Case of European Court of Human Rights, January 21, 2021 (case VORONTSOV AND OTHERS v. UKRAINE)

Defense:UKRAINE
Resolution Date:January 21, 2021

FIFTH SECTION

CASE OF VORONTSOV AND OTHERS v. UKRAINE

(Applications nos. 58925/14 and 4 others)

JUDGMENT

Art 5 § 1 • Lawful arrest or detention • Unjustified detention of Maidan protestors as part of the authorities’ deliberate strategy to put an end to protests

STRASBOURG

21 January 2021

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Vorontsov and Others v. Ukraine,

The European Court of Human Rights (Former Fifth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Síofra O’Leary, President,Yonko Grozev,Ganna Yudkivska,Mārtiņš Mits,Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer,Lado Chanturia,Angelika Nußberger, judges,and Victor Soloveytchik, Section Registrar,

Having regard to:

the applications against Ukraine lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by five Ukrainian nationals (“the applicants”), whose personal information and other details are set out in the appended table;

the decision to give notice to the Ukrainian Government (“the Government”) of the applications;

the decision to give priority to the applications (Rule 41 of the Rules of Court);

the parties’ observations;

Having deliberated in private on 7 May 2019 and 9 December 2020,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the latter date:

INTRODUCTION

  1. These applications concern the allegedly unlawful and arbitrary detention of the five applicants in connection with a demonstration in Kharkiv on 19 February 2014, one of the mass protests which took place in Ukraine between 21 November 2013 and 23 February 2014; protests commonly referred to as “Euromaidan” and/or “Maidan”. The applicants rely on Article 5 §§ 1 and 3 of the Convention. These applications are part of thirty-three applications against Ukraine lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention in relation to the Maidan protests. For the reasons stated in Shmorgunov and Others v. Ukraine (nos. 15367/14 and 13 others, § 5, 21 January 2021, not final), those thirty-three applications could not all be joined and examined in a single judgment. The judgments in response to those applications should, however, be read as one whole.

    THE FACTS

  2. The names of the applicants’ representatives are indicated in the appended table.

  3. The Government were represented by their Agent, most recently Mr I. Lishchyna, of the Ministry of Justice.

  4. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

  5. On 19 February 2014 a demonstration in Kharkiv in support of the Euromaidan/Maidan protests in central Kyiv was held near a building which housed the MoI Academy for internal troops (“the Academy”). The demonstrators expressed their disagreement with the authorities’ decision to deploy servicemen from the Academy against the ongoing protests in Kyiv. According to the parties, the demonstration was peaceful.

  6. Except for Mr A. Romankov (application no. 58981/14), all the applicants took part in that demonstration; Mr D. Sinelnikov’s participation had been limited to filming the demonstration. Mr A. Romankov stated that he had not participated in the demonstration, and had merely been present nearby.

  7. At around 5 p.m. the police used force to disperse the protesters, and arrested a number of them, including the applicants. The applicants stated that a video-recording of some of the events at issue was publicly available.[1]

  8. According to the relevant police reports and records, the applicants were arrested on 19 February 2014 for the reason that they were suspected of having committed an administrative offence under Article 185 of the Code of Administrative Offences – maliciously disobeying a lawful order of the police (see Shmorgunov and Others, cited above, § 200). The applicants were initially taken to the Chervonozavodskyy District police station in Kharkiv, where they remained for about eight hours. Thereafter, they were taken to the Chervonozavodskyy District Court to be tried on the related administrative-offence charges (see paragraphs 12 and 13 below).

  9. While at the police station, they were also questioned as witnesses in the then ongoing criminal proceedings concerning a “serious disturbance of public order” during the demonstration (a criminal offence prohibited by Article 293 of the Criminal Code, see Shmorgunov and Others, cited above, § 201). No criminal charge was brought against the applicants in that regard. Eventually, on 21 February 2014 the police terminated those criminal proceedings for the reason that there was no evidence that public order or the activities of the Academy or any other organisation or body had been “disturbed” during the demonstration at issue. In that regard, the police relied mainly on video-recordings of the events at issue and the statements of a number of witnesses, including some of the applicants.

  10. According to the applicants, while at the police station the police did not allow lawyers who were requested by their friends to contact them, even though they had the right to legal assistance, inter alia, under Article 268 of the Code of Administrative Offences (see Shmorgunov and Others, cited above, § 200, and paragraph 28 below).

  11. According to the relevant questioning records established in the context of the criminal proceedings, Mr M. Vorontsov and Mr A. Romankov stated that they had not taken part in the demonstration on 19 February 2014, and had merely been present nearby.

  12. After their arrest, at around 3 a.m. on 20 February 2014 the applicants and a number of other individuals who had been arrested during the dispersal on 19 February 2014 were brought before Judges Ch., M., O. and V. of the Chervonozavodskyy District Court of Kharkiv, who held hearings on the basis of police reports and records on administrative offences. Those reports and records stated that on 19 February 2014 the applicants had disobeyed the lawful orders of the police to stop blocking the exit gates of the Academy, and that some of the applicants “had used obscene language demonstrating their disrespect towards the police”.

  13. The applicants submitted that during those hearings they had found out that they had been accused of having committed an administrative offence (see paragraph 8 above). Most of the applicants denied having committed any offence during the events at issue.

  14. According to the Government, Mr M. Vorontsov handed Judge V. a written statement, a copy of which reads as follows:

    “For my part, [I] acknowledge the fact that there was disobedience towards police officers, as [I] could not run away from them. [I] acknowledge being guilty of having committed an administrative offence. [I] repent of having committed an administrative offence.”

  15. In his submissions before the Court, Mr M. Vorontsov, while not contesting presenting the above statement, indicated that, when questioned by Judge V., he had denied committing the administrative offence which he had been charged with.

  16. The Government stated that on 20 February 2014 lawyers were appointed to represent Mr M. Vorontsov, Mr A. Savchenko, Mr...

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