Clash between protestors and police; Media under sanction
Clashes between protesters and police officers after sentencing Serhiy Sternenko
On February 23, 2021, the head of the NGO "Nebayduzhi", former board member and head of the Odessa regional branch of the "Right Sector" in Odessa, Serhiy Sternenko, was convicted on charges of abduction, robbery, and illegal handling of weapons to 7 years in prison and confiscation of 50% of personal property. In this context, mass protests were organized in many Ukrainian cities. The protesters believe that his case is politicized, especially since one of the victims is a member of Odessa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov's political party. Serhiy Sternenko has been the victim of several assassination attempts. In 2018, during a new organized assassination attempt on him, one person died. Sternenko claims that he was in a self-defence position, and his case was politicized mainly due to his political activity. In an article published after the ruling on the Sternenko case, the Atlantic Council draws attention to the fact that "A former high-ranking member has accused Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova of the prosecution service of taking a personal interest in the numerous investigations involving Sternenko and pushing for charges to be brought against him".
About 10000 people rallied in central Kyiv today, protesting against the jailing of Odesa activist Serhiy Sternenko and demanding justice reform. Very different people present, young and old, but won't be surprised if a minority throwing fire grenades gets the most attention pic.twitter.com/JF4zPQfaIQ— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) February 27, 2021
The same case brings into question multiple files opened after the EuroMaidan and that the authorities have concealed over time. Protesters across the country believe there is a risk that other cases also will be politicized and that Ukraine will take a step back in the fight against corruption. During the protests, Radio Free Europe reported violent clashes between police and protesters. Later, on March 23, 2021, new protests were organised into support of Serhiy Sternenko on Bankova Street, outside the President's Office in Kyiv. The walls of the building were vandalized, with graffiti spray. The latter demanded the release of Serhiy Sternenko, convinced that the sentence was politicized because of the activist's political beliefs and his anti-government stance.
TV channels 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK – under the sanctions in Ukraine
On February 2, 2021, the National Security and Defense Council decided to sanction 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK (media holding "News"), and several regional broadcasters and their formal owner - Taras Kozak. Taras Kozak is close to Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine and one of the opposition Political Party For Life leaders. On the same date, a Decree was issued by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, approving the National Security and Defense Council's decision. The Secretary of the Council was appointed responsible for complying with the provisions of the Decree.
WOW! President @ZelenskyyUa has imposed sanctions ag. TV channels associated w Medvedchuk: NewsOne, 112 Ukraine, ZIK.— Viktoria (@Ukropo4kA) February 2, 2021
Complete blocking of assets, revocation of licenses, a ban on the withdrawal of assets & transfer of their intellectual property to others.#Ukraine
The opposition appreciated the Decree of the President of Ukraine as a political decision, which aims to raise the popularity of the "People's Servant" party and is an attack on freedom of expression. On the other hand, the same Decree was positively appreciated by public opinion. This decision should have been taken long ago in the context of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the pro-Russian propaganda promoted by these television stations. Experts also believe that the decision is quite delayed but may be helpful in mitigating the misinformation promoted by Moscow through domestic political actors, as they have long pursued anti-government policies, acting in the Russian Federation's interests. On February 3, 2021, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, met with leading Ukrainian television channels managers and stated that the Decree has nothing to do with other TV channels. In Ukraine, there is no threat to freedom of speech or media business. The President noted that the decision on sanctions is justified in connection with Russia's funding and cooperation with terrorist organizations.
Crimea: the right to freedom of association violated by the Russian authorities
A Russian court has handed down a sentence to a Crimean Tatar activist, accusing him of taking part in the activities of an illegal organisation. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Medzhlit Ablyamitov was sentenced to 6 years in prison for participating in activities carried out by a Ukrainian NGO. Under the Russian law, the Noman Çelebicihan (or Asker) Battalion is considered a terrorist organization in the Russian Federation. Medzhlit Ablyamitov returned to Crimea in 2020 to care for her sick mother. Immediately after his return, he was detained by Russian law enforcement, being accused of organizing people's training to use certain weapons and participating in border patrol activities in favour of the Ukrainians. Shortly after his arrest, his mother died.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group explains that the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion aims to advocate for de-occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russians, which is why its activity has been outlawed. The organization is not a paramilitary force and was created in 2016 by people who militate against the Crimean peninsula's illegal occupation. Several activists or journalists from the Crimean peninsula are still being held in Russian prisons and accused for allegedly participating in paramilitary actions or fighting the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula. Many of them are subjected to various forms of torture or their family members are persecuted by Russian authorities.
The coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity warned by Russian authorities for a solo picket
On March 25, 2021, an administrative protocol was drawn up against the coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity, Mustafa Seidaliev. The activist was accused under Article 20.6.1 of Russia's Administrative Code - Failure to comply with the rules of conduct in an emergency or the threat of its occurrence. According to "Crimean Solidarity" representatives, cited by Radio Free Europe, Russian police officers came to Seidaliev. The policeman said that public events in Crimea are prohibited during the pandemic. Mustafa Seidaliev noted that a solo picket was not such an event. The policeman drew up a protocol and promised to send the document to the court and notify Seidaliev with a summons about the Court meeting's date and time.
Radio Free Europe reported that on December 28, 2020, Mustafa Seidaliev came out with a poster "STOP to repressions against the Crimean Tatars" in the Old Crimea, supporting political prisoners from the Hizb-ut-Tahrir organisation, who were sentenced to 13 to 18 years in prison in high-security colonies. In January 2021, Russian security officials visited Crimean Tatar activists Aziz Karakhalilov and Arsen Yakubov, the Crimean Solidarity coordinator Mustafa Seidaliev and journalist Emin Rustemov. They issued warnings to all of them about the ban on holding and attending rallies in connection with introducing a regime of "high alert on the territory Crimea " during the COVID-19 pandemic.