A court of appeal in Ukraine has upheld a custody order against a leading opposition activist, but as the parliamentary election campaign season kicks into gear, a new public opinion survey reveals that Ukrainians are more anxious about economic issues than the country’s democratic regression.
Protesters outside the court (right) denounced the prosecution of Lyudmila Nikitkina as the latest instance of “a dirty war against the opposition,” the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reports:
Lyudmila Nikitkina was arrested on 27 July. The next day the police stated that she had been arrested as a suspect in a criminal investigation initiated under Article 191-4 of the Criminal Code (embezzlement, misappropriation or acquisition of property through abuse of official position).
Their report said that officers from the Department Against Economic Crimes had arrived on Friday evening at around 19.00 in Pervomaisk in the Mykolaiv region to take her to the police station. …The report stated that “the suspect began loudly refusing and in a few minutes she was joined by a number of citizens who began obstructing the police from carrying out their lawful actions”.
[Further information available from OPORA.]
Such political prosecutions and growing pressure on media suggest that the authorities are determined to further restrict political space as the legislative polls draw near, observers suggest.
A raid by tax police on the offices of TVi, the country’s only surviving independent TV station, “drew widespread condemnation from press freedom groups and a statement from the United States envoy to the OSCE….This, all agreed, was another example of Ukraine misusing the law to stifle dissent,” The Economist reports:
TVi should survive at least until polling day. The channel is not out of the woods yet, however. It was denied a digital licence last year. Certain cable providers are refusing to carry it. It is easy to see why the channel riles the authorities. Programmes such as Exclamation Mark routinely expose large-scale corruption (English version of one report here), while satirical shows mock the country’s leaders. Its independence is guaranteed by an editorial board that includes such luminaries as Poland’s Adam Michnik. Crucially, says Mr Kniazhytsky, TVi’s owner has no other business interests in Ukraine……
Many analysts are convinced that Mr Yanukovych’s Party of Regions could not win an election that was truly free and fair. According to Petro Burkovskyy of the National Institute for Strategic Studies, the Party is walking a tightrope. The polls (and the media climate in which they are held) must be fair enough to avoid sanction. But they must also secure a majority for the ruling team in parliament. The TVi case tested the boundaries – probably not for the last time.
The parliamentary election campaign “has barely started and we can already see the government grabbing at every tool in the box, including the anti-democratic, to achieve their political goals,” writes Viktor Tkachuk, chief executive officer of the People First Foundation.
Ukraine has been a focus of democracy-promoting Western foundations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, RFE-RL observed, but the People First foundation is funded by Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian businessman, “for lobbying efforts among European and U.S. elites to influence their attitudes towards Ukraine.”
Yet Ukrainians are more concerned about their economic prospects than the quality of the country’s democracy, according to a survey conducted by sociologists from the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies.
Some 10% of respondents are concerned by deteriorating human and civil rights, the Kyiv Post reports:
The issues that most concern people are unemployment (59.3%), the economic crisis, economic growth (51.8%), an increase in average wages, pensions and scholarships (51.5%), price reduction (43,3%), social protection for the poor (40,5%), better medical services (40%) and corruption (39%).
Eighteen point six percent of respondents called for discontinuation of political repressions and for freedom to opposition leaders; the same percentage called for reform of the law enforcement system and fair justice; and just 13.2%, for democratic development in society and an opportunity for people to influence the authorities. Human rights and freedoms such as the freedom of speech and rallies are of concern to just 10.2% of respondents.
“As in recent years, economic problems remain among the most important ones for people, the other ones being the fight against corruption and medical services. These three blocks of problems which have been most important for Ukrainians to a certain extent for a long time now,” said the Razumkov Center’s Andriy Bychenko.
The Razumkov Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Studies and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group are grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.