Outrage mounting over omnipresent SBU
A number of Ukrainian human rights defenders and political analysts have criticized encroachments by the Security Service [SBU] on freedom of speech and civic liberties.
One of the veterans of the human rights and dissident movement, Levko Lukyanenko who spent almost 25 years in labour camp and 5 years in exile expressed his outrage over the present activities of the SBU. “The Security Service should protect Ukraine from anti-Ukrainian actions. As we see, it is not doing this. The latest example of this is the anti-Ukrainian activities of Zyuganov [Head of the Russian Communist Party – translator] in Ukraine. The SBU has not bothered to, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declare him persona non grata in the country”. Mr Lukyanenko believes that according to the Constitution the function of the SBU is not in restricting civic rights, but in defending the State from internal and foreign enemies. Protests against infringements of these rights from first Ukrainian, then European civic organizations have had their continuation at diplomatic level.
The media last week published remarks from the French Ambassador in Ukraine, Jacques in which he stated that “the mixing of roles by some representatives of State power was not entirely appropriate”. Unusually direct for a diplomat, he stated that he “had in mind the SBU which is present in virtually all spheres of life in the country.” He considers such a trend an “anomaly and of great concern”.
The Ex-Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Valery Chaly, called these comments a warning to the regime. “This is one of the factors which could have an impact on investments into the country. It is not the only factor, however it is a signal which is circulated by the mass media. And it is not so much by ambassadors or diplomatic representatives, but by organizations which monitor the situation with mass information in the world”.
Chaly said that he did not know of any country, with the exception of African and Latin American states, where “the Head of the Security Service is at the same time the head of a media holding and member of the High Council of Justice which has serious impact on court rulings and judges”.
The Director of the International Democracy Institute Serhiy Taran explains the strong reaction of the European ambassador as being because the international community “never forgives bans on mass protests presently taking place via the courts, and pressure on the media which is controlled” by the SBU. “The SBU is no different from other enforcement structures in Ukraine. However it is specifically the SBU which is linked with pressure in the media, and that arouses a more serious response than the actions of other enforcement bodies in the country”.
Taran says that the SBU’s concern with surveillance on blogger’s postings, not threats to the country, places Ukraine on a bar with such eastern despotic countries as China, where the government is fighting the Internet. He sees this as linked with the level of legal awareness of members of the present regime who have come to politics largely from business. “And if they had connections with politics, that was the politics of Kuchma’s presidency when there was fairly strict monopoly on opinions. And they simply don’t understand any other system.” He expressed regret that “people capable for openly working with the media in the Party of the Regions can be counted on one hand”.