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Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Campaigners Face Prison

Drop Personal Asset Declarations for Activists, Journalists

Ukraine’s activists and journalists fighting corruption in the country will have to publicly disclose their personal assets beginning this Sunday or face up to two years in prison.

In recent years, anti-corruption campaigners had fought hard to make the Ukrainian government more open and transparent. In part because of their advocacy, state officials are now required to publicly declare their personal assets to deter misuse of public funds and abuse of office.

The payback came in March 2017, when President Petro Poroshenko signed legislative amendments that require activists and journalists covering corruption to do the same – even though their work is not supported by taxpayers’ money and they do not hold public office.

Anti-corruption activist Vitaliy Shabunin.  © 2016 Private

Since then there has been no shortage of criticism at this absurd – and clearly retaliatory – requirement. International donors expressed outrage on several occasions: the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s top advisory body on constitutional matters, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights recently issued recommendations to drop the measure. Even Poroshenko publicly acknowledged that the requirement was “our common mistake.”

Despite this, the government did nothing about the law. It will directly affect thousands of people and likely have a chilling effect on anti-corruption efforts. Activists and journalists will have to choose among giving up anti-corruption work, abiding by requirements that infringe on their rights to freedom of expression, or facing up to two years in prison.

On March 29, dozens of Ukrainian organizations signed a joint statement condemning the provision and committing to defend the rights of activists affected by it, including through litigation, right up to Ukraine’s Constitutional Court.

The government should rouse itself from this inertia and act to drop the provision before it does serious damage to the work of anti-corruption organizations and others. The government should engage in the fight against entrenched corruption in the country, instead of coming up with new ways to punish them for their work.

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