CommentarySociety

Political Censorship: Medvedchuk Against the Whole of Ukraine

Book Stus

Ukrainian society is outraged and protests loudly. The Darnytsya district court has partially upheld a claim of Viktor Medvedchuk, the “Opposition Platform – For Life” party political council chairman and a Putin‘s kum. Thus, the court has banned the distribution of a book, “The Case of Vasyl Stus,” by journalist Vakhtang Kipiani. Ukrainians en masse decided to support the incriminating book about the famous Soviet dissident and after the court verdict bought it in a matter of minutes both in the publishing house and at other distributors. Why didn’t Medvedchuk like the book about the Ukrainian political prisoner so much?

Medvedchuk, a lawyer by education, a close friend of Putin, and a well-known lobbyist for Russia’s interests in Ukraine, was appointed by the state as a lawyer in the trials of Ukrainian poets Vasyl Stus and Yuri Lytvyn in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At that time, Vasyl Stus was accused of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda under Part 2 of Article 62 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR. Moreover, in a transcript of a court hearing stored in the archives, lawyer Viktor Medvedchuk says that he considers “the qualification of his actions to be correct.”

Soviet authorities sentenced Vasyl Stus to 10 years of forced labour and five years of exile. Stus died on 4 September 1985, in solitary confinement after a hunger strike.

In the book “The Case of Vasyl Stus,” Medvedchuk is accused of violating legal ethics during the trial. He does not admit his guilt. He believes that nine episodes of Kipiani’s book contain statements that do not correspond to reality and degrade the politicians’ honour and dignity. That’s why he demands the book be banned “in any way in any territory.”

In particular, the court decision decided, to oblige Kipiani and “Vivat” publishing house to remove information about Medvedchuk’s identity from the book’s chapter “Criminal case №5. The book of Vasyl Stus’s life and death” and “Did Medvedchuk’s lawyer kill the poet Vasyl Stus?” Besides, the court banned Kipiani and “Vivat” publishing house from selling the printed book “The case of Vasyl Stus,” as well as its further printing until the violation of Medvedchuk’s personal non-property right is removed.

Sergiy Glotov expertSerhiy Glotov says, “Vivat’s” lawyer in the book ban case, Shkrebets & Partners law firm, commented on the court judgement on the air on the website “On The Page.” The case is not over yet. The defendants’ common position on the case is to go to the appellate court and, if necessary, to complete the national proceedings through the Supreme Court with a subsequent appeal to the ECtHR to obtain the truth without losing hope of a fair trial.”

Yulia Orlova, “Vivat” publishing house CEO, also confirmed that the court’s finding will be appealed. Meanwhile, the publisher decided to promptly print a new edition of the book until the court’s judgement came into force, and they have the right to do so. The publisher called the court decision to ban the book by Kipiani “direct and obvious evidence that the case which Stus fought for is unfinished.”

Interestingly, Maryna Zastavenko, the judge in the Medvedchuk case, visited the occupied territories during the war in Donbas. In 2017, people wanted to fire her for her connections with the so-called “DPR.” Before being transferred to Kyiv, Zastavenko worked in the Krasnogvardeisky District Court of Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast. In 2016, the SBU appealed to the High Qualification Commission of Judges and pointed out, that the judge had property in the temporarily occupied territories, and she regularly went there. Furthermore, the judge did not administer justice for long because she was in the territories not controlled by Ukraine. The HCCJ opened a disciplinary case initially but then refused to dismiss the judge.

Vakhtang Kipiani considers it unlikely that a Ukrainian judge can safely travel to the DNR without receiving security guarantees “from the other side,” especially considering how actively the Russians replenished the exchange fund.

The reaction of Ukrainian society to the ban on books

Olesya Yakhno, a political scientist

Paraphrasing the words: “Censorship is advertising at the state’s expense,” we can say that Medvedchuk did well with advertising a book about Stus.

Once again Medvedchuk faced the “irony of history” that takes place when one or another action turns against its initiator (according to Hegel).

Bogdan Tiholoz expertBohdan Tykholoz, literary critic, a French scholar, director of the Ivan Franko Museum in Lviv

This is not just a trial of Medvedchuk v. Vakhtang Kipiani. That is the process of the USSR against Vasyl Stus, which is not over yet. And it should end the other way. I don’t know what the judge was ruled by when making such a decision. Yet, it is easy to guess. But I know what we should go by. If you don’t have this book yet, buy and read it. Who has and read – buy for a friend, girlfriend, school, library. Fighting against books and banning their content is a bad omen. The history of all previous book fighters is very educational. And Stus will not shrink from that at all.

Olga Simson, the Institute of Law, Technology and Innovation founder

This case concerns not only some individuals but also the fundamental principles of the rule of law and democracy: freedom of speech and the right to information. A politicized trial, censorship, and obvious facts denial are what we have at the moment in Mr. Medvedchuk’s lawsuit against Vakhtang Kipiani and the publishing house. An appeal is ahead.

 

Theatre KiyvKyiv Academic Drama and Comedy Theatre on the left bank of the Dnieper

Today, we must fight for freedom of speech. We could not stay away from the courtroom over Vakhtang Kipiani’s book “The Case of Vasyl Stus” because our theatre has always valued freedom. The actors, the stage directors read the lines of the book, banned by the court. Is it possible to ban memory at all?

