Starting on Monday, the trial of four eco-activists began at Vinnytsia City court. The defendants are accused of libel and false accusation by the head of Tulchyn Rayon state administration, Mykola Pidbolyachnyy. In a collective letter addressed to President Poroshenko, the group criticized state bodies, including the one of Pidbolyachnyy, for the questionable procedure regarding the permits provided for the planned construction of large poultry brigade of Myronivsky Hliboproduct (MHP), a conglomerate owned by oligarch Yuriy Kosiuk.
On September 25th, the first hearing at Vinnytsia City Court took place. However an appointed judge, Sergiy Fedchyshen, abstained from the trial due to unknown reasons. A new judge, Valeriy Boyko, was assigned by automatic distribution to continue the case.
Pidbolyachnyy approached the court to defend his “honor, dignity, and professional reputation” which has been allegedly harmed by the claims of the residents of Tulchyn Raion lead by four activists from Kleban, Zaozerne ,and Tulchyn. Pidbolyachnyy demands an apology and the concerned individuals to openly refute and acknowledge their previous claims as false accusations. The collective letter appeal to the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko states that Pidbolyachnyy “lobbies interests of the oligarch Yuriy Kosiuk,” the CEO of MHP. This open letter was published by the local media leading up to court persecution of the involved journalist also.
MHP is one of the largest companies in the country and is active in all branches of agricultural industry. In 2016, the conglomerate gained $1,135 million USD with total profit exceeding $69 millions. Yuriy Kosiuk, the CEO of the Myronivsky Hliboproduct conglomerate is said to be a close companion to high state politicians and among the current richest Ukrainians. At the same time, MHP has been a target of accusations for environmental recklessness and even human rights violations.
Defenders gained support
"We consider this lawsuit to be an attempt to pressure the local activists, who are standing their principal position regarding the MHP,” says Tamara Kharchylava from Centre of Environmental Initiatives - Ecoaction. ”In this case, we also see the disregard to the opinion of 1,465 people who have signed the appeal,” she proclaims. The non-governmental organization, Ecoaction, has made a decision to take an active part in this court case in support of the activists.
“Today, people were deprived of the right to defend themselves from ungrounded claims,“ Kharchylava stated.
Members of Ecoaction demonstrated in front of the Vinnytsia City Court in support of sued activists. They brought a banner which said “Stop persecution of the activists,” and they symbolically taped the mouths to point out that the communities are not given the opportunity to speak out about socially significant topics.
Violence linked company expanding to Europe
MHP recently announced plans to launch another branch in the EU´s market. After enterprises in the Netherlands and Slovakia, this will bring further expansion to the west.
The lawsuit held with activists from Vinnytsia is one of many recent cases of environmental persecution associated with the MHP. In addition to verbal threats and surveillance, Ecoaction monitored several cases of assualt of anti-MHP activists. The cases were in cooperation with Czech NGO Arnika published on stop-persectuion.org. Persecution of environmental activists is growing phenomenon both in EU and non-EU countries. In reaction, almost fifty world countries associated with the Aarhus Convention on environmental democracy published a firm statement for stronger protection and cast off Belarus for a concrete case of oppression.