the global prohibition of torture.”
Ukraine in flagrant breach of commitments on refugees
Refugees in Ukraine run up against corruption, can’t work, marry, look after children. These were some of the problems mentioned by the Coalition against Discrimination during a press club to mark International Refugee Day with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation.
During the discussion, Maxim Butkevych from the Without Borders Project of the Social Action Centre described the legal and social problems which refugees and asylum seekers encounter in Ukraine.
Natalya Hurzhiy from the Rokada Charity spoke of the unsatisfactory state of affairs regarding integration of refugees into Ukrainian society, and pointed out that this was seen in the uncertainty regarding the fate of the unique Integration Centre for Refugees in Kyiv which after many years is now on the verge of closure.
Anna Lenchovska, Executive Director of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine spoke of their experience in integrating the children of refugees in children’s camps – without any assistance from the government.
Maxim Butkevych pointed out that international organizations see Ukraine as a country which is dangerous for refugees. One of the main problems that asylum seekers encounter is an ineffective system for granting asylum. It’s often not clear what the basis is for this or that decision, why some are rejected, and others get refugee status. The procedure can take years. Throughout that entire period people are in Ukraine without ID documentation except for a paper from the Migration Service confirming that they’ve applied for refugee status. The paper is not enough to legally rent accommodation or get a job. You can’t even get married since you need to provide evidence that you’re not married already. Only the embassy of the country the person has fled from can provide that, and obviously the person won’t turn to them.
The organizers also exposed the myth that the government spends huge amounts on refuges. People working in this area say that the government doesn’t provide any assistance to asylum seekers. Only two temporary centres for refugees are maintained by the State. The vast majority of people seeking asylum live in cities, trying to find work, accommodation themselves, as well as dealing with registration and the police.
The only help from the State is a single payment of 17 UAH. Other assistance comes only from NGOs and international organizations.
According to the law, asylum seekers are entitled to work on a temporary basis according to rules stipulated by the Cabinet of Ministers. At least there should be such rules of procedure, but they don’t exist as yet. It’s therefore impossible to work legally and people who need to earn money to live become targets for police officers to extort money from.
Asylum seeks are also not entitled to free medical care. Therefore even if their children are ill, they can’t get care without money which they don’t have. This is in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which Ukraine has signed and ratified.
Despite isolated positive moves, the participants said, they have no grounds for optimism and stress that the granting of asylum in Ukraine is not a question of wish, but the state’s obligation in accordance with signed and ratified international conventions. It is time for the Ukrainian authorities to carry out their obligations and bring both legislation and practice into line with best international practice, or withdraw their adherence to the Convention, publically rejecting a fundamental human rights commitment.
Fights in parliament are brutally physical, but the political struggle outside parliament is considerably more manipulative
Problems, like prices, have a tendency to rise. Not always, however, and as well as decreasing, they can also mutate. This makes anti-Semitic mindsets of any kind especially dangerous and easily manipulated.
Perhaps evidence from other countries points to the “worldwide rise in anti-Semitism” widely reported from the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2012. It does not in Ukraine and it is frustrating that a different impression is created from media publications, all of them citing the US State Department.
When the statements about a worrying increase are backed with examples of anti-Semitic desecration of graves or memorials in Ukraine, the conclusion seems obvious.
Any such conclusion is, firstly, wrong. During the same 2012 period Viacheslav Likhachev who has been monitoring anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine for the past 10 years reported a decrease in anti-Semitism. Particularly because of the public statements following repugnant but isolated remarks by certain rightwing VO Svoboda Party members, Likhachev made a point of showing trends over the last 10 years. These were clearly downward.
It should be stressed that Likhachev’s report in no way speaks of bigotry and prejudice having been overcome, quite the contrary. However concentration on anti-Semitism misses the point and hides from view the large number of victims of xenophobic or discriminatory treatment both from certain members of the public and, unfortunately, from the authorities.
This increases victims’ vulnerability, while playing straight into the hands of those who are pushing for all it’s worth the line that Ukraine is seeing a surge in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism.
