Ukraine: Opposition Activists Harassed and Arbitrarily Arrested
Amnesty International is concerned by reports that members of the youth opposition organization PORA ('It is time') are being subjected to arbitrary arrest and harassment for the legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression. PORA is a social campaign that distributes leaflets and runs a satirical website encouraging people not to vote for the government presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych.
Reports monitored by AI include the following:
- Andrij Kulibaba, an activist in the Vinnytsya branch of the youth opposition campaign PORA was detained by police on 20 October without any explanation. On 21 October he was sentenced under the Code on Administrative Infringements for 'intentional disobedience to demands of the police' to 10 days' detention. It was claimed that he pushed a police officer and tore off a button from his jacket. He was released suddenly on 23 October and told that his sentence had been reduced to a fine.
- Alexander Pugach was detained in Vinnytsya on 21 October and tried for allegedly refusing to give his name to the police, but the witness statements were contradictory and he was acquitted. Within minutes as he stood on the steps of the court house he was detained again in front of witnesses, held for four hours in the police station and then told that a criminal case had been started against him for 'hooliganism'.
- In Kirovograd Alexander Tsitsenko was detained by masked police on 21 October as he was collecting leaflets and stickers produced by PORA for distribution. He was also accused of 'intentional disobedience towards the police', but the charges were dropped and he was released on 25 October.
- Volodymyr Zakalyushny was detained in Kiev on 23 October while distributing leaflets critical of Viktor Yanukovych at a concert. He was taken to the Shevchenkovsky police station in Kiev and accused of stealing a mobile phone for which he could face two years' imprisonment.
The number of such detentions that are taking place across Ukraine and the numerous violations of procedures raise concerns that these young people may have been detained for their legitimate and peaceful opposition activities. If this is the case Amnesty International would consider them prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release.
Amnesty International said:
'Recent events in Ukraine seem to show a worrying clampdown on free speech.
'We call on the Ukrainian authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly and to allow the legitimate expression of opposition views.'
Presidential elections will be held on 31 October. A big demonstration over the weekend in support of the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko demanded fair elections.
During the last few weeks, searches and detentions of opposition activists from a range of organisations have increased. On 14 October police claimed to have found bomb-making equipment in the headquarters of PORA in Kiev although a first search during which the police were accompanied by others turned up nothing, and the equipment was only found when the police returned alone to the office.
Following this there were other searches and in Chernigiv Oleksandr Lomakov a member of PORA is awaiting trial on weapons charges for which he faces two to five years' imprisonment. Police allegedly found a brown substance in his flat which may be an explosive.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has expressed its concern about the conduct of the election campaign and has called on the Ukrainian authorities 'to conduct the election process with absolute impartiality and respect for Council of Europe standards and to allow all candidates to compete on fair and equitable grounds.'