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Katya Gorchinskaya: Welcome to Little Russia

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Jan. 16, 2014, 11:56 p.m. | Op-ed — by Katya Gorchinskaya

Lawmakers fight while opposition lawmakers try to block the work of the parliament as tough anti-protest and budget laws are about to be adopted on Jan. 16.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Katya Gorchinskaya

Deputy Chief Editor

As of Jan. 16, even traffic jams are banned in Ukraine. If a new law rubber-stamped by parliament on this day is signed by President Viktor Yanukovych, any unsanctioned movement of five or more vehicles will be enough to revoke a driver’s license for up to two years and confiscate the vehicle.

The law, of course, was not designed to counter traffic jams, but to crack down on AutoMaidan, an initiative that takes protests to politicians’ homes. It was ironically touted as a bill to improve public safety and fix holes in the law on the status of judges. But it instead tramples on many human rights while emulating Russian know-how.

The bill was registered on Jan. 14 and then passed with 239 votes in the 450-seat legislature by show of hands. Once approved by Yanukovych, we will be able to say that here in Ukraine, we once had human rights. Now we’re still human. But we have next to no rights.

You can no longer wear a protective helmet at a demonstration or use anything that the police would consider specially brought to a demonstration, such as a megaphone. They’re all banned.

Libel is now a crime, and any attempt to spread information about crimes committed by government officials is interpreted as libel. In fact, even attempts to gather information about alleged crimes committed by law enforcers, judges and other officials are now criminal. 

So, if you’re in a crowd and take a photo of a masked riot policeman beating a fellow demonstrator, you have committed a crime and can go to jail for up to two years. 

Any journalistic investigation is outlawed because it’s not based on facts proven by a court. Such work, known as libel under the new law, is punishable by up to two years in prison. But actually you get away relatively easily, compared to those who take part in unsanctioned gatherings. 

You can go to prison for 10 or even 15 years for that – we’re talking about every participant of EuroMaidan here. Actually, if you happen to threaten a policeman, that gives you an extra seven years.
If you’re an extremist and store or disseminate extremist materials, you can go to jail for three years. If you think you’re not an extremist – think again. The law spells it so that if you download or post anything controversial on your profile in a social network (for example, a member of the opposition’s statement that the president usurped power through making illegitimate changes to the Constitution), you already qualify.

And if you fail to show up in court, it can proceed with your case without any of your legal representatives anyway.

There will be nobody left to report on your troubles, either. Freedom of the press is eroded by both criminalization of libel, and by a novelty that allows any website (or user) to be banned on the Internet based on an expert’s conclusion. To reverse the measure, you need a court ruling, though.
Any attempt by civil society to “influence the decisions of government organs” is interpreted as political activity and require special permission. So, if a non-government organization wants to draft a law, its activity will require a stamp of approval by the authorities. 

Anyone getting financing from foreign sources – from Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and Ukrainian Catholic University with their diaspora sponsors, to hundreds of nongovernmental organizations that have foreign donors – will now be foreign agents and will lose their non-profit status and privileges.

Ironically, the government of Ukraine can itself be considered a foreign agent under this law since it receives foreign financing, most recently from Russia via a $15 billion bailout package.

If applied, the new law, approved with many violations of procedure – such as no public debate or committee hearings – will turn millions of people into criminals overnight, if they fall out of favor with those in power. All activists, demonstrators, volunteer investigators, journalists and their lawyers will become outlawed at once. 

Oh, and if you were beaten by the police, they will not be punished. And nor will their bosses who overstepped their authority and gave them criminal orders.

In other words, welcome to the new police state. We call it Little Russia. 

Kyiv Post deputy chief Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at katya.gorchinskaya@gmail.com.

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