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Russian Style. “A New Way” to Prosecute Anti-corruption activists – PRAVDA.COM.UA

“Zero tolerance to corruption as some kind of national credo”, – Petro Poroshenko promised in his election program titled “Live in a new way”.

However, Poroshenko’s first three years in the office proved to be the polar opposite of the abovementioned credo. It is not corruption that the authorities cannot tolerate, but rather the whistle-blowers who point at corruption. Meanwhile the way the law enforcement and the media are employed to discredit those who fight against corruption definitely seems inspired by the true-and-tried Kremlin practices.

Shabunin under Attack

Since Wednesday morning, numerous journalists set camp next to Dniprovskyi district police administration building. The number of cameras surpasses that of the Yanukovych era when Yurii Lutsenko was summoned by the law enforcement authorities.

Such avid interest of the press was piqued by the fact that AntAC’s chief Vitaliy Shabunin was served the notice of suspicion. According to AntAC, investigating officers charge Shabunin with premeditated actual bodily harm to the journalist. This kind of crime is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Shabunin Pidozra

The incident occurred on June 8, 2017. At a meeting with the self-proclaimed journalist Vsevolod Filimonenko, who had been continuously harassing Shabunin, his family and colleagues, the latter punched the journalist in the face.

“I did punch that man, he is no journalist though, and the injury can be hardly qualified as an actual bodily harm”, – Shabunin tells the journalists before entering the police building.

He leaves the building with a big smile on his face. Looks around, notices friends who came for support. Some hold signs that say “Petia! This is too much” [Petia being a shortened, slightly derisive version of Petro in Ukrainian].

“Yeah, just like that – the complainant is not a journalist anymore. And I no longer face a five-year prison sentence, just three”, – confides Shabunin upon his exit.

Later on, it was explained by Kyiv public prosecutor’s office, why they changed the charge in Shabunin’s case.

Instead of assault against the journalist, the AntAC chief was charged with the first section of the Article 122 of the Criminal Code – premeditated actual bodily harm, which entails up to 3 years in prison. This allegedly happened after law enforcement officers were contacted by the media and public representatives. In the address these unnamed persons pointed that the injured party does not qualify as a journalist.

“Ukrayinska Pravda” asked the police for a comment of O. Cheberiak, case investigator. As of the moment this article was published, there was no reply.

The question is who is really this Filimonenko who was allegedly so severely beaten by Shabunin?

Reanimation Package of Reforms anti-corruption group expert Oleksandr Liemienov recollected being acquainted with Filimonenko since working at Luhansk branch of the socio-political movement “Chesno”. Filimonenko was expelled from “Chesno” for extortion from one of the MP candidates – notes Liemienov.

MP Mustafa Nayyem noted Filimonenko’s likeness to the “merry chap” with a carrot that used to follow Arseniy Yateniuk.

As for Shabunin, he considers Filimonenko an instigator. “Manipulating people’s deaths in the ATO he caused great distress to members of my team, they were hysterical. That’s why I punched him”, explained Shabunin.

Shabunin

In the afternoon Dniprovskyi district court of Kyiv was in hearing trying to decide on pre-trial restraint measure for Shabunin. Lawyers pointed at obvious inconsistencies in materials of the case.

It can be seen in the video that Shabunin punched Filimonenko in the right side of the face. The notice of suspicion states that the left side is affected, “continually interfering with the victim’s health, namely closed face injury, depressed fracture of the maxillary sinus front wall and bruise in the zygomaticomaxillary area”.

Lawyers remind that after taking a punch the victim was chasing Shabunin for about an hour, spraying him with a pepper spray, and refused to go to the emergency when the first ambulance arrived. The second ambulance did take the instigator to the hospital, however, no traces of physical harm were discovered there. Third time is a charm, for only then was Filimonenko hospitalized, some 12 hours after the incident. The “bodily harm” itself was registered some 12 days after the hospital visit.

The prosecutor avoided talking to the journalists.

Prosecution asked the court to set personal bond as a pre-trial restraint measure. The judge partially satisfied the motion, ruling not to limit Shabunin’s ability to exit Kyiv, as the latter lives outside the city limits. The activist must instead inform the authorities about any changes in his work or accommodation.

It was after the hearing that Shabunin predicted in his interview with the TV channel “Zik”, that they will try to give him a criminal record.

Talking to “Ukrayinska Pravda”, Shabunin shares his belief that this story with assault against Filimonenko is just a part of a large-scale campaign against the AntAC.

“Filimonenko in particular takes orders from the Security Service of Ukraine, as he has such information at his disposal, that only SSU has access to. For instance, when he harassed Ustinova, meeting her at the airport, he was there at 6.30. She did not have a direct flight. Only people from the service could leak this info”, Shabunin tells “Ukrayinska Pravda”.

