Prosecutors step back as thousands of supporters rally for Poroshenko

Poroshenko addresses thousands of protesters. Source: Poroshenko’s Facebook 

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On 18 June 2020, the Pechersky District Court of Kyiv had to consider demands to detain former President Petro Poroshenko during the investigation of his alleged wrongdoings — the illegal appointment of deputy head to the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine. Thousands of Poroshenko supporters rallied in protest. The case has gained international attention, with warnings against political persecution by the European Parliament, the US Embassy in Kyiv, former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, and Canadian diplomats.

Perhaps surprised by the unexpected volume of protest, prosecutors reduced their initial demand for custody by the lesser order of a personal commitment by Poroshenko to remain in the country. The court also adjourned the hearings to 1 June, taking no consideration of the original insistence on the preliminary measures for Poroshenko.

The accusation of an illegal appointment has no clear grounds, since such an appointment falls under the direct purview of the president — at the time, Poroshenko — and the framework of this public service is defined by the president, according to law. Not any more convincing are 17 other questionable criminal charges that have been brought against Poroshenko.

Poroshenko outside the district court following the hearings. Source: Poroshenko’s Facebook.

During Poroshenko’s remarks to his supporters gathered outside the courthouse, Poroshenko directly addressed President Zelenskyy:

I want to repeat to you once again: my team and I love Ukraine very much. We respect the institution of the presidency. You are not our enemy and you should not be afraid. Our enemy is Putin, whom you forgot to mention in your interview with [outlet] Ukrayinska Pravda.

Poroshenko also thanked foreign diplomats and politicians, Ukrainian political parties, and the thousands of protesters who supported him during the court hearings. Regarding the decision of prosecutors to reduce their proposed preliminary measures and adjourn court hearings, Poroshenko commented:

They tried to give us a bribe. To replace arrest with personal commitment [not to leave the country and arrive whenever they ask]. No, Poroshenko did not take bribes, does not take and will not take. They did it to take away my passport and not allow me to mobilize the world in support of Ukraine, as we did during the five years of my presidency. We now need the unity of the world in the confrontation with Russia. We must protect our land, state and people. To show that the heroic deeds of veterans, volunteers, soldiers and activists were not in vain. Today prosecutors ran away. But this is not a victory yet, but only the beginning of the struggle. I promise you nothing, as Churchill said, except sweat and work.

Wider coalition of support and “supporters not of Poroshenko but of the rule of law”

Protestors also took to the streets in Lviv, Kropyvnytskyi and other regional centers of Ukraine. They proclaimed “No” to political repression through criminal cases against Poroshenko and other politicians and activists, in particular Serhiy Sternenko of Odesa whose case of alleged murder is currently being heard in the Kyiv Shevchenkivskyi district court.

At least three other political parties, along with Poroshenko’s European Solidarity, Holos, Democratic Axe, and Ukrainian Galician party condemned political persecution against Poroshenko.

Poroshenko supporters near the court. Source: Poroshenko’s Facebook

Notwithstanding the large numbers of committed Poroshenko supporters, there are those in Ukrainian society who are skeptical about his former policies, especially his lack of overall judiciary reform. However, this group is increasingly mobilized, not to actually support Poroshenko outright but against political persecution in general and for the rule of law.

Valeriy Pekar, a lecturer at the Kyiv Mohyla Business School, calls on civil society to consolidate neither for nor against any specific politicians but rather to defend the rule of law. He criticizes Poroshenko for his failed judicial reform, but considers the former president’s current prosecutions to be politically motivated.

“Citizens are divided into opponents of Poroshenko and supporters of Poroshenko. And where can the supporters of the rule of law go? Where to go for those who acknowledge Poroshenko’s mistakes but do not acknowledge political persecution? … As long as we forget about principles and consolidate only for or against specific individuals, we will remain where we have been for the last almost 30 years: in feudalism, which recognizes only the principle of personal loyalty. “Poroshenko’s repressive system” is, of course, an exaggeration. But it was President Poroshenko who implemented judicial reform… appointed dishonest judges, ignored all warnings…”

After the court hearings, protesters also gathered in front of Zelenskyy’s President’s Office demanding a stop to political persecutions, and not only against Poroshenko. Although the last charges filed against — or more accurately to persecute — the former president (and current leader of the opposition) other cases are still in progress against opposition members of Parliament. The majority of which are 17 additional cases against Poroshenko. The most publicly known of these accuses Poroshenko of “incitement of interreligious hostility” for his support to create the Ukrainian Orthodox Сhurch — independent of Moscow — during negotiations with Constantinople. The wording of these charges echoes Russian propaganda which depicts Ukraine’s ongoing struggle to preserve its independence as “chauvinism.”

Protesters en route to President Zelenskyy’s office after court decision. Source: Iryna Gerashchenko’s Facebook page

Edited by: Sonia Maryn

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