“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #07
Russians support Kremlin-backed militants, but don’t want open war Russia justifies State-sponsored Abductions Whose war? No Sanctions Game Changer? Will the West sleep through this final wake-up call? The right to life
Crimean puppet regime seeks to amnesty thugs and abductors The right to liberty and security
CPJ: Attacks on journalists in Ukraine lead to information vacuum The right to a fair trial
Russian TV helps prosecution in Nadiya Savchenko case FSB on the hunt for new ‘suspects’ in the Sentsov ‘terrorism’ case Prohibition of discrimination
Luhansk pro-Russian militant ‘republic’ criminalizes homosexuality Social and economic rights
Crimean authorities get green light for forced purchase of private property On refugees
Further calls for veto of internally displaced persons law News from the CIS countries
Moscow court convicts Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev on ‘riots’ charges
Politics and human rights
Russians support Kremlin-backed militants, but don’t want open war
Russia’s authoritative Levada Centre has made public its latest public opinion survey which continues to show huge support for the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine. Since it also finds that for 94% of the population, television is their main source of information, this is probably not surprising,
The survey carried out from 18-21 July found that 64% closely follow events in Ukraine.
94% say that television is their main source of information which the Levada Centre itself says results in the respondents being totally convinced that they are being presented with an objective view of reality.
Asked whether they agreed that the Russian media are waging a propaganda information war against Ukraine. 15% said that yes, they agreed and approved of this, believing it justified by the situation in Ukraine; 10% said they agreed and consider the media policy to be dangerous and harmful; 58% are convinced that the Russian media give objective coverage (17% didn’t know).
Do you think that Ukraine’s leaders were correct to begin their anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine?
Hard to say
Do you agree or disagree with the following?
Petro Poroshenko, recently elected President of Ukraine is the legitimate leader of the country
Russia was forced to bring troops into the Crimea to prevent bloodshed
The referendum in the Crimea on joining Russia was legal
The referendum in Donbas on joining Russia was legal
Putin should have sent troops to the south-east of Ukraine
Participation by Russian volunteers in the activities of the militants in the south-east of Ukraine is entirely legal and justified
How do you think the majority of people in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts view the following ..
The latest actions by Ukraine’s leadership
The actions of the government forces and National Guard
The actions of the militants opposing the government forces and National Guard
The latest actions by Russia’s leadership
With respect to the key role played by television in forming public opinion in Russia, see, for example:
New low in Russia’s propaganda war where viewers heard graphic, and entirely fictitious, claims that the three-year-old son of a militant had been crucified and his mother tortured
Check your sources, Mr Lavrov where viewers were shown video footage from Fallujah (Iraq) in 2004 and told that this ‘proved’ that the Ukrainian military were using prohibited phosphorous bombs to destroy Semenivka near Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine
Such attempts to trick their audiences with footage from different conflicts altogether have been widely reported in Ukraine and abroad, but muffled by mainstream media sources in Russia
Russia Today’s “Genocide in Eastern Ukraine”: Sick, distorted and deleted The lies in this purported ‘documentary’ were so gross that the film was removed from the RT
The above have stood out, however it should be realized that they are part of a daily diet of biased coverage and downright lies. For most Russians there is also no alternative to this fare making it entirely realistic that a very large percentage simply don’t realize that they are being misled.
Russia justifies State-sponsored Abductions
The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee [IC] has promised that Russia will come and get all of those the IC suspects of crimes committed against Russians in Ukraine. Alexander Bastrykin not only warns that Russia will be willing to abduct people from Ukraine, but suggests that it will be following other countries’ example in doing so. And exercising “the right history gives us to carry out an investigation.”
In short, Interpol be warned: we’ll get our suspects with or without you. This brash message coincides with news that Dmitriy [Dmytro] Yarosh, head of the Ukrainian nationalist party Right Sector, has been placed on Interpol’s wanted list. Russia is seeking to prosecute him for “1) Public incitement to terrorist activities involving the use of mass media; 2) Public incitement to extremist activities involving the use of mass media”.
The criminal investigation dates back to March 3 when the IC stated that Yarosh is suspected of “publicly calling anti-Russian forces to extremist action and terror on Russian territory”. This came after the Russian pro-Kremlin TV channel LifeNews claimed on March 1 that Yarosh had made an appeal for help to the Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov This claim was rejected the following day by the Right Sector press secretary Artem Skoropadsky who explained that a social network VKontakte account had been hacked, and that the fake had appeared during this period.
The denial, coming so soon after the allegations, seems credible if only because it renders the appeal senseless. Even were the claim to be substantiated, the charges would probably be deemed grounds enough to prompt any country to agree to extradite Yarosh to Russia.
It should first be noted that Bastrykin’s use of the future sense was less than honest, since Russian investigators have already played a direct role in the abduction of one Ukrainian national. Nadya Savchenko, a helicoptor pilot, was taken prisoner by Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine, but is now facing prosecution in Russia. The Russian investigators’ explanation for how Savchenko appeared in Russian detention lacks any credibility and has been refuted by the Ukrainian officer herself.
Bastrykin, who studied with Putin, and has spent periods as a professor of law, told members of the Investigative Committee that the Russian law enforcement bodies could resort to illicit measures to abduct Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk Igor Kolomoisky and Yarosh and bring them to Russia for investigation and trial. Fontanka.ru reports Bastrykin as considering it legitimate to bring people by force whom Russia suspects of using prohibited methods of war; of making public calls to terrorism; and of killing Russian journalists.
Bastrykin created a special department for investigating alleged crimes in Ukraine back in March with dozens of investigators helped by units from all regions where residents of Ukraine are arriving.
“The department will function until all Ukrainian soldiers and nationalists committing crimes against peaceful citizens face criminal prosecution. The fascists in 1941 didn’t think that it would end that way. It ended very badly. History gives us the right to carry out criminal investigations. There will soon be new arrests”, Bastrykin promised. He suggested that in the near future “additional legislative mechanisms enabling us to effectively detain foreign nationals hiding from Russian justice on the territory of another country will need to be drawn up”.
Bastrykin mentioned various changes needed to the criminal code, etc., then claimed that in all this “we need to follow the example of American and European colleagues and create a mechanism for working in such situations”.
Fontanka.ru spoke with Alexander Afanasyev, a lawyer who studied together with Bastrykin and Putin. He supports the idea of illicit operations to apprehend foreign nationals and bring them to Russia.
“Let our parachutists catch Yarosh and Turchynov [Oleksandr Turchynov, parliamentary speaker and for three months acting president – HC] We must protect our citizens. After all the Americans flew to Panama, brought the president to Florida, tried him and no problem”. Yes, the special units are outside the law for foreign countries, but who cares?
“If we give up Novorossiya, the Crimea will be next. The Israelis in 1960 abducted Nazi war criminal Eichmann”.
