Mr. Chair, just as many Canadians, and, I would suspect, everyone in the House, I am deeply concerned about the politically motivated persecution of Ukrainian opposition members, including the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.
We heard about hope in the Orange Revolution of 2004, as was mentioned here a number of times, by Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko, who were here. We heard the message of hope and I, being partly of Ukrainian descent, was very happy and pleased that finally Ukraine was having a chance to step into the community of world nations as a true and equal partner.
Then, in 2010, the last presidential election was narrowly won by Viktor Yanukovych.
I was in Ukraine very briefly this summer. I spoke to family members and others and there seems to be a sense of discouragement in the country, especially with the taking of power by Yanukovych.
In doing some research, I found an article in The Guardian that illustrates what is going on. What is going on is that a level of corruption has permeated that society for many years. The journalist stated:
Back in 2004, Yanukovych had been caught, embarrassingly, trying to fix the last presidential poll.
The hon. member spoke about his experience being there during the election.
The journalist went on to say that just before the 2010 election he had dinner with some aides to Yanukovych who tried to convince him that Yanukovych was a democrat and a passionate European who believed that Ukraine's geopolitical destiny lay with the European Union, et cetera. He further stated:
Eighteen months later things look rather different. The decision by a Kiev court today to jail Tymoshenko for seven years for abuse of office over a controversial 2009 gas deal with Russia is an unambiguous signal. It says that Yanukovych does not really care what the EU thinks about him. It also confirms that Yanukovych's critics have been saying for some time that under his leadership the country is sliding towards Russian-style “managed democracy” and autocratic rule.
The article went on to state:
Since taking power, Yanukovych has rapidly reversed the fragile democratic gains of the Orange Revolution.
We must remember that it was fragile, it was new.
He has put a squeeze on the country's independent media, with TV now in the hands of a bunch of pro-regime oligarchs. Nosy opposition journalists — such as the investigative reporter Vasyl Klymentyev — have disappeared. In parliament, Yanukovych's Party of the Regions has, using dubious means, achieved a majority. And politically motivated prosecutions have been brought against Tymoshenko and other senior members of her bloc....
There are rumours that following her conviction Yanukovych, having proved his point, will look for some kind of deal. One version is that the charges against her will be “decriminalised”; another that she will be released on payment of a large fine...
But what is clear is that the case was designed to nobble Tymoshenko and to cripple the pro-western, anti-Yanukovych forces she represents.
She is now unable to participate in Ukraine's next two elections: parliamentary ones in 2012, and the next presidential election in 2015. That, presumably, was the idea. Thousands of her supporters took to the streets of Kiev today, protesting noisily against Yanukovych's heavy-handed tactics, reminiscent of Ukraine's backroom politics a decade ago.
The trial bears comparison with that of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch who fell out with Vladimir Putin.
We are seeing a pattern.
In some of the research I found, it appears that there is a desire among opposition parties to decriminalize parts of the criminal code that allowed this conviction of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. However, there is no agreement by them as to how this should be done. The leader, Ivan Kirilenko of the Batkivshchyna Party, wants the bill to be re-examined at second reading. If this were to happen, President Yanukovych could then tell European politicians in Brussels that the question of opposition prosecution has been resolved. We need to remember that he is going to Brussels soon and he would like to put on a good face.
Nikolai Martynenko, leader of the NU-NS party, supports Kirilenko and demands that the bill be examined. However, the majority, which is the Party of Regions, and its leader, Alexander Efremov, did not come out with a definite position. In fact he said it would set a precedent, so he is using political spin. Remember that this is Yanukovych's party. This is obviously very disturbing.
A website for an organization called the Eastern Partnership Community is an analytical portal where ideas about what is happening are debated. A journalist by the name of Valery Kalnysh who is chief of the political desk at the Ukrainian edition of the daily Kommersant alludes to the fact that she may be guilty, but he says he doubts whether it was necessary to put her on trial and drag her through the courts for such a slip-up, if in fact, there was one.
He says that the case is clear. He says that the current government is not interested in showing that Ukraine is a state of law, and that Yanukovych is not sending the message that the hand of justice will reach every criminal regardless of how highly they are placed. His conclusion is that the Tymoshenko case is a show trial against the opposition. He also says he could mention about 30 people from Tymoshenko's circle who are in custody now, or have the prosecutor's office breathing down their necks. Meanwhile, there is only one similar case under way concerning a politician from the Party of Regions, which is the majority.
It appears as we look within at what is happening that this is a pattern not just affecting the former prime minister, but an attempt to silence the opposition especially coming up to the next election.
Yulia Mostova, chief editor of the weekly Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, says that the Tymoshenko case is the manifestation of a Ukrainian national tradition, the idea that every ruling class has followed this principle of persecuting the opposition since 1991. She says the attack on Yulia Tymoshenko is nothing new, that everyone who follows Ukrainian politics has been expecting it. It does not come as a surprise to those who have been watching this closely, including journalists. She also says that the scale of the actions which have been brought against the former head of government is disproportionate to the offences committed, in her opinion.
What should we do? A number of us have received recommendations from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. It proposes a strategy for our government. Any action by the Government of Canada must not result in the isolation of Ukraine. We cannot do that. In regard to the trade agreement, we should make it very clear that we would not support an agreement if the human rights of a former prime minister are violated. However, we should not isolate the country.
We should refocus CIDA's strategy. According to the congress, it should focus on supporting Ukrainian NGOs that establish and strengthen political and civic organizations, safeguard elections and promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.
Also we should be calling for support for independent media. A number of members have outlined the persecution of the media and that reporters have disappeared. It reminds me of a book I read by a Russian journalist just before she was killed in Moscow for exposing the Putin government and all it was up to.
We have a role to play as parliamentarians and as the Government of Canada to support our Prime Minister in calling for swift action on this case. Other than that, we should not isolate Ukraine. We have to work with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine to finally bring a democratic government to their country.