I would appreciate corrections and suggestions for the following draft. I will probably create the petition mid-week. Note that I am trying to keep many evaluations neutral so that people of various political positions could support the petition.
Since the Maidan events and the ascension of the new government in Kiev, there was a sustained attack on freedom of speech in Ukraine. Recently, international human rights have reacted to a new development in this attack, the blanket ban on certain social networks. Amnesty International has also criticized some arrests made during the Victory over Nazism celebrations on May 9, 2017, for displaying Communist symbols that are inextricably linked to the actual victory.
This reaction is very welcome. However, it is limited to recent developments. As far as international human rights defenders are concerned, a wall of silence seems to exist around the people who are now detained in Ukraine for extended periods solely for the act of disseminating political information.
Moreover, at least in one case, a Ukrainian human rights defender has openly exonerated the government. In a May 2017 press conference, Evgeny Zakharov, the leader of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, has claimed that there are no political prisoners in Ukraine at present.
Also, the most recent report by Reporters Without Borders notes imprisonment of journalists and bloggers in Russia but fails to note the very same issue in Ukraine.
This is not a new issue; some people have been imprisoned for words alone for over a year now. Their rights require an urgent response. Given the current government’s pro-European declarations, a clear position of international human rights bodies can be a material deterrent. Note that in the one case where they did speak up loudly, that of Ruslan Kotsaba, the prisoner was eventually exonerated and released.
We call upon Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and other international human rights organizations and bodies to provide a speedy initial assessment of the cases, followed by an impartial investigation that would not be hindered by any ideological attachment to the Maidan revolution or by revulsion towards Russia or pro-Russian separatists. None of the actions of Russia or the separatists can justify the widespread repression of people for their opinions and for disseminating information in Ukraine, especially while Ukraine is not, according to its own legal system, in a state of war.
Some of the people currently detained by Ukraine for extended periods solely for the dissemination of information are:
- Dmitry Vasilets and Evgeny Timonin. They are Ukrainian journalists who published online videos exposing government politicians under the name “media lustration” (note that “lustration” is actually a pro-Maidan term). As a part of their research they visited the separatists in Donetsk for three days. The official accusation is that they have provided technical assistance in starting and running a separatist television channel. As the separatists are labeled “terrorists”, this is described as “terrorist activity”, but nothing except dissemination of information is involved, even according to the accusing side. A widely held suspicion is that “working with separatists” was only a pretext for their arrest, while publications strongly hostile to key government persons were the actual reason. These two people are detained since November 2015; they have not, at present, been convicted, but are kept detained with endless delays.
- Roman Kolesnik. He is a private citizen who has relatives in Slovyansk, which was under separatist control for a few months. He expressed his private opinion online that Ukraine is likely to split up and that people of some territories have a right to self-determination. For that alone, without any claims of him ever engaging in violence, Roman was arrested in May 2015. In September 2015 he was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and is currently serving the sentence.
There have also been reports of arrests of numerous bloggers for “propaganda” where their real names were not published. Sometimes, online nicknames were published. In a notable case, a woman who signed her name as “Muza Pronkina” was reported as arrested in 2015 for a blog post where she, as a private citizen, expressed a personal desire for a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Further information about her fate is absent.
Yet other people were detained and prosecured for words, but were exchanged for prisoners taken by the separatists. They are now unable to return to Ukraine. For example, Maxim Grindiuk was arrested solely for posting anti-government leaflets (with no calls for violence on them), and later exchanged. He was held incommunicado for some months before the exchange.
When people on the other side of this conflict see that the present Ukrainian government can persecute political opposition for mere words withoug causing any international human rights outcry, these people understandably believe that human rights defenders have a double standard, that human rights as an idea are not extended to them. This sadly causes disdain for the idea of human rights itself, contributing to deterioriation of conditions in separatist-controlled territory.
To protect people who are being persecuted and to restore respect for human rights as such, it is essential that international human rights organizations speak up on this issue as a matter of urgency.
References (in Russian):
Information about Mr. Vasilets, Mr. Timonin, Mr. Kolesnik, Ms. “Pronkina” and other people who are being persecuted for political reasons can be found at http://www.politvyazni.in.ua/politzakluchennie/ (some other cases do involve accusations of violence)
Information about Maxim Grindiuk: http://antifashist.com/item/zhitel-zaporozhya-popal-za-reshetku-iz-za-listovok-o-cenah-i-pensiyah.html (the article was penned before he “disappeared” for some months and was then exchanged).
The claim of a Ukrainian human rights defender that there are no political prisoners in Ukraine can be found here: