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Ukraine

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine (BELOW) | Crimea

Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president who is head of state and commander in chief, and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; and a judiciary. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.

Following the Russian Federation’s November 25 attack on and seizure of Ukrainian ships and crewmembers in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait, the country instituted martial law for a period of 30 days in 10 oblasts bordering areas in which Russian forces are located. Martial law expired December 27 with no reports of rights having been restricted during the time.

Human rights issues included: civilian casualties, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses committed in the context of the Russia-induced and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region; abuse of detainees by law enforcement; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; censorship; blocking of websites; refoulement; the government’s increasing failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against activists, journalists, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; widespread government corruption; and worst forms of child labor.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly committed by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv had not been held to account.

Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in: enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; committed gender-based violence; interfered with freedom of expression, including of the press, peaceful assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.

Human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included: politically motivated disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; politically motivated imprisonment; and interference with the freedoms of expression, including of the press, and assembly and association. Crimea occupation authorities intensified violence and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea sub-report).

Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russia-led forces to investigate abuse allegations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Authorities did not always respect these rights, however. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media outlets whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, several persons were detained in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, Melitopol, and Odesa for carrying banned Soviet symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws.

Press and Media Freedom: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were owned by wealthy and influential oligarchs, often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies.

As of October 1, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) recorded 140 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press during the year, compared with 152 cases over the same period in 2017.

Jeansa–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. IMI’s monitoring of national print and online media for jeansa indicated that a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. According to IMI press monitoring, during the month of September, the country’s internet media contained the highest level of jeansa observed in the previous five years, a level twice as high as the same period in 2017, with 52 percent of journalists reporting that their outlet regularly published jeansa. 

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes as giving rise to a growing culture of impunity.

According to IMI, as of September 1, there had been 22 reports of attacks on journalists during the year, compared with 19 cases during the same period in 2017. As in 2017, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 24 incidents involving threats against journalists, as compared with 22 during the same period in 2017. IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

On September 8, two men, one of them identified as Volodymyr Voychenko, a member of the Novoodesa district council in Mykolaiv Oblast, attacked and beat the editor in chief of the local Mykolaiv newspaper My City, Mykola Popov. According to Popov, Voychenko and an accomplice approached him at a restaurant to complain about his writing and then beat him. The journalist linked the attack to his critical publications about local authorities. Police opened an investigation into both Popov and his attackers, who had filed a complaint claiming that Popov had attacked them.

There were also reports that police beat journalists covering demonstrations (see section 2.b).

There were reports of police using violence and intimidation against journalists. For example in February 21, several female journalists seeking to attend the treason trial of former president Yanukovych reported that police officers forced them to undress and undergo invasive security checks in order to be granted entry to a courtroom where Poroshenko was testifying via video link. Specifically, the female journalists were asked to remove all clothing above the waist so that police could confirm that they did not have political slogans written on their bodies. Police later indicated that they had been looking for members of the protest group Femen, who often conducted partially nude protests. The presidential administration subsequently apologized for the intrusive checks, but the National Police spokesperson defended the police actions as “necessary.”

There were reports of attacks on the offices of independent media outlets, generally by unidentified assailants. For example, on February 23, an unknown assailant burned the offices of the investigative news website Chetverta Vlada (fourth Power) in Rivne. Police opened an investigation into the attack. Five days prior, unknown persons had robbed the offices hosting the website’s server and seized key equipment, which incapacitated the site. Two perpetrators were identified and police issued a wanted notice.

There were reports that government officials sought to pressure journalists through the judicial system. On August 27, Pechersk District Court in Kyiv granted the Prosecutor General’s Office access to 17 months of text messages, calls, and locations from the cell phone of journalist Natalia Sedletska, who was the editor in chief of the anticorruption investigative television program Schemes. The court’s decision was made in the context of a case against Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) for allegedly disclosing state secrets to journalists in which Sedletska and a number of other journalists were called as witnesses. Sedletska had previously refused to provide information to the Prosecutor General’s Office voluntarily on the grounds her communications with confidential sources are protected under the law. Human rights defenders considered the court’s decision a violation of press freedom and an attempt to harass and intimidate Sedletska. On September 18, an appeals court ruled to restrict the original request to geolocation data from around the offices of the NABU in Kyiv, but upheld the original timeframe. On September 18, the ECHR ordered the government to ensure that authorities do not access any data from Sedletska’s cell phone. According to press reports, Sedletska was one of at least three journalists whose communications data was subject to court rulings that it should be provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

There were no developments during the year in the 2016 killing of well-known Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).