This would seem to be worth a lot to those seeking to distract their own disgruntled electorate and fight the political opposition. Such forms of political struggle are not new in Ukraine, where both the Party of the Regions and the Communists have long tried to present their opponents as fascists, Nazi collaborators, etc. However the drive to push these stereotypes over the last six months at least has been enormous, both within Ukraine and abroad. VO Svoboda’s 10% win in the elections is presented as somehow reflecting Ukrainians’ bigotry, innate anti-Semitism, etc. This is surely as unjustified as to believe that the 10% of the population who voted for the Communist Party (also a considerable increase) were drawn to its Stalinist rhetoric.
In times of hardship and political ferment voters hanker for easy answers which are willingly offered by parties who can make populist promises with relative impunity. It is also likely that VO Svoboda’s relative victory had a great deal to do with the measures weakening the position of the Ukrainian language since Yanukovych became President.
There is quite simply no evidence to suggest any increase in anti-Semitism or xenophobia, while the ruling Party of the Regions and VO Svoboda have shown equal enthusiasm for thoroughly homophobic legislative initiatives.
The above is confirmed by Josef Zisels, former political prisoner and Head of the Association of Jewish Organisations and Communities [Vaad] who has told Radio Svoboda that while anti-Semitism and xenophobia exist, they are by no means as bad as they are being painted by those trying to discredit the opposition. He says that Vaad will be contacting the US State Department to express their disagreement with inclusion of Ukraine in any list of countries where anti-Semitism is on the increase.
The warnings issued both from Vaad and from the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine of the danger of artificially inciting ethnic enmity and anti-Semitism should be heeded – both in Ukraine and beyond.
Law enforcement agencies
Vradiyivka: Rule of Force rather than Rule of Law
Events in Vradiyivka, the district centre of the Mykolaiv oblast with a population of 8 thousand have stirred up the entire country.
At midnight on 26 June two officers of the local police station – Lieutenant Dmytro Polishchuk and Capitan Yevhen Dryzhak – dragged a 29-year-old woman, Iryna Krashkova, who was returning from a discotheque, into a taxi, took her to a forest where they raped and savagely beat her, leaving her unconscious. They may have tried to kill her in order to conceal their crime. She was lucky however, came to, and when her attackers returned, they did not find her.
The woman got herself with enormous difficulty to the hospital, after several operations survived and named her attackers. On 30 June Polishchuk and the taxi driver Rizunenko were were arrested, but Dryzhak asserted that he had been on night duty in the police station at the time.
On 1 July hundreds of residents of the town arrived at the police station, angered by the fact that the swine was at large. Somebody noticed Dryzhak in the window and those outside began demanding his arrest. The number of people grew; they were not allowed in to the police station.
The police used teargas, after which during the night the angered Vradiyivka residents smashed all cars in front of the police station, stormed and seized the station. The police officers hid in the basement, and used guns. There were at least 10 shots with two Vradiyika residents receiving gunshot wounds.
On 2 July Dryzhak was arrested which slightly quietened people, and on 3 July both attackers were remanded in SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] on a court order. The District Prosecutor, Head of the Regional Police and the head of the police station have been dismissed. An Interior Ministry commission is working in Vradiyivka, while at the same time a criminal investigation has been opened on charges of hooliganism and deliberate damage to property. Although in my view the actions of the Vradiyivka residents can in no way be classified as hooliganism.
These events raise a number of important questions:
Have their already been two similar cases with women?
According to Vradiyivka residents and Mykolaiv human rights workers there have already been two similar cases with women in Vradiyivka,
In 2011 Alina Porkul, a 15-year-old young girl, was also raped, beaten to death and drowned. That crime has never been solved. 14 men were accused of the crime. 11 of them under torture confessed; three died and one committed suicide. Nobody has answered for these crimes. In winter 2012 the body was found of another woman who had been raped, and also beaten to death. That crime has also not been solved.
