Persecuted for Defending the Persecuted in Ukraine: Interview with Vyshinsky Defense Attorney Andriy Domansky
The Vyshinsky case is key in demonstrating the presence of political persecution of journalists in Ukraine. As a legal expert, I believe justice is still possible in Ukraine and I will do everything possible to prove Kirill Vyshinsky’s innocence. — Vyshinsky defense attorney Andriy Domansky
Andriy Domansky is the defense lawyer for jailed Ukrainian-Russian journalist and bureau chief of RIA-Novosti Ukraine, Kirill Vyshinsky. Vyshinsky has been imprisoned without trial by Ukrainian authorities since May 2018, accused of “high treason” and conducting an “information war” against Ukraine.
Last week, MintPress News published my interview with Vyshinsky, detailing the nature of his detention, the lack of a trial in spite of nearly 10 months of imprisonment, the absurdities of the accusations levied against him, and his lack of adequate medical care while imprisoned.
Domansky is not only Vyshinsky’s lawyer, he is also a journalist. He hosts a weekly radio show on the rights of journalists and, owing to his defense of journalists’ rights, he is sought out by an increasing number of persecuted journalists in Ukraine.
In mid-February, I traveled to Kiev to meet and interview Domansky about the political nature of the Vyshinsky case and about the persecution of journalists in general in Ukraine. The interview was conducted via an interpreter in Ukrainian.
During our conversation on February 19, Domansky received a phone call from the secretary of the court in Kherson, where Vyshinsky is imprisoned, informing him that at the then-upcoming pleading on February 21, the pair would be limited in the amount of time they were allotted to review case files. According to Domansky, the case files amount to 31 volumes, each between 250 to 400 pages (front and back), as well as approximately 80 hours of video footage.
Mr. Domansky told me:
All this should be read by myself and the accused, but they want to limit the time we can access these. As of February 8, Kirill has read 16 volumes — but he is reading quickly, skimming. It’s impossible to read every page with these restrictions.”
We do not know yet if Kirill is going to be allowed to review the papers in full. In general, the procedure is that Kirill is brought to Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) quarters at 10 a.m. and returned to his cell at 5 p.m. Sometimes, he is allowed to start reading only at midday or 2 p.m. Otherwise, he cannot review the papers at all when he has to be present at court hearings.”
Vyshinsky’s extended pre-trial detention was again prolonged, this time until April 8. Ukrainian authorities have been extending Vyshinsky’s pre-trial detention since his May 2018 detention began.
Political persecution, not “treason”
Aware of the basics of Vyshinsky’s detention, I asked Domansky what he, as Vyshinksy’s lawyer, believed was the motivation for it.
Andriy Domansky (AD): The case against Kirill Vyshinsky is fabricated. He is persecuted because of the essays posted on his website. He was not the author of those essays, he was the editor-in-chief; they were published in the “Opinions” section, along with a disclaimer that the opinion of the author may differ from the opinion of the editorial board, and that the editors bear no responsibility for the contents.
The essays were published in 2014, and his detention happened in 2018. In the course of all this time, different governmental structures and public organizations carried out detailed inspections of the activity of RIA-Novosti and they found nothing wrong with the materials it published.
Note: Vyshinsky addresses this in a previous interview with MintPress News, stating:
“The posts were made in the spring of 2014. According to the SBU, they represented a threat to the national security of Ukraine, but they remembered them only in 2018! And this is despite the fact that the SBU and Ukraine’s Ministry of Press and Information [another supervisory authority] have been regularly publishing lists of websites that were a ‘threat to national information security,’ while my website was never listed!!”
AD: Vyshinsky is also accused of support for the self-proclaimed republics in the East of Ukraine [Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics], whose existence was the subject of one of the publications on the RIA-Novosti website. This very essay was the formal cause of the search of Vyshinsky’s dwelling and his consequent detention.
