Inept zeal against anti-Yanukovych posters
Mykola Khavronyuk from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform considers the recent measures taken against students pasting up anti-Yanukovych posters.
As reported, the measures have been taken against students from Kherson and Donetsk found pasting posters with a photo of Viktor Yanukovych and a slight, but crucial difference in the words of a famous Soviet song. The relevant line in the original says “I don’t know another country [other than the USSR – translator] where people breathe so freely”. The changed version reads: “I don’t know another country whose President is a former prisoner”.
It should be noted that Viktor Yanukovyh is indeed a former prisoner. The author stresses that this is not for political dissent or the like. As a young man, Yanukovych served two prison terms on criminal charges.
Mykola Khavronyuk writes that the police want to bring administrative offence charges against the students, with the only difference being in the article of the Code of Administrative Offences. In Donetsk they are accused of petty hooliganism.
The news from Kherson, he says, is that they now want to charge them for “circulating false rumours”
Having understood that this was not a joke, he pulled out the text of Article 173-1 which covers “the circulation of false rumours which can arouse panic among the population or disrupt public order”.
The author asked experts for clarification of the terms, such as false rumours, panic, etc. They cite reports about radiation or other leaks, poisoned drinking water, widespread abuse of power by law enforcement officers, etc. As far as false rumours are concerned, the term seems clear and manifestly inappropriate. Nobody can deny that President Yanukovych served two prison terms.
Khavronyuk stresses that if the words of the song (in this adapted version) offend the President, then it is for him to take civic proceedings, not for the police to get involved. He notes that the criminal codes of Belarus, Poland, Germany and some other countries do envisage criminal liability for publicly insulting the President. However where there is no such public insult, then only civil means of defence are available.
Attempts were made between 2001 and 2003 to introduce such criminal liability for insulting or undermining the reputation of the President, MPs, or the courts, but were never passed.
With regard to “petty hooliganism”, the law is quite specific: this is foul language in public places; offensive pestering of members of the public and similar actions disturbing the peace and public order.
One of the protocols drawn up by police officers in Donetsk states that the person “committed petty hooliganism, specifically discrediting the present regime as represented by President Yanukovych, they carried out an action by unfurling a poster with a photo of Viktor Yanukovych and the words “….. I don’t know another country whose President is a former prisoner”. At the bottom it states: “In Kherson they wanted to imprison students for this poster”.
The author writes that one is ashamed of the police officers.
“They were themselves once students or cadets, they had their own views and convictions, and valued freedom above all else – of opinion, expression, worldview… And now they probably want this for their children. “