Vradiyivka residents recount a number of stories of murders, torture and ill-treatment by police officers. They have been asked to write statements about all such cases, however most don’t dear. Meanwhile police officers from the police station are in large numbers resigning.
Why did the people revolt?
There are, most regrettably, many similar cases, while such a reaction – seizure and storming of a police station are probably the first in all the years of independence. The small town where everybody has known each other for a long time was highly outraged by the flagrant injustice, and wish by the management of the police station to prevent Capitan Dryzhak facing liability for what was committed. Particularly since Vradiyivka residents really hated Dryzhak for his cruelty, brutality and boorish behaviour. The godson of the head of the Regional Police felt impunity, however for such a crime he definitely needed to be punished, yet they were letting him get off! Nobody believed that it would be possible to get a fair investigation and trial.
The certainty of the unfairness of state bodies has aroused and will arouse protests. It was this, among other things, that the phenomenon of the Orange Revolution was about – it was impossible to tolerate the lies, humiliating contempt and disregard for obvious facts. This is a totally natural reaction to injustice which people are certain of, and in such cases you can always expect such a vehement reaction. When the law doesn’t work, violence replaces it.
Will there be punishments for the storming of the police station?
There have already been a number of cases of physical resistance to excesses by the police. The whole country knows the story of Vitaly Zaporozhets from the village of Semypolky in the Kyiv oblast who in a state of uncontrolled emotion killed Major Mykola Symonenko who had personally beaten Vitaly and terrorized the entire village. Villagers stood up for him, yet Vitaly was sentenced to 14 years, with the court not taking the Major’s behaviour into account. However the court did acquit tractor driver Mykhailo Zhydenko from the village of Prosyane in the Kharkiv oblast who killed one of two police officers who arrived in his courtyard, beat him and demanded money.
The wish of the Interior Ministry management and Prosecutor’s Office to punish the residents of Vradiyivka for storming the police station is in the same way, in my opinion, clearly unjust. Obviously the destruction at the police station cannot be welcomed, however it should be recognized that the police through their inadequate actions and threats led people to a stage of extreme emotion. When, in the field of law enforcement instead of lawful actions, one observes total disregard for the law, it is impossible to agree with a purely formal application of the law.
Are such police needed?
A survey in 2012 regarding assessment of police activities (15 thousand respondents from all regions of Ukraine) carried out by the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research pointed to significant lack of openness by the police for the local community: over 50% of those asked know nothing about their district police officer; 75% - about the head of the police station.
Less than two thirds of the victims of crimes approach the police with 65% of these dissatisfied with how the police dealt with their case. 38.2% of crime victims did not turn to the police. Only a fourth of those surveyed described the work of the police as effective; 51.3% said that it was ineffective while 23.5% were undecided.
While the police continues to work for statistical records, it will resort to unlawful actions: falsify criminal cases; demand money; resort to violence; and see this as part of ordinary routine work. Impunity in these actions will generate a sense that all is allowed them and lead to such terrible stories as the Vradiyivka rape. The Police need to undergo reform as part of the reform of the entire system of criminal justice, yet even without reform the system for assessment of police work needs first and foremost to be changed, so that this assessment is not from statistical figures for fighting this or that crime, but the assessment of the activities of the police by local communities.
Vradiyivka residents storm police station after rape of young woman
According to reports on Monday evening more than a thousand residents of Vradiyivka stormed the local police station, angered over the rape of a young woman apparently with the participation of police officers. A report on the Interior Ministry site claimed that most of the people were in a state of inebriation, and that the police officer they were demanding be taken into custody had an alibi. It would seem the officers have barricaded themselves in the police station. There are reports that firearms and tear gas have been used against the protesters.
Earlier more than 300 people surrounded the district court demanding that those suspected of raping and seriously injuring a 29-year-old woman be remanded in custody. The court worked into the night and finally remanded for two months one police officer and a taxi driver. Another officer, understood to be the nephew of a local prosecutor, is at liberty. His whereabouts are being concealed.