Mention of Adolf Eichmann who played a direct role in the mass deportation and killing of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for illicit – and possibly wholesale - abductions is thoroughly offensive. Unfortunately, there are other examples where Israel in particular, but not only, have simply abducted people they wished to prosecute, and Russia will certainly use this for what it’s worth in defending their right to such activities.
Fontanka.ru notes that Ukraine’s authorities have also taken to this idea. It quotes Anton Herashchenko, spokesperson for Ukraine’s interior ministry as saying that Ukraine also needs to ‘take Israel’s example” and create such special divisions.
It is worth noting that Russia refused to extradite Alexei Lugovoi, a former Security Service [FSB] officer whom the British wish to question over the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned with radioactive polonium. Not only was no attempt made to properly investigate the allegations against him in Russia, but he was soon afterwards elected to the State Duma and remains an MP now.
It is just possible that the words above from both Russian and Ukrainian officials can be viewed as rhetoric and not taken seriously. This is more difficult in Russia’s case for two reasons. Ukrainian officials may hanker after such powers, but are unlikely to have the means to gain them. Russia, on the contrary, has all the resources it needs to implement a policy of this nature. It is, in fact, doing so with its detention of Savchenko, as well as in the arrests and detention in Moscow of Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov and three other four Ukrainian nationals from the Crimea over an alleged ‘Right Sector terrorist plot”.
These two cases already give grounds for concern. So too does the constant barrage of allegations coming from both the Russian foreign ministry and Russian media, some of which are mentioned as grounds for prosecution – and presumably, also for abducting the suspects. These include the accusations that Ukraine’s army are using phosphorous bombs. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s demand that the UN consider the ‘evidence’ for this coincided with the use by Russia’s TV Zvezda of video footage supposed to be phosphorous bombs over the village of Semenivka near Slovyansk. The footage in fact showed the bombing of Fallujah [Iraq] in 2004. An enormous number of other fakes have been exposed, yet Russia continues presenting the same claims.
The prospects if Russia exercising its supposed ‘history-given right’ to chase and catch people it suspects of ‘crimes’ in Ukraine are truly daunting. Western countries who have seen the allegations made since the shooting down by Kremlin-backed militants of MH17 and the relentless anti-US rhetoric over recent months might like to consider the implications for their own citizens as well if this new policy were to be followed.
The shooting down of MH17 has led to harsh words used about both the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine and those behind them, but left terminology largely intact. With the western media still talking of ‘separatists’ and of a ‘civil war’ underway in Ukraine, it is worth noting the poignant words spoken by Said Ismagilov, Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine who is himself in Donetsk.
Asked how he would describe what is presently happening in Donetsk and in the Donetsk oblast, he replied:
“I can’t even understand what is happening. Who could tell me! Heavy military technology with Russian flags is passing through city streets, together with a large number of armed soldiers. There is constant military action. It’s very audible and visible, and people are dying. It’s pretty difficult to formulate or give any classification for what’s really happening. People say that it’s more like an undeclared war. Because huge amounts of military technology and armed men are getting through from a neighbouring state and they are engaging in armed conflict with Ukrainian military units. This is happening in full view of residents. What classification do you give it? Here military experts should give their assessment, maybe politicians, maybe human rights and international organizations. <> A serious war is underway using Grad rocket systems, tanks, mortar, grenade launchers, you name it”.
The Kremlin and Russian media have assiduously pushed two different but related narratives. One is that Ukraine is in a state of civil war, the other that a ‘fascist regime in Kyiv’ is waging war against the people. The rhetoric has continued unabated regardless of the results of numerous public surveys and the unprecedented victory in the presidential elections by Petro Poroshenko. Profound, if not fatal, division is assumed in the west also.
Differences there doubtless are, yet even the immediate silencing of Ukrainian media and imposition of Russian propaganda channels have not resulted in the militants , from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics [DPR, LPR, respectively] being seen as representatives of the people,. Slovyansk and Kramatorsk are returning to normal life after the militants fled and there are no signs that the residents want them back.
Religious intolerance from the militants’ official ideologues who acknowledge only the Russian Orthodox Church, the abduction of clergy and murder of four members of an evangelical church have probably only strengthened impressive solidarity seen among representatives of different faiths. This has been especially strong in Donetsk where Pastor Sergei Kosyak, Said Ismagilov and other religious figures have led a prayer marathon for the last 142 days.
In the same Radio Svoboda interview, Said Ismagilov was adamant that the majority of Muslims in the Donetsk oblast support Ukraine, and that there would only be a minority who side with the DPR. Asked if he is aware of pressure from the DPR on Muslims, he answered that he himself had not been targeted, but noted that the situation was difficult for members of other faiths. “It’s hard to feel calm and confident when representatives of other faiths are abducted, when pressure is put on them. The Donetsk Christian University was seized in the last few days, everybody was thrown out and armed formations moved in.”
Separatist or terrorists?
Western media preface any use of the term anti-terrorist operation with the words that this is how the Ukrainian government calls its operation against the Kremlin-backed militants. Even the shooting down by militants of a Malaysian airline has not led to a readjustment of terms. The logic is presumably that they did it ‘by accident’ believing that they were ‘only’ shooting down a Ukrainian military transport plane.
The so-called separatists have in general not been locals. In Slovyansk they had to ask how to get to the central square of the city, while another lot dazzled in Kharkiv by mistaking the opera house for the regional administration building they wanted to storm. A very large number of those fighting are Russian nationals, and Moscow has long abandoned attempts to rely on home-grown ‘separatists’ to front the so-called ‘republics’. The DPR leaders, for example, include Russian ‘defence minister’, Igor Girkin [Strelkov], believed to be a GRU military intelligence man, Alexander Borodai, a Russian PR manager and the new ‘deputy prime minister’ Vladimir Antjufeev, former head of the KGB of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria which is politically and economically supported by Moscow.
Most of this has been reported countless times, and will be so again, with seemingly no impact on the terminology used.
The presentation of those fighting as ‘separatists’ is not swayed either by the overtly terrorist or simply criminal activities that the militants are currently involved in.
As of July 24 two priests are still held hostage: Father Yury Ivanov (Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate) and Father Viktor Wąsowicz, a Polish Roman Catholic priest from Horlivka. The number of journalists, civic activists and simply members of the public taken hostage is much higher and ongoing. Four deacons and members of a church, Horlivka deputy Volodymyr Rybak, 19-year-old student Yury Popravko and others were tortured before being murdered. An unmarked grave was uncovered on July 24 in Slovyansk which may well hold the remains of people killed for alleged help to the Ukrainian military, etc.
Much of the hostage-taking appears to be linked with banal extortion, or – as with the abduction of up to 9 African students from Luhansk and many other young men – for use as physical labour or live shields.
