Oct 20, 2020


The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported, “Controversial Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk cannot erase his shameful role as a Soviet state-appointed lawyer in the political trial of the great Ukrainian poet Vasyl Stus, but he is trying to silence those who write about the part he played. 


The startling ruling by the Darnytsky District Court in Kyiv on October 19, prohibiting circulation of the book ‘Vasyl Stus Case’ by Vakhtang Kipiani, probably demonstrated Medvedchuk’s considerable influence in Ukraine, but only increased interest in the latter’s treatment of Stus, with all copies of the book sold out  within an hour and a further 3,500 print run announced. The lawyer representing Kipiani is also fairly confident that the ban will be overturned at appeal stage and will therefore never come into effect.


Stus was imprisoned by the Soviet regime twice for what was termed ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’.  After the second arrest in 1980, Stus tried to refuse the services of a state-appointed lawyer, but Medvedchuk was foisted upon him.  The latter did not attempt to deny the absurd charges, instead asking only that the court consider mitigating circumstances. Stus died, aged just 47, during the night of September 3-4, 1985 in the notorious Perm-36 labour camp in Siberia.     


Kipiani’s book ‘The Vasyl Stus Case’ was first published by the publishing company Vivat in May 2019. Medvedchuk filed a civil suit demanding that nine phrases be removed as false and defamatory, with this partially allowed on 19 October by Judge Marina Zastavenko from the Darnytsky District Court. […]


A ban on any book, let alone one about a great Ukrainian poet who died in a political labour camp he was sent to after Medvedchuk acted as his lawyer, is certainly shocking. It is, however, worth considering the comments made after the hearing by Viacheslav Yakubenko, the lawyer who represented Kipiani in this case at the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group’s request.  


In a brief post entitled ‘Don’t throw your slippers at the judge!’ Yakubenko explains that Medvedchuk had demanded that the publication and sale of 9 phrases in the book ‘The Vasyl Stus Case’ be banned on any territory and in any form.  Since the phrases cannot be excluded from a book which has already gone to print, this effectively meant the banning of the entire book.


Yakubenko reminds his readers that the European Court of Human Rights considers bans on books to be an extremely serious restriction of freedom of speech permitted only where this is needed to defend the rights and interests of others. The point in this case, he says, is that there was nothing in the nine phrases that Medvedchuk objected to which had not been known about Medvedchuk before. […]


Having read the ruling, Yakubenko asserts that ‘the judge did what she could.’  The reason, it should be said, is fairly depressing. Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform – For Life party is most known now for his pro-Russian position and his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as for his effective control of several influential media in Ukraine.  As Yakubenko notes, ‘history does not know of cases where first instance courts have refused to allow Medvedchuk’s numerous defamation suits.’


He believes that Judge Zastavenko went further and, by doing so, by going beyond what Medvedchuk had demanded, she has guaranteed that the ruling will be revoked at appeal stage. This is certainly to be hoped, however the idea that a ruling needs to be so shocking in order to ensure that Medvedchuk cannot block the unseemly truth from being published remains profoundly worrying.”