How People Are Jailed for Facebook Posts in Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard

00:49:38
26/03/2018

strana.ua

The western press, US authorities, and European Union now accuse the social network Facebook of influencing the results of US presidential elections and providing unauthorised access to the personal information of millions of users.

However, the Ukrainian authorities went much further – users of Facebook receive real sentences for their publications.

“Strana” collected data on criminal prosecutions by Ukrainian law enforcement authorities for posts on the largest social network in the world.

A three-year conditional sentence for two posts on Facebook

In February, 2016, the resident of Svetlovodsk in the Kirovograd region Roman Kolomiets received a three-year conditional sentence for calling to overthrow the current authorities.

All the guilt of the Svetlovodsk resident lies in the fact that he made two “wrong” posts on Facebook. In a post titled “Ukraine, Rise” on January 24th, 2015 he wrote: “Join the new revolutionary community ‘Ukraine, rise!’ When we will reach 100,000 – we will go to the governmental quarter and remove all the vermin from the offices!”.

According to the conclusion of the expert involved in the investigation, here a direct appeal is made to everyone (who see this post) to violently change the authorities and overthrow the social order in Ukraine.

In addition, on August 8th, 2015, the accused published a post on his account under the title “Ukraine, Rise!” with a video and the inscription attached to it: “Ukraine, Rise! It is impossible to live in a new way with old rats”.

This video, according to the conclusion of the expert involved in the investigation, contains direct calls to rise up for the fight, to raise a revolt against the existing authorities, i.e., to carry out actions that aim to seize power in Ukraine.

It is the Kirovograd department of the SBU that carried out an investigation into this case from November 4th, 2015. At first the Leninsky district court of Kirovograd on three occasions didn’t allow the special services to carrying out a search at the suspect’s residence. The last [third – ed] time the judge specified that the calls to change the authorities are connected to the “large-scale corruption in the government and the deterioration of people’s lives as a result of the activity of the authorities, and that there is a need to take into account the errors of Maidan-2”.

That’s why in the opinion of the judge, “according to the request of the investigator, all such calls, including calls that were made during the Revolution of dignity of 2013-2014, should be considered as criminal”. According to the judge, the position of the investigation isn’t based on the requirements of the law:

Nevertheless, the prosecutor’s office and SBU managed to make the accused crack. An agreement was reached with him according to which he completely admitted his guilt. In return, the minimum punishment – three years of imprisonment without the confiscation of property – was approved. And since the accused didn’t have a previous conviction, the sentence was conditional, with a delay of one year.

A three-year conditional sentence for 15 posts on Facebook and “VKontakte”

A similar sentence was received by the resident of Lutsk Vasily Solomonyuk in June, 2017. He published his calls on two social networks at once – “VKontkate” and Facebook.

He was also accused under Article 109 of the Criminal Code “Actions aimed at the forceful change or overthrow of the constitutional order or take-over of government”.

The investigation into this case was also carried out by the SBU. 15 criminal episodes feature in the case. The accused posted calls to seizure power on social networks from May, 2015, to March, 2017.

Here are examples of posts that are imputed to Solomonyuk:

“If we don’t destroy the authorities, the authorities will destroy us”;

“Death to the regime of internal occupation – long live the nationalist revolution”;

“The authorities that declared a barefaced war on their own people must be removed by the forces of a national revolution”;

“They won’t hand over power voluntary via peaceful elections at all, it is possible to overthrow them only by using arms and an insurgent armed struggle. All organisational work of patriots must be concentrated in 3 main directions: recruitment, combat verification, training insurgents, formation of groups; obtaining weapons, finance, and equipment in any way; revolutionary and insurgent propaganda with a clear emphases on an armed fight against the regime…”;

“The only way to fight against authorities that ignore the law and earn money”, etc.

As we see, the resident of Lutsk called to overthrow the authorities from nationalist positions. According to the conclusions of Specialists of the Research Institute of Special Equipment and Judicial Examinations of the SBU, these posts had an agitational and propaganda character and aimed to organise an armed revolt against the current authorities.

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Experts of the SBU found “invective assessments of ‘Poroshenko’s regime'”, i.e., the form of governance, and also the government in general, which the author urged to destroy in a violent, armed way during a “nationalist revolution”.

As a result the resident of Volyn was given a three-year conditional sentence.

