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Human Rights Watch criticizes crackdown on freedom in Ukraine

Protesters clash with riot police outside the Parliament of Ukraine, Verkhovna Rada, in February 2018  Pyotr Sivkov/TASS
Protesters clash with riot police outside the Parliament of Ukraine, Verkhovna Rada, in February 2018
© Pyotr Sivkov/TASS

NEW YORK, January 18. /TASS/. Last year, the Ukrainian authorities have launched a serious crackdown on civil and media freedoms in the country and failed to duly investigate attacks on activists, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report.

Pressure on journalists and activists

According to the document, the Kiev government "took further steps to restrict freedom of expression and association." "Violence by radical groups promoting hatred put ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, activists, and journalists at risk," the report continues.

HRW stressed that "he Ukrainian government continued restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of information, and media freedom, seeking to justify them" by citing the need to counter Russia and anti-Ukraine propaganda.

"As of October, 201 press freedom violations took place in 23 regions. These ranged from threats and intimidation to restricting journalists’ access to information," the organization said, citing the Institute for Mass Information, a media freedom watchdog.

The report mentions the May 2018 incident in which, Ukraine’s state security service, the SBU, "deported two journalists from the main Russian-state television channel, Channel 1, alleging that they had planned to spread disinformation about Ukraine." In the same month, Kirill Vyshinsky, the chief editor of the Russian state wire service, RIA Novosti Ukraine, was arrested on high treason charges. "Security services raided the outlet’s office in Kyiv," the report continues.

"Authorities did not conduct effective investigations into numerous assaults against anti-corruption and other community activists," HRW said. The organization added that in November 2018, anti-corruption activist Yekaterina Gandzyuk died from burns she sustained during an acid attack in July.

Impunity and discrimination

The report notes that the Kiev government failed to bring to justice those responsible for the deadly Odessa House of Trade Unions fire in May 2014.

"Justice for conflict-related abuses and crimes committed during the 2014 Maidan protests and mass disturbances in Odesa remained unaddressed several years later, despite numerous pledges from Ukrainian authorities to ensure justice," the report reads. "Law enforcement failed to preserve evidence after the events and to prevent suspects from fleeing the country."

The section devoted to the conflict in eastern Ukraine says that the authorities continued their "discriminatory policies" against pensioners residing in self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR), who were told to "register as internally displaced persons (IDPs) and maintain residency in government-controlled areas to access their pensions."

"In two separate cases, Ukrainian courts found several provisions of decrees regulating pension payments to be discriminatory and ordered authorities to cease restricting access to pensions. However, authorities did not observe these rulings," the report reads.

Besides, members of "groups advocating hate and discrimination" carried out at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation against Roma people, LGBT people, and rights activists in several Ukrainian cities. "In most cases, police failed to respond or effectively investigate," HRW said.

Criticism of US and Russia

The report outlines HRW’s vision of events that took place in 2018 in 100 countries worldwide.

The organization’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth said in his foreword essay that despite the "mounting resistance to autocracy," the past year can be described as "dark time for human rights."

According to the document, "the United States continued to move backward on human rights at home and abroad in the second year of President Donald Trump’s administration." The HRW said that the current US administration has undertaken a series of measures that worsen the situation of inmates, immigrants and women.

"The Trump administration also continued to support abusive governments abroad militarily, financially, and diplomatically," the report reads.

The report also voices its traditional criticism of Russia, claiming that the authorities have "increased its crackdown on political opposition and other critics" and "continued to stifle critical voices, particularly online."

"The Kremlin did not stop authorities in Chechnya from threatening and imprisoning human rights defenders," the report reads.