June 26, 2020

Questions about justice in Ukraine


There’ve been some strange goings on lately in Ukraine, as former President Petro Poroshenko has been repeatedly called in for court hearings on a variety of criminal charges. Among them were such ludicrous charges as “treason” and “inciting religious enmity.” (We refer you to the commentary on the right.) Many observers see these cases as political persecution by the administration of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of his predecessor and opponent in the most recent presidential election.

On June 14, a group of civic leaders, including former Soviet political prisoners, released an open letter to President Zelenskyy (see page 3) to express their outrage over the actions of the State Bureau of Investigations and the Prosecutor General’s Office, which are bringing back “arbitrariness, selective justice and political persecution.” They underscored: “With great sadness, we have to state that repressions against political opponents have returned to Ukraine. It is outrageous that the main object of these repressions is Poroshenko – a person due to whose efforts Ukraine was able to withstand the confrontation with Russia in the most difficult years. …all of these cases were initiated by former members of [Viktor] Yanukovych’s circle and that they repeat the messages of hostile Russian propaganda. It is these initiatives that have been gladly supported and implemented by the team of today’s president of Ukraine.”

Canada’s Embassy in Ukraine posted this on Facebook on June 18: “Since 2014, Ukraine has been travelling the arduous but necessary journey of democratic transformation. Society’s insistence on #RuleOfLaw was expressed in the Revolution of Dignity. These principles remain fundamental today & Ukrainians expect their government to uphold them. Ukrainians expect equality of all in front of the law. And all citizens deserve the presumption of innocence, fair process & a justice system free of political interference. History tells us that appearance of interference and revanchism only breeds more of the same.”

The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine wrote on Facebook that same day. “All citizens in a democracy deserve to be treated equally and fairly under the law. The justice system should not be used for the purpose of settling political scores,” it stated succinctly.

The references were obvious. Both were reacting to the court hearing being held that day in Kyiv to seek Mr. Poroshenko’s detention. The hearing was adjourned until July 1, but this case – and more than a dozen others registered against Mr. Poroshenko – is far from over. That is why the leading organizations of the Ukrainian diaspora have issued statements about the importance of upholding the rule of law in Ukraine.

On June 18, the president of the Ukrainian World Congress, Paul Grod, underscored that “No one is above the law. But selective justice today threatens Ukraine’s future and undermines the very foundations of the democratic and lawful society: those of the equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial.” He added, “Ruining of these principles may lead to an explosive reaction of the society in Ukraine, as well as to the loss of credibility with foreign partners and investors.”

Also that day, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress stated: “Recent charges against former President Petro Poroshenko, who is accused of a crime for exercising his constitutional prerogative as president, give cause for concern. In other cases before the courts we have seen the administration violating the presumption of innocence, depriving these individuals of due process.”

On June 19, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America said it is “deeply alarmed by the recent signs of selective justice in Ukraine, and is compelled to condemn attempts by the Ukrainian government to pursue politically motivated cases against former government officials and leaders of Ukraine’s civic society – including their expressed desire to detain former President Petro Poroshenko before a political show trial.”

On June 20, the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations weighed in, citing growing concern about “the lack of independence in the justice system” and “corruptibility of justices.” The AFUO stated: “Recent examples of political reprisals against activists of the Revolution of Dignity and the leadership of the previous government – whether in the form of false charges, investigations or interrogations – has weakened Ukraine’s position internally and externally.” It added: “Abuse of the legal system leads to a lack of confidence in the president and the government.”

We sincerely hope that Ukraine’s authorities hear these concerns and change course to uphold the rule of law for all and end politically motivated selective justice.