Almost half of offences, namely 14 incidents, were recorded in Kyiv city. Kharkiv region (3) ranks second after the capital, Odesa and Poltava cities rank third (2 incidents in each). One case of persecution was documented in Kyiv, Mykolayiv, Lviv, Zhytomyr, Rivne, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, and Donetsk regions each. Such data are cited in the “Activism 2021” monitoring report on the persecution of activists and human rights defenders in the government-controlled territory of Ukraine.
Among this year’s incidents of pressure on activists, physical attacks, cases of destruction or damage to property and attempts to intimidate were the most common with six cases each.
Digital threats to civil society activists and journalists remain relevant as of the first quarter of the year. The Digital Security Laboratory, which monitors such incidents and provides assistance to victims, recorded 25 separate incidents over the first three months of 2021: six cases in January; 12 in February, and seven in March. Those incidents include phishing (10 cases, including one massive campaign committed via Telegram in January), selection, reset or reuse of account password (seven cases), interception of SMS (three cases), website hack (two cases), content blocking or temporary social network accounts blocking (Telegram), etc.
“Moreover, we observe some deterioration compared to the previous year, when a total of 26 cases were recorded during the same monitoring period,” says ZMINA researcher Anastasia Moskvychova.
The protection of women’s rights, LGBT rights, and anti-corruption efforts were the riskiest activities in January-March 2021, the expert adds. The incidents involved activists who oppose illegal construction, protect the environment, support and protect the rights of patients, and protect the rights of journalists.
Pressure on activists
The “Activism 2021” monitoring report underlines that some of the cases recorded this year can be considered a continuation of last year’s persecution due to the lack of a proper response from law enforcement agencies. Among them is the arson incident at the construction site of the Dacha centre in Kyiv for treatment of children with cancer that occurred on 28 March 2021. The walls and front doors were damaged, and the windows cracked due to the high temperature exposure. Last year, one of the centre’s neighbours cut off a lock on the construction site gate with an angle grinder. The activists notified the damage to the property to the police, but the police registered the notification as a citizen petition.
Natalia Onipko, head of the Charitable Foundation “Zaporuka,” which establishes the mentioned centre, suggests that the arson might also be linked to their conflict with neighbours as the latter openly stated that they did not want to see children with cancer nearby.
According to Chair of the ZMINA Human Rights Centre Tetiana Pechonchyk, the events, defining for the first quarter of 2021, were also related to the sentence given to Odesa activist and blogger Serhiy Sternenko in the case over abduction of Kominternivske district council member Serhiy Shcherbych in 2015: 7 years and 3 months in prison with confiscation of half of the property. After the sentence had been passed, people dissatisfied with the judgment rallied in a number of cities on 23 and 26 February, as well as on 20 March 2021.
During a rally on 23 February, which took place spontaneously on the day when the sentence to Serhiy Sternenko was passed, police detained 24 protesters. According to eyewitnesses, the detentions were selective and concerned activists who did not commit illegal acts. Among those detained was Oleksandr Babenko, a journalist and trainee at KyivPost, who was filming from the roof of an administrative building near the President’s Office.
Another case of pressure for activism this year occurred with Roman Ratushnyy, the head of the initiative “Let’s Protect Protasiv Yar.” He was served with a notice of charges of hooliganism and property damage during a 20 March rally in support of Serhiy Sternenko at the President’s Office. In addition, a defamation campaign was launched against the activist on social media and a number of media outlets, alleging that Ratushnyy painted a swastika on the wall of the President’s Office. Ratushnyy considers this criminal prosecution to be “revenge” for his activities to protect the green areas of Kyiv.
Despite the fact that no evidence of Ratushnyy’s hooliganism was presented at a court hearing, he was placed under house arrest, which was to last until 24 May 2021. However, on 21 April, the court of appeal overturned the pre-trial restriction for lack of evidence.