Ruling majority takes hostages through new “amnesty law”
On Jan 29 most members of the ruling majority voted for a so-called “amnesty law” in the version proposed by the president’s representative in parliament, Yury Miroshnychenko. EuroMaidan protesters must first vacate government buildings, roads etc, and only then will people in detention over the protests be released. If they don’t within 15 days, the deal is off.
The press report that Viktor Yanukovych threatened MPs with dissolution of parliament if they didn’t vote for the bill. Most obliged. The opposition proved less acquiescent and abstained, as, interestingly, did 8 normally obedient Party of the Regions MPs.
Since use of the term “amnesty” can be misleading, it is well to consider why neither EuroMaidan activists nor the political opposition found the presidential representative’s variant acceptable.
The law quite unashamedly demonstrates that people arrested, detained, and facing criminal proceedings in a supposedly law-based country are in fact hostages, to be used in negotiations between the government and protesters. While the ever increasing numbers who would fall under this bill may include people who did indeed commit offences, there are very many whose cases arouse grave concern. These include 72-year-old Mykola Pasichnyk who was initially remanded in custody, and is now under house arrest, accused of “attacking” physically fit and well-trained special force Berkut officers. Large numbers of activists and occasionally chance passers-by have been detained for effectively being near the scene of a protest without any evidence that they took part. There is considerable testimony indicating that during the protests in Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhya on Jan 26, the police worked in close cooperation with “titushki” or hired thugs, and detained protesters rather than the titushki who had beaten them up.
Their arrests were questionable, and now their continued detention and / or prosecution is made directly dependent upon the actions of other people. Human rights lawyers have been blunt in calling this hostage taking a criminal offence punishable under Article 147 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code.
Which liability is waived?
The amendments to the “amnesty law” pushed through parliament during the scandalous session on Jan 16 allowed for the termination of all criminal proceedings, including for those police officials and others in authority guilty of excessive violence and other offences.
Miroshnychenko’s law has only just been posted on the website, and needs close study. At first glance there is no attempt to limit the scope of the law to peaceful protesters, and the law only covers ‘offences’ from Dec 27, meaning that this law will supplement, not replace the contentious bill from Jan 16. The list of articles which fall under the bill are qualified with the words: “on condition that these offences were linked with the mass protests which began on Nov 21 2013. TThe savage beating by Berkut officers of peaceful protesters on Nov 30 was undoubtedly linked with the protests, but would render any investigation into the crimes committed and who was behind the action entirely meaningless. The same applies to actions by law enforcement officers during the period from Dec. 27.
A question of trust
The trust needed to believe that all such prisoners would be released is also lacking, Nor is this surprising given recent experience. As reported, the original draft bill “On removing adverse effects and preventing persecution and punishment of people as the result of the events during peaceful gatherings” was adopted by a constitutional majority in parliament on Dec 19. The opposition hailed this as a victory and stressed that they had withstood Party of the Regions pressure to make sure that those guilty of brutally beating peaceful protesters would not be covered by the amnesty.
The law was hopelessly woolly and unclear in its terminology however its purpose was in no doubt. By the time it came into force on Dec 25, it had become clear that the Party of the Regions wanted to interpret it as covering Berkut officers, etc. Various public statements about the alleged impossibility of applying the law coincided with court hearings where the prosecutors refused to withdraw charges, and judges to release prisoners.
This changed only after Jan 16, when the law actually acceptable to the pro-president Party of the Regions was pushed through.
The brutal truth is thus that the ruling majority has passed a no-lose law – if it works, they get government buildings and Hrushevsky St cleared within 15 days. If it doesn’t, they still have the “hostages”, i.e. those who could face serious terms of imprisonment if convicted,
Any situation involving hostages poses a moral dilemma for those seeing people as more than commodities to be traded for services provided. This dilemma has probably been eased by the squalid background of the “amnesty laws”. Trust needs to be earned, and thus far it has only been squandered.