A video has been widely circulated on social networks where the young woman, with her head in a bandage, and face badly beaten clearly identifies the above-mentioned people and accuses them of pulling her into the car and raping her.
From reports at http://novosti-n.mk.ua/news/read/54910.html, http://nikvesti.com/news/politics/43454 , Ukrainska Pravda and other sites
Police ruin their own image
Donetsk analysts and human rights workers concur in their view that the police are not coping with their law-defending function and are to blame for their bad image. In an April survey carried out by the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology, only 1% of respondents said that they fully trust the police.
Distrust is on the increase, and there is greater dissatisfaction with duty police officers in the East of the country, than in the West – 32% against 29%.
The image of the Donetsk police suffered the most during Euro-2012. Then Yury Belikov from Donetsk who was drinking beer in a public place was detained by the police. They beat him up and raped him with a stick, leaving him permanently disabled. Only one police officer in the trial at first instance level received a prison term for inhuman treatment.
Nor did the police demonstrate professionalism during the conference Tech Camp Donetsk 2.0 held with the support of the US Embassy in Ukraine. Then in April, around 100 aggressive people burst into the Isolation Art Centre where the event was taking place.
Head of Donetsk Memorial Oleksandr Bukalov periodically carries out monitoring trips to police stations and SIZO [remand centres]. He explains the low level of trust in police as being because their behaviour does not comply with elementary standards. People know from experience, he says, that it can be risky to end up in a police station. He adds that the police management protect their subordinates, since if they don’t within a few months there’ll be nobody left.
From a report at Radio Svoboda
News from the CIS countries
OMON riot police storm Russian NGO For Human Rights
We wont surrender
Late Friday evening Russian police took the offices of the human rights organization For Human Rights in the centre of Moscow by storm. Reports via twitter say that the head of the centre Lev Ponomaryov, as well as others who’d come to show support for the organization, were hurt as a result of the OMON officers’ rough treatment. According to the leader of the political party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, the FSB [Security Service] and OMON pushed Ponomaryov and him from the stairs. He said that they had hurt his arm and leg and that he was awaiting an ambulance.
Another member of the opposition reported that all members of the NGO had been taken out of the office by force.
Earlier, the police had not allowed the members of the NGO and Mitrokhin to leave. They also tried to stop the Human Rights Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin, the Moscow Ombudsperson, lawyers Karina Moskalenko and others from entering. Lukin was finally allowed in. he said later that the dispute needed to be resolved in court.
For Human Rights, a movement including over 120 human rights organizations working around the country has occupied the premises on Malaya Kislovskaya since 1997.
Lev Ponomaryov says that his organization has a dispute with the city authorities over lease, but that there were no legal grounds for evicting them. He told New Times that every 3 years he has had difficulties extending the lease and that at present they were paid up until the end of June. He says that he received no notification that the contract had been terminated.
During the day an attempt had been made to evict them. Ponomaryov and other members of the organization barricaded themselves inside.
Whatever the pretext, the actions on Friday night appear to be the latest part of a frightening attack on NGOs in Russia over recent months.
Information from Grani.ru, the BBC Russian Service and Radio Svoboda
A ’dark day’ for freedom of expression in Russia
Police officers detain gay rights activists outside Russia’s parliament. © VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images
In the space of mere hours, the Duma succeeded in adopting two pieces of legislation that testify to the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Russia. They represent a sorry attempt by the government to bolster its popularity by pandering to the most reactionary elements of Russian society – at the expense of fundamental rights and the expression of individual identities
John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International
The space for free expression in Russia shrank further on Tuesday 11 June after the State Duma in Moscow passed two new bills aimed at stamping out minority views, Amnesty International says.
Within hours of each other, the country’s lower house of Parliament passed bills to criminalize blasphemy and outlaw activism by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and their supporters.
The measures are expected to be approved in the near future by the upper house of Parliament and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
“In the space of mere hours, the Duma succeeded in adopting two pieces of legislation that testify to the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Russia. They represent a sorry attempt by the government to bolster its popularity by pandering to the most reactionary elements of Russian society – at the expense of fundamental rights and the expression of individual identities, ” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“These laws have no place on the statute books of modern, rights-respecting democracy. The bigger question right now is whether the current government has any interest in Russia becoming one.”
