Criminal proceedings against Ukrainian conscientious objector and journalist might be resumed
The Ruslan Kotsaba story
23 January 2015: Ruslan Kotsaba, originally a supporter of the Maidan protests, uploads a video on YouTube to voice his opposition to Ukraine’s warfare in the eastern part of the country. In a statement addressed to president Petro Poroshenko, the freelance journalist announces that he will refuse to be conscripted, calling on his compatriots to do likewise and make a stand against conscription. In his address, he stresses his view that the ongoing conscription at that time in Ukraine is unlawful since the Ukrainian government has not declared war. He goes on to stress that as a Christian he feels committed to upholding the divine commandment “Thou shalt not kill”.
7 February 2015: Ruslan Kotsaba is arrested on charges of “high treason” and “obstructing the lawful activities of the Ukraine military”.
From February 2015: Ukraine’s public prosecutor names around 60 witnesses who, over time, are summoned to appear at the monthly court sessions. However, many of them simply don’t show up, pointlessly stretching the court case out over many months. Prison conditions during Ruslan Kotsaba’s detention are degrading.
5 February 2016: A full year on from his arrest, Ruslan Kotsaba gets his first opportunity to speak out before court on the charges brought against him. He uses his two-hour testimony to affirm his antimilitaristic stance and his refusal to take up arms. He also speaks at length about the case brought against him, emphasising that he upholds and practises the democratic rules of journalism.
12 May 2016: The court in Ivano-Frankivsk announces that Ruslan Kotsaba’s will face 3½ years (42 months) in prison. It dismisses the charge of “high treason”, stating that the evidence presented by the prosecution, including the wiretapping records, gave no indication that Mr Kotsaba, in his public appearances, wilfully and directly aided a foreign country by engaging in subversive practices against Ukraine. Ukraine’s constitution, the court continues, upholds his freedom of opinion, rendering Ruslan Kotsaba’s remarks constitutional.
The court does, however, find him guilty of “obstructing the lawful activities of the Ukraine military”, stating that his remarks were not based on precise facts but had instead encouraged the general public to avoid conscription and the duty to defend the country. The court makes no reference to Ruslan Kotsaba’s defence that conscription is unlawful since Ukraine has not actually formally declared war.
The court also decrees that in light of the tough prison conditions during detention, his time spent in custody would be counted twice towards his overall prison term pursuant to Article 72.5.
16 May 2016: Ruslan Kotsaba lodges an appeal against the verdict passed down by the court.
14 July 2016: The court of appeals quashes the verdict and orders the release of Ruslan Kotsaba after more than 16 months in prison.
1 June 2017: The High Specialised Court of Ukraine for Civil and Criminal Cases annuls the verdict passed by the court of appeals because, it said, that court had not followed the code of criminal procedure. The supreme court particularly found fault with the failure of the court of appeals to conduct a second full inspection of the evidence presented by the public prosecutor. The case is likely to be reopened by the court in Ivano-Frankivsk very shortly. Ruslan Kotsaba expects to be taken back into detention if the case is resumed.
Political persecution of antimilitarists
Connection e.V. and the German Peace Society - United Antimilitarists (DFG-VK) see the criminal prosecution of Ruslan Kotsaba as a case of political persecution. Ruslan Kotsaba is still, it would appear, being held in reproach for taking a public stance against Ukrainian government policy and of calling for an end to the “fratricidal war” and for negotiations to be begun with the separatists in the east of the country. That’s the only possible explanation why the Ukrainian authorities are cracking down on him so harshly.
Note, in particular, the attempt by the Ivano-Frankivsk public prosecutor, in the first court case, to have the journalist found guilty of “high treason” on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence. This should also be seen as a threat to gag any further criticism of the conflict, since anyone speaking out can expect to be prosecuted in a similar fashion, and the court, it seems, would be prepared to hear such cases.
Note also that, by summoning more than 60 witnesses, the public prosecutor managed to stretch the first court case out over many months, forcing Ruslan Kotsaba to languish in degrading conditions in custody. The court confirmed as much (indirectly) in its verdict by counting his period in detention twice towards his overall sentence. This should be condemned as punishment without trial and should not, under any circumstances, be legitimised. For Ruslan Kotsaba, the period in custody became a form of punishment in itself.
If the case is indeed reopened by the court of appeals, and Ruslan Kotsaba is once again taken into custody, he would endure this form of persecution all over again.
Connection e.V. and DFG-VK also consider Ruslan Kotsaba’s call on his compatriots to refuse to be conscripted to be legitimate. The right to refuse conscription is very limited at best in Ukraine and falls short of the standards stated by the European Court of Human Rights, amongst others. Only members of roughly a dozen religious organisations are permitted to avoid military service. Furthermore, army reservists are prohibited from refusing the draft. Moreover, as Ruslan Kotsaba himself notes, calling up conscripts without actually declaring war is a questionable thing to do. Sentencing Ruslan Kotsaba to 42 months in prison for calling on his compatriots to refuse to be drafted and now subjecting him to the prospect of being dragged back to court, even though the court of appeals had quashed his initial sentence, should be condemned in the strongest-possible manner and regarded as political persecution.
 Ruslan Kotsaba to the Ivano-Frankivsk eparchy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Source: Dossier to Ruslan Kotsaba, originally composed by Connection e.V. and DFG-VK, June 2016. Last updated by Connection e.V. November 18, 2017.
Keywords: ⇒ Antimilitarism ⇒ Human Rights ⇒ Ruslan Kotsaba ⇒ Ukraine