Controversial Ukrainian blogger / journalist Kotsaba freed after 18 months in prison
Ruslan Kotsaba, a controversial blogger and Ukraine’s first Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in 5 years, has had his conviction and 3.5-year sentence for supposed obstruction of the Ukrainian Armed Forces quashed. He was released in the courtroom after over 18 months held in detention.
As reported, on May 12, 2016 the Ivano-Frankivsk City Court found Kotsaba guilty of obstructing the legitimate activities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces over a video in which he expressed his negative attitude to mobilization. The court did, however, acquit him of the more serious, and absurd, charge of ‘state treason’. The journalist and blogger was sentenced to three and a half years. He had already spent 14 months in detention by that time.
Since the prosecution had asked for 13 years, the fact that the court rejected the more serious of the charges already demonstrated some degree of independence, but not enough since both charges were extremely dubious.
So too was Kotsaba’s ongoing detention, which prompted Amnesty International in its annual
Kotsaba was arrested on Feb 7, 2015 and charged with State treason (Article 111 § 1 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code) and under Article 114-1 § 1. The latter article covers espionage, although in Kotsaba’s case, he was accused of having obstructed the lawful activities of the Armed Forces and other military formations.
The charges were based on a video in which he opposed the mobilization drive in Ukraine, on his cooperation with Russian pro-Kremlin media and, effectively, on his expression of his views.
The video had, in fact, been seen by a very modest number of people until the SBU – Ukraine’s Security Service - made its author well-known. By now it has been viewed by over 437 thousand people and remains freely
There are many Ukrainians who are fully aware that Russia is the real aggressor but who also consider the mobilization to be legally questionable since Ukraine has not formally declared a state of war.
There were simply no grounds for the more serious charge of state treason, and the court hearings were an embarrassment, with the only witnesses effectively only expressing outrage at Kotsaba’s views. It is galling, therefore, that the prosecution continued to ask for a conviction for treason.
The lack of substance to the case was seen also in the indictment’s list of occasions where Kotsaba entirely legally gave interviews to Ukrainian and Russian television channels. During these he spoke about his video and expressed the view that the events in eastern Ukraine constitute civil war. There was only one occasion where a Russian channel offered Kotsaba money for his reports which he himself always posted on YouTube.
Ukraine’s Independent Media Union of Ukraine
Kotsaba’s collaboration with the Russian media, his assertions about a ‘civil war’ and denial of the essentially undeniable role of Russian soldiers and mercenaries in Donbas certainly antagonized many people. There are many views that in a democratic country we find repugnant but must live with. There were no laws preventing him from giving interviews to the Russian media, nor, thankfully, to stop him expressing his views. All too late in the day, this has been confirmed by a Ukrainian court.