The video of the theatre can be viewed here.

Anna Malyar expertHanna Malyar, the Centre for Legal and Criminological Research head

Today, almost all of my FB page is a flash mob of the book “The Case of Vasyl Stus” readers. It’s hard not to notice. It turns out there is a newsbreak. The court ordered to remove the mention of Medvedchuk from the book about Stus. It’s even harder to imagine a greater service to promote a book than this solution. I don’t remember what book would be talked about so much on social networks in recent years. Sometimes this happens when a won lawsuit is actually a loss and vice versa. That is exactly the case.

Vycheslav Yakubenko expertVyacheslav Yakubenko, a lawyer of Vakhtang Kipiani

On behalf of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, I had the honour of representing Vakhtang Kipiani in the case of the book “The Vasyl Stus Case” ban. Viktor Medvedchuk demanded to ban the publication and sale of the book “in any territory in any form – in part of nine phrases.” Given the specifics of the printing business, it was a ban on the whole book: after all, modern technology does not allow to cut out with scissors nine phrases from a paper book and put it on sale in this form.

Needless to say, that for the European Court of Human Rights, the ban on books is a very severe restriction on freedom of expression, which is possible only in emergencies – to protect the rights and interests of others. Instead, there was nothing in the nine challenged passages that had not been known about Medvedchuk before: from the Internet or Dmytro Chobot’s book “Narcissus.” But everyone was astonished by the judgement. The claim was upheld partially. Three fragments were found to be unreliable. And then the court has forbidden mentioning Medvedchuk’s name as a character in the book without his consent.

My first reaction was like yours: SHOCK! For the first time in my 15 years of advocacy in defamation cases (humiliation of honour, dignity and business reputation – ed.) the court protected the plaintiff more than he requested. But, having read the decision, I understood: the judge did everything she could. There are no known cases in history when the courts of the first instance refused to satisfy Medvedchuk’s numerous lawsuits for protection of honour, dignity, and business reputation. Judge Zastavenko Maryna Oleksandrivna also could not refuse. The judge, who was transferred to the capital’s Darnytsia court from the court of occupied Makiivka, is very vulnerable to the power players, such as Medvedchuk. She passed on. Going beyond the claims, the judge guaranteed thereby the annulment of her decision by the appellate court.

Thanks for that, too. Not everyone is ready to rush to the embrasure or burn themselves on the Maidan. Someone tries to defend justice at their level quietly and unnoticedly – which most will not understand.

Medvedchuk has outstanding lawyers in the team, but there are no PR specialists who can explain the “Streisand effect” to the boss. The lawsuit became a remarkable promotional campaign; the book circulation was sold out at an unprecedented rate.

“Shkrebets & Partners” group of attorneys, which defends Vivat Publishing House

About a year ago, we reported that the group of attorneys had accepted a request to protect the Kharkiv publishing house “Vivat” in the case of Viktor Medvedchuk’s lawsuit against the published book by Vakhtang Kipiani “The Case of Vasyl Stus”. Viktor Medvedchuk did not like the presenting of his role as the communist regime “water boy” in the trial of Vasyl Stus. The boy, who did not defend, but, on the contrary, played along with the court and the prosecutor.

To recap, as a result of this trial, Vasyl Stus received the maximum term of imprisonment and died under unknown circumstances five years later in prison. In our opinion, the author of the book, Vakhtang Kipiani, referring to the criminal case materials, tried to study these, of course, historical processes as objectively as possible. And his purpose was to find an answer to a single question, used as the title of a chapter: “Did the lawyer Medvedchuk kill the poet Stus?” He concluded that Vasyl Stus had been killed by the communist system, which was served by Viktor Medvedchuk.

Notably, lawyers do not have the right to interpret history, but only, based on documents, testimony and case law, to present their arguments regarding the violation of certain rights.

In our opinion, the author of the book had every right to ask the questions he asked and to state what he was sure. That is, as a historian, he had every right to search for historical truth, even if it is unpleasant for those who are now alive or descendants.

For the first time in the practice of Ukrainian and international justice, the court for the protection of honour and dignity went beyond the claims to oblige the author and publisher to coordinate all the subsequent publications on the trial of Vasyl Stus with the plaintiff – Viktor Medvedchuk.

We are not even talking about censorship; we are talking about trying to correct history. To be continued.

Background

According to “Vivat” publishing house, Vakhtang Kipiani’s book “The Case of Vasyl Stus” was published in May 2019 and 90% of it consists of archival documents.

The book contains archival documents from the criminal case of Vasyl Stus, testimonies of witnesses, letters of the poet from prison, memoirs of his relatives and friends. After reading the materials, readers will learn about the unknown facts about Stus’s life, imprisonment and death, which was still secured under the label “Secret.”

A lawsuit filed by Viktor Medvedchuk to ban and distribute the publication has been ongoing since August 2019. Medvedchuk is an MP of Ukraine in the Verkhovna Rada of the IX convocation. He headed the Presidential Administration during the second term of Leonid Kuchma. Also, he occupied the positions of a Speaker and the First Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada. He is a member of the “Opposition Platform – For Life” party, which includes former “regionals” and pro-Russian politicians.

Medvedchuk openly advocates Ukraine’s federalisation, has pro-Russian views, and is the kum of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Natalia Tolub

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