The Sinister Text Message Being Sent To Ukrainian Protesters

Ukraine ProtestsAPA pro-European Union activist speaks to police officers as they block a street in central Kiev, Ukraine,Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.

On Tuesday, some of the people involved in newly reinvigorated anti-government protests in Kiev this weekend received a strange text message, according to Andrew Kramer of the New York Times: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

The message, apparently from the Ukrainian government, was designed to let the protesters know what they probably already knew. Their protest was illegal, thanks to a new law that came into effect on Tuesday.

Andrea Peterson of the Washington Post notes the data on who was nearby is probably not so hard to work out. The Ukrainian government could have gone through the records of nearby mobile phone towers to identify people in the vicinity, and Kramer notes that impromptu towers put up to service the protesters in Kiev’s central Maidan area could be responsible.

Perhaps a bigger question is whether the text messages will act as a deterrent or a provocation. To be sure, the protests in Kiev have been rumbling for weeks after President Viktor Yanukovych made a U-turn on possible E.U. membership. However, the announcement of new laws that made violent protests illegal may have spurred the additional protests this weekend that were markedly more violent (and thus, illegal).

As Kramer notes, the early indications seem to suggest the texts are a provocation. Three hours after they were received, protesters were fighting with riot police again.

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