20.06.2013 | Halya Coynash

Moving Anti-Terrorist Targets


Dnipropetrovsk, 27 April 2012 - the investigation, arrests and ongoing trial of those accused in connection with the bomb blasts arouse serious concern

A draft bill in Ukraine proposing real control over the Internet has apparently been shelved. The amendments to the notorious Public Morality Act would have made it possible to close down sites within 24 hours, and its scope for abuse was clear.  Unfortunately, despite the unexpected thank you expressed by ruling party MP Oliynyk to journalists and the public, the likelihood that he withdrew it after being alerted to its dangers seems remote.  A virtually identical bill had been proposed less than a year ago, and aroused the same opposition before being rejected.  Both then and now public concentration on the “Internet bill” was at the expense of other legislative moves also manifestly warranting close attention.

The lack of interest in another bill at present is particularly baffling given its authorship. It is the latest legislative offering from Vitaly Zhuravsky whose attempt last year to recriminalize libel led to a major journalist campaign within Ukraine and expressions of concern from the international community.

Zhuravsky has now turned his attention to the “fight against terrorism” with his bill № 2219а registered at the same time as Oliynyk’s.  It has passed almost unnoticed, as have a number of earlier moves extending the powers of the authorities without any clear understanding who it is that they are fighting.

The terminology in the new bill is just as woolly and vague as its predecessors, not to mention that classic of the genre – Ukraine’s Public Morality Act. The assertions about a supposed threat are openly manipulative and exaggerated. We are told in the explanatory note that “over recent years the propaganda of terrorist acts has become widespread. New Breiviks appear virtually every week in European countries”.

Zhuravsky is still hell-bent on imposing criminal liability but this time “for the propaganda and dissemination of the ideology of terrorism, as well as public incitement to carry out activities defined as terrorist”. In the draft bill itself he specifies that “the propaganda of the ideology of terrorism is to be understood as activity which involves the systematic dissemination and elaboration of the views of a certain community whose ideals are phenomena linked with the escalation of violence in the form of terrorist acts”.

It requires only scrutiny of the component parts of this definition to see that the scope for application is alarmingly broad. It becomes clearer why the authorities are so eager to “fight terrorism”.  It is considerably less fathomable why there is so little attention to such attempts.

Zhuravsky is also proposing to add a paragraph to Article 258 of the Criminal Code (Terrorism). This offers total freedom from prosecution for a person who, although involved in preparing a terrorist act, voluntarily comes forward and informs the law enforcement bodies about it, “helping to avert an act of terrorism”.  Even in countries with an independent judicial system and well-developed mechanisms of public scrutiny over law enforcement bodies, trust is not unlimited. A person’s voluntary rejection of a criminal plan is of course taken into account. However the possible consequences of a total guarantee of immunity from prosecution for reporting an alleged terrorist plan are terrifying.

At the beginning of November 2011 President Yanukovych stated that the opposition was amassing weapons and planning armed attacks on State authorities”.  This seemingly shocking information coming just weeks after the regime’s main opponent had been sentenced to 7 years imprisonment was received by many with skepticism, and elicited challenges from the opposition to provide evidence.  The police clearly had difficulty with proof and the media obligingly fell silent on the subject of “armed attacks”.

Not that those in power had any intention of forgetting such “threats”. Just three weeks later the President submitted a draft law on creating a new division within the SBU with new powers to defend the “legitimate interests of the State “in the information security sphere”.   There was relatively little interest despite the obvious carte blanche for monitoring and blocking what somebody regarded as “subversive” or “dangerous” information.

Six months later we learned of a supposed “heightened terrorist threat” which the Security and Defence Council responded to with a Decision on Anti-Terrorist Measures in Ukraine from 25 May 2012.  The Decision is disturbingly similar to analogous initiatives in the Russian Federation and states the following: 

The main reasons for terrorism are radicalism; extremism; politicization of issues concerning inter-ethnic, ethno-faith relations; the spread of public intolerance and confrontation, particularly with respect to socio-political relations  …  Radically disposed forces are attempting to use difficulties linked with the accumulation of many unresolved social problems for their narrow corporate aims.”

It would seem that the Ukrainian authorities have the same attitude to “information security” and “terrorism” as Humpty Dumpty to words.  The woolly terms mean just what those in power need them to mean – no more, no less.  The fight against them is equally specific. 

On 12 September 2012 the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Instruction No. 672-r  “On information-explanatory measures in the sphere of fighting terrorism”.  This is aimed against “terrorist acts and actions which threaten public order” and enlists a formidable number of ministries and State departments, including the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee in ensuring the right public attitude to terrorism and State measures against it (English translation here)

We can only guess how some departments are implementing the instruction, but saw within a month how the State-controlled UTV-1 responded.  The film “Adov Ad” about the bomb blasts in Dnipropetrovsk in April 2012 was shown twice during prime time a week before the parliamentary elections. The film’s clear message was that the authorities had caught the right men, probably averted even greater terrorist actions with a pronounced political flavour.  The presenter openly claims that a major terrorist plan involving two of the men on trial and an opposition MP was narrowly averted.  Despite provable distortion and downright lies, the Kyiv Court of Appeal in early June overturned a court ruling ordering the channel to retract defamatory statements about one of the accused men, Dmytro Reva.  The Prosecutor is blocking criminal proceedings against the Security Service officer who just as demonstrably falsified the evidence against Reva used as grounds for remanding him in custody.  The “anti-terrorist” role thus played by State television is manifestly dangerous. 

The media are regularly fed – and unthinkingly regurgitate – stories about supposed terrorist threats averted, arrests etc.  In the summer of 2012 a large number of Ukrainian Muslims were taken in for questioning, and two men were remanded in custody over highly nebulous charges of "extremism!. 

In another case against three members of the extreme right Patriot of Ukraine organization who have been held in custody since August 2011, the young men appear to be accused of having planned to blow up a monument to Lenin which has long been dismantled.

Nobody expects the fight against terrorism to be open, however there must be some clarity as to who is viewed as presenting a danger.  In Ukraine at present there is next to none.  If passed, Zhuravsky’s draft law would heighten a much more immediate threat in Ukraine, that being of anti-terrorist measures becoming part of the arsenal of weapons used for propaganda purposes or against opponents of the regime. 

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