A three-year conditional sentence for calling to “take up arms”

A similar sentence was received by the resident of Uzhgorod Yury Baranovsky. On January 31st, 2017, in the local Facebook group “Peresichka Uzhgorod”, under the information about convening a meeting near the regional administration building, he posted the following statements:

“Will weapons be given out or should we bring ours?”;

“You understand that it’s not worth going there without weapons, to simply stand and have a meeting here, this scum already adapted to meetings and they continue to breed like Kolorad beetles”;

“the people are too afraid to come with weapons and overthrow these bastards, because people only think about themselves. Maybe I am mistaken?”;

“And the police and others, SBU, and National Guard are already ready to disperse and beat people. I say this to you as someone who understands the tactics of Avakov’s men”;

“If you want order, then there is a need to take up arms and overthrow this clique. If there is no need, then why make these appeals”.

Law enforcement bodies considered these statements as public appeals to seize power in a violent way. The Transcarpathian SBU on February 4th carried out a search at the residence of the author of the posts, and on February 7th he was arrested.

As a result he completely admitted his guilt already on February 17th and reached an agreement with the prosecutor’s office. It seems that the measure of restraint in the form of arrest persuaded the accused in the direction necessary for the investigation.

The agreement on recognition of guilt was approved by the sentence given on March 7th, 2017. Like in the previous examples of violently changing the constitutional system and seizing power, the Transcapathian resident received a three-year conditional sentence for public calls under Article 109 of the Criminal Code.

A five-year conditional sentence for calling for Transcapathia’s secession

Another Transcapathian resident, Zoltan Vash, also received a suspended sentence for much more serious charges. Four charges were brought to him under Articles 109 and 110 of the Criminal Code.

Zoltan Vash was the administrator of the Hungarian-language Facebook group “Karpatalja nem Ukrajna”, which translates as “Transcapathia is not Ukraine”. Since 2014 in this group he posted calls for autonomy, the secession of Transcapathia, and its accession to Hungary. Moreover, he often did it being on the territory of Hungary:

In addition, being in Budapest, on July 13th, 2015, the accused made an appeal in an interview to the Russia 1 TV channel: “Either leave, or fight for the liberation of Transcarpathia from the Ukrainian authorities!”.

Despite the severity of the charges, the prosecutor’s office also reached an agreement with the Transcarpathia resident. He admitted his guilt in exchange for mitigating his punishment, and received a five-year conditional sentence. The only obligation he has is to notify the supervising bodies about any change of residence, work, or study.

3.5 years of prison for posts on Facebook and a Kalashnikov under the bed

Unlike the aforementioned “nationalist-minded” defendant, the Kharkov resident Aleksey Golovko wasn’t so lucky: he received a real prison term, and not a conditional one.

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The Kharkov SBU in August, 2015, initiated proceedings against a Kharkov citizen who worked as a storekeeper of a company chain because of several posts on Facebook. He was accused under Part 1 of Article 110 of the Criminal Code “Infringement of the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine”.

The guilt of the Kharkov storekeeper lied in the fact that he published posts on his page on Facebook several times that the SBU considered to be anti-Ukrainian. According to the sentence of Oktyabrsky district court of Kharkov, the accused had “pro-Russian views” and didn’t support the carrying out of the ATO.

The SBU established that from May to July, 2015, the Kharkov citizen made posts on Facebook “about the feats of the people of Donbass”, published images with the text “Ukrainian, remember! You are not a nation, but belong to the uniates religion!”, “fighters of the UAF are no different from the Nazis”, etc.

Specialists of the Research Institute of Special Equipment and Judicial Examinations in Kiev made the most severe conclusion after studying the posts of the Kharkov citizen.

According to the Kiev experts, the posts of the Kharkov storekeeper aimed to “…destroy Ukrainian statehood by creating on the territory of Ukraine the ‘Novorossiya’ state formation and cutting from it the western regions of Ukraine, depriving Ukrainians of their spiritual-cultural essence and national identity, and the physical destruction of those who defend the Ukrainian national idea, and, in general, discrediting the State of Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities, the people of Ukraine, Ukrainians who defend the Ukrainian national idea, and the military personnel of the Ukrainian army in the opinion of the inhabitants of Eastern regions and Ukrainian society in general, contrasting Eastern and Western Ukraine and the interests of these regions, strengthening the civil and armed standoff between the inhabitants of Donbass and the central authorities, and between the inhabitants of Donbass and the inhabitants of other regions of Ukraine, mass riots, and increasing the territory of the self-proclaimed ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’.”

As a result, experts came to the conclusion that, through his page on Facebook, the accused made “public calls to carry out deliberate actions that aim to change the borders of the territory or State borders of Ukraine”:

Later, the purchase and storage of weapons and ammunition were added to these charges. In the sentence it is reported that the accused purchased the Kalashnikov under “circumstances unspecified during the investigation”, at an “unspecified time”, and from an “unspecified place”.

