war crimes in Ukraine

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Taras Zelenyak fined 4.5 thousand dollars

The Novosibirsk court found Zelenyak guilty of inciting inter-ethnic enmity on a Ukrainian forum site. It looks as though the defence may have decided to half admit “guilt” in an attempt to mitigate the sentence which could have been up to two years in prison. For mouthing off on a forum site …

On 16 July the Sovyetsky District Court in Novosibirsk fined Taras Zelenyak, accused of inciting inter-ethnic enmity on a Russian language forum of a Ukrainian website 130 thousand roubles. The news was reported first on «REGNUM.RU».

Zelenyak was accused of inciting hatred and enmity, and also denigrating the human dignity of a group of people on the grounds of nationality, language and origin.

In his final words, the defendant stated that it was possible there had been something unethical in his behaviour however he had never intended to incite inter-ethnic enmity.

Judge Tatyana Kashirina took Zelenyak’s partial admission of guilt and regret into consideration, as well as the lack of a criminal record, and ordered that he pay a fine of 130,000 roubles.

Defence lawyer Vladimir Melnikov said that he considers the statements made by his client on the forum site to have been “kitchen chat”. “There was nothing public about them. Public means I have to gather the public around”, he added.

At the same time, according to the Judge, around 50 people had taken part in the discussion on the forum.

The defence does not know yet whether it will appear against the ruling. “We will discuss it with Taras, taking all the circumstances into consideration, and decide what to do”, Mr Melnikov stated.

This case has been discussed here in detail (see the links below).  Very briefly, the criminal proceedings against 36-year-old resident of Novosibirsk, Taras Zelenyak were launched in February 2006 under Article 282 § 1 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“inciting ethnic, racial or religious enmity”) after the director of the company “First Mile”, the provider, approached the regional office of the FSB with a statement about worrying messages coming from Taras Zelenyak.

The investigators claimed that from January 2005, Zelenyak posted forum messages on a Ukrainian site which contacted the words “katsapy” and “moskali” [derogatory terms for Russians, but not obscene) offending Russians’ national dignity. He was also accused of having in all ways stressed “the natural superiority of the Ukrainian people over the Russian”.

In the computer removed from Zelenyak’s home, all texts attributed to him were found although he told journalists during the hearing break that he was not the author.

This case was the cause of animated discussion in Ukraine and at least among human rights defenders in Russia.  There were a number of reasons:

  • the very fact of this having been forum postings, and on a website located outside Russia;
  • the rather dubious grounds for the charges – reading the utterances made by some participant in the forum (not necessarily Zelenyak) one feels that they are “mouthing off” in questionable taste, however little more;
  • serious procedural irregularities during the search of Zelenyak’s home and confiscation of the computer on which it is alleged copies (!) of the sometimes very short forum entries were saved;
  • the fact that until this last hearing Zelenyak had consistently denied being the author of the utterances in question, and there seemed to be evidence suggesting that two or even more people had posted entries under the one username;
  • the extraordinary focus on minor bad taste when Runet – the Russian Internet – is teeming with virulent hate speak against a very large number of ethnic groups.

The list could be continued.  Doubtless these, as well as the campaign in support of Taras Zelenyak, had some impact, since in November a judge at the same court returned the case to the Prosecutor.  Unfortunately, one feels that the FSB, either themselves or due to instructions from above, were simply not prepared to let the case go.  They had after all mentioned on their website many months ago this case as a “success story” in fighting extremism.  The lack of any court ruling at the time was clearly not felt to be a problem.

It looks as though the defence may have decided to half admit “guilt” in an attempt to mitigate the sentence which could have been up to two years in prison.  For mouthing off on a forum site …

Halya Coynash

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