It is quite dangerous to be a human rights activist in Ukraine today. They often become targets of attacks and harassment, but the perpetrators of such crimes are not prosecuted. However, legal proceedings against activists are instituted within a few hours, and media concurrently launch massive defamatory campaigns. Fighters against corruption, environmentalists, lawyers who defend human rights and activists working in the areas not controlled by Ukraine are the most prosecuted. This was stated by Tetiana Pechonchyk, Chairman of the Human Rights Information Center, at a discussion held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “We have documented violations of basic freedoms such as freedom of movement, unions and associations, peaceful assembly. There were several cases of physical violence: murder, assault and battery, property damage, arson attacks on vehicles for obstructing public activities or as revenge for what they do. We have recorded administrative and judicial proceedings, defamatory campaigns against activists, intrusive surveillance and bugging,” said Ms. Pechonchyk.
The public and law enforcement bodies do not respond adequately to the situation which makes activists’ vulnerable position even worse. “Most cases related to attacks and beatings of activists remain untried. This impunity is like an avalanche, it is constantly increasing. If there is an attack, physical abuse and no effective investigation, there is a high probability that it will happen again and again,” stressed Ms. Pechonchyk. To take away your time, effort, enthusiasm, and intimidate you – these are the main purposes of attacks and litigation. “Over the past three years we have had 400 hours of interrogation. But if we give up, then they will win. Law enforcement agencies have not initiated any case related to attacks, threats, discrediting NGOs in Ukraine. But it took them an hour to initiate a case for a Facebook post a year ago,” said Dmytro Sherembei, Chairman of the Coordinating Council of the All-Ukrainian Charitable Organization “All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS”.
The media launch massive defamatory campaigns against anti-corruption fighters aimed at undermining their credibility, blurring the line between them and the real corruption. However, fighters from other fronts undergo no less pressure. You may find yourself in intensive care for standing up to a factory that pollutes nearby villages or get 15 days of administrative arrest for filming a judge who is conducting a case without a mantle on. “The judge tried to ban the filming, called the police, […] who took me to the police station. There were no protocols. The same judge without a lawyer sentenced me to 15 days detention. No one was allowed to visit me, neither a lawyer nor relatives. I was on the verge of a stroke, but there was a ban on my hospitalization. After being released, I struggled four months so that this fact was not entered in the register of pre-trial investigations. I was able to do it only through the court,” said Maksym Korniienko, Director of the Coordination Center “Pravozakhusnyk”.
People who work in temporarily occupied territories make a separate group. To conduct journalistic work or sociological studies, they must obtain the so-called accreditation in local structures, and due to this fact they often get into the Myrotvorets database on charges of separatism. “We mean the persecution of those who were called separatists. But anyone can get under this definition. There is no clear qualification. If a person was spotted at Antimaidan, not even as an active participant, but simply being present, the society agrees to cause injuries to them. These small steps lead us beyond human rights,” believes Nina Potarska, consultant of International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom.
The state must protect civil society and effectively explore any crimes against it. “The problem is not only in law but also in the development of a healthy society. People who criticize the government must be protected by this government. This measures its civility,” underlined Harry Hummel, director on policy issues of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.