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Restrictions in Ukraine

Last week, President of the Ukraine signed laws which curb the right to freedom of assembly, speech and religion. The country’s parliament adopted the enactments in December 2013 in contravention of legislative procedures. “The new laws make the Ukraine an authoritarian state”, warn human rights defenders.

“We vigorously object to what is happening in the Ukraine”, says Danuta Przywara, President of the HFHR. “The Ukrainian authorities have chosen a path leading to the authoritarian rule, previously taken and tested by the rulers of Belarus and Russian Federation”, she adds.

The new laws signed by Ukraine’s President significantly restrict freedom of assembly, establishing a penalty of 10 to 15 years of imprisonment for organisers of and participants in peaceful assemblies which have not been approved by the authorities. Moreover, the statutes prohibit the most effective forms of protests used by the civic society during the Maidan rallies.

“We are talking about the prohibition of motorcades with more than five vehicles, the prohibition of blocking access to residential premises or holding protests near the residences of government officials. The new laws also de-legalised the mounting of tents, stages and amplifiers without prior consent from the police”, explains Bogna Chmielewska, HFHR expert.

What is more, the anti-protest legislation introduces media and online censorship, requiring that all websites be registered as “information agencies” and imposing penalties for non-compliance. An array of new offences was added to the Ukrainian criminal code, including the “defamation in artistic works” or “dissemination of materials with ‘extremist’ content”.

“According to new laws, ‘extremist activity’ has been defined as the preparation and distribution of documents or statements which, for example, illegally interfere with or disturb the operations of state authorities”, says Lenur Kerymov, HFHR expert. “This means the complete prohibition of criticisms against public officials and hefty penalties for any violators”, adds Mr Kerymov.

Also, the newly adopted legislation significantly curbs religious freedoms. The laws prohibit “extremist activities” conducted by churches and religious associations. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has already received a letter from the Ministry of Culture threatening to launch the Church’s liquidation if the masses celebrated in the Maidan are not suspended.

Under new enactments non-governmental organisations receiving funds from abroad are considered “foreign agents” and must be registered in a relevant list. The laws introduce many restrictions on NGO operations, for instance deprive the organisations of a non-profit status and order them to pay income tax. Furthermore, NGOs acting to influence decisions of public authorities are now considered entities involved in political activities. These regulations mean the demise of watchdog organisations defending human rights.

“Today, we stand united with our friends in the Ukraine”, says Danuta Przywara. “As we were not left alone during the martial law period in Poland, we certainly will not leave our Ukrainian friends on their own”, declares Ms Przywara.

The newly promulgated legislation creates mechanisms of repressions against opposition deputies, weakening their parliamentary privileges; strengthening the powers of secret services and pardoning the officers of the Berkut riot police who participated in the crackdown of the Maidan peaceful protests in November and December 2013.

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