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Ukrainian anti-corruption campaigner Vitaliy Shabunin speaks with journalists in front of his gutted house in Kyiv.

KYIV -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on law enforcement to find those responsible for a suspected arson attack on the home of a prominent anti-corruption activist that has caused deep concern among Western countries.

Vitaliy Shabunin, who serves as the head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, showed reporters on July 23 the remains of his home in the capital, Kyiv, which burned down overnight.

"The culprits must be found and punished," Zelenskiy said in a statement, adding that such attacks "cast a shadow on the reputation of our state, on our institutions of power, and especially on our law enforcement agencies."

No one was injured in the fire, which the anti-corruption organization described as an "assassination attempt" on Shabunin.

Prominent Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Activist Has Home Torched
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Shabunin said his parents, who were in the house at the time, were able to escape unharmed.

A neighbor told Shabunin that he saw an explosion before the home was engulfed in flames. The activist said workers had inspected the gas meter and pipes just two weeks ago.

The police suspect arson and are investigating.

In a statement, the Anti-Corruption Action Center called on Zelenskiy to personally take control of all investigations into attacks on anti-corruption activists, saying that they did not trust the police or Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

Activists, journalists, and other individuals that expose corruption often face assaults and threats.

An investigative journalist in Cherkasy in central Ukraine was killed last June, while the nation’s former central banker who had taken on oligarchs had her home burned down in September.

If the fire at Shabunin's home was the result of arson, it would not be the first time that he has been targeted. In 2018, he suffered chemical burns when attackers threw a green antiseptic in his face as he took part in a demonstration outside a prosecutor's office in Kyiv.

Shabunin said such attacks against activists continue under Zelenskiy, who won last year in a landslide on a promise to fight corruption, because the new head of state hasn’t taken any serious steps to thwart them.

“These are the consequences of his silence and inaction,” said Shabunin, referring to his destroyed home.

Shabunin has lobbied for anti-corruption legislation and the recovery of assets stolen by officials.

He said an arson attack would only make him work "even harder” to fight corruption.

The suspected arson attack caused concern among Western diplomats, who have pressured Ukraine to fight corruption and clean up its justice system.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said it was concerned about suspected attacks targeting political and civil society leaders.

“In thriving democracies, citizens must be able to voice opinions without fear for their physical security,” it wrote on Twitter.

Matti Maasikas, the EU’s ambassador to Ukraine, wrote on Twitter that he was “very disturbed” by the suspected attack on Shabunin’s home.

“I call on the authorities to investigate this case and if a deliberate act -- to bring the perpetrators to justice. Civil activists must feel safe to carry on their mission,” Maasikas wrote.

With reporting by the Kyiv Post and Reuters
The Russian state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, may impose punishments for violations of the order. (file photo)

The Russian state media regulator has posted a draft instruction on how media outlets who have been registered as "foreign agents" must identify that fact in published or broadcast materials.

The draft order was posted on a government website on July 16 and is open for comment until July 30.

The instruction would supplement a 2017 law on designating foreign-funded media as "foreign agents." After that law was adopted, the Justice Ministry listed Voice of America (VOA), several services of RFE/RL, and Current Time as “foreign agents.” Current Time is the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Under the law, media listed by the Justice Ministry as foreign agents must create a legal entity within the Russian Federation to carry out all their financial transactions and quarterly submit financial reports to the ministry to be published on their websites.

The new draft order would obligate such media entities to announce their status as "foreign agents" at the beginning of every published or broadcast report.

The text details that the announcement must be twice as large as the font size used for the headline of the article. For video materials, the text must occupy at least 20 percent of the screen and be shown for at least 15 seconds.

It specifies that Roskomnadzor may impose punishments for violations of the order. For "gross violations," individuals could face a fine up to 100,000 rubles ($1,400) or 15 days in custody. Organizations could be fined up to 5 million rubles ($70,000).

Acting RFE/RL President Daisy Sindelar said on July 23 that the proposed order was intended to further restrict the media in Russia and to instill fear in their audiences.

"Every day millions of Russians receive uncensored news from Radio Liberty and Current Time about events in the life of their country," Sindelar said. "The intent of these draft normative acts is to frighten those who seek reliable information and to compel our viewers and readers to feel like criminals or to believe they are in danger if they watch or read our materials."

"These draft measures are a clear attempt to increase censorship in Russia," she added.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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