The tragic and outrageous death of the civil society activist Kateryna Handziuk caused public outrage. The Open Dialogue Foundation was one of the first to join the Statement of the Coalition for the Protection of Civil Society with a demand that the management of the Kherson police, General Prosecutor of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov be dismissed from their posts, and that an effective investigation into the assassination of Kateryna and hundreds of other attacks on civil society activists since the time of EuroMaidan be carried out.
We wish to extend our heartfelt sorrow and condolences to Kateryna’s family members and loved ones. The guilty must be punished!
Please find the full text of the statement below.
* * *
Kateryna Handziuk, a civil society activist and employee of the executive committee of Kherson City Council, died on 4 November 2018 in the burns unit of Kyiv City Clinical Hospital No. 2.
The death came three months after 31 July 2018, when, in Kherson, a brutal attack was carried out on her – Kateryna’s head was doused with a litre of sulfuric acid. As a result, the activist suffered burns to 40% of her body and was transferred to the ICU. During these three months, Kateryna Handziuk was treated in the ICU; she underwent 15 surgeries, but still, the doctors couldn’t save her.
The investigation into the attack on Kateryna Handziuk again revealed the apparent failure of the law enforcement system to effectively investigate this and a number of other attacks on civil society activists that took place in various regions of Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity.
So, despite the severe bodily injuries inflicted on Kateryna Handziuk as a result of the attack, which posed a real risk to her life, the police initially classified theattack as a deed under Art. 296 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (hooliganism). When the case became widely publicised, it was re-classified as ‘serious bodily harm in order to intimidate a person’. Then, the classification was changed again and was defined as an ‘assassination attempt’. And only after two months, on 25 September 2018, at the request of Counsel Yevgeniya Zakrevskaya, the General Directorate of the National Police in the Kherson Province added ‘signs of a crime-for-hire’ to the classification of the crime (under Article 115, section 2, point 11 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). Still, in the reasonable suspicion of the perpetrators, no sign of the crime-for-hire appears.
It is noteworthy that, in an attempt to put an end to the wave of social indignation and to quickly report on the disclosure of the high-profile crime, the police arrested an accidental person, Mykola Novikov, as a suspect in the assassination attempt. Investigative journalists managed to find out that Novikov, on whom they were trying to ‘pin’ the crime, is innocent, which undermined the already low confidence in law enforcement bodies in this matter. At that time, the real perpetrators of the crime were at large, and if it hadn’t been for pressure on the law enforcement agencies, it is unknown whether they would have been identified and detained at all.
Kateryna Handziuk herself, who strongly criticised corruption in the Kherson police, also doubted the ability of local law enforcement bodies to solve the case of the attack on her and called for the investigation to be forwarded to the Security Service of Ukraine.
On 17 and 19 August 2018, the National Police, along with the Security Service of Ukraine, detained five persons who are reasonably suspected of organising and assaulting the activist; among them, there is also a person who appears as the organiser in the case, and a person called ‘the direct performer’. Both of these individuals are currently being held in custody, and another three suspects have been subjected to a different preventive measure – house arrest.
The injured party has repeatedly stated the procedural problems that result from carrying out the pre-trial investigation of the performers and masterminds in two different proceedings run by two different bodies: the National Police and the SBU. The injured party filed a petition and insisted on uniting the two proceedings and referring it solely to the Security Service of Ukraine.
Thus far, the masterminds of the assassination of Kateryna Handziuk have not been established. And even the theoretical possibility of their establishment and further prosecution is under question due to procedural obstacles created intentionally or as a result of fecklessness by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine.
The investigation of this murder, including the establishment of its masterminds, is a requirement for an effective investigation, as provided for in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The brutal reprisal against Kateryna Handziuk is an act of intimidation against all civil society in Ukraine, active male and female citizens who, in cities, towns and villages, are rebelling against decades of deep-rooted corruption and organised crime.
Unfortunately, this and at least a hundred other attacks on civil society activists that occurred on the territory under the control of the Ukrainian government after EuroMaidan have not been investigated effectively. In addition, even in those isolated cases where attackers have been established, the masterminds of the attacks have hardly been found, and, therefore, the wave of attacks on civil society activists is only growing, and non-punishable evil is multiplying.
Corruption, impunity and the lack of effective police and prosecutorial reform are the causes of massive attacks on civil society activists. As long as the attackers, organisers and masterminds of more than a hundred attacks on civil society activists that have been carried out in the last few years are not punished, no activist can feel safe.