The investigation of the SBU also “didn’t manage to identify” the seller of the weapon. The only thing that law enforcement bodies know about this is that his name is “Sergey”.

Also, according to the sentence, the accused purchased 30 automatic cartridges in exactly the same unspecified way. And the bullets for some reason had an armour-piercing core.

The weapon and ammunition were found during a search on September 21st, 2016, under a bed in the apartment of the accused. On September 23rd the accused was detained and placed in a pre-trial detention center. And on October 24th the prosecutor’s office reached an agreement with him on the recognition of guilt, which was approved on November 16th by the court. As a result, according to two Articles [of the Criminal Code – ed] the Kharkov citizen was given three years and six months in prison. And, unlike the previous cases, it wasn’t a conditional sentence, but a rather real one.

A medical center was arrested in Kherson for calls to “demolish the junta”

The SBU is also conducting an investigation in criminal proceedings concerning the former people’s deputy Aleksey Zhuravko. The reason for this was a video posted on his Facebook page, where the former people’s deputy urged to “get up from the knees and defend the Kherson region against this lawlessness” and to “demolish this junta”.

The SBU scrupulously estimated that as of November 12th, 2015, the specified video on the social network Facebook was viewed 271 times, there were 4 shares, 31 persons “liked” the video, and also under the video there are 4 comments from citizens who “liked” this video.

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Also, the SBU received the conclusion of specialists from the Kherson State University – that Aleksey Zhuravko’s speech actually contains public calls to overthrow the government. According to unnamed university employees, in the context of the statement in the specified video “there is a need to demolish the junta”, by the term “junta” the former people’s deputy means the government, and the term “demolish the junta” means to overthrow the government.

Plus, the SBU ordered the carrying out of a semantic-textual (linguistic) examination by the Specialists of the Research Institute of Special Equipment and Judicial Examinations in Kiev already mentioned by us. According to the conclusions of experts, Zhuravko’s appeal contains public calls to implement certain actions, in particular – preventing the work of bodies of local governance in the Kherson region, to carry out civil resistance towards the current authorities, change or dismissing public officials, carrying out active actions that can promote violent change, overthrowing the constitutional system, seizing the government in Ukraine, and violating the principles of the unity and integrity of the territory of Ukraine.

On the basis of the conclusions of experts, the Kherson SBU considered that the former people’s deputy Zhuravko committed a criminal offense provided by Part 2 of Article 109 of the Criminal Code “Actions aimed at the forceful change or overthrow of the constitutional order or take-over of government, and also dissemination of materials with any appeals to commit any such actions”.

Concerning this case, a sentence hasn’t yet been pronounced. Zhuravko is abroad. But within the framework of criminal proceedings the SBU arrested Zhuravko’s 30% share of the authorised capital of the medical center “Med-city”. This became known courtesy of the statement of the Kherson city court from December 22nd, 2017.

Making threats on Facebook is also a crime

Not so long ago it became known that someone via Facebook threatened the head of the Zaporozhye Regional Administration Konstantin Bril. On November 27th, 2017, messages were received on his Facebook Messenger that contained threats to murder him and his family. Messages came from an unknown person under the nickname “Ustim Karmelyuk”.

After the unknown person accused Bril of appropriating his property, the Zaporozhye governor guessed who this could be. As repayment of a debt to the bank, his father, during a lawsuit with “Zlatobank”, received property that was taken from someone who was also in debt to a bank. When “Zlatobank” took away this property from the debtor, the latter opened fire and wounded a police officer.

Now the aggrieved debtor started threatening the Zaporozhye governor. Because of this criminal proceedings under Article 129 of the Criminal Code were initiated. This became known thanks to the statement of the Ordzhonikidzevsky district court of Zaporozhye.

How the Lisichansk court claimed documents from the Facebook corporation

In the case of the resonant murder of the deputy of Severodonetsk city council Sergey Samarsky on November 2nd, 2017, the Facebook corporation became one of involved parties.

Investigators of the police established that the information of the account “facebook.com/sergej.samarskij” that belonged to the murdered deputy is an administrator of the Facebook social network. The administrator of the domain name “facebook.com” is registered at the address: Facebook Inc., 1601 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025, United States.

As a result the investigation, via the local court, decided to request documents from the American corporation.

Investigators justified their request on the grounds that the available and deleted messages in the framework of communication on Facebook Messenger between Sergey Samarsky and other users can be connected to the committed murder, and, in particular, contain information about threats, as well as preparing and committing the murder. As a result, the Lisichansk city court satisfied the claim of investigators and requested access to the information and documents of the Facebook corporation:

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