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Ukraine: Drop spurious charges against prisoner of conscience on trial for treason

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Ukrainian authorities must drop all charges against Vasyl Muravytskyi, a journalist and prisoner of conscience who has spent months in detention for criticizing the Ukrainian authorities’ approach towards Russian-occupied Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Amnesty International said today, ahead of a hearing in the city of Zhytomyr.

Vasyl Muravytskyi is facing a plethora of charges including “high treason”, “threatening the territorial integrity of Ukraine”, “participation in a terrorist organization” and “inciting hatred”. All charges arise from his work with Russian language websites, suspected by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) of being administered from Russia or territories under separatist control in eastern Ukraine.

“Behind the staunch patriotic rhetoric lies a shameful truth: in today’s Ukraine, a journalist who dare to criticize the government is tried for treason. Vasyl Muravytskyi is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully expressing his opinion, and his case serves as a warning to anyone who speaks out against government policy in eastern Ukraine,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. 

Behind the staunch patriotic rhetoric lies a shameful truth: in today’s Ukraine, a journalist who dare to criticize the government is tried for treason

Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International

“Since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began, media and civil society workers have been relentlessly harassed by both the government and paramilitary groups, who want to intimidate them into staying silent. We are calling on the Ukrainian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Vasyl Muravytskyi and put an end to persecution of journalists, bloggers and other dissenting voices.”

Vasyl Muravytskyi was arrested on 2 August 2017 in Zhytomyr. His lawyer was not given access in time to the full scope of evidence against his client, including the full list of purportedly inculpating news articles. It prevented him from preparing an effective defence.

Legal proceedings against Vasyl Muravytskyi have been marred by other irregularities, including intimidation and pressure by the Ukrainian security services and nationalist groups. During preliminary court hearings in October and November, a group of men in camouflage uniforms came to the courtroom and shouted threats against Muravytskyi and his defence team.

In September 2017 a possible witness was pressured to testify against Muravytskyi by Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) officers, who conducted two searches in his house and asked his relatives to influence him.

We are calling on the Ukrainian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Vasyl Muravytskyi and put an end to persecution of journalists, bloggers and other dissenting voices

Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International

Background

The core evidence of Vasyl Muravytskyi’s alleged crimes put forward by the SBU is the contractual relations between Muravytskyi and the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. This does not constitute a criminal offence.

The SBU also published a list of articles by Muravytskyi which allegedly violate the Ukrainian Criminal Code. Amnesty International has analysed these articles and could not find any statements that constitute calls for violence or incitement of hatred.

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