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Appeal: Free Ruslan Kotsaba!
Ukrainian journalist and conscientious objector in prison
by European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO)
Ruslan Kotsaba, a journalist and conscientious objector from Ukraine, was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment by the city court of Ivano-Frankivsk (Western Ukraine) on 12 May 2016. The court found him guilty of „obstructing the legitimate activities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces“.
The prosecutor had additionally accused him of treason against the Ukrainian state and had asked for a sentence of 13 years imprisonment. The time Kotsaba spent in pretrial detention – almost 15 months – will be counted twice so that the remaining prison term is about one year.
Ruslan Kotsaba is 49 years old and father of two daughters. In 2004 and 2014 he had actively supported the “orange revolution” and the Maidan protests. In 2015 he voted for Poroshenko as president. As a journalist he had travelled to the Donbas area several times and reported from both sides of the front. He denounced the military action of the Ukrainian government in the Eastern part of the country and called for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. In a video appeal to President Poroshenko he said in January 2015: „I’d rather go to prison for two to five years than take a deliberate decision to kill my compatriots in the Eastern part. I say to all who listen to me: I refuse the mobilization and I call all reasonable people to refuse the mobilization. It is hell, a horror. It’s not acceptable that people are killed in the 21st century because they want to secede.“
Kotsaba was arrested on 5 February 2015 and thereafter was held in pretrial detention. He is suffering from the effects of a heart attack and has to take medication daily. In winter the temperature in his prison cell – he was in solitary confinement most of the time – often was near freezing.
During a court hearing at the beginning of February 2016, Ruslan Kotsaba said: „I have become a pacifist at the front...What’s going on in the Eastern part is a civil war with international interference on both sides, it’s fratricide.“ As a journalist he was obliged to hear also the separatist viewpoint. „Freedom of opinion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief – that is civilization. They are currently trying to take it away from us.“
In 2014 conscription was reintroduced in Ukraine. A large number of young men have avoided call up either by hiding within the country or by fleeing abroad. To object openly as Ruslan Kotsaba did is rare. There is a legal right to conscientious objection in Ukraine but it is restricted to certain religious minorities. Serving soldiers and reservists have no legal right to conscientious objection. The penalty conscientious objectors face for their refusal of military service is three to five years imprisonment.
European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO): Appeal, May 26, 2016