I don’t find anything criminal in this publication, as it expressed the point of view of the author, and there were also essays expressing the opposite opinions. In such cases, the readers should be able to make their own choice, and this is the rule of true journalism – letting the public reach its own conclusions. Linguistic analysis found nothing criminal in the text of the essay.
The political nature of Vyshinsky’s persecution became obvious when Ukrainian politicians kept on demanding the exchange of Vyshinsky for Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.
Vyshinsky’s detention took place on May 15, 2018, and on May 15th, 16th and 17th, different politicians and public figures stated that Vyshinsky should be exchanged for Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia. The Russian government strongly objected to such an exchange, saying that Kirill Vyshinsky had not been convicted yet, that he was detained on fabricated charges, and that his exchange for actual convicted terrorism felons is impossible.
The electoral campaign is in full swing in Ukraine at the moment. In view of presidential elections [on March 31], parliamentary elections in autumn, and also the fact that the crews of Ukrainian navy vessels were detained by the Russian Federation during the incident in the Kerch strait [November 2018] and public opinion demands their release, many politicians would like to carry out an exchange of political prisoners and then use it as their achievement in electoral competition. So Vyshinsky’s case will be prolonged as long as possible.
I personally think it wrong and will do everything to prevent it. I would like the trial to take its course and justice to be served. We have all the foundations to show that Kirill has not committed the crimes he is accused of, and that charges against him are political and that he is being persecuted for his professional activity.
The raid on Domansky’s home
Aware that Domansky was recently subjected to raids by Ukrainian authorities, I asked him to detail how these came about.
AD: On December 10, 2018, thanks to our European colleagues, I had a meeting with them at a press club in Brussels where I made a speech in defense of journalists’ rights. On the same day, the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] brought new charges against Kirill Vyshinsky.
On December 11-12, I was in Washington, where I met with U.S. senators. I told them that Kirill Vyshinsky’s case is typical for Ukraine, and that his case is a pivotal one for the defense of freedom of press and journalists’ rights in our country.
I returned home on December 19, Attorneys’ Day, our professional holiday. The next day I received a gift, so to say: a warning from certain people in the General Prosecutor’s Office, that I should expect punishment for my activities abroad.
A message was passed to me: “there will be repercussions.”
On December 20, the General Prosecutor’s Office applied for a search warrant for my apartment, my office and the home of my assistant with the Pechersk Court of Kiev.
On January 14, 2019, I was in Kherson at a court hearing regarding the extension of Kirill Vyshinsky’s pretrial detention. The SBU informed us that the investigation was completed and Vyshinsky’s trial was scheduled for January 17.
As I arrived at the hearing, the GPO [Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine] began their searches in my and my assistant’s homes, and in my office. They failed to find anything incriminating, but on the evening of January 17, after searching my other apartment, they seized several copies of documents used in the [Vyshinsky] proceedings.
Although the warrant was issued in violation of [Ukraine’s] Criminal Code, they had to produce some “evidence” in order to justify their moves against me.
The press service of the GPO started to make excuses, claiming that I was involved in some criminal activity relevant to misappropriation of state property. I think they wanted to prevent my attempt to bail out Mr. Vyshinsky, as I had already submitted the appropriate appeal.
The GPO keeps calling several of my clients in for questioning, asking them if they know that I am “pro-Russian” and that I am “working with Russian companies.” I am condemned for defending Kirill Vyshinsky, who is a Russian citizen. This is a direct violation of the law for attorney activity, as an attorney cannot be identified with his client’s position.
Due to the fact that Kirill is a Russian citizen, I, as his lawyer, must communicate with Russian diplomats here.
My telephone conversations with the Russian ombudswoman are also held against me. I discussed the probability of the prisoner exchange with her.
At the hearing regarding the prolongation of Vyshinsky’s detention, the prosecution noted, “defender Domansky leaked information to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, causing it to bring up charges against the investigator and the prosecutor involved in the Kirill Vyshinsky case.”
The prosecutor’s office is trying to deal a blow to my reputation so that I lose clients because no one wants to hire an attorney accused of ties to the criminal world.