The elaborate performance in which the Russian Vostok battalion was deployed to ‘clean up’ the Donetsk militants on May 29 was for the cameras only. The militants have actively plundered and robbed civilians, shopping complexes and ‘confiscated’ Privatbank in Donetsk. On July 23, for example, the supermarket Varus and shopping centre Donetsk City were cleaned out by the ‘militants’. Said Ismagilov writes that the saddest show was enacted against 8-10 Indians selling mobile phones in small shops. They were shoved out onto the street with automatic rifles pointed at them. The Indians shouted something to each other in their own language, and received a torrent of foul language from the militants and demand that they speak Russian. Their whereabouts now are unknown.
In the meantime western countries who have clearly recognized Moscow’s very major role in providing the arms and military technology, men and training for this artificially manufactured unrest, are continuing to ‘consider’ tough measures which they may just set to paper before heading off for their summer vacation.
No Sanctions Game Changer?
Tough words and stern warnings from the EU leaders that followed the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17 resulted in yet more tough words and imprecise warnings at Tuesday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers. This is despite unequivocal reports from the US Department of State squarely placing the blame with Kremlin-backed militants and demonstrating that these militants have been armed and trained by Moscow. In spite also of preliminary reports suggesting that evidence from the crash had been doctored after the militants blocked access to the crash site.
The only hard result from Tuesday’s meeting was an agreement that ‘more names and companies’ will be added to the existing blacklist. The last addition to this list consisted of several militants whose travel plans are unlikely to be disturbed by a ban on entry to EU countries and who probably don’t have assets to be frozen. The new names may – or may not – include people closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The foreign ministers also gave Russia a window of several days to withdraw its support from the militants or “face sanctions on its financial, high-tech and defense industries”.
This sounds serious until one takes a closer look at the demands: that Russia “stops the flow of weapons to eastern Ukraine; withdraws its "additional troops" from the Ukrainian border and uses its influence on pro-Russian separatists to grant international investigators full access to the crash site of flight MH17; and fully co-operates with the investigators”.
Russia failed to use its undoubted influence with the militants from the point when the plane crashed on Thursday, July 17, until late Sunday, July 20. Influence as in “aimed at stopping the militants’ overt obstruction of investigation”. International observers have reported seeing militants using a diesel-powered saw to cut through the cockpit and part of the first-class cabin, and say that major changes are now evident. While such interference could be needed to retrieve bodies, the plane’s body was tampered with at a time when the militants were preventing the bodies from being recovered. It therefore seems much more likely that it was prompted by a wish to conceal evidence enabling clear identification of the missile used to down the plane.
There are also reports, backed by video footage, of the militants taking the Buk surface to air missile complex, believed to have been used to shoot down MH17, across the border into Russia after the crash.
With the victims’ bodies, the black boxes and site finally handed over to international investigators, there is little left for Russia to either support or obstruct, making a show of compliance with the EU foreign ministers’ demands easy enough.
Actual compliance will also depend on another factor which the EU is unfortunately unlikely to take into consideration. Some bizarre conspiracy stories have been pushed by the Russian media over the last few days. They should not, however, distract attention from more insidious efforts already underway in Russia and, via the Kremlin’s media voice, Russia Today and other less official voices, in the West. Problems and 'unanswered questions' which the West is allegedly ‘refusing to see’ will be foisted onto people over the following months. Since any comprehensive investigation of the crash is likely to take time, this presentation of apparent ‘discrepancies’ and ‘suspicious silence’ may well convince a part of the audience that it is the “West’s” version that should not be trusted.
Putin has already promised or even withdrawn troops from the border in order to avert previous threats of sanctions. It is not inconceivable that such troop movements are partly intended to enable apparent ‘concessions’.
This leaves evidence that Russia has stopped the flow of weapons to eastern Ukraine. So many men, together with heavy artillery and arms, have already been brought into Ukraine that a temporary cessation would probably make little difference, however there is also another point of concern with respect to this condition.
In the last few days, US State Secretary John Kerry informed that the US was aware one month ago of “a convoy of about 150 vehicles moved several weeks ago from Russia to eastern Ukraine. The military equipment included "multiple rocket launchers”. It is inconceivable that the USA did not inform its European partners of this build-up. Yet as recently as July 11 the EU was prepared to do no more than add 11 names, mainly of Kremlin-backed militants to its ‘blacklist’ for travel restrictions and assets freezes.
France’s President Francois Hollande has claimed that the first Mistral war ship it is providing to Russia and training Russians to use has already been sold and must be delivered. He states only that he will consider cancelling the sale of the second Mistral “if the EU decides to expand its sanctions against Russia”.
The measures apparently under consideration do sound serious. The EU commission and the European External Action Service have been asked “to finalise the preparatory work on possible targeted measures and to present proposals for taking action including access to capital markets, defence, dual use goods and sensitive technology including in the energy sector”.
All are to be prepared, however, “in case” Russia does not comply with demands which it manifestly failed to comply with when they were of critical and immediate importance. An arms embargo will not be retroactive, meaning that at least one Mistral war ship will definitely be delivered, and France will only agree to cancel the second if the EU can finally muster a united approach. The world watched appalled and ashamed as militants, who had originally boasted of shooting down a Ukrainian plane, demonstrated monstrous disrespect for the victims of the disaster. Any attempts even now to drag out imposition of long overdue hard-hitting sanctions would also be an affront to those who died. And a dangerous message to the Kremlin that all limits are there to be stretched
Reportedly, the Buk SAM complex being taken into Russia
Will the West sleep through this final wake-up call?
Western media sources have widely reported attempts by Russian pro-Kremlin media to deflect the blame for the Malaysian airliner disaster as being bizarre and grotesque. This they are, however they remain dangerously effective, especially against a background of western inaction.
As of late Sunday evening, the black boxes and other crucial evidence from the MH17 disaster were in Kremlin-backed militants’ hands and many of the bodies had still not been recovered. The man known to have direct control over the militants, Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been quoted incessantly on Russian media expressing willingness to help the investigation but had done nothing. Noises had been made by western countries about ‘considering new sanctions’, but there had also been the old mantra from the foreign secretaries of France, Germany and Poland about “paving the way for a solution to all disputed issues through true dialogue”. France’s sale of Mistral war ships to Russia was still on track, and no other specific measures had been indicated.
This is despite the damning report issued on July 20 by the US State Department which stated that it considered the flight to be “likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory” and that “over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine. Last weekend, Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles including tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers to the separatists”
With the area under militant control, and the need to retrieve the bodies of victims paramount, the situation was clearly sensitive, however time is solely on the Kremlin’s side and by Sunday any delay fatal. The militants have had the opportunity to tamper with and in other ways compromise vital evidence. Their very behaviour incriminates them and their Kremlin patrons, yet compromised proof could mean that future conclusions will still require words such as ‘likely’. As memories fade, and they always do, this is no small matter. The first of a likely stream of articles placing the blame for the tragedy on the EU has already appeared in a UK publication and more can be expected to claim the USA to be responsible, NATO, the West, or, of course, ‘fascists’ in Ukraine. The western media practice of only saying that a person committed a crime if he or she has been convicted by a court is in principle correct. Yet what do you do when those almost certainly guilty are seen to be preventing access to the evidence? The answer now, provided by political leaders when the images of the victims and of the monstrous behaviour of the militants are so vivid in our minds, is easy. This will be quite different in months and years to come.
