Ukraine: Stop Defamation of Environmental Activist Roman Ratushnyy
On 29 March 2021, the founder of NGO Save Protasiv Yar and environmental activist, Roman Ratushnyy, was ordered to two-months’ house arrest in a hearing related to his attendance of a protest on 20 March 2021. Ratushnyy has been charged with hooliganism, allegedly with possession of a weapon, and damage of property.
The Netherlands Helsinki Committee and ZMINA Human Rights Centre are calling for the charges to be dropped and for Ratushnyy’s detention in house arrest to be rescinded in light of the lack of concrete evidence against the activist.
On 20 March 2021, more than 700 people gathered in front of the Presidential Office in Kyiv to protest the controversial conviction of anti-corruption activist Serhiy Sternenko. Despite the overall peaceful nature of the event, a small number of unidentified participants in the gathering tried to set fire to the ‘President of Ukraine’ sign on the building, disfigured walls and windows with graffiti; broke several windows; and threw hand flares inside the Presidential Office and towards other sections of the building, resulting in a number of small fires in the building. The Ministry of Interior subsequently announced the launch of investigations into the acts of hooliganism and the destruction of property, focusing on seven individuals, including Ratushnyy. Prior to receiving a formal notice from the police regarding the accusations, Ratushnyy was targeted by the Deputy Interior Minister, Anton Gerashchenko, who posted a video on social media supposedly of the suspects in action and allegedly including Ratushnyy. However, the video does not substantiate any claims of Ratushnyy’s involvement in the violent acts, which he has condemned; in fact, Ratushnyy has stated that he is not even in the video shared by the Deputy Minister. The outline of charges against Ratushnyy, which he received on 24 March 2021, claims that Ratushnyy was informed and aware that other protesters, whose identities have not yet been established, were armed, and prepared and intended to inflict bodily harm. Ratushnyy believes that the investigation is a politically motivated case stemming from his long-standing activism around environmental protection.
For more than a year, Ratushnyy has fought to prevent the illegal real estate development of a natural area, Protasiv Yar, in Kyiv – both before the courts and through peaceful protests. As a result of his activism, Ratushnyy was forced into hiding for several months following alleged death threats received from opponents including the construction company owner and Member of Parliament, Gennady Korban, and his lawyer Andriy Smirnov (now a deputy head of the Ukrainian President’s Office). While Ratushnyy won the case in 2020, resulting in the natural site being placed on the Kyiv City Council’s list of protected public green areas (a decision that was reaffirmed in appeal on 25 March 2021) — the activist believes that the most recent investigation and related charges are politically-motivated and represents a clear case of defamation as a result of his peaceful activism.
The NHC and ZMINA condemn the unfounded allegations against, and attempts at defamation of environmental activist, Roman Ratushnyy, who appears to be targeted for his peaceful opposition to illegal real estate development and defending the preservation of nature. We call on the Ukrainian authorities to:
- Drop the charges against Ratushnyy and lift his two-month house arrest immediately; and
- Ensure that Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko and the National Police remove the video targeting Ratushnyy, as it does not constitute evidence against the activist and instead violates his right to privacy and damages his reputation.