An Anti-Corruption Activist Is Facing Assault Charges. He Says It Was A Set-Up
16 August, 2017

A leading Ukrainian anti-corruption activist is facing criminal charges for assaulting a journalist. But he alleges that the man he struck was not a journalist, but a provocateur attempting to impede his work fighting corruption.

Vitaliy Shabunin, director of the Anticorruption Action Center NGO, stands charged with causing moderate injury to Vsevolod Filimonenko during an altercation outside a Kyiv military commission in June 2017.

The government initially planned to charge Shabunin under a law criminalizing attacks on journalists, which would have potentially increased the criminal penalty.  

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

However, according to Shabunin, the investigators subsequently changed the criminal charge to inflicting “intentional injuries of moderate severity.”

The strange case has attracted broad attention in Ukraine, with some alleging that it represents a “counterrevolution” against efforts to fight graft since the 2014 Euromaidan revolution.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

If Shabunin is found guilty, he could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Hromadske briefly explains who is fighting the Anticorruption Action Center and why.

A Broken Jaw and Pepper Spray

The case against Shabunin is confusing and convoluted. But there are certain details no one denies: On June 8, 2017, Shabunin struck the blogger Vsevolod Filimonenko on the face. Filimonenko calls himself a journalist, but also works as a volunteer assistant to Serhiy Melnychuk, a parliamentarian from the Radical Party.

The clash occurred at a Kyiv military commission, where Shabunin was summoned for allegedly dodging the draft.

According to Filimonenko, he approached the Shabunin and asked why he "is not fighting in Donbass." In response, Shabunin broke his jaw, Filimonenko says.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Shabunin, on the other hand, claims that he struck Filimonenko because the journalist made an offensive comment to Oleksandra Ustynova, a member of the Anticorruption Action Center’s board. After that, Shabunin alleges that Filimonenko sprayed him in the face with a can of pepper spray.

But Olena Shcherban, a lawyer for the Central Electoral Commission, debates Filimonenko’s version of the story. She says that, after Filimonenko was struck, he called himself an ambulance, but eventually declined to be hospitalized and refused further help from doctors because he lacked any serious injuries. Certainly he didn’t have the injuries he later complained of, Shcherban says.

The Anticorruption Action Center (AAC) believes that Filimonenko may have been beaten by his own colleagues after the incident to increase the severity of his injuries — because more severe injuries would mean a longer prison sentence for Shabunin.

READ MORE: First Major Anti-Corruption Case in Ukraine, Explained

Then, at the end of July, Filimonenko claimed that he had been forced to leave Ukraine due to alleged political persecution. According to him, the police initiated criminal proceedings against him “intentional body injury” because of an allegation made by Vitaliy Shabunin.

The AAC calls the subsequent case opened against Shabunin politically motivated. It aims, the organization alleges, "to neutralize a public figure and anti-corruption activist."

 Who else is fighting the AAC?

The Anticorruption Action Center is a public organization founded by Vitaliy Shabunin in 2012. Over the past 5 years it has extensively investigated corruption and lobbied in favor of anti-corruption initiatives — particularly in the fields of public procurements and healthcare. The organization is largely funded by grants and international financial assistance.

In recent years, however, AAC activists have repeatedly come under attack from the current authorities. In March 2016, the Prosecutor General’s office received permission to order a search of the Center on the grounds that the AAC allegedly misappropriated international grant money intended for use in reforming the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

However, the search never happened and the case was eventually closed.

Since November 2016, the AAC have been trying to get electronic asset declarations of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) employees published. These documents are classified as their publication could supposedly threaten the safety of the security agency.

In response to the AAC’s investigation, the SBU organized a campaign to discredit the organization, AAC employees allege. In particular, the agency ordered surveillance of Shabunin’s house and organized political protests in front of it.

/Reporting by Ihor Burdyha

/Translated and adapted Gaby Kurkov and Matthew Kupfer

READ MORE: Should Ukrainian Anti-corruption Activists Declare Their Wealth?