In June 2017 authorities completed the investigation of the 2015 killing of Oles Buzyna, allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, and referred the case to court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human Rights organizations frequently criticized the government for taking an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, and other content (see sections on National Security and Internet Freedom).

The State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books that were seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence, spreading propaganda of violence, inciting interethnic, racial, religious hostility, promoting terrorist attacks, or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of July the list contained 180 books. In January, Derzhkomteleradio banned the Russian-language translation of Stalingrad, an award-winning book by British historian Anthony Beever. Authorities held that the book’s allegation that Ukrainian militias during World War II carried out an execution of 90 Jewish orphans in Bila Tserkva constituted “propaganda” encroaching on the country’s sovereignty and security.

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists.

For example, on June 13, Ukroboronprom (an association of state-run companies producing defense articles) filed a lawsuit against Publishing House Media DK, the media group that owns Novoye VremyaNovoye Vremya had published articles on corruption connected to state purchases of defense articles from Ukroboronprom. The lawsuit called for the protection of Ukroboronprom’s honor and dignity and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on corruption schemes. The case had not yet been heard in court by year’s end.

National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russian lines, in the context of the ongoing conventional conflict in the Donbas, as well as the ongoing Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September more than 660 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. In response to Russia’s continued barrage of cyberattacks and disinformation as part of its efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the government maintained its May 2017 ban on the operations of 468 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were the country’s two most widely used social networks, which were based in Russia, and major Russian television channels.

There were reports that the government used noncompliance with these content bans to pressure outlets it perceived as having a pro-Russian editorial policy. For example, on January 25, the television channel INTER, which some observers perceived to have a pro-Russian bias, received notice from the SBU that it would be subjected to additional “inspections” on the grounds the channel had aired films that were banned because they starred pro-Russian actors that posed a “threat to national security.”

On October 4, parliament approved a resolution to impose sanctions on television channels 112 Ukraine and NewsOne due to their alleged pro-Russian activities and beneficial owners. The resolution called for blocking of assets, suspension of licenses, a ban on the use of radio frequencies, and a termination of the provisions of telecommunication services and usage of general telecommunications networks. As of December sanctions had not yet come into force.

On September 18, the Lviv Oblast council banned all Russian-language books, films, and songs, in order to combat “hybrid warfare” by Russia. The Zhytomyr and Ternopil Oblast Councils mirrored this measure on October 25 and November 6 respectively. Observers expressed doubts that this type of ban could be enforced.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU, the military, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, the editor in chief of the weekly magazine Novoye Vremya reported threats to the magazine’s editorial board by the chair of the parliamentary committee on national security and former head of the Ukroboronprom Serhiy Pashynsky, and the deputy chair of the National Security and Defense Council Oleg Hladkovsky. The magazine reported that the two officials were the main beneficiaries of corruption schemes connected to state purchases of defense articles. On April 12, attorneys for the two members of parliament visited the magazine’s office and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on national security grounds. The magazine refused to do so.

There were reports that the government used national security grounds to arrest and prosecute journalists it believed had a pro-Russian editorial bias. On May 15, the SBU searched RIA Novosti Ukraine’s office. Editor in Chief Kirill Vyshinskiy was arrested and charged with high treason. According to the SBU, in the spring of 2014, Vyshinskiy went to Crimea, where he allegedly took part in a propaganda campaign supporting the peninsula’s purported annexation by Russia, for which the SBU alleged he was given an award by the Russian government. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, and the OSCE representative on freedom of the media expressed concern at the time of his arrest. Pretrial investigation continued as of late September.

Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists on national security grounds. On July 10, border guards barred John Warren Graeme Broderip, a UK national and the host of the Russian channel NTV, from entering the country and imposed a three-year entry ban on him for violating the rules of entering occupied Crimea in 2015.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that nationalist hate groups committed attacks on journalists. For example according to IMI, on July 19, members of nationalist hate group C14 in Kyiv attacked a journalist covering a trial of C14 members who had been charged with attacking a Romani camp.

Russia-led forces in the east harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “the space for freedom of opinion and expression remained highly restricted.” The HRMMU documented the case of two men detained and charged with espionage for their pro-Ukrainian positions expressed in social media. The HRMMU also noted that “local media currently operated mainly as a tool for promoting those in control.” According to CyberLab Ukraine, the authorities in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” blocked more than 50 Ukrainian news outlets.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.

On August 22, the Russian state-run television channel Rossiya 24 broadcast an “interview” with Stanislav Aseyev, in which he falsely confessed to spying for Ukraine. “DPR authorities” arrested Aseyev in June (see section 1.g.).

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 53 percent of the population used Internet in 2017. Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to block access to websites.

On May 14, the president endorsed new sanctions approved by the National Security and Defense Council that, among other things, obliged Ukrainian internet providers to block 192 sites, in addition to those previously blocked.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.

In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had deteriorated for the second year in a row. It noted in particular that “authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ activities, with many users detained, fined, and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, Russia-led forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”

There were reports that the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. According to the media monitoring group Detector Media, in 2017 authorities opened criminal investigations into 40 users or administrators of social media platforms for posting content that “undermined the constitutional order” of the country or otherwise threatened national security, 37 of which were referred to court. For example, according to Freedom House, in February the SBU searched the home of a Chernihiv resident for allegedly posting anti-Ukrainian content on Russian social media platforms. Authorities seized his computer and telephone, and later charged him for “undermining the constitutional order.” According to the SBU, the man shared content on several groups and pages with more than 20,000 followers.

On November 28, representatives of at least four Ukrainian human rights, media, and anticorruption organizations were notified by Google that their private and corporate Google accounts were attacked by offenders likely backed by the Russian government. Ukrainian users received similar messages throughout 2015-2016. Independent analysis indicated that a hacker group named Fancy Bear associated with the Russian Government was behind the attacks.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russian musicians, actors, and other cultural figures that it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.

During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. There were reports, however, that police at times used excessive force when dispersing protests. For example, on March 3, police destroyed a protest tent camp that had been set up near the parliament in October 2017. Police allegedly beat protesters and used tear gas against journalists. Nineteen persons sustained injuries (10 had head injuries and nine other types of physical injuries), including journalists from Radio Liberty, Hromadske TV, and the Insider news outlet. The journalists reported deliberate attacks by police despite the fact that they had clearly identified themselves as members of the press. According to the chief of the Kyiv police, investigators and police were lawfully investigating criminal acts in connection with protester attempts to seize the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv in December 2017 and clashes at the parliament on February 27. Police initiated two criminal investigations on possible use of excessive force by officers and interference by police in the work of journalists who were attempting to record the event. The investigation continued as of December.

While the main 2018 Pride March in Kyiv was protected by thousands of police, police at times did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of nationalist hate groups. On March 8, members of right-wing groups attacked participants in public events in Uzhhorod, Lviv, and Kyiv aimed at raising awareness of women’s rights and gender-based and domestic violence. Police launched investigations of the incidents. Police briefly detained attackers but no charges were filed.

In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies” of Russia-led forces. The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces, with forced public participation.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

Human rights groups and international organizations continued to criticize sharply a law signed by the president in March 2017 that introduced vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and a revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which had successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials. Heads and members of the boards of anticorruption NGOs had to submit their asset declarations by April 1. Observers continued to express concern that these asset declarations have the potential to endanger the staff of NGOs working on human rights and anticorruption, particularly if they work on issues related to Russian-occupied Crimea or areas of the Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces.

Human rights organizations reported a growing number of unsolved attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed created a climate of impunity. A September 26 joint statement by several dozen Ukrainian civic organizations stated that there had been more than 50 such attacks in the previous 12 months and accused the government of failing to investigate these crimes properly.

