The issues of protection and security of civic activists should actually be raised much earlier because today we have a whole list of people, who ventured to challenge the system but received aggressive and cruel resistance. Opinion found out whether it is possible today to talk about the protection of activists, why the law enforcement system is considered ineffective, what security measures the authorities should think about and how the activists can protect themselves.
Are the activists protected today?
Maryna Kalinina, a journalist and a PR consultant, thinking about this issue, noted that at present the law enforcement system is actually paralyzed, and the government itself is not interested in protecting activists.
“The law enforcement system is completely paralyzed in Ukraine. Who are the activists? These are ordinary citizens of Ukraine with an active civic stand, who know that they have a people’s mandate for public control of authorities. They control power that doesn’t control them, therefore they annoy it. It is precisely because of the unwillingness to being controlled, the authorities are actually not interested in protection of such people. But no one here can feel safe: neither the Facebook armchair expert, nor the barricades activist. The physical elimination of the activists is not the know-how for this power. Before Kateryna Handziuk there was Gongadze, there were activists, who fought against illegal construction works, against corrupt officials, against fictitious criminal cases. There were fighters against the Yanukovych regime, there was the Heavenly Hundred. Now they are joined by Mrs. Nozdrovska and Mrs. Handziuk and several dozen of other activists,” the expert says.
Andrii Rybalko, chairman of the NGO “Young People’s Movement”, also noted that law enforcement agencies are not able to protect citizens. Moreover, the speaker is sure that even a big resonance is not a guarantee for solving crimes.
“Multiple attacks on activists indicate that law enforcement agencies are not able to perform one of their most important functions – protecting the health and lives of citizens. The reasons for this are various: from an increase in the number of illegal weapons among the population to covering (and even ordering) these crimes by local authorities. As the situation around the investigation of Kateryna Handziuk murder shows, even a wide public response is not a guarantee for established customers. However, it is the punishment of customers that is important, because there will always be performers,” the commentary for Opinion says.
Дмитро Хуторний, журналіст ІА «Журналісти проти корупції», також підтримав тезу про незахищеність населення. За його словами, поліція не здатна виконувати покладені на неї функції, а слідчі досудових органів занадто перевантажені.
Dmytro Khutornyi, a journalist of “Journalists against corruption”, also supported the thesis on population insecurity. According to him, the police are not able to perform the functions assigned to it, and the investigators of the pre-trial authorities are too overloaded.
“Now it’s impossible to talk about the protection of citizens in Ukraine, in particular, the activists. The police do not perform the functions, assigned to it, the investigators of the pre-trial authorities are too overloaded and they investigate only serious and resonant crimes. The example of such a statement is the case of a beating of a journalist and his wife, which occurred on November 12, 2017. The investigation is underway during the year, however, nothing has been done, the investigation is sabotaged frankly,” the journalist comments.
Maryna Bahrova, a member of the board of the international union “Institute of National Policy”, agrees that there are currently a number of unresolved systemic problems in the context of preventing crimes against not only activists but also all of our fellow citizens.
“The law requires the police to eliminate the causes and conditions for the occurrence of various offenses and crimes. Therefore, in case of receipt of applications from activists that they received threats from certain individuals, the leadership of the police departments is obliged to take a set of measures to prevent possible upcoming crimes. However, there are unresolved systemic problems in terms of preventing crimes against not only activists but all the rest of our fellow citizens.
For example, in many cities, there is no elementary electronic public safety system, which ensures prompt and effective investigation of crimes. There is no video surveillance system on the streets and at the entrances of houses with access to the duty station, etc. All this often makes it impossible to catch criminals right of hot pursuit. There is a serious personnel shortage of professionals in the internal affairs bodies,” Bahrova states.
How can the authority protect activists?
The decriminalization of society is the only way to guarantee the security of activists and all citizens in general. Maryna Kalinina is convinced of this. The journalist adds: to control the social activists themselves, to take them on the account or even to spy because of security reasons is a violation of rights and freedoms.
“There is the only way to ensure the security of the whole society: the time has come to live by the laws and not by the rules. When all citizens of Ukraine will be under the protection of law enforcement, the activists, the driving force of the nation, will be safe. We should thank these people for being not careless. Law enforcers cannot control activists. It is impossible to put an individual guard on everyone. Taking registration and monitoring of the activists, even for security reasons, is a violation of rights and freedoms. Only the general decriminalization of society will help,” Maryna Kalinina said.
Maryna Bahrova proposes to demand a solution of the activists’ security issue from the Security Service of Ukraine. According to the expert, it is this structure that has the greatest potential.
“The solution of issues, related to the security of civic activists may be entrusted to the SSU. For this, it is necessary for the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada to make changes to the law “On the SSU” in order to allow the employees of the SSU to provide measures to protect activists in case if they receive appropriate statements about the threats.
