*note that this post is now illegal*
A disturbing turn of events in Ukraine today. (Why is every turn here disturbing? Can’t there be one heartening turn? An uplifting turn? An enjoyable turn?) Parliament gathered simply to vote on the 2014 budget, but the 2,000 riot police standing guard should have been a hint that more was secretly on the agenda.
Without prior notice to the public or politicians of minority parties, Law #3879 was introduced for a vote. Rather than the customary electronic system of voting—which can be used for accuracy and proof of how each member voted—it was conducted by a show of hands, and too quickly for anyone to actually count, immediately followed by a predetermined declaration that it was passed with a vote of 235 in favor among the 450 lawmakers. The law introduces a number of measures directed at silencing dissenting voices against President Yanukovych and his dictatorial regime.
Many items in the law make the physical reality of protesting punishable:
- A sweeping declaration that protests in the city center, parks, squares, streets, or other public spaces are illegal (opening the door for riot police or military to legally attack protesters).
- Unauthorized installation of tents, stages, or amplifiers punishable by a fine of $640 or 15 days in detention (nobody can hear protest leaders or sleep on-site).
- People or organizations providing facilities or equipment for unauthorized meetings punishable by a fine of $1,275 or detention of 10 days (cannot even meet in a privately owned space, even someone’s livingroom!).
- Wearing a mask or face-covering punishable with 15 days (scouring video to identify protesters for university expulsion, imprisonment,confiscation of money and property, etc. is a real concern, so many protesters—particularly students—wear a scarf or medical mask). Wearing a helmet (to protect against riot police) or uniform is punishable with 10 days.
- Anyone attending a protest/demonstration without police permission can be arrested for up to 15 days.
- Blocking government buildings is punishable by up to 5 years (including picketing/protesting in front of such a building, or the clever lying-down protest symbolizing how lawmakers are walking over citizens).
- Cars in a convoy of more than 5 vehicles can be confiscated for up to 2 years (which includes the mini-parades of cars adorned with Ukrainian flags driving around the center honking).
- Libel punishable by a fine of 50 x minimum wage income, or 200 hours community service.
- Defamation punishable up to 2 years.
- Dissemination or production of extremist materials (protest posters, internet memes or postings, flyers, pamphlets, graffiti, art displays, etc.) punishable by $1,600 or 3 years.
Use of the internet to share news in opposition to the government is now forbidden (which thus includes this note and much of what I have posted on FB in the past couple of months). There was specific attention given to social media, which was characterized as a dangerous tool being used to spread anarchy, immorality, and the production of weapons of mass destruction. (Americans have learned that the person warning about WMDs is the corrupt and crazy one, not the one they are vilifying.) Specific punishments include the following:
- Distributing news without government-approved registration is punishable by 600-1,000 x minimum wage income, with seizure of produced goods, means of production, and funds received for or earned from production. (This includes “UkrainskaPravda” and hromadske.tv, the two main news sources that are notgovernment-owned nor –controlled.)
- The government can force internet providers to limit or block subscribers’ access to any online sources of unapproved information, essentially censoring/filtering any websites or information the government chooses. Providers’ failure to comply is punishable by 200-400 x minimum wage income.
- Telecommunications operators and internet service providers will be required at their own expense to procure and install equipment for “investigative operations,” maintain such equipment, and facilitate said “operations” when ordered.
- Collecting personal information about policemen, judges,and other agents—such as records/proof of them lying under oath, accepting bribes, etc., can lead to arrest up to 6 months (not court-sentenced imprisonment, but police-decided arrest and detainment).
- NGOs (non-profits) that receive any grants from any foreign state/fund/organization/individual and that take part in ANY kind of political activity in Ukraine are now officially considered “foreign agents” and must register as such; they are stripped of their non-profit status and taxed by a new, complicated procedure.
- Members of parliament can be instantly stripped of legal immunity and arrested during a parliamentary session (particularly helpful if they start saying anything opposed to the opinion of the President’s ruling party).
- Riot police or other officials who commit any crimes against protesters—including murder—are exempt from punishment.
Such a strong and sudden move is assumed to be a precursor to a final crackdown on the EuroMaidan protest. In anticipation and support, thousands of people have flooded into Kyiv today from around the country to occupy Maidan Nezelezhnosti, the central square and home of the protest. Kyiv hospitals have prepared to accept an unprecedented amount of patients tonight. A number of human rights groups and foreign government representatives have declared that Ukraine became an official dictatorship today, which has been named Black Thursday.
Sources, links, and updates:
(repeated in The Guardian and The New York Times)