JULY 28, 2014
“When a crime is not punished, people feel it is safe to do wrong.” This proverb is proving true in Ukraine, where a rising number of Jehovah’s Witnesses are victims of hate crimes. Jehovah’s Witnesses are grateful that the government of Ukraine guarantees freedom of worship, yet they are alarmed that hate crimes against them are increasing and that authorities are allowing perpetrators to act with impunity.
Since 2008, there have been 64 physical assaults in Ukraine against Jehovah’s Witnesses while they were engaged in or had just completed religious activity. Sixteen of these assaults were committed by Orthodox priests.
From 2008 to 2013 there were also 190 acts of vandalism against Kingdom Halls and perpetrators made 13 attempts to destroy the buildings by arson. During 2012 and 2013, acts of vandalism against Kingdom Halls doubled compared to the previous four years.
The severity of the attacks is also increasing. In 2012, two Kingdom Halls in the Donetsk Region were completely destroyed by fire. In 2013, two incidents of physical assault caused injuries so severe that the victims required extended hospitalization.
The Witnesses have turned to the authorities for protection but have found no relief because the authorities have not conducted prompt and effective investigations or acted to appropriately punish the offenders.
Inaction by Authorities
Vandalism. The police fail to respond or are slow to respond when an incident is reported. If a criminal report is filed, authorities often refuse to initiate proceedings or delay in doing so. Even if legal action is instituted, either the prosecutors fail to charge the perpetrator or the courts impose only a token punishment. From 2008 through 2012, authorities brought no criminal charges against the perpetrators in the 111 incidents of vandalism.
Physical attacks. Police often do not investigate the attacks properly or make efforts to identify the perpetrators. When proceedings are instituted, authorities seldom charge or punish the offenders. When courts do punish perpetrators, punishments imposed are not commensurate with the crimes because the attacks are not classified as hate crimes.
This scenario of impunity emboldens the perpetrators to continue the pattern of violence
Beating of Oleksandr Tretiak
A particularly egregious attack occurred on November 26, 2013, against Oleksandr Tretiak, a 41-year-old Witness who was returning home after engaging in religious activity. Three men viciously beat Mr. Tretiak for over 20 minutes. He identified the attackers as Ruslan Ivanov; Anatoliy Dovhan, a retired lieutenant colonel of the police; and Evheniy Ihlinskiy, Dovhan’s son-in-law and a traffic officer. Mr. Tretiak managed to escape and was rushed to the hospital with severe injuries, including multiple cuts and bruises, a craniocerebral injury and a broken nose.
Despite his condition, the investigator characterized the crime as a “minor” bodily injury inflicted by three “unidentified” persons. After two weeks in the hospital, Mr. Tretiak was prematurely released—a longer hospital stay would have compelled authorities to designate the attack as more than a “minor” crime. His severe injuries required that he be readmitted to the hospital the very next day. In total, he spent 23 days in the hospital.
Recently, charges were brought against Ruslan Ivanov, one of the attackers, but only after he fled. Mr. Tretiak fears that the perpetrators may target him again. He states, “I am convinced that the attackers were motivated by religious hatred for Jehovah’s Witnesses and intended to kill me.”
Will Officials Respond?
Ukraine is a country where over 150,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses have enjoyed freedom of worship for years and where officials have proved helpful with past difficulties. The Witnesses hope that law enforcement officials in Ukraine will properly investigate criminal acts and prosecute the perpetrators so that they no longer act with impunity.