Lawyer of Vasilets & Timonin: Their 9-Year Jail Sentence Is a Warning to Other Journalists in Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



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On September 28th the Andrushovsky district court of the Zhitomir region sentenced the Kiev journalist Dmitry Vasilets and his assistant (technician) Evgeny Timonin to 9 years of prison. They were found guilty of supporting terrorism and inciting ethnic hatred. The investigation established that Vasilets and Timonin helped fighters to propel the YouTube channel of the Novorossiya TV project. According to the investigators, they, in particular, provided the opportunity to spread DPR materials and promoted the implementation of terrorist activity. Timonin, in addition to everything, was found guilty of spreading materials with public appeals to commit an act of terrorism via the media and committed deliberate actions for the kindling of national hatred and humiliation of national honor and dignity of the Ukrainian people. Some compared the prison term given to Vasilets and Timonin with the sentences given to rapists and murderers from voluntary battalions who received smaller terms for their actions. In fact it is for the first time that such a strict sentence concerning journalists was handed down. Although society considers their journalistic status disputable, hinting that the results of their journalistic work are not widely known.

In an interview with Ukrainsky Noviny the lawyer of Vasilets and Timonin Svetlana Novitskaya gave her version of the events that, in her opinion, are the reason for such a severe sentence, and also about her further steps concerning their defence.

What do you think about Vasilets and Timonin’s sentence – 9 years of imprisonment?

“They were judged on a non-existent corpus delicti. This article (Article 258-3) doesn’t extend to such ‘terrorists’. They are the first journalists (Timonin – technician) who this article was applied to. They didn’t commit any violent acts in the understanding of the term ‘terrorist crime’, determined by the legislation of Ukraine and the ‘European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism’ (ETS NO.90). Article 258-3 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine was applied to those who were caught with a weapon in the region of the conflict with the DPR and LPR or to persons who transferred information concerning the movement of troops. I.e. support was expressed in the fact that certain persons assisted the conflict. Timonin and Vasilets are the first, as journalists, to have this article applied to them – who didn’t commit any violent acts. Secondly – the evidence was obtained by wiretapping their phones during July, 2014, and the case was entered into the unified register of pre-judicial investigations of Ukraine on April 4th, 2015, i.e. they were being listened to without a court ruling and their conversations were intentionally twisted and compiled. When I submitted a claim for the reclamation from the prosecutor of all court rulings concerning permission to carry out secret investigative actions, the prosecutor, instead of court rulings, brought a letter from the Court of Appeal of the Zhytomyr region dated August, 2017, which stated that they can’t create a commission on declassification. The court pronounced a sentence, having specified that it doesn’t need to examine in court the court rulings on the basis of which, in fact, 90% of proof in this case was being obtained.”

In the court materials it is said that one of the pieces of proof of the guilt of Timonin is his notebook, in which he wrote data about the setup of the server for the Novorossiya TV YouTube channel. Why did he write this down in his notebook?

“All of this is a lie. Go on the Novorossiya channel and you’ll see that it was registered on February 28th, 2015, while the server [live stream – ed] on YouTube of the allegedly non-existent channel, according to the statement of the SBU, was created on July 19th, 2014, and this channel began broadcasting on September 12th, 2014. I.e. prior to the beginning of broadcasting, and prior to the emergence of ideas about the creation of a channel there was Timonin’s agreement as an IT specialist, who simply opened the e-mail account that the YouTube channel was attached to and did certain actions, as the founder of the sites. In the agreement it is written that Timonin opens only hosting and doesn’t bear responsibility for the video content of the channel. This channel isn’t being used by ‘Novorossiya TV’, it is archival, or maybe it’s not even on the Internet, I gave the corresponding screenshots to the court, all of this is very easy to verify. In the notebook there were a heap of IP addresses of the sites that were opened by Timonin, he was registered as a private entrepreneur, it is his work.”

How many days were Timonin and Vasilets in Donetsk for, what did they do there?

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“They were there from July 13th to July 16th. At that time they were already journalists of ‘Channel 17’. They already had their ‘Pravilnoye TV’ project. The equipment that they brought with themselves is suitable only for a correspondent office, for editing, but not for online broadcasting in any way. They went there to open their correspondent office of ‘Pravilnoye TV’. As a result some equipment was taken from them, and they weren’t able to do anything. Three days later they left and forgot about this project. There, there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of journalists from many news agencies of the world. All State bodies were working, even if it was in an emergency regime, but the decision on the evacuation of State bodies was made in November, 2014. And they [Vasilets and Timonin – ed], having simply bought the ticket, arrived to Donetsk by train.”

In the materials there is information that they met Gubarev in Donetsk. Is this a fact? Why did they meet him?

