Andriy Sukharyna
Commentaries
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22 August 2017

Next round in the bout against anti-corruption activists

On August 16, the Kyiv Prosecutor General’s Office informed about suspicions of “deliberate infliction of minor bodily injuries, which stipulates 3-year imprisonment, to the head of the non-government organization “Anti-corruption Center” and the renowned civil activist Vitaliy Shabunin. On this day, he was obliged to inform the court about change of his place of residence and work. As a reminder, on July 8 of this year there was a conflict between Shabunin and the blogger Vsevolod Filimonenko who calls himself a journalist. After a few provocations, Shabunin punched Filimonenko in the face.

The incident in which Shabunin was suspected smacks more of a motivated persecution of an opposition civil activist than establishing justice. Possibly forged medical conclusions and an unfair choice of a criminal article, which could put Shabunin behind bars, point to this fact. In addition to that, there are well-grounded suspicions that Filimonenko executed a task of the Security Service of Ukraine, which was following every step of the activist. In the end, far more serious incidents of attacks on the journalist, for example investigators of the program “Our Money”, did not incite any reactions of law enforcement bodies.

Though it is impossible to speak of direct complicity of high-standing government officials in the Shabunin case, the absence of any reaction to it on the part of the president leads one to conclude that this case is totally in his interest. There may be a few motives behind this. First of all, discrediting one of the key anti-corruption activists, who regularly acts against the interests of the ruling elite, for instance on the issue of electronic declarations. Secondly, it is quite probable that in this way representatives of the ruling power are trying to obstruct Shabunin from running for a seat in parliament in the upcoming elections due to his criminal record.

The case with the filing of criminal proceedings against Shabunin can be viewed in the context of increased pressure on anti-corruption activists and certain politicians from the opposition. The amendments to the law on electronic declarations, which pose a threat to the effective work of all non-government organizations that are directly or indirectly related to the fight against corruption, can be added to this list. The stripping of Ukrainian citizenship of Mikheil Saakashvili, the criminal proceedings against the former prosecutor general deputies Vitaliy Kasko and David Sakvarelidze, the search of the residences of ex-head of the Odesa Customs Office Yulia Marushevska, the persecution of investigative journalists of the Kyiv media program “Skhemy: Corruption in Detail” and investigative journalists of the Rivne oblast human rights organization “Investigative Journalism Agency”.

Such a situation has a negative impact not only on the tense socio-political atmosphere in Ukraine, but also on how Ukraine is perceived by the West. At the same time, there are fears that the pressure of the government on the non-government sector will be enhanced seeing as this trend has been observed for quite some time now. At the moment, it is difficult to judge how the criminal case against Shabunin will end, however this process is another alarm bell regarding the escalation of relations of the government with civil society.

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