On January 9, 2014, Andriy Kayuda, a Judge at the Luhansk Administrative Court, finished hearing the case involving a lawsuit by Kostyantyn Reutskiy, Chairman of the Human Rights Center ‘Postup’, against Oblast State Administration, City Council, Oblast and City Departments of Education, in which the Luhansk Oblast and City Organizations of the Party of Regions were among the defendants. According to the proclaimed judicial disposition the court has denied the plaintiff in satisfying his demands, i.e. to rule as illegal the decision of the City Council and the Oblast State Administration (OSA) as well as the orders to ensure children’s participation in the rally on September 3, 2013 issued by the Departments of Education based on these decisions.
On September 3, 2013 on the initiative of the Party of Regions local authorities organized a ceremonial procession and a rally dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Luhansk region from the Nazi occupation. In order to ensure a massive participation in the event, the Oblast and City Departments of Education issued orders obliging schools and universities to ensure attendance by school pupils and students. To fulfill these orders education institutions forced over 5,000 of under-aged and young people to go to the city square carrying hundreds of symbols and flags of the Party of Regions. The rally that cost the local budget around 150 thousand UAH was credited by the Party of Regions to its own account. Thirteen-years-old son of the plaintiff was also forced to participate in this rally, that’s why his father filed a lawsuit in court.
During the court hearings, the judge did not just decline but simply ignored the plaintiff’s request to summon his son to the court to be questioned as witness (his son could not attend the court hearings this time).
While proving his allegation that no declarations on the leading role of the Party of Regions were made from a rostrum, the Oblast State Administration’s lawyer presented the court with a video made during the rally on September 3, 2013. The lawyer said that the video had been edited by one of local TV channels (however, he failed to specify which channel it was). Nor could he explain selectiveness and incompleteness of speeches at the rally on the video that he provided. For instance, the speech of Oleksandr Tkachenko, Head of the City Organization of the Party of Regions, was illogically and selectively cropped, and the video included only three out of a far greater number of speeches made at the rally.
On his part, the plaintiff requested to summon to the court a witness – a student from a Luhansk university – who confirmed that the students from his university had been indeed forced to participate in that rally and those who disagreed had been threatened that they will have ‘problems’ with their studies. The witness also stated that some of his fellow students were forced to wear clothes with symbols of the Party of Regions and hold the party flags.
During previous hearings, representatives of the City Department of Education and School # 30, where the plaintiff’s son currently studies, confirmed that children had no chance to refuse to participate in the rally (i.e. this proves that participation in the rally was ensured by force). Representatives of the defendants admitted that on September 3, 2013 there were plenty of symbols and flags belonging to the Party of Regions at the city square (this was proved by photo and video materials, which the plaintiff presented to the court). They also failed to prove that symbols of any other political party were presented at the rally.
During one of the previous court hearings, a representative of the Party of Regions made an awkward attempt to prove that the announcements made by the party officials, claiming that ‘the event was initiated by the Party of Regions’ and ‘the rally was carried out under the auspices of the Party of Regions’ attest only to the party’s affection towards the rally organizers. But he failed to explain why an official press-release of the Party of Regions issued in response to the plaintiff's statement of claim stated that the Party of Regions ‘has conducted and will continue to conduct such events’.
Having considered the full suite of evidence and upon hearing all arguments of the parties, the judge, however, ruled that there had been no violations in the defendants’ actions, thereby giving them his blessing for further forced involvement of children into political actions. Today only the judicial disposition was announced. We will inform the public on arguments advanced by Andriy Kauda, the judge known for his rulings on cases involving the political opponents of the ruling regime (e.g. recently he prohibited to conduct protest rallies in the city of Stakhanov, Luhansk region), upon the announcement of the full text of the court ruling on January 14.
The Human Rights Center ‘Postup’ declares that it doesn’t consider the ruling of the Luhansk Administrative Court as fair and will challenge it in courts of higher instance. The Center will continue to do its best to eradicate the shameful relics of the Soviet times, i.e. forcing public sector employees, students and schoolchildren to participate in political events. Once again we would like to remind you that such practice is a violation of the freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly guaranteed to each of us by the Ukrainian Constitution and ratified by international agreements in the area of human rights.
Legal support to this case is provided by the Foundation for Strategic Affairs of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Crimean Human Rights Center ‘Diya’. Human rights monitoring in Luhansk Oblast is conducted in the framework of the project implemented by the Human Rights Center ‘Postup’ with support of the US Embassy Democracy Grants Program.