In the meantime, Russian media has carefully expunged its most incriminating video footage presenting the crashed MH17 as another downed Ukrainian military plane. This had been reported by the militants minutes before it became clear that the plane in question was a passenger plane.
The Russian media are also assiduously doctoring other evidence and going all out to suggest that the Ukrainian authorities or the west generally are interested in delaying a proper investigation. In a report entitled “International experts are not in a hurry to get to the Boeing 777 crash site”, Rossiya 24 effectively turned the entire situation on its head. Alexander Borodai, the Russian PR manager cum ‘prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic was quoted “unable to understand” why the international experts were not already there when time was of the essence. It is difficult to remain calm hearing such cynical distortions, including those lavishly laid on by the Russian Foreign Ministry, but they do warrant the closest attention. The English-language version of Russia Today which is widely watched throughout the world is marginally more subtle but no less manipulative in its presentation of the same story entitled “Donetsk militia put MH17 bodies on train amidst concerns over international experts’ absence” While the report mentions criticism of those they call the ‘Donetsk militia’, the overall impression is undoubtedly that any delay is suspicious but nothing to do with the militants. Russia’s likely complicity is not mentioned at all.
The Kremlin-funded Russia Today is widely watched throughout the world. One step which could usefully be taken in the wake of this tragedy is to clearly determine the boundaries of freedom of speech. Such freedom cannot include a carte blanche to mislead the audience and this is precisely what Russia Today is doing. The channel was reported on July 17 to have removed its report of a Ukrainian military plane shot down. In so doing, Russia Today, LifeNews and a number of other Russian media were tampering with vital evidence of a crime.
The horror of what has happened is so immediate that Russian propaganda can seem offensive, yet too inappropriate to be dangerous. Few Ukrainians would agree after the lies told about the Odessa events on May 2, about supposed “fascists” being behind EuroMaidan or the overt lies in a supposed RT ‘documentary’ claiming that the Ukrainian military was committing genocide in eastern Ukraine.
There is another aspect, however, that should be borne in mind. In April 2010 Poland mourned the deaths in a plane crash of the President and 95 others, many highly respected figures in Polish society. They had been travelling to Russia for the seventieth anniversary of the Katyń Massacre carried out by the NKVD, on Stalin’s orders in 1940, making the poignancy of this tragedy unbearable. Four years later, following efforts by certain politicians, a worrying percentage of the Polish population believe that the plane crashed as the result of a bomb. There was a full investigation into the crash which happened in terrible visibility when trying to land. There is no proof of any explosion, and the ‘scientists’ roped in by the political opposition have been debunked, yet as many as 30 percent at one stage believed, against all evidence, that there was some truth in the claims.
This was in a country where the media is basically free and critical and no other power had any interest in supporting the explosion theory. Both the Kremlin and the State-controlled media in Russia have worked fulltime over the last few days to obscure and conceal the facts regarding the MH17 disaster. Russia has a major propaganda apparatus which extends far beyond its own borders, and at the moment there is every reason to believe that it will be deployed.
US President Barack Obama and others have spoken of the shooting-down of MH17 in an area controlled by Kremlin-armed and backed militants, many of whom are themselves Russian nationals, as a “wake-up call”. The west has slept through too many of these. The time for acting is now.
The right to life
Crimean puppet regime seeks to amnesty thugs and abductors
Crimea’s puppet government is seeking to remove any liability for the actions of the so-called ‘self-defence’ or paramilitary militia units in beating up and abducting people, or committing other violations, during the first month after Russia effectively invaded and annexed the Crimea.
A draft bill has been registered in the Crimean parliament entitled “On waiving prosecution of people for actions carried out in order to protect public order and defend the interests of the republic of the Crimea” following Russia’s occupation and annexation of the Crimea. It proposes to waive “sanctions, punishments, administrative or criminal liability” with respect to members of the militia, ‘insurgents’ and similar by declaring their actions during the period from Feb 25 to April 11 2014 to have been prompted by ‘extreme necessity’.
If passed, the amnesty will apply to those suspected or charged with offences during that period, or convicted of them. It will also ensure freedom from liability for those, like Sergei Aksyonov, head of the government installed at rifle-point on Feb 27, who were directly responsible for forming and encouraging the activities of the paramilitary units.
The Almenda Centre, quoted by Black Sea News, asked a Russian legal expert, Ivan Novikov for his comments.
He points out that international law does not impose any requirement on specific countries that they prosecute those guilty of rights abuses, however to avoid being found guilty of, for example, violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, a state must: 1) recognize the violation; 2) carry out an investigation and 3) provide proper compensation.
Such amnesties, according to the Russian Constitution, can only be applied by a court or a federal body, which the Crimean parliament is not.
Novikov also points out that torture or murder cannot under any circumstances be classified as acts of extreme necessity. He notes that the draft law does not allow for the victims receiving any compensation or guarantee that the offences will be investigated. It will therefore further strengthen the authorities’ confidence in their own impunity and make it more likely that such behaviour will be repeated.
Among the crimes committed during that period
The murder of Reshat Ametov
39-year-old Reshat Ametov’s body was found on March 15 with signs of torture. He had been abducted while holding a solitary picket in protest at the Russian occupation of the Crimea. There is video footage showing him being seized by men in camouflage gear.
The fact that this crime cannot fall under any amnesty unfortunately means little. Aksyonov has simply denied that militia were involved, and there is no evidence that the murder is being investigated.
There were constant abductions during this period, with some of those released, revealing harrowing accounts of how they were tortured.
Andriy Shchekun, a pro-Ukrainian activist, abducted together with Anatoly Kovalsky, was released on March 20 after disappearing before the so-called Crimean referendum. Shchekun was one of the worst treated, receiving shock pistol wounds to the arms and legs and being put in an electric chair. It is worth noting that Aksyonov effectively admitted that Shchekun and other activists had been abducted on his orders. He claimed, however, that the activist had not been abducted, but ‘detained’ prior to the March 16 ‘referendum’ for what he called “subversive activities”
There were innumerable beatings and other violence against pro-Ukrainian demonstrators or even people speaking Ukrainian in the streets.
Such militia on one particularly shameful occasion ‘defended public order’ against an 82-year-old lady in Feodosia who was trying to explain to the Russian soldiers who had invaded her homeland:
“We don’t need to be defended from anybody.
I’m not afraid.
You understand, fear is the psychology of a slave. “
The people around shouted her down, calling her a “provocateur, then one pushed her so roughly that he knocked her to the ground
The list of violations and crimes committed by those whom the Crimean occupation regime is planning to free from all liability is unfortunately much greater. .