There were reports of incidents in which observers alleged that the government targeted activists for prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, several major human rights groups expressed concern about the government’s prosecution of Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the anticorruption NGO AntAC, which they alleged was selective and politically motivated. On January 15, authorities charged Shabunin with allegedly inflicting bodily harm on a journalist, a charge that carries a heavier penalty than the crime of inflicting intentional moderate bodily harm with which he had previously been charged in 2017. Both charges stemmed from an incident in June 2017 in which Shabunin allegedly punched Vsevolod Filimonenko, a supposed journalist who had reportedly harassed one of Shabunin’s colleagues. Human rights groups noted that video footage of the events suggested that Filimonenko may have been sent by the country’s security services to provoke a conflict with Shabunin and that the resources and vigor the government applied to prosecuting Shabunin far exceeded their usual approach to prosecuting attacks on journalists, including attacks where the resultant injuries were much more grave.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption. Authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

On June 26, the president signed the Law on the High Anticorruption Court (HACC); on August 2, he signed an amendment to the law that clarified the HACC appeals processes. Observers noted that the HACC’s creation completed the country’s system of bodies to fight high-level corruption. Its success will depend on the integrity of the selection procedures for its judges as well as on the effectiveness and independence of the other two previously created anticorruption agencies, the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) and the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor (SAP). The process for selecting HACC judges began in August. In November anticorruption watchdogs expressed concern about apparent limitations on the work of an international expert panel that the law mandates participate in the HACC judge selection process to ensure the integrity of candidates.

The new independent anticorruption bodies faced political pressure that undermined public trust, raised concern about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption, and threatened the viability of the institutions. Anticorruption watchdogs noted that several appointments to NABU’s audit board during the year were seen as personally loyal to the president and posing a threat to NABU’s independence. Observers alleged that the release of leaked conversations by the head of SAP in early 2018 indicated he had engaged in witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He refused to resign, was not disciplined by the Prosecutor General or prosecutorial body, and allegedly proceeded to undermine NABU investigations, weakening efforts to hold high-ranking officials to account.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.

On February 13, NABU arrested Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov and three city council deputies, who were charged with embezzlement and causing financial damage to the state. He was released on bail on February 15. According to NABU, Trukhanov and his associates profited from a fraud scheme in which the Odesa city government bought a building from a fictitious private company for 185 million hryvnias ($6.9 million) in 2016. That company, allegedly beneficially owned by Trukhanov and associates, had allegedly bought the building just months earlier from the Odesa city government for just 11.5 million hryvnias ($430,000) at an auction and had made millions of dollars in illicit profit from the resale. A court began reviewing the case on November 14.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates the filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials, and a special review process allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration. By law, the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) is responsible for reviewing financial declarations, monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials, and checking party finances. Observers increasingly questioned, however, whether the NAPC had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function, noting that in practice NABU had proven to be more effective for oversight of declarations, even though this was not its core mandate. In July, Transparency International Ukraine noted that the NAPC had fully reviewed only 300 declarations out of 2.5 million that had been submitted and had identified multiple serious holes in its verification procedures. On September 25, the NAPC launched “automated” verification of declarations, which would purportedly allow easier identification of declarations at “high risk’ of fraud. Observers noted serious flaws in this automated procedure and doubted it would result in improved verification. Observers noted that the NAPC’s December announcement that it would open criminal cases regarding party financing against the lead opposition party Batkivshchyna and several minor parties after years of general inactivity raised concerns that it might be used for political purposes ahead of the 2019 election cycle.

Ukraine (Crimea)

Executive Summary

In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” of March 27, 2014, and Resolution 73/263 on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”of December 22, 2018, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted “annexation” of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Ukraine’s Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia.

A local authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. In 2016 Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. Russian security services continued to consolidate control over Crimea and restrict human rights. Occupation authorities imposed and disproportionately applied repressive Russian Federation laws on the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

Human rights issues included: disappearances; torture, including punitive psychiatric incarceration; mistreatment of persons in detention as punishment or to extort confessions; harsh prison conditions and removing prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; pervasive interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including closing outlets and violence against journalists; restrictions on the internet, including blocking websites; gross and widespread suppression of freedom of assembly; severe restriction of freedom of association, including barring the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; restriction of freedom of movement and on participation in the political process; systemic corruption; and systemic discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.