Shabunin is sure that President Poroshenko is connected with the attempt to discredit AntAC, as he is the one who can give orders to the SSU.

“I am not the problem for Poroshenko. It’s the anti-corruption reforms we defend that is the problem”, – concludes the activist.

Shabunin-2

Petro Poroshenko never commented on the attack against the AntAC.

Instead several mass media and pro-government bloggers on social media disseminate the idea that the issue of identities should be put aside when judging the Shabunin case, that is “he who delivered a punch must bear the consequences”.

Viktoria Siumar, head of the parliamentary committee on the freedom of speech, disagrees with this approach. As it turns out, her views on the Shabunin case differ from those of Arsen Avakov, minister of internal affairs and her team-mate from the party “The Narodnyi Front”.

“Cooking up charges against a person on such fabricated grounds is nothing but repeating an utterly stupid mistake”, – posted Siumar on her Facebook page.

“If he is such a “forest purger”, then he can punch in the face just about anyone he pleases! Who knew”, – commented Avakov on her post.

Facebook Post by Viktoria Siumar:

Of course, Mr. Filimonenko is not a journalist. For sure, he is not just an active citizen “who cares” who has been permanently provoking Vitalii Shabunin. Vitalii is a kind of a forest purger, whom many dislike. But such purgers do a helpful job, and the clever authorities have to realize that. Of course, all attempts of cooking up charges against Shabunin are absurd. At least, for the reason of his legitimacy among the common people – which is higher than that of the Government. Cooking up charges against a person on such fabricated grounds is nothing but repeating an utterly stupid mistake.

Shabunin-3

Arsen Avakov’s reply:

If he is such a “forest purger”, then he can punch in the face just about anyone he pleases! Who knew?

Where does one obtain a certificate of being a “proper purger” or a “legitimate” [official like Yanukovych – a pun allusion]? Just to understand who punches for the right reason, and who’s simply a hooligan?

Not All Journalists are Equal

The tempo at which the law enforcement officers are moving forward the case, is standing out among the other cases when the well-known investigative journalists were attacked. When those leading anti-corruption investigations are attacked or pressured, the investigating officers are not so eager to look into their cases. This is what Khrystyna Berdynskykh, journalist of “Novoe Vremya” journal, complains about.

In February of 2016 she received the following threat via sms: “One more sh*t-stirring post about Kyivgas in your little journals – and your tomb will be next to Gongadze’s”.

Not long before Berdynskykh published an article about Yurii Boiko, ex-member of the Regions’ Party. His son-in-law, who at the time had been heading the board of “Kyivgas” for the sixth year in a row, was also mentioned in that article.

“In more than a year I was the only person interrogated by the police. What shocked me was that Boiko’s son-in-law was never even called for interrogation. Instead the police actually offered me to write a statement about closing the case. I said no”, – tells the journalist.

Authors of the project “Bihus.info” suggest comparing the work of investigating officers in Shabunin’s case and that of the assaulted journalists.

Two years ago, two journalists from the program about anti-corruption investigations “Nashi Groshi” Nadia Burdei and Mykhailo Shelest were attacked by the son-in-law of Avakov’s deputy.

“For two years now the investigating officers have been collecting evidence that the attacker, recorded on video, actually prevented us from doing our job. They have also been ascertaining whether we really are journalists”, – share authors of the project.

Court hearing of the case was held on Wednesday. Further court hearing was postponed till October, 3, as the Defense had asked.

In October 2015 the SSU employees attacked the journalists of the program “Schemes: Corruption in details”. It was recorded on video.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the case was closed four times. It was reopened by the military prosecution only after the journalists took matters to court – “Ukrayinska Pravda” learned from journalist Mykhailo Tkach. He makes a conclusion, based on this case, that “the system” protects its members.

The authorities make it a point to stress it upon everybody that in Ukraine journalists can be attacked or killed without any repercussions, whereas criticism of the government will entail severe ones.

Who is bothered by “hamsters”?

Soon after Petro Poroshenko’s latest press-conference he had a meeting with three journalists. Dmytro Hnap, Mykhailo Tkach and Sevhil Musaieva visited him in his office on Bankova street to talk about the assassination of the other journalist – Sheremet.

These days Hnap reminded how Poroshenko referred to     Ukrainian anti-corruption activists. The journalist provided a fragment of his talk with the President.

“- So, Dmytro, what is so wrong about our campaign against corruption? What’s not to your liking? We did launch electronic declaration!

