war crimes in Ukraine

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Witch hunt over pro-EU protests

Halya Coynash
Ominous indicationOminous indications of heavy-handed methods, illegitimate demands for information and preposterous criminal proceedings aimed at intimidating local authorities, as well as individuals, protesting against the government’s about-turn on EU integration and brutal suppression of peaceful protest.

The above protest in Lutsk has already led to a number of criminal investigations 

There are ominous indications of heavy-handed methods from the prosecutor’s office and police aimed at intimidating local authorities, as well as individuals, protesting against the government’s about-turn on EU integration and brutal suppression of peaceful protest.  As well as illegitimate demands to provide information, we are also seeing criminal proceedings brought against people who burned portraits of the president, Viktor Yanukovych, or even simply carried them upside down as a form of protest.

The prosecutor’s office has begun examining local authority decisions taken in protest at the government’s rejection of EU integration and at the brutal dispersing of peaceful protesters on Nov 30.  Various local authorities responded by banning the use of Viktor Yanukovych’s portraits, by hanging EU flags on administration buildings; and calling for a strike.

The newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya cites a source in the Kyiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office as saying that all local prosecutor’s offices have been instructed to investigate such actions.

In a letter which the newspaper demonstrates, Taras Kozak, prosecutor of the Makarov area of the Kyiv oblast informs village and small settlement councils writes that, following instructions from the Kyiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office, they are investigating recent decisions taken by bodies of local self-government  in the Makarov “regarding Ukraine’s joining the European Union”.

Kozak demands to be informed without delay of any decisions by bodies of local self-government and their officials regarding Ukraine’s entry to the EU, and specifies a number of specific decisions.  They deserve to be quoted in full:

Declaring presidential decrees null and void on the territory of the particular administrative-territorial area;

regarding foreign policy activities which are solely the prerogative of Ukraine’s president, including appeals to the USA and EU to impose sanctions against high-ranking public officials;

regarding dissolution of state executive bodies; Interior Ministry special force Berkut units; and the creation of bodies of governance not envisaged by legislation;

which contain calls or demands for the early termination of the powers of the president, the Verkhovna Rada; the cabinet of ministers; for parliament to dissolve itself and hold immediate elections;

which contain announcements about an indefinite strike or about joining a national strike;

regarding a ban on using portraits of the president and prime minister on the premises of bodies of local self-government , enterprises etc and imposing a tax on goods with their images;

regarding the placing on administrative buildings and bodies of local self-government the flags of the EU, other foreign countries, international structures, international organizations etc.

The recipients are informed that if such decisions were taken, they must immediately inform the senior prosecutor Yevhen Shabatsov of this by telephone. Failure to implement these supposedly lawful demands, the recipients are told, will result in them facing administrative proceedings.  

It is probably significant that the information is to be provided by telephone.  No records need to be kept of unlawful and clearly intimidating behaviour.

The newspaper Express asserts that the police have been ordered to make up lists of people who travelled to Kyiv on Nov 30, Dec 1 and Dec 8.  The order apparently states that this is “for fighting xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism” and asks for all details about the people, their phone numbers, place of work etc.  The newspaper cites the website Insider and produces a document which may or may not be authentic.  On the other hand, there have been a number of cases under the current president when the ruling party or law enforcement agencies have gathered information about, for example, journalists, “people with influence” or others.  

There are numerous reports also of people being called in for questioning over participation in peaceful protests, and especially over protests involving Yanukovych’s portrait.  The most worrying case is in Lutsk where civic activist Maya Moskvych has been placed under house arrest in connection with a protest during which three portraits were taken out of the Volyn Regional Council buildings during a protest against the violent dispersing of peaceful EuroMaidan protesters on Nov 30. Moskvych is supposed to have stated from a stage in the centre of Lutsk that the first portrait should be burned, the second hung on a tree, and the third handed to the crowd to lynch. She is also alleged to have damaged one of the portraits by drawing an opening around the neck and pulling a rope through it. 

This is the latest of many such “criminal cases” under the current president.  The charges may be of hooliganism, destruction of state property or others, however they all share one common factor: the president’s face.  Over the last three years the police and prosecutor’s office have repeatedly ignored the simple fact that Ukrainian legislation does not treat Yanukovych’s or any president’s portrait as a state symbol or item of national significance requiring protection.   

There is also nothing wrong with peaceful protest.  If Ukraine’s leaders could finally understand this, as well as the proper uses which the law enforcement agencies serve in a democratic country, they would not be facing mass protests throughout the country. 

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