“In Ukraine there is a big case against Gubarev, which collapsed and didn’t reach the court. And thanks to some protocol on this case they managed to establish that the DPR and LPR are terrorist organizations. I, on behalf of the ‘Center for Freedom of Speech’, sent an inquiry to the SBU, the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the regional prosecutor’s offices, and the military prosecutor’s offices of regions with a demand to provide information concerning whether or not they appealed to the courts with statements about recognising the ‘DPR’, ‘LPR’, and ‘Novorossiya TV’ as terrorist organizations, and whether there are court rulings on these statements. In all answers the addressees of the inquiry were compelled to admit that nobody appealed to the courts and there are no rulings on recognising the DPR, LPR, and ‘Novorossiya TV’ as terrorist organizations. Written answers, materials on the website of the UN under the ‘Minsk Agreements’ were attached to the case papers. But the court didn’t pay attention to it. Did they meet Gubarev? I don’t know. There is no proof that they met, besides their words. A flash drive with an interview was taken away from them in Donetsk by Gubarev’s guards. This fake was planted in the indictment, but the case materials don’t contain any proof of the fact of this meeting.”

Did the representatives of the LPR and DPR offer money to Vasilets and Timonin for their work?

“No, it is proved by bank cards that Vasilets bought with his money both tickets and equipment, and went to Donetsk in order to see what is going on there and to obtain materials for his project ‘Pravilnoye TV'”.

What confirms their status as journalists? What materials are they known for?

“In the case materials there are certificates of journalists, there is a contract with ‘Channel 17’, which Vasilets works for as a journalist, and Timonin as a technician. Concerning the materials that they are known for, go on the archives of ‘Channel 17’, and there are also interviews with oppositional politicians, Irina Berezhnaya, Elena Bondarenko, and so on. They also had the Pravilnoye TV project, Vasilets hosted his program on ‘Channel 17’. They were included in the public council at the Ministry of Information, they won a competition, they were involved in the media lustration of journalists who kindled discord in Ukrainian society.”

How can you confirm information that Timonin’s account on “VKontakte” was hacked?

“The witness in the case – the managing director of the newspaper ‘Delovoy Berdychev’ Shelepa – under oath in court stated that he conducted his investigation. He made inquiries to a Internet Service Provider and established that comments under the nickname attributed to Timonin were written from different cities and different countries. This means that the account was hacked. Timonin repeatedly filed a request during the pretrial investigation to carry out technical expertize in order to establish the fact of his account being breached. However, they didn’t react to his request. Thus, there is nothing deathly on his page compared to what politicians were writing at the time.

He is charged under article ‘258-2  calls in the media to commit acts of terrorism’. Thus, several times the court considered his hacked page on ‘VKontakte’ as means of mass information. I pointed out to the court all the legal acts of Ukraine that regulate the order of creation and functioning of media in Ukraine from which a normal court could grasp the sense of the term ‘media’, in the understanding of the legislation. I presented to the court documents in order to show what the media is, and demanded from the prosecutors to present at least one fact of his calls in any means of mass information registered in a proper manner. Moreover, he was judged for these same calls under two articles at the same time: under 258-2 Part 2 and 161 Part 1. In the verdict the text of Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine is in general twisted, it was submitted according to the interpretation of the expert from the expert conclusion, and very much differs from the present text of the article.”

Did he call for the destruction of citizens or other cruel actions against anyone?

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“He didn’t call for this. They are not his calls, and he spoke about this both in court and during the pre-trial investigation. The most part of the expressions attributed to him are reposts. The court didn’t even pay attention to it. And ‘experts’ and witnesses either pretended that they don’t understand the difference between a created message and a repost, or they consciously lied in court.”

Explain please how in Ukraine the status of the DPR/LPR is legislatively established?

“Ask the minister of the coal industry why for three years he bought coal in the DPR and on the basis of what contracts, and why ‘Roshen’ candy is for sale there? Tell me – who forbade the authorities of Ukraine from appealing to the court and recognizing the DPR/LPR or ‘Novorossiya’ as terrorist organizations? Why wasn’t the big treaty of friendship and cooperation with Russia terminated and the ambassador withdrawn if we are at war with them? They claimed 3rd place for investments in Ukraine, and if to add the Cyprian offshore, then they will claim 1st place, trade turnover is growing. I declare that I have all the answers for all subjects concerning their address with a request in court about the recognition of the ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ as terrorist organizations, designated by Article 24 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On Combatting Terrorism’, and that they didn’t appeal to court with such requests, and to this day there are no rulings by a Ukrainian court about the recognition of the ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ as terrorist organizations. I also didn’t find any ruling in the International Courts of Justice on this matter. Neither PACE, the Council of Europe, nor the UN recognize them as terrorists. In all international documents they are called a party of the conflict. Go on the official website of the UN and look at documents under ‘Minsk Agreements’.”

