Anti-corruption activists create chronology of Ukrainian government attacks against them

On August 15, activists  found out that a notice of suspicion was being prepared for  Shabunin, for punching a pseudo-journalist Vsevolod Filimonenko, who has been provoking Shabunin for the last few months  Photo: themir.ua

On August 15, activists found out that a notice of suspicion was being prepared for Shabunin, for punching a pseudo-journalist Vsevolod Filimonenko, who has been provoking Shabunin for the last few months Photo: themir.ua 

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Anti-corruption NGOs are one of the most powerful forces of civil society. At the same time, they are the largest threat to a corrupt oligarchic system. Since Ukraine entered the era of transformation after the Euromaidan Revolution, anti-corruption activists united to accelerate changes. From the beginning of their work, they face the resistance of the system.

The Anti-Corruptionion Action Center (AntAC) was created in 2012. Nowadays, the NGO often complains about government attacks. They take on a variety of forms: in the way of opening proceedings against the NGO, introducing new legislation developed to specifically target NGOs, organizing a fake protest near the house of the AntAC Head Vitaliy Shabunin, an unsubstantiated video depicting AntAC’s alleged corruption schemes etc.

But the last incident is perhaps the most serious one. It involves a conflict on 15 August 2017 during which Shabunin punched Vsevolod Filimonenko, a person who presented himself as a journalist, when Shabunin went to the military draft office after receiving a notice. During this incident, Filimonenko sprayed Shabunin and journalists at the scene with tear gas. Shabunin himself says that he punched Filimonenko after hearing insults a colleague, and accuses him of coordinating a campaign to discredit him and AntAC. The Head of AntAC now faces 3 years in jail for this incident. His colleagues say that the suspicion notice is only the latest episode in the campaign directed against AntAC:

“We found out that a notice of suspicion was being prepared for Shabunin, for punching a pseudo-journalist Vsevolod Filimonenko, who has been provoking Shabunin for the last few months,” AntAC said.

First, the charge was qualified as the interference with journalist activities combined with infliction of an injury of moderate severity. However, due to resonance among journalists whose real cases of interference of their journalistic activity have been pending for years or groundlessly closed, the charge was re-qualified to just an infliction of an injury of moderate severity. The latter charge may lead to a sentence of 3 years of imprisonment. On August 16, the court chose a personal guarantee as a preventive measure for Shabunin,” explain the activists in a statement.

They also say that severity of the injury raises questions. In the course of the court hearing, it came up that the prosecution’s documents contained a number of mismatches. The most blatant one was that Filimonenko was hospitalized on 8 June, but the bone fracture appeared only after 12 days.

AntAC activists state that Shabunin is ready to hold responsibility for his actions – but only for those he really committed.

Being concerned by the regular attacks, the representatives of the NGO published a chronology of the attacks on them, which we republish in full. Highlighting is by EP.

Chronology of the attacks

Viktor Shokin, ex Prosecutor General initiated the attacks on the activists in the new era Photo: korrespondent.net

Viktor Shokin, ex Prosecutor General initiated the attacks on the activists in the new era Photo: korrespondent.net

Criminal case in 2016. Political persecutions started back in early 2016, when the Prosecutor General’s Office, at that time headed by Viktor Shokin, initiated an investigation into AntAC’s alleged embezzlement of U.S. funds. The so-called “pre-trial investigation” was accompanied by the disclosure of illegally obtained confidential financial information of AntAC on the Internet.

When Yuriy Lutsenko was appointed as the Prosecutor General, the case was considered persecution and closed. But the executors were not punished for the abuse of their powers.

E-declarations law for anti-corruption activists. In 2017, the attacks multiplied. As revenge for the e-declarations system, in April the Parliament obliged all anticorruption activists as well as unlimited circle of third parties related to anti-corruption activities to submit asset declarations required from public officials. The form and the liability for false statements are the same as for public officials. The initiative was clearly aimed at blurring in the eyes of public the difference between those performing the functions of the state and those watchdogging them. In addition, the vague wording of the law provides the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption with a tool of selective persecution. Although the regulation was heavily criticized by the international partners, it is still in force.

