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Ukraine Should Drop Law That Hampers Activists’ Work

EU Diplomat Should Raise Issue with Ukraine’s President

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a joint news conference with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker following the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev, Ukraine, July 13, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

On March 11-12 the European Union’s top diplomat will visit Kyiv. This is an excellent opportunity for Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko to deliver on his promises to the EU and Ukraine’s other international partners to roll back requirements for anti-corruption activists and journalists to declare their personal income and assets online.

These requirements, embedded in a law adopted in March 2017, conflate state officials, who have a responsibility to divulge their assets because they enjoy certain privileges of office and their work is funded by tax payers, with private citizens who report on issues of public interest. This starkly contradicts the government’s commitments to fighting corruption.

Poroshenko himself, in his annual address to parliament last September, called the adoption of these requirements “our common mistake.”

“And mistakes need to be fixed,” he added.

What the presidential administration proposed was two draft laws that would rightly drop the declaration requirement for anti-corruption activists but, surprisingly, add additional reporting for all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine. How this is a good solution is anyone’s guess. Experts on NGO law have criticized these draft laws, calling them unnecessary, lacking legitimate aim, and out of line with international standards. The draft laws are currently under review by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s top advisory body on constitutional matters, whose opinion is expected this month.

Meanwhile, the April 1 deadline for activists’ online declarations is three weeks away. The activists, who are the driving force behind Ukraine’s ambitious anti-corruption reform, face two years in prison if they don’t file. The law also affects people providing various services to anti-corruption NGOs – those who clean the office, deliver the coffee and water, or do graphic design work.

President Poroshenko cannot afford to wait any longer, or innocent people may go to prison – people who share the EU’s vision of a corruption-free Ukraine and are working to bring it to life. But he also should not go forward with a proposal that would harm all independent groups in Ukraine. The visit of EU diplomat Federica Mogherini is a unique occasion to make good on his commitment to human rights and fix those mistakes.

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