Photo: Facebook, via Zmina
The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Ukraine on 29 November 2021. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, during which time the Government was expected to respond, which it did on 13 January 2022.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: alleged threats, online harassment, and smear campaign against woman human rights defender Ms. Svitlana Blahodeteleva-Vovk.
Ms. Svitlana Blahodeteleva-Vovk is a woman human rights defender advocating for academic integrity and anti-corruption, and a coordinator of Dissergate.
Dissergate is a civil initiative founded by a group of Ukrainian scholars which advocates against the lack of academic integrity in the country and holds a contest for ‘Academic Indecency of the Year’.
In early June 2020, Ms. Svitlana Blahodeteleva-Vovk reported plagiarism in the research of a high-profile Ukrainian official to the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. She also spoke publicly about the plagiarism at rallies.
Soon after that, from mid-June 2020 until March 2021, Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk was subjected to systematic harassment by unknown persons. There have been several attempts to hack her email accounts. On at least ten occasions, unknown persons reported her social media posts as alleged copyright infringement. As a result, the social media platform limited her ability to share information. Between July 2020 and March 2021, Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk received recurrent rape threats from an unknown man via email and messaging app. The messages included evidence that he was following and photographing her, and knew where she and her family lived. Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk also received three handwritten letters through the door of her apartment, which included death threats.
On 13 September 2020, the Darnitsa Police Department of the Main Directorate of National Police in Kyiv (“Darnitsa Police Department”) opened a criminal case under Article 182 (1) (“violation of privacy”) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. It later reclassified the offence under Article 350 (1) (“threat or violence against a public official or a citizen in the performance of a public duty”). Since February 2021, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Department of Inquiry of the Ministry of Interior have reportedly been monitoring the investigation. However, the investigation has reportedly made little progress. As Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk continues to receive threats, she requested the Darnitsa Police Department to provide physical protection, however without success.
On a separate note, in October 2020, a smear campaign against Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk started on social media and in mainstream media, alleging that she had a criminal record for raping her husband. On 19 October 2020, Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk reportedly filed a lawsuit with the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv against persons and media outlets distributing the false accusations. Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk requested the court to order deletion and refutation of the discrediting information. In early 2021, the court allegedly dismissed the lawsuit based on improper venue. In March 2021, Ms. Blahodeteleva-Vovk filed a similar lawsuit with the Solominskiy District Court of Kyiv, but at the time of writing, no decision has been issued for the case.
In the communication we expressed concern at the alleged threats, online harassment, and smear campaign against Ms. Svitlana Blahodeteleva-Vovk. We are particularly concerned at the gendered nature of these attacks, and at the chilling effect that this might have on human rights defenders in Ukraine, and particularly women, discouraging them from exercising their right to freedom of expression for fear of retaliation or harassment.