Ukrainian media see new laws as threat to democracy

Pro-European integration protesters attend a rally at Independence Square in Kiev "Anti-protest" laws have sparked an outcry from the opposition and raised tensions on the streets

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Ukraine's liberal media pundits have reacted with dismay to the bills adopted by parliament on 16 January, saying they limit democratic freedoms and could lead to dictatorship.

There were a few voices outside the state-controlled media that sought to justify the measures, but they were vastly outnumbered by critics.

'War on NGOs'

The Glavkom analytical website focuses on the law requiring non-governmental organisations in receipt of foreign assistance to register as foreign agents, calling it the "authorities' waging war on NGOs". It says the wording of the law allows it to be applied to any organisation, regardless of whether it receives funds from abroad or not.

Glavkom calls the law a copy of similar Russian legislation, "the sole small difference being that Ukraine went even further along the path of dictatorship and curbs on civil freedoms than Putin's Russia. Even the Russian MPs removed culture, science, the arts and other areas of public life from the list of political activities".

'Totalitarian'

Glavred news website says the legislation taken together could "lead to repression, dictatorship and even to the declaration of a state of emergency", and the Levyy Bereg analytical website calls the laws "so outrageous and far from democracy to be describable as totalitarian".

The head of the Institute of Mass Information, Oksana Romanyuk, told Kommersant Ukraina that she is concerned about the word "extremism" as applied to public protests: "The term has such a vague definition that it can be interpreted as one pleases. Take any news website - it can face this charge... In the current situation it is obvious to me that the judicial system will protect not the rights of journalists, but the authorities".

Pundit Volodymyr Fesenko told the popular daily Segodnya that the laws, "by laying the foundations for settling the political crisis with police methods", increase the danger of one side in Ukraine's political stand-off provoking the other to violence.

The same paper has one of the few comments in support of the government. Analyst Mykhaylo Pohrebynskyy wrote that the new laws were the result of current legislation being "ineffective". "I consider this list of laws to be a reaction by the authorities to the war declared on them and to coercion towards dialogue".

'Belarus and beyond'

The media analysis website Telekrytyka describes the laws as the "way to Belarus and beyond", referring to the authoritarian government in the neighbouring country.

It quotes the Institute of Media Law to the effect that the laws "clearly show that the authorities are planning a tough and brutal presidential election in 2015 and aim to strangle the protests".

The director of the Democratic Initiatives foundation, Iryna Bekeshkina, is even more pessimistic in her commentary for Glavred: "What we'll have is worse than Belarus... Everything that is alive and moving in this country will immediately become subject to the law on repression". She predicts that Ukraine will become a "pariah".

'Democracy died yesterday'

The torrent of complaints on social media has not abated since parliament passed the laws.

Popular Facebook user Roman Shrayk writes "Democracy died yesterday" - an opinion echoed in the blogs of opposition politicians and pundits alike.

"The goal is clear: quickly subject the Maidan pro-EU activists to reprisals, or provoke the people to come out to streets en masse, and then stage an act of provocation similar to that on 1 December and purge the Maidan using force," analyst Oleksiy Haran said on his blog.

'Some will fight'

Many commentators see the laws as a moment of truth for the country.

"More people, judging by what they say on social networks and in the streets, are tired of waiting on President Yanukovych's mercy and intend to act more resolutely. Some will fight for their rights, others will pack their suitcases," said Levyy Bereg.

Volodymyr Fesenko told Kommersant Ukraina the opposition must decide whether to fight or quit: "People should make their choice - either they are going to live, let us be frank, in a police state, or they are going to continue fighting and thereby exposing themselves to risk".

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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