On 16 January, Ukrainian authorities crossed the red line that separates semi-authoritarian regimes from genuine dictatorships. The cluster of laws rubber-stamped by parliament in a farcical hand-voting procedure encroaches heavily on the civic rights and political liberties of Ukrainian citizens, including freedom of speech, information, and assembly. The package outlaws the activity of non-government organizations, eliminates the remnants of an independent judiciary, criminalizes the independent monitoring of government bodies, and makes any free political competition in Ukraine virtually impossible.
These unconstitutional laws have predictably invigorated the anti-government protests that commenced at the end of November. For the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, the protests have turned violent, with two protesters in Kyiv shot dead by the police and many more wounded.
Our special concern is police brutality aimed at journalists. All the evidence shows that the police forces not only ignore journalists’ badges and vests but deliberately target, detain and beat them, break their cameras and destroy video materials. Most worrisome of all is the abduction of people in different cities by undercover security officers or the pro-government mercenaries called “titushki”. The use of such extra-legal paramilitary groups for the harassment of civic activists and staging all sorts of provocations places the Ukrainian rulers among the ugliest of today’s dictatorial regimes.
During the past two months, the president of Ukraine and his government have shown no intentions of negotiating or compromising. On the contrary, they persistently tighten the screws, encourage lawlessness, and provoke more confrontation and violence. They remain deaf to all moderate voices and calls for peace. They seem to understand only the language of force.
We believe it is time for the international community to use such language too. We call our international colleagues not only to express their support for Ukrainian writers and journalists, and their solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We call on you to mobilize your democratic societies and increase pressure on your governments to take a tougher stance against a regime that is leading its country to further violence and bloodshed. We call for sanctions against a regime that is violating human rights, including the most fundamental ones: the right to life and the right to freedom. People who despise democracy and slander the West in their propaganda, who rob Ukrainians of a decent life and a European future should not enjoy the benefits of western resorts and visa-free trips on fake diplomatic passports, nor of access to western banks where they launder stolen money.
Please, help us to stop them.
Myroslav Marynovych, President of the Ukrainian Centre of the International PEN Club
Andrey Kurkov, Vice President
Mykola Riabchuk, Vice President
22 January 2014