Fake protest near Shabunin's house

Fake protest near Shabunin’s house. Poster says: “Sell your house, and buy the National Anti-Corruption Bureau the rights to wiretap.”

Fake protest coordinated by the Security Services (SBU) management. On 9 April, an orchestrated demonstration in front of the Shabunin’s house took place. Fake activists with strange posters could not explain their claims to Shabunin, while employees of the Security Service of Ukraine observed the demonstration from the side. Later journalists from Radio Free Liberty published evidence proving that the protest was organized and coordinated by senior officials from the Security Service of Ukraine. The fake protest was filmed on camera by unknown persons and immediately published by Filimonenko and others in discrediting videos against AntAC and Shabunin. It’s important to mention that one month before, on 6 March, AntAC filed a lawsuit against the Security Service of Ukraine for concealing e-declarations of their senior management.

Personal harassment by Filimonenko and others. In April 2017, cases of personal harassment of AntAC leaders became frequent, with Filimonenko playing a leading role in them. First, he was intrusively inquiring Shabunin of how he “embezzled” money people donated him in 2012 for the medical treatment of his wife, who spent three weeks in a coma. Later on, he humiliated Shabunin’s parents-in-law. However, the highest point came when Filimonenko and his allies met AntAC’s Board member Oleksandra Ustinova at the airport and morally harassed her by asking how come she can afford travelling abroad for vacations while soldiers are dying in the war with Russia. Information about the exact date and time of Ustinova’s flight was not public and was accessible only by the Security Service of Ukraine, which most likely leaked it to Filimonenko.

Provocation at the military enlistment office. In May 2017, Shabunin started receiving public threats for alleged “draft evasion,” which first came from Filimonenko. Shabunin could not have been mobilized for military service as he is not a reserve officer. Moreover, in 2005, he was recognized as “unfit for military service in peacetime and partially fit in wartime” due to his health condition.

Despite this, in June 2017, three enlistment officers accompanied by unknown persons with video cameras came to Shabunin’s house and with a number of violations of the law delivered a military subpoena. In the next days, Shabunin once again passed a medical examination which confirmed he is unfit for military service.

Shabunin punching Filimonov. Snapshot from TSN video

Shabunin punching Filimonenko. Snapshot from TSN video

During the day Shabunin arrived to the military enlistment office an incident happened, Filimonenko was once again was provoking Shabunin and the latter punched him. In response, Filimonenko continued provoking Vitaliy and sprayed something in Shabunin’s face. That same evening, Filimonenko released his new video about AntAC informing that Shabunin was avoiding military service.

It is worth mentioning separately, that Filimonenko is not brought to justice for his attack as fast as Shabunin is.

Later, it was confirmed that the military officers were sent to Shabunin’s house upon the request of the Military Prosecutor’s office headed by Anatoliy Matios. Notably, they visited Shabunin’s house just one week after AntAC submitted a lawsuit against Matios for illegally hiding asset declarations of their staff. Military officials who organized an attempt to illegally call Shabunin to the military service were later sanctioned for having exceeded their powers.

Criminal case against AntAC triggered by Tax Police in June 2017. In May 2017, at the Ukrainian Parliament, MP Pavlo Pynzenyk, a close associate of Mykola Martynenko [Ukrainian MP suspected of money laundering and corruption – Ed], screened a defamatory movie about AntAC filmed by the National Interest of Ukraine (NGO) and started groundlessly questioning our non-profit status based on misinterpreting financial information of AntAC which was leaked to them from state agencies. In June 2017, the Kyiv Tax Police Department initiated a criminal case against AntAC. Deutsche Welle informed that the grounds to initiate it was a complaint of the Director of the National Interest of Ukraine, Vasyl Apasov, on possible violations of requirements of legislation regulating activities of non-profit organizations by AntAC. This complaint was submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office by MP Pynzenyk. He belongs to Narodnyi Front parliamentary faction, against members of which AntAC initiated several investigations. Subsequently, these videos were deleted from the websites on which they were hosted. 

