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MP Bezuhla backtracks on controversial bill criminalizing 'representing Ukraine' internationally without authorization

by Martin Fornusek March 26, 2024 7:03 PM 3 min read
Mariana Bezuhla, MP and member of the Ukrainian Committee on National Security seen during the Warsaw Security Forum, in Warsaw, Poland, on Oct. 4, 2022. (Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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Lawmaker Mariana Bezuhla, formerly a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky's Servant of the People party, downplayed her own bill proposing strict prison sentences for "representing Ukraine abroad" without authorization, calling it a mere "provocation."

Bezuhla and Halyna Tretiakova, a member of Zelensky's party, registered the bill in the parliament on March 20. The draft law called for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for the "appropriation of state functions," namely at international events and in dealing with foreign representatives.

The bill was submitted to a specialized committee for review on March 25. A day later, lawmaker Yaroslav Zhelezniak announced that the controversial draft law had been withdrawn.

"The only correct decision in this situation," Zhelezniak commented.

When proposing the bill, the authors argued there are certain "shameful citizens," without mentioning any names, who take over representative actions abroad for their own interests.

Opposition politicians, like former President Petro Poroshenko, have traveled abroad to international events during the full-scale war. These trips appeared to have put the ex-president at odds with the authorities, and he was barred from departing on several occasions.

Following its registration, the bill faced a public backlash.

Oleksandra Matviichuk, a civil society activist and a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, criticized the bill, comparing it to previously imposed restrictions on public activities of volunteers and civil society organizations.

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"So this is how we will win? I'm so fed up with this imitation of work and constant sticks in the wheel when, without exaggeration, our survival is at stake," Matviichuk wrote on Facebook.

On March 26, Bezuhla claimed on her Facebook profile that the bill was a mere "provocation."

"The bill will not be put to a vote. It's really 'nice' to see how the colleagues, who are often unmoved by urgent matters, woke up and are happy for a cheap opportunity to show their commitment to the ideals of democracy," the lawmaker said.

In comparison, Tretiakova appeared to have voiced continued commitment to the principles behind the bill.

"Who speaks on behalf of the state? The President of Ukraine is the head of state and speaks on its behalf," Tretiakova said on Facebook.

Member of the European Parliament Viola von Cramon slammed Bezuhla's explanation.

"I had hoped that we deal with more grown-up colleagues here in Kyiv. It's very puzzling to read these stories from someone from the ruling party while we actually push for opening the accession talks with the EU," von Cramon said.

Bezuhla is no stranger to controversy. Last November, she called for the dismissal of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, then-commander-in-chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces. Her comments led other Servant of the People lawmakers to demand her expulsion from the party.

The lawmaker announced her resignation from the party on Jan. 11.

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