The coalition for the Protection of Civil Society hereby expresses its deep condolences to Kateryna Handziuk’s family members and friends. For all of us, this is the hard and indescribable loss of a colleague – honest, principled, courageous, desperate and devoted to the ideals of a democratic Ukraine free from corruption.
We are outraged by the state of affairs regarding the investigation into the attacks and assassinations of civil society activists and we hereby demand the dismissal of the management of the Kherson police, which has sabotaged the investigation into the attack on Kateryna Handziuk from the very beginning. We also demand the resignation of the General Prosecutor of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who have sabotaged the reform of law enforcement agencies in Ukraine.
We insist an effective investigation be conducted into the assassination of Kateryna Handziuk and a public report produced on the measures taken to establish and punish the masterminds of this terrible crime, as well as an effective investigation of this and hundreds of other attacks on civil society activists that have been carried out throughout Ukraine since the time of EuroMaidan.
The statement is supported by:
1. Human Rights Information Centre
2. Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement
3. Ukrainian Institute for Human Rights
4. Center for Civil Liberties
5. Bureau of Social and Political Development
6. Truth Hounds
7. Luhansk Regional Human Rights Center ‘Alternative’
8. Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
10. Cherkasy Human Rights Center
11. Open Dialogue Foundation
12. Human Rights Platform
13. Center for Legal and Political Research “SIM”
14. NGO “Helsinki Initiative-XXI”
15. NGO “Laboratory of Digital Security”
16. Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research (UCIPR)
17. Charitable Foundation “Right to Protection”
18. Crimean Human Rights Group
19. Media Initiative for Human Rights
20. NGO Youth Organization “STAN”
21. Kharkiv Regional Foundation “Social Alternative”
22. Charitable Foundation “Vostok SOS”
23. Anti Corruption Action Centre
24. Transparency International Ukraine
25. Reanimation Package of Reforms
26. All-Ukrainian organization “AutoMaidan“
27. Civic Movement “Chesno”
28. NGO Centre UA
29. NGO StateWatch
30. Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists (NUJU)
31. NGO Institute of Mass Information (IMI)
32. NGO “Detector Media”
33. Centre for Economic Strategy
34. NGO Public Control Platform
35. NGO “People’s Defence”
36. Charitable Organization Foundation “Parity”
37. Anti-Corruption Forum of Lviv Region
38. NGO Obukhiv Regional Development Association
39. NGO “Dyvovyzhni” (“Wonderful”)
40. All-Ukrainian public association “Opir.org”
41. The Center for Research of the Liberation Movement
42. Civil Network OPORA
43. Assembly of Experts
44. Political Science Association
45. Bohuslav Reform Coalition
46. NGO “Buslav Sich”
47. NGO “Center for Regional Development and Law”
48. Ternopil branch of the All-Ukrainian Association “AutoMaidan”
49. NGO “Creative association “Nivroku”
50. Community of volunteers “BUNKER S”
51. Kharkiv Regional Non-profit Organization “Modern Woman”
52. Ukrainian Center for Policy “Eksampey”
53. NGO People’s control of Kirovograd Region
54. NGO “Territory of Success”
55. Center for Media Investigations “ProZorro”
56. Kirovohrad Regional Public Women’s Organization “SVIZH”
57. NGO “Common cause”
58. Kirovograd Regional Organization of the All-Ukrainian Society “Prosvita”
59. Sumy Reform Council
60. NGO Kharkiv Women’s Association “Sphere”
61. NGO Women’s Anti-corruption Movement
62. Coalition “Dnipro Reforms”
63. NGO “Ecological society of Podillya”
64. Reform Council of Khmelnitsky Region
65. Coalition “Association of Public Organizations – Cherkasy”
66. NGO “Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center”
67. Kharkiv Reformist Coalition
68. Educational Human Rights House in Chernihiv
69. NGO “MART”
70. NGO Liberation Movement
71. DEJURE Foundation
72. NGO “ECO-BUCHA”
73. Centre for Political Studies and Analysis “Eidos”
74. Centre of Policy and Legal Reform
75. NGO Digital Media
76. Charitable Foundation for Educational Innovations
77. Engineering group “Arey”
* * *
The Foundation has repeatedly pointed to the persecution of anti-corruption activists in Ukraine. Read our statement and reports:
- Open Dialog supported an open letter that calls to end attacks on anti-corruption activists in Ukraine
- Vitaliy Yarema “achievements”. Results of the activities of the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office: a year after Euromaidan
- Political persecution and harassment in post-Maidan Ukraine. How oligarchs undermine reformers’ efforts