Ukraine amnesty bill is no cause for celebration

Maria Semykoz Advocate, Young Voices
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Most of us believe the main function of a modern state is to protect the life and freedoms of its citizens from external threats — be they other states or violent nonstate actors. However, in Ukraine today, the equation has completely reversed. Instead of protecting its citizens from terrorism, the Ukranian state and its allies are terrorizing its people by killing, kidnapping, and torturing them as well as destroying their property.

To recap what’s happened in the country over the last couple of weeks, peaceful protests have spread throughout the country in January as a response to President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. To silence the people’s voice, the parliament controlled by the president’s party adopted a number of laws on January 16th in a bizarre and legally dubious manner, seriously limiting citizens’ rights and freedoms, and de facto turning Ukraine into a dictatorship.

As a result, Ukrainian citizens can now be punished with a 10-day arrest for attending a public event in a countryside hamlet. Regional law enforcement agencies have shown remarkable enthusiasm in applying the new norms, arresting over 230 people suspected in protest participation — 140 of which are still being detained. Some of these citizens were literally kidnapped from hospital beds.

Fortunately, this massive crackdown has not suppressed the mass rebellion. To the contrary, it actually intensified the anti-regime sentiment all over Ukraine, facilitating the spread of the protest movement from the capital to Ukraine’s regional governments. Some regions have even refused to obey president Yanukovuch’s authority altogether. At the same time, international pressure on Yanukovych and his allies to stop the violence against the protesters and to look for a compromise has intensified.

As a result, Yanukovych decided he has to put out some of the fire. The president’s allies in the parliament quickly voted to repeal the January 16th laws, and Yanukovych signed them into law today. However, anyone familiar with Ukrainian constitution or any legal system designed to protect individual rights and freedoms should not celebrate this so-called “amnesty” bill.

First of all, amnesty implies preceding guilt. The only thing most of the arrested protesters were guilty of was disagreeing with Yanukovych’s regime. Secondly, the law has nothing to do with pardoning individuals and restoring their personal freedoms. Instead, it promises to release the arrested in exchange for taking back control over administrative buildings currently occupied by protesters in different parts of Ukraine. In other words, the document conditions the personal freedom of the imprisoned activists on the actions of other people the prisoners have no influence over. In short, the Biden-approved “amnesty” law is nothing more than elegantly packaged blackmail: hostages receive their freedom in exchange for what the terrorist government wants.

Even those of us who deeply despise Yanukovych have to admit he is a skillful player. Judging from international news headlines, he succeeded in appearing as a compromise-seeking party while the regime’s police continued to exercise the ‘almost-repealed’ dictatorship laws, and the almost-amnestied continue to serve as hostages for the regime in its desperate and truly disgusting fight to preserve its crumbling power.

A native of Ukraine, Maria Semykoz works as a management consultant for a US company in Berlin. A Maria holds a M.A. in political economy from Miami University.