Yanukovych’s Dangerous Blitzkrieg
It Dzerkalo Tyzhnya’s source within the president’s administration is correct, Viktor Yanukovych has already signed into law some of the scandalous bills voted on through a show of hands in parliament on Thursday. This highly irregular and unreliable form of voting was only one of a multitude of procedural infringements used to push through draft bills which must have a catastrophic effect on Ukraine’s democratic development.
Although there is as yet no official confirmation, it does not seem unlikely The events in parliament on Thursday bore all the hallmarks of a blitzkrieg attack on the fundamental rights of freedom of peaceful assembly, of speech and other democratic values. There was no discussion, nor had any of the draft bills passed through profile committees and parliamentary hearings, etc, and all received full Party of the Regions support. The likelihood that Yanukovych would remember the Constitution of which he, as president is guarantor and veto the laws was probably never great.
The laws are:
This criminalizes libel, with particularly severe punishment for accusing somebody of a serious or particularly serious crime.
It also criminalizes something termed "extremist activities" while providing a definition of extremism which can mean whatever the authorities choose it to mean. If the maximum punishment for libel is restriction of liberty, "extremism" as per the bill could lead to a term of imprisonment of up to 3 years.
It forces NGOs to label themselves as “foreign agents” if they receive any money from abroad, to report every quarter on their activities, etc.
It brings in a large range of repressive measures clearly aimed at criminalizing and crushing the peaceful protests seen over the last two months.
In a statement issued on Thursday evening, the International Renaissance Foundation writes that the “bill radically limits the freedom of assembly, demanding that permission for it be obtained from the police – both for organizing a rally and arranging basic facilities, like tents and sound equipment, for it. It gives full impunity to all those guilty of the bloodshed at the EuroMaidan. It creates vast conditions for censorship, allowing bureaucrats and prosecutors to decide on initiating criminal prosecution for criticism about the authorities. The risk of being accused of extremism, vaguely defined in the law, leaves the power-holders at ease for discretionary accusations and making criminal charges against individuals. The bill further damages the shrinking space for the freedom of expression by de facto prohibiting operation of independent information agencies in the Internet. “
IRF says that the authorities are imitating the tactics used by Vladimir Putin in Russia in “disgracing, damaging, and seeking to totally control non-governmental organizations that receive support from democratic countries and foundations. The bill brands such NGOs as “foreign agents”, demands them to register and publicly identify themselves as such, and imposes additional taxation burden to limit financial support for civic activism”.
“IRF calls on all civil society, all citizens who value rights and freedoms, to rise against the bill that establishes an authoritarian regime in Ukraine!”
More details here: Ukraine’s ruling majority slips in dangerously repressive law
Most of the other bills passed are also extremely retrograde.
Amendments to the "Amnesty Law" (the Law on removing adverse effects and preventing persecution and punishment of people as the result of the events during peaceful gatherings: this law introduced by Party of the Regions MP Serhiy Kivalov absolves Berkut riot police and other officials of liability for the violent measures against peaceful protesters on, for example, Nov 30, and actions, including violence, which obstructed journalists covering the EuroMaidan protests.
A law simplifying the Verkhovna Rada Regulations on simplifying procedure for removing an MP’s immunity;
The politically motivated prosecutions of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and members of her government; the highly irregular methods used in stripping Tymoshenko’s defence counsel Serhiy Vlasenko of his parliamentary mandate and prosecution will send an ominous message to all MPs. With the courts increasingly under the control of those in power, the prospects for parliamentary democracy in Ukraine are frightening.
Dzerkalo Tyzhnya has been informed that the other laws signed are as follows:
On liability for administrative offences with respect to traffic safety, recorded through automatic means.
This basically makes it possible to punish the owners of cars for supposed offences. Since the first law mentioned above makes it illegal for five cars or more to hold a car processions without “agreeing this with the authorities”, it is easy to foresee how broadly the notion of “offence” is likely to be extended.
This, it should be noted, has already happened, with at least one of the people stripped of their driving licence over the AutoMaidan car procession to Yanukovych’s controversial residence at Mezhyhirya having been provably in another city at the time of the Dec 29 event.
The other two concern administrative offences during football matches and a law on amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code on criminal proceedings in absentia. This will enable "court hearings" to continue in the further criminal charges brought against Yulia Tymoshenko who has consistently refused to take part in them (usually citing health, rather than an outright refusal).
Dzerkalo Tyzhnya quotes an unnamed “high-ranking source in the Party of the Regions” as saying that 95% of the members of that faction in parliament did not know what they were voting for. Those few who objected were told by the speaker Volodymyr Rybak that at a private meeting the president had insisted on the laws being adopted.
If the president has signed these laws, then he has left no room for any illusions.
He also leaves no choice, but protest, for those not willing to live in a Eurasian dictatorship. There are many.