– It really is a great achievement, however, the SSU employees and some prosecutors are exempt from it.

-It’s because the law about electronic declaration had to be changed, – Poroshenko’s reply was emotional. – It was drafted by the foreigners and our hamsters. The foreigners left but the hamsters remained here!

– Pardon me, who do you mean by “hamsters”?

– Doesn’t matter… – the President stopped abruptly and changed the subject.”

There is no recording of the talk, as it took place without any audio-recording devices. Mykhailo Tkach, the other journalist, confirmed to “Ukrayinska Pravda” that the “hamster” talk did take place.

Press-secretary of the President, Sviatoslav Tseholko, also attended that meeting. When asked to comment on the talk, he didn’t reply.

Dmytro Hnap suggests that activists and journalists are attacked, harassed and persecuted exactly because of Poroshenko’s negative and contemptuous attitude towards the anti-corruption activists.

“It’s not like Poroshenko would say “get rid of them”. He could simply say: “It would be nice to shut these bastards up”, – probably this was something he said. And his employees interpret these words in their own way. We could hear on Melnychenko’s recordings how things like these happen”, – believes Hnap.

The journalist believes that the President has a situational cabinet of advisers who assemble on the regular and work out media defense and counterattack strategy. According to Hnap, this cabinet is comprised of about 10 people, namely Oleh Medvediev, Yurii Stets, Ihor Hryniv, Viktor Ukolov and two other members who used to work for SDPU(u).

“They are the ones who spread various messages, work on destroying their opponents in the media, boosting the President’s ratings”, – says Hnap.

“I have never participated in anything like that. I am positive that such meetings haven’t taken place for at least 3 months. I don’t think they will be held in the future. That’s not even possible”, – Yurii Stets denied the existence of such “situational cabinet”.

Viktor Ukolov didn’t want to talk to “Ukrayinska Pravda” and banned the author on Facebook.

A year ago the author had a talk with one of the people mentioned by Hnap. At the time that person denied an organized campaign directed at discrediting journalists and activists. “We are not doing it, that’s for sure. It could be Avakov’s associates, I am not so sure about them”, – he assured.

Anton Herashchenko, closely linked to Avakov, denied that the minister of internal affairs has at his disposal people who target journalists and anti-corruption activists trying to discredit them. “It’s ludicrous”, – said Herashchenko in his comment to “Ukrayinska Pravda”.

MP Mustafa Nayyem believes that the identity of this harassment campaign organizer is actually not that important. In his opinion, anyone who has influence over law enforcement can order it.

One way or another, all strings lead to the President.

“The President is the person responsible for the General Prosecution of Ukraine, the SSU and intelligence. And these organizations are the ones involved in persecutions”, – says Nayyem.

The Russian pattern

Journalist Dmytro Hnap points at systemic campaign against anti-corruption activists, who have become the government enemy number one. He concludes that persecution of Shabunin and AntAC, as well as the problems of investigative journalists are just sides of the same coin.

He also links to it Saakashvili’s revocation of citizenship, criminal proceedings against Kasko and Sakvarelidze, searches of Marushevska’s home, as well as changes to the law on electronic declaration.

The last electronic declaration story exemplifies quite well Poroshenko’s role.

“Everyone saw that it was a revenge against activists and journalists (legal demand to declare income – UP). The discussion was held at the President’s cabinet, where this law was suggested to the President, – shares Nayyem. – He didn’t want to personally initiate this law. Yet it was in his control to stop it. Poroshenko pretends he isn’t the one doing it, but then he still finalizes the decision (i.e. signs the law instead of vetoing it, – UP)”.

Yehor Soboliev, head of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee, is reminded of Russian technology of eliminating institutions in this campaign against activists. He believes that Poroshenko’s actions follow Kremlin’s technologies at their best – to speak about the fight against corruption correctly and beautifully while doing the opposite.

This fight of the government against the Ukrainian civil society panders to Moscow’s interests.

“Undermining Ukrainian civil society, Kremlin is getting rid of its number one enemy. Euromaidan, volunteer battalions, volunteers are representatives of Ukrainian civil society, our national phenomenon. It is to the advantage of the Kremlin when the most active Ukrainian citizens are pressured by the Ukrainian state”, – says Soboliev.

Nayyem also speaks about hit to the state and its institutions. He mentions the Ukrainian President as well.

“If Poroshenko summoned Prosecutor General, chief of National police, chief of the SSU and told them: hands off these institutions, I’ll fire you if I see any persecuting, then I would recognize him as my President. At the moment he is the president of those criminals who are raping the society”, – despairs the MP.

Oleksii Bratuschak for Ukrainska Pravda, 17 August 2017