The hired actor Michael-John Wolfe played

The hired actor Michael-John Wolfe played the role of a host of a non-existing US TV channel to accuse Shabunin of alleged corruption

Defamation campaign abroad by hired lobbyists. AntAC is being defamed abroad as well. Persons performing this campaign are hired professionals. One of them is Liz Mair, president of the U.S. company specialized on media consulting and media placement. She presents defamation materials against AntAC as a topic which should be “highlighted and monitored” by journalists. We noticed at least one op-ed published in the HufftingtonPost based on these defamatory materials.

In July 2017, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain Adam Ereli groundlessly accused AntAC in profiting from kickbacks. He used another set of “talking points” about AntAC, which were widely distributed by unknown people among the U.S. establishment. This was reprinted by a number of Ukrainian media, including a web-site of the channel Espreso.tv, which belongs to another Narodnyi Front MP Mykola Knyazhytskyi. Moreover, there were also series of videos with a hired actor playing an anchorman of the U.S. news channel and allegedly reporting on AntAC’s corruption.

In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy commented on all these accusations: “AntAC was working effectively and reported on every penny,” and added that they “are proud to be partners.”

What is the primary target of these attacks?

 NABU proved to be independent and efficient agency, capable of investigating top corruption, while e-declarations made officials to uncover and explain the information they most of all wanted to keep hidden

NABU proved to be an independent and efficient agency, capable of investigating top corruption, while e-declarations made officials uncover and explain the information they most of all wanted to keep hidden

The attacks are targeted against the capacity of the civil sector to secure and continue Ukraine’s anticorruption reform and those tangible results it succeeded in producing so far. The National Anti Corruption Bureau proved to be an independent and efficient agency capable of investigating top corruption, while e-declarations made officials uncover and explain the information they most of all wanted to keep hidden. NABU and e-declarations system themselves are regularly being attacked too.

However, the anti-corruption NGOs, mainly AntAC, are the first to inform the society and international partners of Ukraine on any attempt to manipulate the anti-corruption legislation or undermine the anti-corruption reform. Due to the systemic work on fighting against high profile corruption since 2012, AntAC is a well-known organization, trusted by Ukrainians and international partners. This allows us to accumulate both internal and external resources and direct them to pushing and protecting anti-corruption reform, as well as preventing its backsliding. By undermining and discrediting AntAC political elites intend to ruin a barrier for destroying the anti-corruption reform.

A lot of opinion leaders condemned the trial over Shabunin and called it a peak of counter-revolution of corrupt officials.

MEP Rebecca Harms considers the criminal proceedings against Shabunin as continued pressure on AntAC and another attempt to block its activities.

MP Victoria Syumar, the Head of Freedom of Speech Committee in the Verkhovna Rada, says that attempts to build up the case are absurd. 

Former MP Yegor Firsov, who was deprived of his parliamentary mandate after leaving the Petro Poroshenko Block, reminded that while Shabunin was criticizing Yanukovych and Azarov, he was useful to the opposition of that time. However, when the opposition came to power, it doesn’t like the fight against corruption anymore.

Journalist Natalia Sedletska calls the case persecution, not the establishment of the rule of law.

The Head of Transparency International Ukraine Yaroslav Yurchyshyn says that Shabunin’s case clearly demonstrates the level of political dependence of Ukraine’s law enforcement system.

Activists of Saakashvili’s Movement of New Forces call it selective persecution. Dozens of other public statements were posted in support of Shabunin and AntAC. 

A full chronicle of persecutions is available at attack.antac.org.ua 

Source: Anti-Corruption Action Center

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