*Update: President Yanukovich signed Bill No. 3879 at 19:59pm on Friday, 17 January 2014.
In an alarming start to 2014 Ukraine’s parliament has hastily adopted a bill that if passed by President Yanukovich, will drastically restrict the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
The adoption of this restrictive law would be a step back from the progress Ukraine has achieved since its independence more than 20 years ago.
ARTICLE 19 calls on President Yanukovich to veto this Law.
On 16 January Ukraine’s parliament violated its own procedures and hastily adopted Draft Law No. 3879 without debate or discussion, and with only a show of supporting hands, counted within a few seconds.
Law 3879 claims in its title to cover general legal amendments, the judiciary, and the ‘security’ of citizens, but buried inside are draconian restrictions on the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Under the guise of ‘stabilisation of the country, the protection of the constitutional order and security of citizens’, it severely restricts the ability of people to protest peacefully, limits media freedom and hampers the work of charities.
If President Yanukovich accepts the deeply flawed procedure and signs Law 3879 into force, Ukraine will substantively deteriorate the fundamental rights of its people.
The draconian restrictions include:
Restrictions on the Right to Freedom of Expression
- Introduction of criminal charges for vague and broadly defined ‘extremist activity’, which includes for example illegal interference or obstruction of state authorities
- Return of criminal punishment for defamation
- Specific protection for law enforcement officials and judges with regards to their privacy, including the introduction of criminal penalties for the publication of information which ‘patently offends’ or ‘shows insolent disrespect’ to them
- Authorisation for the National Commission on Communications (consisting of seven members appointed by the President) to order Internet Service Providers to block web sites, which contain ‘illegal’ information or which are run by an unregistered ‘information agency’.
Restrictions on the Right to Freedom of Assembly
- A range of excessive administrative punishments, including administrative arrest, are included, for violating the ‘established procedure’ for organising or holding demonstrations, but no such procedure currently exists in Ukraine
- Punishment for people driving in a column of more than five cars without the permission of the road police, including confiscation of their licence and their car for two years
- Punishment of up to 15 days imprisonment for participation in a demonstration with ‘objects prepared for committing unlawful actions’ or wearing a uniform without permission
- Criminalisation of up to five years imprisonment for blocking administrative buildings, such as were seen in the Occupy movement.
Restrictions on the Right to Freedom of Association
- Introduction of the Russian concept of ‘foreign agent’ into Ukrainian legislation, referring to non-governmental organisations and charities that receive funding from foreign sources, and that carry out so-called ‘political activities’ which usually refers to human rights campaigning. ‘Political activities’ are broadly defined as ‘participation in the organisation and holding of political actions, which aim to influence decision-making by the state authorities, changes in state policy, as well as to form public opinion directed to these aims’. Such organisations have to register, mark their materials as ‘foreign agent’ and report monthly to the Ministry of Justice, or face dissolution. They will also lose their non-profit status and be taxed as commercial institutions.
Law No. 3879 on ‘Making Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges” and Procedural Laws on Additional Measures for Protecting Security of Citizens’ is in contradiction with Ukraine’s commitments under the European Convention of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ARTICLE 19 calls on President Yanukovich to veto this bill.