The SSU is a specific structure, which is managed by the head of the state. This structure has great potential, including to ensure the safety of activists. In the meantime, most citizens have to ensure the protection and safety of activists on their own,” commented Maryna Bahrova.
However, Andrii Rybalko is convinced that one of the stages in solving the issue of the public activists’ safety is the ability to legally wield a weapon and use it to protect your own life.
“One of the components of solving the problem is the adoption of a law on the circulation of weapons, which would secure the right to own short-barreled weapons and use them for self-defense,” suggests the chairman of the NGO “Young People’s Movement”.
But the political consultant Petro Shcherbyna notes that the activists are not “elected”, and it’s worth thinking about the security of all Ukrainians. However, the speaker adds that the authorities still need to meet the activists and strengthen the security of their activities. For example, giving permission to carry weapons. However, first of all, it is necessary to consolidate the concept of “activist” in the legislative field.
“Activists are not “elected”, they are citizens with equal rights because all residents should feel protected. However, the government can meet social activists to strengthen the security of their activities. In case if the actions of activists are accompanied by risks to life and health, the authorities protect them by giving permission to carry traumatic weapons. This also works for lawyers and journalists. But again the question arises: the concept of “activist” is now exclusively declarative: you want to call yourself an activist ‒ and you are already an activist. Therefore, you must first fix the concept of “activist” in the legislative field. By this moment, the activist is nothing different from an ordinary citizen,” Petro Shcherbyna said.
How can activists take care of their own security?
Dmytro Khutorny is convinced that the issue of personal security of public activists should include not only theoretical and analytical procedures but also real measures of physical protection. For example, possession of weapons.
“The issue of personal security of activists is an actual and very broad topic for discussion. It should include both analytical procedures and measures of direct physical protection (in the case of existing grounds or even suspicions). Of course, there may be a question of permission to own a weapon, but it is not properly regulated at the legislative level (there is no special law). You should also pay attention to the question of revising the definitions of articles in the Criminal Code of Ukraine on the necessary defense and borders, exceeding such defense, in the conditions of immediate risk to health and life,” explains the journalist.
Blogger and social activist Vyacheslav Horobets believes that activists should think about the formation of their own defense forces, which consisted of well-trained people, who are ready to come to the rescue at any time. However, according to the blogger, these should be not about volunteers, but about people, who would receive real wages.
“Activists must form their own defense forces. And it should not be just people “if you call me, I will come at once”. These should be trained people, who work on a permanent basis. The “Good Titushky” (“titushky” is collective name for mercenaries-thugs ‒ Translator’s note) detachment with 15-20 people, ideological, well equipped, and ready to leave at any time, anywhere within the limits of dislocation.
Such people should be financed on the basis of crowdfunding or contributions of those, who seek to take advantage of the protection in the long run. That is people who have come to grips with the absence of law. The more people, the smaller contributions. “You have to be cruel to be kind,” we raised this idea and discussed it a long time ago. We even tried to implement it in a volunteer format. But volunteering doesn’t work here: it should be people, who receive wages,” the commentary reads.
Maryna Kalinina shared with Opinion a detailed list of activities that activists can take to ensure their own security.
“I can give some advice from my own experience:
– Do not talk about the actual place of residence, even to close surroundings. Most people don’t care at all.
– Never return home by the same routes.
– Use a button phone, not a smartphone. If you are using a smartphone, then delete all the extra applications so that you won’t be listened to, or tracked. However, install a program to record telephone conversations.
– When approaching the house, remove the SIM card and the battery from this device (publicly available). Modern technologies can locate your position up to a few meters.
– Look into the faces of people. If you are being watched, the same people usually do it. Change your walking and auto routes, take a closer look, if somebody is watching you. This is not paranoia, but security measures.
– Fix suspicious people on video and photos.
– Let people you can trust have access to your archives and information on what kind of trouble you are working.
– Do not work with original documents. Keep originals in a secret place, and work with copies.
– If you receive threats, immediately contact the police, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. One time, I filed the report on those, who threatened me. I noted, who is responsible in case of my death. According to the law, the person is called and has to make explanations. Usually, a case won’t be opened, but your application, even if refused, is already registered, and goes to the archive. Your abuser is already spotted and he is interested in your safety. It saved my life several times. If the police threaten ‒ there is a prosecutor’s office. If the prosecution threatens ‒ there is the SSU. There are journalists, and information can be simply leaked. You can warn that in case of your death, the materials will be published. Fix all the threats.
– Before leaving the house, inspect the area for suspicious people. Install surveillance cameras around the perimeter of the house. In new buildings, this is now a key option. Be sure to have video intercom, so you can see the corridor.
– Strengthen the doors.
– Warn relatives about your whereabouts,” advises the journalist.
By Dmytro Zhuravel