In fact, most of my clients have a pro-Ukrainian political stance. Some of them are Ukrainian nationalists — for example, Mykola Kokhanivsky, the Head of the Union of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN]. He is accused of organizing violent attacks at Rossotrudnichestvo [the Russia-Ukraine Cooperation Bureau] and branches of Russian banks in Ukraine.
I also am defending several members of the Svoboda Party [radical Ukrainian nationalists] and some veterans of the ATO [Anti-terrorism operation in eastern Ukraine].
All of them trust me and call me “our attorney.” They do not believe the false accusations; they only laugh when they hear them.
Surveillance and harassment
I asked whether Domansky had himself been subjected to the surveillance and harassment his journalist clients endure.
AD: I am under the constant surveillance of Ukraine’s Secret Service. My phones are wiretapped, my correspondence scanned.
Unfortunately, journalists do not feel safe in Ukraine, especially those who investigate corruption or write critically about top officials. There are incidences of power structures’ attempting to recruit journalists and then blackmail them. They are detained on fabricated charges; at times they suffer from attacks by radicals. Extremists pour different kinds of liquids over them while they are reporting or filming events; they are sometimes injured. Several journalists have even been assassinated. Our law provides for the defense of journalists’ rights, but the government fails to carry out its duties.
One of my clients, journalist Pavlo Karnazytsky, was interrogated at the end of November last year by the SBU as a witness in Vyshinsky’s case. During the interrogation, SBU agents realized that Pavlo was not so much the witness for the prosecution, as he was a witness for the defense.
That is why on January 2, 2019, the SBU arrested Karnazytsky when he was walking his dog near his house, and deported him to Belorussia, as Karnazytsky was a political refugee from that country. He fled from Lukashenko’s regime in 1998 and had lived in Ukraine ever since.
I believe he was deported owing to the possibility that he could be a witness in favor of Vyshinsky.
There was another case that I was involved in: the case of Vasyl Muravytsky, who was arrested on treason charges in August 2017. Muravytsky is a blogger who investigated corruption in the circles close to the president, particularly the activity of one of the MPs from BPP [the bloc headed by Poroshenko], the ruling party.
He was detained on the same day his wife gave birth to their child, accused of spying for Russia, and spent 11 months in detention. Eventually, we were able to get him released to house arrest instead of incarceration.
I should note, lawyers are right behind journalists in terms of risks stemming from their professional activities. So for myself, I face two risks: one owing to my work as a journalist, and another owing to my work as a lawyer. I don’t know which activity will cause me problems. My radio program is called “Protection of Rights.” This could also lead to threats against my security.
Final thoughts on the Vyshinsky case
AD: I am concerned about the state of Kirill’s health. The conditions at the pretrial detention center are far from satisfactory.
Note: During an earlier interview, Kirill Vyshinsky told MintPress about his access to doctors in the pretrial detention center:
“The prison medical unit was downsized, and I had to wait for a specialist doctor appointment for months. To alleviate acute neuralgia pain, I was given …diphenhydramine! It’s like treating acute heart pain with vitamin C. It won’t make things worse, but it doesn’t do much to help, either. I feel pretty good right now, but this is definitely not due to the prison medicine but to the efforts of my lawyers and the medications they passed me.”
AD: On March 20, there will be a hearing at the Supreme Court in Kiev. Mr. Vyshinsky will be taken from Kherson to Kiev.
Maybe it will become my court hearing, and I won’t be the lawyer but the accused!
Now, the only formal means of taking me off the case is to start legal proceedings against me. Then, if I am charged, I will be forced to stop my activities as a lawyer. Or, there could be some unpleasant and illegal action against me.
The Vyshinsky case is key in demonstrating the presence of political persecution of journalists in Ukraine. As a legal expert, I believe justice is still possible in Ukraine and I will do everything possible to prove Kirill Vyshinsky’s innocence.
Eva Bartlett is an independent writer and rights activist with extensive experience in Syria and in the Gaza Strip, where she lived a cumulative three years (from late 2008 to early 2013).