Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ukrainian Journalist Tetyana Chornovol Attacked on Christmas Day As Yanukovych Cracks Down on Opposition

Tetyana Chornovol after Wednesdays attack
To look back on El Salvador, Cambodia, Iran, Egypt (or for that matter the southern US in the 1960's) it's a really bad sign for Democracy and human rights when journalists start getting attacked.

Based on troubling details in a story posted on the BBC News Website yesterday, it's clear the government of Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovych is now adopting a much more hard line stance on the continuing mass protests that began back on November 21st after he backed out of a trade and political alliance with the European Union.

On Wednesday as many around the world celebrated Christmas, Tetyana Chornovol, (pictured left) a well-known Ukranian journalist and anti-government activist was forced off the road by a black SUV, dragged from her car and severely beaten by a group of unknown assailants when she tried to run away.

The term "unknown assailants" is used loosely given that just hours before she was attacked, the 34 year-old opposition leader had just published a story on the Ukrainska Pravda news site critical of a lavish country home being constructed just outside the capital of Kiev by the interior minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko.

That's the same official who drew wide spread criticism in recent weeks after ordering attacks on, and arrests of peaceful student demonstrators in Independence Square in Kiev; click the link and take a look at this guy's face.

Zakharchenko's Christmas message to Chornovol is clear; as you can see from the photo above taken in the hospital, she's now in intensive care with a serious concussion and will need reconstructive surgery to repair sections of her mouth and jaw.

Her investigations into the accumulation of expensive homes and personal wealth of high level officials in the government of embattled president Yanukovych are familiar to people all across Ukraine suffering through high unemployment, a dangerously stagnant economy and an inability to attract foreign investment capital to boost growth.

Chornovol's investigations and revelations of rampant corruption are an embarrassment to the Ukrainian officials trying to hold onto power - and she's not the only journalist who was targeted either.

On Christmas Eve the day before Chornovol was attacked, journalist Dmytro Pylypets was also attacked and stabbed in the city of Kharkiv; he's now in critical condition. These two incidents follow reports of harassment and attacks on other opposition members and protest leaders as well.

President Yanukovych, unwilling to further antagonize Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently further angered protesters by signing onto a large financial bailout package from Russia that will ease trade restrictions between the two nations, offer discounts on natural gas shipments and keep Ukraine firmly within the sphere of former Soviet republics.

Considering that mass protests have continued in Kiev every Sunday since late November, the potential for escalating violence between police and protesters this weekend in response to the attacks on Chornovol and Pylypets is very real; and very troubling.

Sadly, for Yanukovych the truth is no longer a right of the Ukrainian people, it's a threat to his tenuous grip on power. And his troubled nation is looking less like an emerging Democracy trying to forge closer ties with the west than it is a protectorate of Russia.

The silence from the West in support of Democracy is unfortunate. The one notable exception?

Republican Senator John McCain who visited Kiev back on December 14th, met with the daughter of jailed former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and told the crowds gathered on the Maidan that America stood with them.  

With Congress home for the holidays and the President in Hawaii on vacation it's hard to gauge what, if any, diplomatic response or statement to these attacks there will be from the United States.

While the country I grew up in and love is far from perfect, seems to me an attack on a journalist is something the US would at least have to take some kind of a stance on. Or possibly work behind the scenes to bring some kind diplomatic pressure to bear.

Regardless, one look at that picture above makes it clear that's not just a beating of one journalist, that's an attack on the truth and the right to tell it - and that's an attack on all of us.

Without resorting to military solutions (which are not needed here), we as a nation should have something to say about that.

Because an interior minister or a president or whatever tin-plated official in the Ukrainian security apparatus who would order thugs to pull a young woman out of her car and beat her like that because of what she said or wrote or thinks is someone who's crossed a line that transcends borders, nationalities, race and religion.

In this case I have to agree with Senator McCain, America should finally stand up and take a stand on this situation in the Ukraine, before it spirals further out of control.

Otherwise, what's all our wealth, power and influence really stand for?

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