The first bill aims to amend the article in Russia’s Criminal Code on “obstruction of the right to freedom of conscience and religion”. It envisages a fine of up to RUB 500, 000 (over USD 15, 000) and up to three years of imprisonment for “public actions expressing manifest disrespect for society and committed to insult the religious feelings of believers” if these actions take place in committed in places of worship. If committed elsewhere, the offence carries up to a year of imprisonment and fine of up to RUB 300, 000.
This legislative assault on comes in the aftermath of last year’s trial and conviction of three members of the all-female Russian punk group Pussy Riot for “hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred” after they sang a protest song in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral.
The second bill approved by the Duma today would slap extortionate fines on those accused of promoting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among children. This includes penalties of up to RUB 5, 000 (US$150) for individuals, up to ten times that for officials, and up to RUB 1, 000, 000 (over US$30, 000) as well as possible three-month suspension of activities for organizations.
Ahead of the vote, some two dozen Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists engaged in a “kissing protest” outside the Duma. According to media reports, at least 20 were detained by police after being subjected to violence by homophobic counter-protesters.
Amnesty International has noted how the Russian authorities have been escalating their assault on freedom of expression in recent months.
“These bills reflect the Russian authorities’ determination to dictate what people can and cannot say in all areas of life, from the political to the social. They are a backward step that should set alarm bells ringing, ” said Dalhuisen.
Levada Center, Russia’s Most Respected Pollster, Fears Closure
Lev Gudkov, Director of the Levada Centre
Over the past decade, the Levada Center has forged a reputation as Russia’s most respected and independent pollster. Could it now be facing closure?
Prosecutors this week officially warned the polling agency that it is in breach of legislation requiring politically engaged NGOs that receive foreign funding to register as "foreign agents." The center acknowledges that a small portion of its budget comes from foreign sources. Prosecutors allege that its research constitutes "political activity."
The warning comes shortly after the Levada Center released polls showing President Vladimir Putin’s popularity falling, sparking allegations that the prosecutor’s move was politically motivated.
The Levada Center’s director, Lev Gudkov, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that the move threatens the pollster’s continued existence.
"[The center] is under threat of closure. In these circumstances, we cannot carry out independent research, " Gudkov says. "We need sources of financing. We finance our own programs and projects by redistributing money we earn in other spheres. But now under this widened interpretation [of the NGO law], any of our partnerships – even if we work with an organization represented here in Russia but which potentially has a foreign source of financing -- then we ourselves fall into the category of foreign agent."
Gudkov adds that the requirement that it register with the Justice Ministry as a "foreign agent" -- a loaded term that implies disloyalty or even treason -- puts the center in an "extremely difficult position." Prosecutors have "brought us to the brink of sanctions on the one hand and are undermining our authority and business reputation on the other, " he said.
Refused To Comply
The Levada Center is just the latest organization to fall afoul of Russia’s controversial NGO law.
In April, the electoral watchdog Golos, which was instrumental in exposing alleged voter fraud in the contested 2011 State Duma elections, became the first NGO to be fined for failing to declare foreign-agent status.
Numerous NGOs, most notably human rights organizations, have refused to comply with the law, arguing that rights work does not constitute "political activity." They say they will file suits in court before they register as foreign agents.
Critics of the legislation say that in labeling such organizations as "foreign agents, " the Kremlin is attempting to stigmatize them. The authorities, for example, used the same term to describe Ryan Fogle, a U.S. diplomat detained on suspicion of spying last week.
In a statement published on the Levada Center website, Gudkov wrote that foreign funding accounts for just 1.5 to 3 percent of the polling agency’s budget.
The Levada Center was established in 2003 by sociologists who left the state-owned All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, or VTsIOM, citing political pressure. It has since established a reputation as Russia’s most independent and reliable pollster.