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Ukraine: Ruslan Kotsaba affirms refusal to take up arms
Observers report from the day in court in Ivano-Frankivsk
by DFG-VK – State Associations of Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, and Connection e.V.
The case brought against the Ukrainian journalist and conscientious objector Ruslan Kotsaba continued today in Ivano-Frankivsk. It was the first day on which the hearing was observed by a delegation of antimilitarist organisations from Germany. Mr Kotsaba, aged 49, has been held in detention ever since he was arrested almost a year ago on charges of treason and obstructing the military. If sentenced, he faces 15 years in jail.
Mr Kotsaba, who originally backed the Maidan protests, spoke out in January 2015 against Ukrainian military aggression in the east of the country. In a video addressed to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, he declared his refusal to be drafted, saying he would rather go to prison for five years than turn a weapon on his "compatriots in the east". He called on his fellow countrymen to also refuse to be drafted.
Ruslan Kotsaba used his two-hour testimony in court today to affirm his antimilitarist stance and his refusal to take up arms. He also spoke at length about the case brought against him, emphasising that he upheld and practised the democratic rules of journalism. “I don’t regret what I did,” he said.
Cornelia Mannewitz, who attended the hearing in her capacity as the national spokesperson of the German Peace Society – United War Resisters, said: “I was struck by Ruslan Kotsaba’s steadfastness. We see his arrest and imprisonment as a breach of his human right to refuse to bear arms. His call on Ukrainian men to disobey their draft orders should not be treated as a criminal offence in a democratic society." Four observers from the German Peace Society and the IPPNW demonstrated their solidarity with the accused in Ivano-Frankivsk.
While Ukrainian law does allow individuals to refuse military service, this right is confined to a small group of religious minorities. Soldiers and army reserves are also banned from refusing to be mobilised. Convicted draft-dodgers can be imprisoned for between three and five years.
Even after several days of court hearings, it is still unclear how Ruslan Kotsaba is supposed to have committed treason. Many of the roughly 60 witnesses in all who had been named by the public prosecutor did not even turn up in court. Mr Kotsaba is accused of apparently being the sole Ukrainian journalist with reporting accreditation from the separatists and that he had also reported from the war zone.
The critical journalist appears to have come to the public prosecutor’s attention because he has taken sides with neither the separatists nor the Ukrainian government, calling instead for an end to the “fratricidal war” and the commencement of negotiations. Bearing this in mind, the signatory organisations once again call on the Ukrainian government today to immediately release Ruslan Kotsaba and recognise his status as a conscientious objector.
Joachim Schramm, German Peace Society – United War Resisters’ – North Rhine-Westphalia State Association +49 (0)231-818032 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gernot Lennert, German Peace Society – United War Resisters’ – Hesse State Association (email@example.com)
Rudi Friedrich, Connection e.V. +49 (0)69-82375534, office@Connection-eV.org)
Further background information
DFG-VK – State Associations of Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, and Connection e.V.. Press release February 5, 2016.