Menacing words against a backdrop of abductions and beatings.by Halya Coynash 3 February 2014
A lawyer and civic activist in the Crimea, Alexandra Dvoretska has become the latest victim of a deliberate and dangerous hate campaign directed against EuroMaidan supporters and civic activists. It is especially ominous that the scarcely concealed threats and attempt to incite violence in every line of this poster are so closely linked with the recent government attempt to bring in draconian legislation against protesters and civic organizations in general.
The poster, in Russian, reads:
YOUR NEIGHBOUR ALEXANDRA DVORETSKA
Traitor of the Crimea supports criminal Maidan
She has the blood and lives of murdered people on her hands
She receives money from a civic organization financed by the American security service
She underwent a course in extremism in the USA
As reported, one of the features copied from recent Russian legislation was the demand on all NGOs receiving money from foreign organizations or countries to register as “foreign agents,” report on their activities on a quarterly basis, and pay corporate tax. The law is a straight copy of norms in Russian legislation that have been widely condemned as aimed at stigmatizing NGOs and creating an image of them as a kind of fifth column in the country.
Ukraine’s leaders had retained the distinctly Soviet flavor of the measure while upping the penalties in the laws pushed through parliament with a breathtaking barrage of irregularities on 16 January. The same law criminalized something called “extremist activity,” which was interpreted so broadly that it could cover any protest or activities aimed at changing government policy. Although pressure from the protest movement in Ukraine and from the international community made the government revoke these laws on 27 January, new bills have already been registered in parliament proposing exactly the same measures against so-called “foreign agents.”
This latest of many campaigns aimed at terrorizing and intimidating civic activists coincided with the news on 30 January that Dmytro Bulatov, leader of a protest convoy to the grand houses of top officials, had been found, beaten and tortured, but at least alive. Both he and EuroMaidan activist and prominent journalist Ihor Lutsenko may owe their lives to the public and international response to their abduction/disappearance. Yury Verbytsky, whose mutilated body was found in the Boryspil forests days after being abducted from a hospital was not so lucky.
There are no grounds for taking such threats lightly. The above-mentioned poster is overtly aimed at menacing a civic activist and could easily place her life in danger. The fact that two activists whose cases gained publicity were found alive is of enormous importance. At least 30 other people have been abducted, including from hospital, or have disappeared. Other civic activists have received threats to their lives and those of their families.
All such activities are at very least closely linked with developments at government level and are targeting those most active in the protest movement and/or lawyers defending them.
There is every reason for the Council of Europe, the EU, the OSCE, and democratic countries in general to send high-level representatives and monitoring groups to Ukraine. Their presence is no diplomatic formality at the moment – it could save lives.