The right to liberty and security
CPJ: Attacks on journalists in Ukraine lead to information vacuum
"There are no [independent] Ukrainian journalists left in Donetsk," said Aleksei Matsuka, chief editor of the regional news website Novosti Donbassa (News of Donbass). "They have fled the region since pro-Russia separatists started targeting and kidnapping reporters," Matsuka told CPJ during our brief meeting in Kiev.
Matsuka said that separatists--particularly those from among the local population--know many regional reporters, and have threatened and targeted them in retaliation for their coverage of the conflict with Ukrainian forces. Matsuka knows this firsthand. On an April night, he says, a security camera at Matsuka’s apartment building in Donetsk recorded an unidentified man approaching his car, pouring liquid on it, and torching it. Prior to that attack--which prompted Matsuka to flee Donetsk for Kiev--the journalist says he received numerous death threats and oneattempt on his life in connection with his reporting.
I visited Ukraine’s capital in early July on a CPJ fact-finding mission, and met Matsuka and more than a dozen other local and international reporters to learn firsthand of the press freedom conditions in the country. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis in November 2013, CPJ has documented frequent and wide-ranging press freedom abuses, including wholesale attacks on journalists in Kiev by anti-riot police; blocked broadcasting and targeting of local and international reporters during the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea; and numerous cases of obstruction, attacks, abductions, and even killings of journalists in the volatile eastern regions of Ukraine.
As is usually the case with press freedom violations, the ultimate victim is the public. I found that the ongoing attacks on journalists have resulted in a lack of information, leaving people on the ground--especially in the conflict areas and Crimea--in the dark about developments nearby. Those outside the conflict area often receive a distorted picture of the human toll of the ongoing conflict, and have limited understanding of people’s needs. Important news, including agreements to establish humanitarian corridors for refugees and progress in peace negotiations, might not reach people in the war zone.
In the eastern part of the country now, Matsuka told me, there are virtually no Ukrainian television or radio broadcasts; most of it was switched off and replaced by Russian television after separatists wrested control of the regional broadcasting center in April. Russian TV, meanwhile, has been accused of spreading lies about Ukraine, carrying Kremlin propaganda, and comparing Ukraine’s government to Nazis.
"They [the separatists] have thoroughly wiped clean the media, it was one of the first steps in the ongoing information war," Matsuka said.
His testimony was endorsed by other journalists with whom I spoke in Kiev.
"Separatists see Ukrainian reporters as enemy number one," said another local journalist, who was briefly detained by separatists while reporting in eastern Ukraine, and did not wish to be identified for security reasons. He is one of several journalists to be held by the separatists. Shortly before my trip to Kiev, journalist Anastasiya Stanko and cameraman Ilya Bezkorovainy, both with the Kiev-based online broadcaster Hromadske TV, were detained for two days in the eastern Lugansk region. Speaking about that incident, journalist Mustafa Nayem, their colleague at Hromadske TV, told me, "The separatists knew precisely who they were holding."
While the attacks and detentions on local reporters have kept Ukrainian journalists away, international correspondents can access both sides of the conflict, provided they obtain the required accreditation--denied to Ukrainian journalists--from the self-styled information ministries of the self-declared people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, freelancers working for international outlets told CPJ. This unequal treatment of reporters became most visible after the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17; only a limited number of Ukrainian journalists were able to access the site where the plane was shot down by a suspected missile, and in most cases they concealed their affiliation, local journalists told CPJ. (Last week, separatists in Donetsk issued a wholesale ban on journalists in the conflict area, including the MH17 crash site, and abducted a CNN fixer, though international broadcasters were still reporting from Donetsk on in the following days).
But while international journalists have better access, they told me that Americans are watched closely. In April, Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter with the New York-based news website Vice News, was detained by separatists for two days in the eastern city of Sloviansk. Following his release, Ostrovsky told CPJ that at the time of his detention at an improvised separatists’ checkpoint he saw a leaflet with his photograph on it.
Ukrainian authorities have also detained journalists, CPJ research shows; reporters and rights activists agree it’s a problem on both sides. But whereas, when dealing with detentions by Ukrainian authorities, journalists and activists know which state official to contact, there is not much clarity on how to address and deal with separatists. Another journalist who traveled to eastern Ukraine described conditions in the ranks of the separatists as anarchy, with armed men behaving according to their mood.
And Ukrainian authorities did not get much praise for their response to abductions by the separatists. Both local and foreign journalists told CPJ that the government does not seem to have a strategy for dealing with such cases. Many described it as "a complete mess," with no agency taking responsibility. According to various accounts, including official statements, separatists hold close to 400 hostages from among local residents. (The official statements say the hostages include three journalists, but they are not named; according to the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute of Mass Information, one journalist being held is Yuri Lelyavsky, a special correspondent for the Lviv-based ZIK media holding company.) There is little understanding of what is being done to free the hostages. A representative of Ukraine’s Council on National Security and Defense declined to comment; the National Security Service did not follow up a spokesman’s promise to respond to CPJ by email.
Sergei Lefter, a Ukrainian reporter with the Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation, spent 17 days in the separatists’ custody in Sloviansk. He told me in Kiev that to his knowledge, the Ukrainian government played little role in winning his release--it was made possible by activists, he said. Neither did the authorities rush to take his statement. Security services eventually got in touch with Lefter, he said, but to his surprise they asked him about the fate of other detainees, not his own case. He also encountered Ukrainian bureaucracy when trying to restore his passport, which had been confiscated by the separatists. "[Corrupt] generals were removed from power, but the system they built is still there," Lefter told CPJ.
Meanwhile, with the Ukrainian media subsumed by the conflict--local journalists often said they know someone fighting the separatists or killed in the conflict--and drawn into an information war with Russia, government actions, or lack thereof, are not receiving critical coverage in the press, journalists told CPJ. Instead of holding the Ukrainian government accountable for its actions, journalists said that many of their colleagues are siding with the authorities under the banner of war. While, unlike under the previous regime, there is no direct censorship, patriotic sentiment is affecting news coverage, local journalists and press freedom defenders told me.
The Institute of Mass Information and news website Telekritika are monitoringUkrainian media and both highlighted the problem of partiality during our meetings. So did activists with StopFake--a website run by a few journalists who volunteer their time to expose falsehoods spread by Russian and Ukrainian media about developments in the country. But while the watchdogs can discuss professional ethics and standards with local reporters, they said they lack the reach and power to counter the well-funded, wide-reaching propaganda machine of Russia, where independent media has been all but obliterated by the Kremlin.
