Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on March 23 approved amendments requiring civic activists and NGOs to file publicly available asset declarations and introducing criminal penalties for them if they fail to comply.
The amendments, which also included the same requirement for media editors in the initial version, are a brazen attempt by the nation’s ruling elite to intimidate anti-corruption activists and stifle criticism from the media. Activists are not public civil servants and don’t have to account for their property, unless they commit a crime. The legislation is clearly aimed at discrediting activists and journalists, most of whom work for private companies, most probably with the aim of fabricating political cases against them.
The measure was backed by President Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc, the People’s Front, the Radical Party and three offshoots of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions – the Opposition Bloc, Vidrodzhennya and the People’s Will.
The amendments are absurd, not as heinous, but in the same league as the “dictatorial laws” of Jan. 16, 2014, which severely restricted civil liberties and triggered Yanukovych’s downfall. The current amendments, which severely restrict free speech and civic activism, may have a similar effect.
The legislation is also very similar to laws introduced in Russia under dictator Vladimir Putin, which brand non-governmental organizations “foreign agents.” Those laws have led to the de facto destruction of NGOs and civil society, and turned Russia into a semi-totalitarian state.
The amendments indicate that the incumbent authorities, long ensconced in their palaces of government on the hills of Pechersk, have lost touch with the people who brought them to power. Ukraine’s political elite should finally realize that it is not the government that should control civil society and the media, but the other way around. If Ukraine’s two revolutions failed to drive this home, another one might.