Statement on the persecution of anti-corruption activist Vitalii Shabunin

On the night of July 23, 2020, there was an explosion in the house of Anti-Corruption Action Center Chairman Vitalii Shabunin who lives in Kyiv. After the explosion, his house caught fire. Fortunately, no one was injured: Vitalii and his children were not at home at the time, and the parents managed to run outside the building.

Right after the explosion, Shabunin declared that it was a planned attack because all the equipment in his house worked properly. The activist stated that two weeks before the incident, the gas service had checked the meter and all connections and did not find any technical problems.

The Anti-Corruption Action Center promotes anti-corruption legislation and anti-corruption bodies in Ukraine – the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), the Asset Recovery and Management Agency, and the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine.

Vitalii Shabunin and other representatives of the Anti-Corruption Action Center have been subjected to systematic harassment in recent years, including physical assault, fabricated criminal cases, and smear campaigns.

On March 22, 2016, the Pecherskyi District Court of Kyiv City granted investigators of the Prosecutor General’s Office the right to seize the possessions and documents of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, including information subject to bank secrecy. PGO investigators allegedly investigated the embezzlement of funds allocated by the US government and European partners to reform the Prosecutor’s Office.

In September 2016, Vitalii Shabunin reported being a target of illegal surveillance and publication of photos of his unfinished house on the Internet as well as publication of the data on financial transactions on the account of Anti-Corruption Action Center. The activist appealed to law enforcement officers with a statement about illegal surveillance and leak of information but received no adequate response.

On April 9, 2017, picketing took place near Vitalii Shabunin’s house, the purpose of which was to put pressure the activist and discredit him. The Security Service of Ukraine was involved in organizing the picketing.

On May 11, 2017, Oleksandra Ustinova, an employee of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, stated that she underwent surveillance by people who were making a film about her at the request of the Security Service of Ukraine to discredit her.

On June 7, 2017, Vitalii Shabunin was summoned to the military registration and enlistment office, although since 2000 the activist has been disqualified for military service due to his health condition. He was attacked with a gas canister near the military registration and enlistment office.

On June 9, 2017, the Investigative Department of the Fiscal Service in Kyiv instituted criminal proceedings against the leaders of the Anti-Corruption Action Center for alleged tax evasion by the organization, at the request of MP Pavlo Pynzenyk.

Another criminal case was opened against Vitalii Shabunin himself as a result of an incident on June 8 near the military registration and enlistment office, after which the activist was suspected of “inflicting bodily harm on journalist Filimonenko while the journalist was performing his lawful professional activities.” Later, the Boryspil District Prosecutor’s Office opened criminal proceedings against Oleksandra Ustinova, a board member of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, on charges of obstructing journalist activities.

On July 17, 2018, Vitalii Shabunin was attacked near the building of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office in Kyiv. The participants of the counter-action, a group of young people in camouflage uniforms, poured green iodine and threw cakes at Vitalii Shabunin, who organized the rally of anti-corruption activists.

Even with these attacks and ongoing criminal cases, some media outlets that systematically disregard journalism standards and social networks have been running a dirty smear campaign against the Anti-Corruption Action Center and Vitalii Shabunin in recent years to undermine the credibility of anti-corruption activists.

All this is taking place against the backdrop of constant impunity-fueled attacks on other anti-corruption activists in Ukraine, which are not properly investigated by law enforcement agencies. In particular, in 2019, human rights activists recorded 83 cases of harassment of public activists in Ukraine, 29 of which were related to anti-corruption activists, organized crime, and illegal construction. In the first half of 2020, ZMINA documented at least 48 cases of attacks and pressure on civil society activists in Ukraine, including 12 incidents involving anti-corruption activists.

We are forced to say that Ukraine remains a dangerous country for civic activists and human rights defenders. Moreover, its active citizens, who are trying to promote reforms and fight corruption, are often forced to pay with their safety, health and even lives, as happened with Kateryna Handziuk.

Taking into account all the facts, we, representatives of civil society organizations, demand:

– the National Police and the Prosecutor’s Office:

  • to conduct an effective, comprehensive and independent investigation of the attack on Vitalii Shabunin’s house, and identify not only the direct perpetrators of this attack but also those who ordered the attack;
  • in view of the systematic harassment and threats, to provide government security detail to Vitalii Shabunin and his family;
  • to conduct an effective investigation into attacks against other anti-corruption activists in Ukraine.

– the Temporary Commission of Inquiry of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to exercise parliamentary control over the investigation of the attacks against Kateryna Handziuk and other public activists:

  • to take control of the investigation into the arson of Vitalii Shabunin’s house, as well as attacks against other anti-corruption activists.

– the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky:

  • to publicly condemn the attacks against Vitalii Shabunin and other anti-corruption activists in Ukraine, as well as the smear campaigns and anti-Western rhetoric against those who advocate for reform and overcoming corruption;
  • to take personal control of the investigation into the arson of Vitalii Shabunin’s house, as well as attacks against other anti-corruption activists.

– the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the President of Ukraine:

  • to dismiss Interior Minister Arsen Avakov as a person who bears personal responsibility for sabotaging police reform and systematic impunity in investigating attacks against civil society activists in Ukraine over the past six years.

1. ZMINA Center for Human Rights

2. Institute of Mass Information

3. Vostok SOS

4. Postup human rights center

5. Human Rights Platform

6. Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv

7. Automaidan

8. CHESNO movement

9. Media initiative for human rights

10. Nebaiduzhi CSO

11. UMDPL Association

12. MART CSO

13. Luhansk Oblast Human Rights Center Alternatyva

14. Coordination Center Human Rights Defender

15. Agency for Legislative Initiatives

16. Ukrainian School of Political Studies

17. Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center

18. Center of Development and Democracy CSO

19. Diia human rights center

20. Tomorrow’s Lawyer CSO

21. ANTS network

22. Evidence CSO

23. Center for Civil Liberties

24. Analytical Platform CSO

25. zovzakona.org

26. Youth Organization STAN

27. Human Rights Vector CSO

28. Civic Control Platform

29. Kharkiv Oblast Foundation Civic Alternative

30. Institute for Social Innovation Development

31. Transparency International Ukraine

32. Human Rights Initiative CSO

33. Azov Region Development CSO

34. School of Media Patriots CSO

35. Foundation of Regional Initiatives

36. Detector Media

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