I do not think they exaggerate the problem: During my stay in Kiev, Russian state-funded broadcaster Pervyi Kanal (Channel One) broadcast a story (still available on its website), featuring what they called a "refugee from Sloviansk." The woman allegedly told Russian journalists that she witnessed how Ukrainian soldiers, just after they recaptured Sloviansk from separatists, crucified a three year old boy and killed his mother by tying her to a tank and dragging her through the city’s main square. The soldiers forced Sloviansk residents to the square to witness the crime, the woman allegedly told Channel One. The Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta, one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Russia, sent a correspondent, whointerviewed Sloviansk residents on camera and could find no evidence or testimony to back up the woman’s claims. But the paper says its circulation is 231,700, and its online reach 12,437,491 visits a month; in contrast, Channel One boasts of an audience of 250 million people worldwide.
The plethora of Russian news outlets available in Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S., through Internet and cable networks, have been producing such stories since the protests in Kiev started in November, and there are no active media watchdogs in Russia to call out lapses in journalistic ethics. As such, pro-Kremlin outlets quickly jumped on the Malaysian Airlines plane crash to misinform their audience, Western journalists reported. Journalists I met in Kiev, both local and foreign, called on the international community to help counter this problem.
They also asked for close monitoring and reporting on the worsening climate for the media in Crimea, where attacks on the press that followed Russian annexation of the region in March pushed independent journalism to the brink of extinction. As a result of raids and attacks on local journalists and broadcasters, documented by CPJ, many reporters fled the region, often leaving relatives and belongings behind, CPJ was told in Kiev.
For example, staff members of Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya (Black Sea TV), an independent, popular broadcaster that aired programming throughout Crimea from its newsroom in the regional capital Simferopol, were forced to pack and leave for Kiev after pro-Russia authorities issued shutdown orders in early March, one of the journalists who fled told CPJ in Kiev. Like exiled reporters everywhere, the journalists were forced to leave behind property-including some reporting equipment in the old Simferopol newsroom, which they don’t expect to be able to retrieve, journalists said.
Ukrainian TV channels shared a similar fate--the new authorities shut off their broadcasts, and allocated their airwaves to Russian state TV. Seeing no prospects for doing business under a Russian government, many Ukrainian cable operators have closed their local offices and stopped serving the region. The few left behind, including ATR, a broadcaster owned by Crimean Tatars, and a few newspapers are forced to be cautious in their reporting, journalists said.
And, they said, this is just the beginning of a media and human rights crisis in Crimea: the multitude of draconian laws adopted by the Kremlin since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012 will take effect in Crimea on January 1, 2015. They will choke both the remaining media and civil society groups. "There is a need to monitor violations of all types of civil rights, not only press freedom, in Crimea, and the international community must do so on the ground," another exiled journalist exiled from the region told CPJ.
By Muzaffar Suleymanov/CPJ Europe and Central Asia Research Associate
The right to a fair trial
Russian TV helps prosecution in Nadiya Savchenko case
A Voronezh court on July 25 rejected Savchenko’s appeal against the court ruling remanding her in custody until August 31. She is likely to soon be transferred to the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. The judge was unmoved by the fact that the original court’s detention order, as well as the investigators documents, refer to the Donbas region of Ukraine as “the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics”. The latter are the Kremlin-backed militants’ self-proclaimed ‘republics’ which even Russia has not officially recognized.
It is likely that the fault for such a telling mistake lies with the Investigative Committee of Russia which has been initiating ‘criminal investigations’ with a distinctly political slant for many months now. The documents in question refer to a number of cases opened from May 30, including occasions where Russian journalists were, according to Ukraine detained for unacceptable activities and deported or, according to Russia ‘abducted’.
The defence had insisted that Savchenko be brought to the court and that the hearing be open. The latter application was allowed, however there was only video contact with Savchenko from her cell. Her lawyers’ application for a change of interpreter was also rejected, although there are clear grounds for concern that Savchenko’s words are being distorted. Savchenko, for example, said that she was abducted from Ukraine with this being translated as that she was caught in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian consul was only allowed to see Savchenko after numerous attempts, and is now being stopped from visiting her again. This could well be because he passed on her account of how she was abducted into Russia with a bag over her head and in handcuffs. The pretext, however, is that Savchenko has already had the second visit she is allowed each month.
The supposed ‘visit’ was from a LifeNews journalist who was permitted by the investigator to interview her.
The edited transcript remains on the channel’s website under the title: “The insurgents did not shoot down the Malaysian Boeing. LIfeNews took an exclusive interview of a woman who took part in a punitive operation in Ukraine and is now in the Voronezh SIZO”.
As during her interrogation by the militants who captured her around June 18, Savchenko is not cowered and denies all claims that she could have been involved in any way in the killing of unarmed journalists. There is no point in analysing particular parts of the interview since it seems likely that the tape has been carefully edited. There is a suspiciously short amount of time given to her abduction and how she ended up in Russia. Even Savchenko’s doubts about whether the militants could have shot down the plane should be treated with caution. They come after a month held captive first by the militants then in Russia. Any access to the news over recent weeks has therefore been via Russian TV channels whose distortion of information about the shooting-down of MH17 has itself made world headlines.
Even with manipulative editing, Savchenko creates a very good impression. Perhaps for that reason, LifeNews took another ‘exclusive’ interview, this time of Vladimir Markin from the Investigative Committee. This is entitled “Savchenko lived in Russia for two weeks before being detained” and begins with the presenter claiming that Savchenko when detained, “beat her breast, admitting “yes, I killed them, I killed them” and has now changed her tune. The interviewer’s very tone makes it clear that the audience should view all denials of guilt as an attempt now to wriggle out of trouble. Markin joins in claiming that ‘as one can see’, Savchenko contradicts herself at each point. In fact, one cannot see anything of the sort, and there is no evidence that Savchenko ever ‘confessed”
Markin first states that Savchenko did much more than simply point out the journalists’ whereabouts. When asked for more detail, however, he backtracks saying that other charges ‘are still being confirmed’. He asserts that Savchenko was in Russia for two weeks and doesn’t know ‘how she escaped’ from her militant captors. She was then, he claims, detained after she took a taxi dressed in camouflage gear. He can’t remember why the police patrol stopped the car, perhaps she didn’t have her seatbelt on, he suggests. He alleges she said that she was a refugee and had run away from Ukraine as she didn’t agree with the new authorities’ politics. The story is almost comically implausible, with the details clearly seen as less important than the overall task of discrediting Savchenko and casting doubt on her words.
LifeNews is focused on here since it provided ‘exclusive’ interviews, however the line taken is that presented by the Russian authorities and will be identical on all mainstream Russian media. Russians, and Ukrainians in those parts of eastern Ukraine still under militant control, have little chance of understanding how grossly they are being misled.
None of this, unfortunately, is new. Two left-wing activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzaev were convicted by a Moscow court last week of ‘organizing mass riots’ on May 6 2012. In October that year the Russian authorities abducted Razvozzhaev from Kyiv where he was in the process of applying for asylum and took him to Moscow. The charges laid against both men stem from allegations made, without corroboration or identification of the person supposed to have ‘exposed them’ in a scandalous ‘documentary’ entitled “Anatomy of Protest” on NTV.
