Ukraine follows Russia in dubious ‘State treason’ arrests (16.02.2015)
In the last week two Ukrainian journalists have been detained on suspicion of committing ‘state treason’. If the detention on Feb 8 of Ivano-Frankivsk blogger Ruslan Kotsaba was clearly unjustified, but the charges seemed to warrant investigation, the new arrest of journalist Andriy Zakharchuk can have no justification in a post-Maidan democratic Ukraine.
A Mykolaiv court remanded Zakharchuk in custody for two months on Feb 12, following his arrest by SBU [Security Service] officers two days earlier. The 25-year-old Ukrainian national is living in St. Petersburg working for the news agency ‘Nevskiye novosti’, and seemingly also writes for the Russian Federal News Agency [FAN].
The journalist’s father Vasyl Zakharchuk told Prestupnosti.net that his son writes about sport, culture and public life in St Petersburg. This can easily be checked and does indeed appear to be the case. Vasyl Zakharchuk explains that FAN was starting up a project covering life in Ukraine and his son’s work trip was to gather information about how people live in cities in the South-East of Ukraine. Whatever the federal news agency’s plans, the article which Zakharchuk wrote about his visit to Odessa contained nothing suspicious at all.
Nor is it clear what it could contain that would warrant being accused of ‘state treason’.
The charges appear to derive from his activities in Mykolaiv. The investigators have found something deeply incriminating in the fact that a journalist should have taken photos of the Inhulsky and some pedestrian bridges; a shipbuilding factory and the Mykolaiv armoured tank factory. The two factories are part of the state defence industry.
A camera, tablet and laptop were taken away and the prosecutor informs “that in the journalist’s technology correspondence was discovered that confirms that he belongs to a Russian news agency”. It would have been simpler to just ask him.
Most worryingly, the prosecutor’s request to remand Zakharchuk in custody began with reference to the parliamentary resolution adopted on Jan 27 which declared Russia to be an aggressor state. The prosecutor then cited Article 65 of Ukraine’s Constitution which states that “Defence of the Motherland, of the independence and territorial indivisibility of Ukraine, and respect for its state symbols, are the duties of citizens of Ukraine. Citizens perform military service in accordance with the law.”
He then asserted that “during armed conflict in the east of Ukraine in January 2015 Ukrainian national Andrei Zakharchuk, working for the Russian news agency FAN and Nevskie Novosti, and in breach of Article 65 of Ukraine’s Constitution, and aware that he was in a criminal link with an aggressor state, in order to provide it with assistance in carrying out subversive activity against Ukraine, passed on photographic material for dishonest coverage of events in Ukraine and inciting separatist moods in Ukraine. The said information agencies are propaganda vehicles, that is, they cover events in Ukraine by distorting facts and providing false information.”
The prosecutor then moves on to the specific photos taken “in order to pass the information to the Russian Federation aggressor state”.
According to this version, Zakharchuk was passing on photos of the armoured tank factory to a Russian news agency “for the purpose of propaganda-filled and anti-Ukraine coverage of events in Ukraine, the anti-terrorist operation, including the technical state of the Ukrainian defence complex and the possibilities for countering illegal armed formations in the East of Ukraine, thus posing a threat to Ukraine’s national security in the information and military spheres”.
On the basis of the above, the prosecutor concluded that Andrei Zakharchuk was “justifiably suspected of state treason”.
Andriy Lokhmatov, writing for Prestupnosti.net, demolishes the ‘evidence’ presented by the prosecution. He points out that it basically confirms only that Zakharchuk had the technology one might expect a journalist to have, that he works as a journalist in general and that while in Ukraine he was taking photographs. The one fact with marginally more substance is only incriminating at first glance. A photograph similar to one found on Zakharchuk’s equipment was used in an overtly propaganda-filled article on FAN about Kharkiv supporters of the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas. There is no evidence that Zakharchuk had any input in that article or, in fact, any material which was overtly anti-Ukrainian. The article in question was signed by somebody called Sergei Bendin who was interviewing a person in Moscow.
This is the second arrest of a journalist. In the case of Ruslan Kotsaba, his behaviour and utterances were viewed by very many people as being against Ukraine, with some observers therefore believing that the SBU might have other evidence to justify his detention. There was however concern then about the measures taken, especially since they had followed a video in which he was expressing his opinion, no more, on the subject of mobilization.
The arrest and detention of Andrei Zakharchuk are simply incomprehensible and a very worrying development. Russia may be following in the Soviet traditions of trying people for ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’. Ukraine has taken a different path and even in the face of open Russian aggression, cannot try journalists for ‘state treason’.
Quelle: Halya Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, <http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1423918032>
Ukrainian blogger to remain in detention on dubious ‘treason’ charges (17.02.2015)
The Ivano-Frankivsk regional court of appeal on Feb 14 upheld a ruling which has provoked serious criticism from human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. It confirmed the two-month detention order on Ruslan Kotsaba, an Ivano-Frankivsk blogger who is accused of state treason and obstructing the work of the Ukrainian armed forces.
According to the web publication Firtka, Kotsaba’s lawyer had argued that there were no grounds in thinking that his client would leave for the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk or Luhansk people’s republics’, and that the investigation had been carried out superficially. An independent assessment should be made, he asserted, of material on various Russian government-controlled media, as well as the Ukrainian TV 112, which the lawyer says do not contain calls which would back the charges against Kotsaba.
As reported, Kotsaba was detained by the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service] on Feb 7. He is suspected of crimes falling under Article 111 § 1 (state treason) and Article 114-1 § 1 (obstructing the lawful activities of the Armed Forces and other military formations).
The SBU asserts that during the search of Kotsaba’s home, incriminating material which could fall under the above-mentioned articles, was removed.
Detention was sought on the grounds that the charges did not envisage a less serious restraint measure.
Whatever other material was found, the charges appear linked with a video address to President Petro Poroshenko he recorded on Jan 17 in which he called on Ukrainians to reject mobilization since Ukraine has not declared martial law. He says that he “would rather serve a sentence in prison than go to a civil war, to kill or help kill my compatriots who live in the East. Even if they think differently or believe that the Kyiv government does not deserve their subordination.”
He asserts that “there are almost no regular Russian forces in Donbas” and that it is local guys who are killing other local guys.
The latter assertions are at odds with evidence from Ukraine, Russia, US and NATO satellite images and reports, and much more. Very many Ukrainians find Kotsaba’s views and the effective help he is providing the Russian propaganda machine morally objectionable. This does not make him guilty of treason.
One sad irony about this case is that a video against mobilization which had probably been watched by a very small number of people has now been watched by nearly 387 thousand viewers on YouTube.
The arrest has given one blogger with views many find objectionable major publicity and brought the Ukrainian authorities in for considerable criticism.
Amnesty International in Ukraine went so far as to call Kotsaba a prisoner of conscience in a text entitled “Prosecution for a civic position on the conflict in Ukraine is unacceptable”. This appears to have been a statement issued only by the Ukrainian chapter of AI.
Many Ukrainian human rights activists and journalists, such as Volodymyr Yavorsky, and the Independent Media Union have also criticised the move.
Quelle: Halya Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, <http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1424091914>