On January 27, 2016, security officers of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPK) reportedly detained professor Ihor Kozlovsky, apparently in retaliation for his pro-Ukrainian views and academic work related to conflict in the country. On May 3, 2017, a military tribunal convicted Professor Kozlovsky on charges of illegal weapons possession, and sentenced him to 36 months in prison.
Professor Kozlovsky is a scholar of religious history at Donetsk National Technical University and leads several academic and professional organizations, including the Center for Religious Studies and International Spiritual Relations. In addition to his academic work, he has engaged in pro-Ukrainian activities, including publicly voicing his support for a united Ukraine over social media and organizing the Donetsk Ecumenical Prayer Marathon for United Ukraine, from March to October 2014. Before he was detained, Professor Kozlovsky was reportedly writing an article on the effects of armed conflict on religious and communities and minority groups in separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine.
On January 27, 2016, DPK’s Ministry of State Security launched investigations into individuals suspected of attempting to destroy a monument of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Donetsk earlier that morning. Authorities reportedly detained 50 individuals, including teachers, activists, and members of the local Protestant community suspected of being involved, including Professor Kozlovsky. Authorities reportedly conducted a search of his home, confiscating computer equipment, documents, and valuable antique objects. While the investigations and detentions were ostensibly in connection with an attempt to destroy a monument, authorities reportedly informed Professor Kozlovsky’s wife that he was detained due to comments he posted to Facebook. For approximately one month, Professor Kozlovsky was held incommunicado at a State Security Ministry (MGB) facility before being transferred to a pre-trial prison, where he has reportedly been denied family visitation rights.
On May 3, 2017, a military tribunal convicted and sentenced Professor Kozlovsky to 32 months in prison on charges of illegal weapons possession. The prosecution reportedly presented as evidence two grenades that DPK security officers allegedly found during their search of Professor Kozlovsky’s home. According to his son, international legal observers were not allowed to attend certain hearings during the proceedings.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary imprisonment and prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While authorities have a right to maintain order and respond to legitimate security concerns, such actions must comply with States’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of opinion and expression, academic freedom, and due process. Imprisonment and prosecution intended to limit academics’ expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.