Lay off civic activists
With the media abuzz with stories of Ukrainian police brutality and lawlessness, as well as increasing violence against journalists, including one from the traffic police watchdog Road Control, an internal clean up of law enforcement bodies would seem warranted. Instead it is civic activists who are facing scrutiny and bullyboy tactics. The aim seems ominously clear: silence those highlighting the assault on people’s rights.
A large number of public figures and prominent NGOs have endorsed an open letter expressing concern over apparent attempts to trump up criminal charges against two well-known civic activists – Maxim and Konstantin Latsyba.
Since May this year both brothers have received a number of phone calls from police investigators who claim to be in possession of a video showing thieves escaping from the scene of the crime in a car with number plates similar to those on Maxim Latsyba’s car. No evidence of any sort has been provided. Attempts by the police to take the car away “for examination” have been resisted given the risk that evidence could be fabricated. Since according to Maxim Latsyba the criminal investigation was launched on 14 May, the day before the theft, such fears are hardly surprising. Civic organizations believe that this criminal investigation is being used as a weapon to intimidate civic activists and discredit them.
Maxim Latsyba from the Ukrainian Independent Centre for Political Research has initiated a number of laws aimed at developing civil society. His brother is involved in the same Centre, but is also an activist in the Democratic Alliance party.
Other Democratic Alliance activists have over the last couple of months reported pressure from the authorities.
It is unfortunately more than likely that they are being particularly targeted following their attempts to hold a peaceful protest outside the President’s controversial and top-secret residence at Mezhyhirya. As reported, members of Democratic Alliance and journalists went to Mezhyhirya to monitor and perhaps assist “the clean-up” since the court had banned a planned peaceful gathering on the grounds that it would obstruct measures to bring a spring flood under control. They found no flood, only Berkut riot police who detained four of the activists. One was jailed for 7 days, and another who came to the court to protest that ruling, received a 5-day sentence.
Neither these, nor other disproportionate infringements of fundamental rights have daunted the civic activists. If, as the Latsyba brothers are convinced, this is a new attempt to stifle protest, then it should not be allowed to succeed.
Journalists and civic activists have been warning that such attempts are likely for some time. In January Oleh Rybachuk from CHESNO explained that the regime, with its popularity at a record low, had no arguments and would therefore be likely to sling mud in an effort to discredit its critics.
Discredit and intimidate. With only isolated courts still prepared to withstand pressure and uphold the law, the pressure to keep ones head low can be strong.
The Youth Collective Security System MAMA has just issued an open letter to the Head of the Security Service [SBU] regarding attempts by SBU officers to call young student activists in for “chats”. Such methods, which are depressingly reminiscent of Soviet times, were first resurrected soon after Yanukovych became President. Back in 2010 the Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Father Boris Gudzyak made an approach to him from the SBU public. This aroused considerable international concern and focused attention on unacceptable methods being applied.
With evidence mounting that the authorities are again trying to use “prophylactic chats” with students, threats of criminal proceedings, forced psychiatric treatment or other methods of intimidation, close scrutiny from within Ukraine and the international community is crucial.