The abduction in 2012 took place under the former president Viktor Yanukovych and almost certainly with the connivance of the Ukrainian authorities. Those days have gone. Savchenko is Ukrainian, was captured by the militants and handed over to the Russians against her will and is now facing charges that bear no scrutiny. The questions Russia’s investigators cannot answer urgently need to be asked – publicly and loudly. They should not stop until Nadiya Savchenko is released and back in Ukraine.
FSB on the hunt for new ‘suspects’ in the Sentsov ‘terrorism’ case
.Russia’s FSB has issued summonses to the heads of the Karman Art Centre whom they suspect of involvement in what they claim was a terrorist conspiracy organized by renowned Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov. The FSB seems to find first aid courses particularly ‘suspicious’.
As reported, Oleg Sentsov, and three other men, linked only by their active peaceful protest against Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, are in detention charged over supposed plans to carry out acts of terrorism.
The Centre for Journalist Investigations says that they were informed of this new turn by Halyna Dzhykayeva, the art centre’s director and actress. She left the Crimea as a result., and now explains that on July 17 she was phoned by FSB officers, one from Moscow, one local, who asked her to come in for questioning. They told her that she was in the case around Sentsov and the others as the organizer of a first aid course at the art centre.
“In the file there’s a phase that our director, Anton Romanov, went to meetings with Oleg Sentsov together with a group of actors. That’s in the file and now our actors and the Karman Art Centre are in danger because whether or not they were there is of no particular interest to the FSB.” Dzhykaeva says that in fact the actors did not go either to meetings with Sentsov or to the first aid lessons.
She has not been informed what the actual criminal case is and whether a criminal investigation against her has been initiated. She went to two such meetings with FSB officers and was supposed to have had the third on Friday, July 25.
The ‘link’ that the FSB have found with the art centre is over a first aid course which was initiated after armed soldiers without insignia first appeared in Simferopol [on Feb 27]. She was contacted by Gennady Afanasyev, one of the four men facing charges, who asked if he could hold the first aid course at the art centre.
Since there is this tenuous link with Afanasyev and the first aid course was held, “according to the FSB logic, we were planning mass riots, mass victims and are part of a terrorist organization.”
She believes that all actors and staff of the art centre, 15 people in all, are now in danger. She is concerned for all of them and mentions in particular the one minor among them. The FSB have noted that he has a photo on his VKontakte social network page where he has a toy pistol. “And that’s already suspicion of terrorist activity”.
Oleg Sentsov was arrested on May 10, though his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, says that the detention was only made formal the next day, after he had been subjected to torture.
It only became clear what the four men are charged with on May 30 when the FSB finally revealed details It claims that Sentsov; civic activist Alexander Kolchenko; Gennady Afanasyev and Alexei Chirny are members of a Right Sector ‘diversionary terrorist group’. Their main aim, or so the FSB version goes, was to carry out ‘diversionary-terrorist’ acts in Simferopol; Yalta and Sevastopol, and in the last of these to destroy a number of buildings, railway bridges and power lines.
The only action which appears to have actually taken place was that a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a Party of the Regions office. Although all men were arrested long after the alleged terrorist acts were supposed to have taken place.
All four men opposed Russia’s aggression and occupation of the Crimea. Kolchenko is also an environmental activist with pronounced left-wing views which make the accusation of involvement in a nationalist Right sector ‘plot’ especially implausible.
No less absurd is the suggestion that Sentsov who as well as gaining an international reputation as a secret film director, is also bringing up two young children by himself, should have master-minded the ‘plot’.
The fact that the other two men appear to have signed ‘confessions’ cannot be taken seriously since all four have indicated that they were physically and psychologically ill-treated in Simferopol, before being taken to the Lefortovo prison in Moscow.
Sentsov was, however, an active participant in AutoMaidan and an opponent of Russia’s land grab. Right Sector has been constantly demonized by the Kremlin and Russian media, and claims that they were involved in a terrorist plot did not, unfortunately, come as a surprise.
The cynicism, however, is extreme with four men who have no links with the party having been in detention since May. There were no terrorist actions, and the only ‘evidence’ is likely to be in confessions obtained under duress.
Prohibition of discrimination
Luhansk pro-Russian militant ‘republic’ criminalizes homosexuality
‘MP’s from the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic [LPR] are reported to have criminalized homosexuality, imposing a prison term from 2 to 5 years. Rape of a minor will carry the death penalty, as could homosexual relations with the use of violence or threats.
Although the sources of this information can be questioned, the report has not been officially refuted and it tallies with the accounts of a recent ‘parliamentary session’ The lack of certainty primarily concerns whether the changes have been formally made or only ‘voted upon’. Judging by reports from observers, the dividing line between formal and informal is in any case very thin, with ‘decisions’ by the LPR ‘parliament’ being taken by a show of hands.
The ‘parliamentary session’ was held on Sept 26 in Luhansk. The event was reported by Vsevolod Filimonenko who does not conceal his antagonism towards the LPR.
“Strange people in the hall who call themselves deputies [MPs] voting by raising their hand in favour of ensuring the rights of residents of the people’s republic in defence of their cultural, religious and moral values.”
Yury Khokhlov, an ex-communist party deputy of the regional council got up and promised a draft bill “On protection of the Christian values of the LPR from the negative influence of the customs of hostile states such as Ukraine, the European Union, Canada and the USA”.
This legislative opus was ‘voted on’ with a show of hands, which the self-styled parliamentarians appear to consider sufficient for people to be sent to prison or executed for homosexual acts. The LPR is clearly following the Donetsk militants who have already ‘introduced’ the death penalty.
It is disturbing that homosexuality should have got a mention at all when the infrastructure of a major part of the Luhansk oblast is in ruins, when people are not able to survive, etc. It is probably not surprising, however. The Ukrainian Choice party led by Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has also focused on homosexual marriages which it claimed on a billboard campaign in March would be the result of Ukraine becoming an associate member of the EU.
Typically, one of the websites that reported the criminalization is called Antifascist [misspelt in English] with a website devoted to attacking the Ukrainian government, army. Not to mention, of course, its moral degradation, namely the spread of homosexuality, etc. The report carries a picture in which the Ukrainian national trident symbol is inside gay pride rainbow colours. This, we should understand, is what intimacy with Europe and other dens of iniquity will mean for Ukraine. Except, of course, in the self-declared Luhansk people’s republic which has gone that notch further than Russia which has thus far only criminalized something it calls ‘propaganda of homosexuality’. For the source of the militants’ legislative skills and ‘traditional values’, we need look no further.
Social and economic rights
Crimean authorities get green light for forced purchase of private property
The Crimean parliament under Russian occupation has adopted a bill entitled ‘On the specific features of buying up strategic sites in the Republic of the Crimea”. This permits the regional authorities to forcibly purchase private property owned by individuals or legal entities. Experts believe that the wording of the document makes it possible for not only land or real estate to be covered, but any company.
