Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych adjusts his earphones during the 48th Conference on Security Policy in Munich Feb. 3, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Michael Dalder
GATINEAU, Que. — On the eve of elections in Ukraine, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sharply criticized Friday the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for harassing and threatening his political opponents.
Harper made his remarks to many of the 500 Canadians who will shortly depart for the Ukraine to be election monitors. It is one of the largest contingents of election observers Canada has ever deployed and the fifth time since 2004 Canada has sent observers to an election in the Ukraine.
Harper told the observers that their job is an important one, given widespread political interference in the Ukrainian judiciary and police.
"Never forget, that the vigilant watcher can hold rulers to account, that the one who sees and speaks up is truly the guardian of liberty," Harper told election monitors during a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Civilization here.
Ukrainians go to the polls on Oct. 28 to elect a new Parliament.
Recent polls of Ukrainian voters indicate that two-thirds of Ukrainians do not believe the election will be conducted fairly. Several candidates and analysts have also predicted rampant bribery.
The Canadian election observers will be among a group of nearly 10,000 observers from all over the world.
"We continue to call upon President Yanukovych to respect judicial independence, to cease the harassment of opposition voices, and to conduct an election that is indeed free and fair," Harper said.
Harper singled out two instances of concern.
First, there is the case of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, an opponent of Yanukovych, now in jail for what many in the West believe are trumped-up charges.
Second, he brought up the case of Ruslan Zabily, the director of the Lonsky Street Prison Museum in L'viv. At that museum, Harper said, "Communist secret police interrogated, tortured and subjected thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and even children, to the most horrifying cruelties. This is the terrible memory that the Lonsky Street Prison Museum preserves."
Harper visited that museum himself in 2010 and met Zabily.
Zabily, Harper said, "was pulled off the street and held incommunicado for 14 hours, interrogated, asked about the liberation movement, [and] his contacts abroad." The museum's computers, files, and information were taken by state police two years ago and have not been returned.
Zabily was in the audience here Friday and singled out by Harper.
Yanukovych's government is seen as much more pro-Russia and his government has taken steps to silence anything in the Ukraine that might embarrass Russia.