Russian-installed authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness. Occupation and local “self-defense” forces often did not wear insignia and committed abuses with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices including the press to harassment and prosecution. They refused to register independent print and broadcast media outlets, forcing them to cease operations. Threats and harassment against international and Ukrainian journalists were common.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted that occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to the occupation.

During the year human rights monitors observed an increase in prosecutions and convictions for opinions expressed in social media posts, at times for posts that were written before Russia began its occupation of Crimea. For example, on May 4, a court in Sevastopol sentenced Ihor Movenko to two years in a minimum security prison for commenting on a social network that “Crimea is Ukraine.”

There were reports that authorities detained individuals for “abusing” the Russian flag or other symbols of the Russian occupation. For example on July 26, the FSB raided the homes of four Crimean Tatar teenagers in Belogorsk District after the youth allegedly removed the Russian flag from the city hall in the village of Kurskoye and threw it into a pit latrine. During the raids two residents of the homes were detained for interrogation and then released.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Occupation authorities refused to register most independent media outlets, forcing them to close in 2015. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation of Crimea began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, public activists began reporting on developments in Crimea. The HRMMU noted in a September report on Crimea that there was “continued interference in journalistic activity and a lack of independent reporting.”

The small monthly Ukrainian language newsletter Krymsky Teren, published by the Ukrainian Cultural Center, suspended publication on June 30 after members of the center and their publishing house were warned not to engage in “extremist activities” and threatened. In early December the newsletter resumed publication. On August 29, FSB agents searched the apartment of the editor of Krymsky Teren, Olha Pavlenko, whom they claimed had ties to a Ukrainian nationalist organization. After the search authorities interrogated Pavlenko and confiscated and copied her cell phone and computer. On September 2, she left for mainland Ukraine, citing fears for her safety.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of Russian security forces or police harassing independent media and detaining journalists in connection with their professional activities. For example, the HRMMU’s September report described an interview with an undercover reporter monitoring trials of Crimean Tatars accused of terrorism, who was questioned by police about his journalistic activity. He was “warned” about the consequences of “wandering around” court hearings and released after writing an explanatory note.

There were reports that authorities failed to investigate violence against journalists. For example, on February 1, journalist Evgeniy Gaivoronskiy reported that an unknown assailant had pushed him to the ground and kicked him multiple times in the center of Yalta. Gaivoronskiy had been receiving threats for several months before the attack. According to press reports, Gaivoronskiy had a history of employment at pro-Russian publications, but he had recently come into conflict with a local real estate developer, Dmitriy Tiukayev, because of his critical reporting on Tiukayev’s building projects. Gaivoronskiy reported the attack to police but said they refused to open an investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists overwhelmingly resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports that media outlets were pressured to remove stories that angered powerful political figures. According to press reports on September 23, local Feodosiya newspaper Gorod-24 published a report about a luxury construction project that fit the description of a home being built for Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the government-owned media agency. According to the article’s author, authorities forced the newspaper’s editor to purchase all printed copies of the paper at her own expense and then arranged her firing. Kiselyov filed a complaint with police, claiming the journalist was engaging in an extortion attempt.

Russian occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. According to Crimean Human Rights Group media monitoring, during the year occupation authorities began to jam the signal of four previously accessible Ukrainian radio stations by transmitting Russian radio stations at the same frequencies.

Human rights groups reported Russian authorities forbade songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

Censorship of independent internet sites became more widespread (see Internet Freedom).

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service (RosFinMonitoring) included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. This prevented these individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions. On September 6, RosFinMonitoring added the names of five critics of the occupation to the list, including Larisa Kitaiska, a local businesswoman convicted of extremism for making comments critical of the occupation that authorities deemed “Russophobic.”

