Ukraine passes "disinformation" law, begins making arrests

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

It would appear that it’s not just Alejandro Mayorkas who is setting up a Ministry of Truth in a supposedly free and democratic country and policing the speech of citizens. It turns out that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thought that was a fine idea as well, so he worked with his country’s legislature to put a similar program in place following Russia’s invasion of his country. His government is seeking to identify “traitors” who have expressed support for Russia and its war against “Nazis” in Ukraine. Anyone who has been materially aiding the enemy is of course subject to prosecution, but people have been arrested just for expressing their support for Moscow on social media. That’s what happened to a man known only as “Victor” this month. Ukrainian security officers in full riot gear showed up at his apartment in Kharkiv to talk to him about some of his social media posts before hauling him off to jail. (Associated Press)

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“Yes, I supported (the Russian invasion of Ukraine) a lot. I’m sorry. … I have already changed my mind,” said Viktor, his trembling voice showing clear signs of duress in the presence of the Ukrainian security officers.

“Get your things and get dressed,” an officer said before escorting him out of the apartment. The SBU did not reveal Viktor’s last name, citing their investigation.

Viktor was one of nearly 400 people in the Kharkiv region alone who have been detained under anti-collaboration laws enacted quickly by Ukraine’s parliament and signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

If four hundred people have been locked up just in the Kharkiv region under these disinformation laws, how many have been detained across the entire country? It’s almost certainly in the thousands, and all in a matter of a couple of months. To his credit, Zelensky at least got the Parliament to write up a law and signed it, which is better than doing it via an executive order the way Joe Biden did, but it’s still an alarming development.

I understand that a lot of bad things can happen during the fog of war, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is no exception. And any Ukrainians who may have been providing physical aid to the Russian invaders or providing them with intelligence aimed at endangering their fellow Ukrainian citizens should certainly be held accountable. That’s the same as the American concept of providing “aid and comfort” to the enemy during a time of war. That’s the textbook definition of treason.

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But clearly, some of these Ukrainians who were detained have done nothing more than publishing social media posts supporting Moscow and the invasion or repeating Russian talking points about “Nazis” and similar language. How anyone, including the Russians, could support this sort of unprovoked military attack is beyond me, but we’re really still just talking about speech here. It’s an unpopular (if not completely absurd) position to take, but does the Ukrainian democracy the world is rushing to defend support free speech or not?

We already know that a similar situation has existed in Russia from the beginning. Anyone who spoke out of turn about the invasion using unapproved language – including journalists – was quickly hauled from the public square and locked up. How is what Ukraine is doing any different? It’s not, at least as far as I can tell.

Of course, the United States has surrendered the high ground in terms of speaking up about this. We now have our own Ministry of Truth in the Department of Homeland Security where our own Orwellian Santa Clause will be making a list and checking it twice to see who is engaging in speech not approved by the Biden administration. How can we criticize Zelenski for doing the same thing that his biggest foreign supporter is doing?

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David Strom 8:16 PM | July 17, 2024
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