Two recent cases of assaults against Human rights defenders in Ukraine point to a worsening climate for human rights and those who seek to defend them.
On 15 October, police in Vinnytsya, in the south west of the country, searched the house and office of Dmytro Groysman, the chair of Vinnytsya Human Rights Group, which supports asylum-seekers, and campaigns against torture and ill-treatment. Police questioned staff about their work, and confiscated over 300 items, including UNHCR files, computer discs, memory sticks and a laptop, effectively paralysing the work of the NGO.
The search was conducted under the pretext of an anti-pornography investigation into a link on Groysman’s personal blog to a video of Russian politicians engaging in sexual acts that had already been widely circulated within the public domain, via YouTube, Russian television and Ukraine news sites. The fact that Dmytro Groysman appears to be the only person under investigation in connection with the video, raises suspicions that the real purpose of the search was to obstruct the activities of the Vinnytsya Human Rights Group, and to investigate their work on human rights. The search was carried out in violation of Ukraine’s Criminal Procedure Code.
In February this year, the NGO was informed that they were being investigated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for damaging the international image of Ukraine because of their campaigning for a Chechen asylum-seeker. In 2008, Dmytro Groysman was attacked by unknown assailants in an incident he believes was probably linked to his advocacy work on behalf of prisoners.
Andrei Fedosov, the chair of a mental disability rights organization, Uzer, is also facing harassment. He has publicized allegations of numerous violations of the rights of the people with alleged disabilities in Crimea following monitoring of psychiatric hospitals between February and April 2010. This included allegations of unlawful confinement in a psychiatric institution, and cases of torture and ill-treatment of patients in three psychiatric hospitals.
Fedosov was assaulted by unknown men in May, after receiving threatening phone calls in April. Police took no action. In July he was detained for a day in relation to a crime allegedly committed 10 years ago when he was 15 years old. On 20 September the charges against him were dropped as it was proved that he was in a closed children’s hospital at the time and could not have committed the crime. He currently fears for his safety and suspects that police may continue to obstruct his work with false charges.
Amnesty International is alarmed that these two activists appear to be targeted because of their legitimate human rights work, and calls on the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that they are able to carry out their activities as human rights defenders unhindered, and protected from violence or threats.
Image: Andrei Fedosov ©Private