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism” or “terrorism” as grounds to justify raids, arrests, and prosecutions of individuals in retaliation for their opposition to the occupation. For example on May 21, Russian security forces raided the houses of Crimean Solidarity activists and bloggers Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov in Bakhchisaray District and detained them. As of late September, both remained in detention and had been charged with participating in the activities of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. Human rights monitors believed that the case against them was politically motivated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet by imposing repressive laws of the Russian Federation on Crimea (see section 2.a. of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia). Security services routinely monitored and controlled internet activity to suppress dissenting opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated residents of Crimea for posting pro-Ukrainian opinions on Facebook or in blogs.

More than 30 Ukrainian online outlets were among the hundreds that Russian federal authorities blocked in Crimea, including several sites that were not on Russian federal internet block list.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Russian authorities in Crimea engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages. While Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian are official languages in occupied Crimea, authorities continued to reduce instruction in schools and offered the languages only as optional instruction at the end of the school day. The Mejlis reported authorities continued to pressure Crimean Tatars to use the Cyrillic, rather than the Latin, alphabet.

Despite an April 2017 order by the International Court of Justice to ensure access to education in Ukrainian, there was only one Ukrainian school with Ukrainian as a language of instruction and 13 classes offered Ukrainian as a subject in the curriculum. According to occupation authorities, there were 16 Crimean Tatar schools in the peninsula in the 2017-2018 academic year as compared with 52 in the 2014-2015 academic year. The Crimean Tatar Resource Center reported, however, that this number was substantially inflated.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Individuals opposing the occupation reported widespread harassment and intimidation by occupation authorities to suppress their ability to assemble peacefully. For example, the press reported on October 11 that authorities in Armyansk had issued a warning to a local resident, Yekaterina Pivovar, not to violate laws governing public protests. Pivovar had allegedly been planning to organize a group of local mothers to assemble outside city hall to demand a meeting with local officials. The mothers were concerned about the impact of toxic sulfur dioxide gas being released since late August from a nearby titanium plant on the health of their children.

A 2017 regulation limits the places in Crimea where public events may be held to 366 listed locations. The HRMMU noted that the “regulation” restricted freedom of assembly to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” an unnecessary move that appeared “designed to dissuade the exercise of the right of freedom of assembly.”

Authorities fined individuals for conducting single-person pickets, the only type of protest that is supposed to be permitted without official permission under the legal system that Russia has imposed on occupied Crimea. According to the HRMMU, between December 2017 and March, occupation “courts” fined 80 Muslim men, who had conducted single-person pickets in October 2017 to protest the arrests of other Muslim men, mostly Crimean Tatars, for alleged membership in terrorist or extremist organizations.

There were reports of occupation authorities using coercive methods to provide for participation at rallies in support of the “government.” Students, teachers and civil servants were forced to attend a commemoration event on the day of deportation of the Crimean Tatars organized by Crimean-occupation authorities in Simferopol on May 18.

There were reports that occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities broadly restricted freedom of association for individuals that opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities. Two of the group’s leaders, Emir-Usain Kuku and Server Mustafayev, remained in pretrial detention as of November on charges of allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Human rights monitors believed the cases against both men to be politically motivated and without basis. On January 27, law enforcement officers in Sudak disrupted a Crimean Solidarity civic group meeting attended by 150 persons. Law enforcement officers allegedly searched for drugs and weapons and questioned and photographed participants at the gathering. On October 27, in Simferopol, officials from the “prosecutor general’s office” accompanied by a contingent of armed men in masks and uniformed police raided another Crimean Solidarity meeting. The officials issued formal warnings to three members of the group, whom authorities claimed were poised to violate “counterterrorism and counterextremism” legislation by purportedly planning to hold a series of single-person pickets. On October 28, occupation authorities blocked the group’s website.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people remained banned for purported “extremism” despite an order by the International ?ourt of Justice requiring that Russian authorities “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” On October 29, occupation authorities announced plans to “nationalize” the Mejlis building in Simferopol, which they had seized in 2014, by transferring it to a Muslim organization that supported the occupation. Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports during the year of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example on October 17, Russian police in Moscow arrested Vitaliy Nakhlupin, the “deputy prime minister” of Crimea, and charged him with taking unspecified bribes, reported by media to be related to the construction of the Kerch bridge and other road construction projects.

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