Fined for telling the truth

The two Kherson students detained on 29 February for pasting up leaflets which the police claimed “ridicule the Head of State in a rude and offensive manner” have, despite hopes that sanity had finally prevailed, been fined.

On 28 March the Dniprovsk District Court in Kherson fined the students 221 UAH (a little over 20 EUR) for “spreading untruthful rumours which could arouse panic among the population or disrupt public order”, an administrative offence (Article 173-1 of the Code of Administrative Offences). This only came to light through the answer from the Deputy Prosecutor to an information request from a civic organization.

One could understand the wish to conceal such an absurd outcome were it not so truly impossible to understand how it got that far, and who came up with such an extraordinary “offence”.

As reported here, Mykola Khavronyuk from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform explained the scope of the given administrative offence, it being clearly for situations where FALSE information, for example, about a radiation leak or poisoned water supply, could cause panic.

Andriy Pushnov and Artem Bardachev were fined for pasting up a picture of Viktor Yanukovych with the words mostly taken from a propagandist Soviet song, but with the last line changed. The relevant line in the original says “I don’t know another country [other than the USSR – translator] where people breathe so freely”. The changed version reads: “I don’t know another country whose President is a former prisoner”.

Now like it or not, President Yanukovych did indeed serve two prison sentences for criminal offences. As already pointed out, it is surely a bit late in the day for this to cause panic among the population, and it is not, in any case, a “false rumour”. Certainly the inept measures to punish the students, as well as a direct complaint against the university staff led to protests around the country. These were, however, peaceful protests, the right to which is enshrined in Ukraine’s Constitution, as is freedom of expression and views.

Over recent months we have learned of a number of attempts being made by the present Administration to “improve” Ukraine’s image in the world, following serious falls in ratings, increased isolation and the stalling of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (initialed, but with no chance of ratification) due to political persecution, encroachments of freedom of speech, assembly and more. Little is explained about the cost of such reputation laundering, as a paid supplement to the Washington Post, but they are not cheap.

They are also a total waste of money when two students can be fined for telling the truth. Such misuse of the law enforcement bodies and courts is becoming worryingly standard, but in no way enhances the reputation of either the President or Ukraine. It does quite the contrary.


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