The indictment is also based on the fact that Timonin and Vasilets assisted the DPR/LPR informationally…

“But how did they assist? They came when trains operated from Kiev, when nearly nobody ran around and held rallies. They went when there was no Anti-terrorist operation*, when there was the Ukrainian police, the Ukrainian administration. They quietly bought a ticket, arrived, and had a room in a hotel, and for three days they were walking, filming, like hundreds of other journalists, because also CNN, BBC, and Russian and German channels were based in the seized premises of the ‘Industrial Union of Donbass’. Everyone was filming. The fact is that they were judged not at all for their trip to Donetsk, they were judged for a completely different thing. They created the media lustration project, won a competition, and entered into an organization at the Ministry of Information Policy, founded the Goebbels’s award, well… and they handed this award not only to ‘1+1’ and ‘Gromadske’, but also to a Minister. There was a scandal, this public organization was dispersed, they were called separatists and after a week criminal proceedings were started. It was immediately remembered that nearly a year ago they went to Donetsk and started fabricating this case out of thin air. Besides this, Vasilets and Timonin were engaged in special investigations into the embezzlement of social funds of the SBU (there is even an audio recording posted on the Internet). According to Vasilets, confidential discussions were conducted with him so that he didn’t poke his nose into the affairs of others, and then they stopped everything very abruptly.”

Does the prosecutor’s office make an effort to close the YouTube channel “Novorossiya TV” and other channels that are similar in their content?

“I brought up a question: if there was at least one request by the SBU or other law enforcement bodies to the owners of Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, which Novorossiya broadcasts ‘TV’ on all day long. The prosecutor responded to me by saying: ‘what for?’. In three years there wasn’t any request to ‘ban’ them, let alone to recognise them as terrorists.”

Will you make an appeal complaint – for annulation, if it’s needed?

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“Of course we will. We will not only (submit an) appeal. I already was in the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, and this case will be included in the next report. I informed the OSCE about this, because their representatives were present actually at each court session, even when the case was prolonged into the night. Documents concerning Vasilets and Timonin were transferred to the London office of the international organization Amnesty International and other international organizations. I am taken aback by the journalistic environment, which doesn’t understand that if Vasilets and Timonin were condemned for a certain information assistance, then they also can be condemned. Thus, it is possible to find any journalist who did this or that program, and the program wasn’t appreciated, to ‘sew’ to them informational assistance to terrorists. With this case they opened a ‘Pandora’s box’ when they equated journalists to terrorists and applied the relevant article of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.”

Will you make an appeal to the ECHR?

“On July 6th, 2017, the European court accept my complaint about illegal detention during a trial, a number was assigned to it. It was registered under the precedents filed by Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko. Now I am making appeal complaints, but while we haven’t yet passed all instances in Ukraine, the decision itself can’t be challenged in the European court.”

Does the “Savchenko” Law apply to Vasilets and Timonin?

“The law was applied exactly up to the moment that it acted, and wasn’t cancelled. I.e., 1 day was equated to 2 for them, but now it is 1 day:1 day.”

What are their conditions of imprisonment like?

“Their conditions of keeping are bad. I addressed the ‘Red Cross’ and the ambassador of the OSCE. My client Timonin was beaten and an attempt was made to rape him. We keep his torn clothes. He had two suicide attempts, he’s been sat in solitary confinement for two years. Vasilets is in a two-unit cell, but he wasn’t provided medical care, although we achieved the granting of two private doctors and the transfer of medicine. They don’t treat Timonin, but extract his teeth, if there are several more years of such detention he won’t have any more teeth.”

Will Vasilets and Timonin go on hunger strike in protest or for other purposes?

“I consider it to be unnecessary. Firstly, Timonin already has a number of chronic diseases. Nobody will give such a gift to the authorities.”

At the stage of the pre-trial investigation were your clients offered to make a deal with the investigation?

“They were offered to stipulate certain businessmen, the owners of ‘Channel 17’, i.e. to testify against them. In exchange for this they [Kiev – ed] promised to close the case on Part 2 of Article 258-3 of Criminal Code of Ukraine. They [Vasilets and Timonin – ed] refused. In general they didn’t expect to be detained for so long. The charges are so absurd that at first they didn’t take it seriously and didn’t even employ lawyers, Timonin almost had free lawyers before court.”

9 years of prison is a cruel sentence. Why was such a cruel decision made and why was such a serious qualification appropriated to the case?

“Vasilets started conducting an investigation into corruption in the SBU. He was warned, they staged preventive measures, but he continued. I think that this sentence is the edification of others in order for them to know that now any journalist can be jailed for informational assistance, and secondly, the minimum sanction of the article is 8 years, i.e. they wouldn’t give anything less than 8 years.”

*Svetlana Novitskaya later clarified what she meant by this statement:

“When I said that there was no ATO during the stay of Vasilets D. and Timonin E. in Donetsk in July 2014, I meant that the deployment of the ATO operation with the names of settlements and the evacuation of State bodies by law is October-November 2014. Therefore, Donetsk in the summer of 2014 is like Kiev in the autumn of 2013. There is the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Interior Ministry, the SBU, the UAF, while on Maidan the tires are burning and protesters are sitting…”

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