RBC.ru reports that according to the law, sites / buildings “where circumstances have arisen threatening life, the public health, the state’s economic security; the normal functioning of vital buildings; manmade and environmental catastrophe” can be forcibly bought from the owner. The site or building only needs to be in a list drawn up by the peninsula’s council of ministers. Its owner must be informed about the beginning of the purchase procedure within 5 days; s/he is entitled to compensation as stipulated by the Crimean authorities on the basis of an assessment carried out by an independent valuer. The procedure for appealing against this assessment is not set out in the law.
There is also no definition of ‘strategic sites’. According to senior lawyer from the law firm Sameta, Konstantin Gurichev says that Russian legislation does not contain any provisions regarding purchase of strategic sites.
He explains that the Civil and Land Codes contain norms about purchase of land sites for state and municipal needs. An exhaustive list is provided, and the owner’s consent is needed. If this is not given, the authorities can seek compulsory purchase via the courts.
There are, however, other laws accelerating the procedure which were adopted for preparations to the Olympic Games in Sochi.
The lack of clarity with the new law makes it possible for the authorities to use it for the compulsory purchase not only of land, but of companies. Sergei Aksenov, who was installed in power when Russian invaded the Crimea on Feb 27, has already said that specific enterprises may face compulsory purchase.
It sounds as though the Crimea’s puppet government has leapt in before plans announced by Russia. As reported, the plans announced back on June 10 for making the Crimea a ‘special economic zone’ were seen as likely to lead to mass evictions. A fast-track compensation procedure was proposed which would inform people within seven days that a decision had been taken to forcibly remove their land. The owner would then have three months to agree to the compensation, otherwise the land would be removed through the court. The person then would have only 10 days to appeal. This time frame is totally unrealistic since valuation, assessment of damage, etc. would take a lot longer.
Owners are in any case likely to lose out if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans go ahead for the peninsula, as owners in Sochi did prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics.
One of the reasons behind the special economic zone is to entice super-rich people to the Crimea with all kinds of tax and other incentives, as well as preferential access to infrastructure. In order for that infrastructure to be built, ordinary Crimeans would end up without their homes. The compensation would be paid according to what somebody deemed the property to be worth before the infrastructure was developed, but they would most likely be buying at new astronomically higher prices.
It is now looking as though the main question is whether the puppet regime and its friends are going to leap in now, or whether Putin’s plan for an enticing playground for the super-elite can come off. The only thing not in question would seem to be that ordinary Crimeans are likely to be seriously worse off.
Further calls for veto of internally displaced persons law
Another appeal has been addressed to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, urging him to veto the law recently adopted on internally displaced persons.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Serhiy Kovalsky, one of the coordinators of a Coordination Council for organizations for internally displaced persons [IDP] believes that if the law is signed into force it could lead to ‘social catastrophe’.
“They’re against trying to con us. They’re again trying to economize on us, play for time, shift the responsibility to unidentified individuals”.
Olha Skrypnyk, head of the Civic Education Centre Almenda points out that the law contains a number of contradictory points. The term ‘forced migrant’ used for IDP is ambiguous and is not defined by international legislation.
The law also fails to ensure allocation of funding to help IDP and does not specify where people should go for help.
As reported, the law on the legal status of people forced to leave their homes because of the temporary occupation of the Crimea and the anti-terrorist operation in Donbas was passed on June 19.
The draft law adopted had only just been registered, unlike another law which had received public discussion, and its adoption in full was in breach of parliamentary regulations.
Law no. 4998-1 claim to be aimed at resolving the ever-increasing number of IDP. It unfortunately does nothing of the kind and human rights groups and activists working directly with people displaced have either demanded serious amendments or asked President Petro Poroshenko to veto it.
The bill only covers the Crimea and the areas where anti-terrorist operation are or have been carried out. There have already been terrorist attacks by the Kremlin-backed militants on railways, a railway bridge and others. If these become more serious and frequent, then people will surely begin fleeing their homes from those places as well.
The law claims to need no additional government spending which seems wildly unrealistic unless it was seen only as a smoke screen passed to pretend that the government was doing something. It also makes unwieldy demands, effectively requiring people who may have left their homes in great haste to ‘prove’ that they were displaced.
There are also a number of provisions which would be likely to lead to corruption or simply leave people without any help with accommodation since such help would be denied if the people do not agree to the place proposed. Such demands may be realistic if a person is fleeing for a week or two. They are not necessarily reasonable in the present situation where people have no idea when they will be able to return. In such a situation, they will clearly want to consider other factors, such as work or educational opportunities, etc. With the law in its current form, they go where sent, or face having to find a place to stay themselves.
News from the CIS countries
Moscow court convicts Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev on ‘riots’ charges
An ‘authorized protest’ was held outside the courtroom with around 20 protesters holding banners demanding freedom for the two men.
Leonid Razvozzhaev, the Russian asylum seeker abducted in Kyiv and taken to Moscow has been convicted, together with Left Front activist Sergei Udaltsov of ‘organizing mass riots”. Grani.ru reports Udaltsov’s statement in court that both men take a ‘patriotic stand’ with this clearly meaning for him support for annexation of the Crimea and the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine.
If this was intended to sway the court, it did not, but then acquittal in this seriously flawed case was not anticipated. The guilty verdict was announced by Moscow City Court judge Alexander Zamashnyuk on Thursday afternoon. The sentences are still to be announced, however the prosecutor has asked for 8 years for each man.
Whatever the men’s views, the charges against them, linked with the anti-Putin protests on Bolotnaya Square on May 6 2012, were clearly trumped up, and the case against Razvozzhaev showed frightening disregard for the rule of law.
Leonid Razvozzhaev was abducted in the middle of the day on Oct 17, 2012 when he left to get something to eat while completing his application for asylum at a Kyiv partner to the UNHCR partner. His cries for help were heard from the office, and he was 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. 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 UNHCR were swift in issuing a statement of protest. The Ukrainian authorities said nothing and never made any protest, nor did the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Valeria Lutkovska.
The authorities in Russia claimed that Razvozzhaev had “handed himself in” and “confessed” to organization of mass riots as per an anti-opposition film on the pro-Kremlin NTV channel. Razvozzhaev was able from the courtroom to shout that he had been tortured into ‘confessing’.
This may have been one of the reasons why a criminal investigation in Siberia over an alleged robbery in 1998 was reinstated. Razvozzhaev was for some time moved to Siberia, making access to him difficult.
These charges were later discarded as time-barred, however Razvozzhaev was also charged with illegally crossing the Russia-Ukraine border. This he denies and it did not coincide with the evidence from the Ukrainian authorities. None of this worried the court, and it would seem that he has been convicted on all counts.
Both men denied organizing mass riots and also disputed that such riots even took place. The repressive measures against participants in the protests on Bolotnaya Square were especially severe, with Vladimir Putin clearly deciding to come down heavily on those who came out onto the street to protest against his third term as president and elections widely seen as rigged.