Sunday, 19 January 2014
Sweeping New Anti-Protest Laws Spark Fresh Outrage in Ukraine
KIEV, Ukraine -- Outrage swept over Ukrainian civil society on Friday after the country’s parliament pushed through a package of laws designed to curb dissent and crack down on mass demonstrations. Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych announced that he had signed the new and controversial legislation into law in a statement posted to his official website on Friday. The legislation passed on Thursday by pro-government lawmakers by a simple show of hands counted in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, opposition leaders called the move “a constitutional coup d’état.” The passage of the far reaching anti-protest laws reportedly prompted the resignation of Serhiy Lyovochkin, President Yanukovych's chief of staff, along with resignations or dismissals of another half dozen members of the president's administration, including his head communications, Darka Chepak and head of Ukrainian ground forces Gennadiy Vorobyov. Taking a Page From Russia's Playbook The new laws force any organization receiving money from abroad to register as foreign agents. Russia passed a similar law in 2012. Under the new laws, protesters are also banned from wearing helmets, pitching tents and using bullhorns protesters are also banned from wearing helmets, pitching tents and using bullhorns and sound systems during mass protests. Violators face steep fines and prison sentences of up to 15 years. Motorcades of more than five cars are also banned, a tactic used by protesters in recent weeks to blockade the private homes of high-level government officials as well as government offices. These blockades are banned under the new laws, with violations punishable by the suspension of a driving license or confiscation of a vehicle. The laws gave fresh impetus to protesters whose numbers in recent weeks had dissipated because of the holidays and cold weather. On Friday afternoon, a group of more than 1,000 marched from Kiev’s Independence Square to the Presidential Administration. Some brandished photographs of the bloody faces of activists and journalists beaten by police, or thugs since the pro-democracy EuroMaidan protest movement began in November. One of them, Tetyana Chornovil, was chased in her car and then attacked before being left in a ditch. A dashcam helped authorities tracked down five men who remain in police custody. Other protesters at the rally wore red paint on their faces in solidarity with the victims, while a few more donned cooking pots and colanders atop their heads, challenging the new law that criminalizes wearing a helmet during demonstrations. Opposition leaders called for Ukrainians on Friday to turn out for another large-scale demonstration on Sunday at Independence Square. Some Sunday protests in December saw hundreds of thousands of people on the square. In addition to the stringent laws affecting the freedom of assembly, lawmakers voted for stricter laws on free speech, making slander an offense punishable by up to two years in prison. In addition, the new laws make it a crime to investigate judges or police officers without the approval of an expert, with potential punishment of up to three years behind bars. What’s more, online media are now required to register with authorities or else face being shut down. Western diplomats derided both the manner in which the laws were passed and the substance of the legislation on Friday. “Outrageous the way laws severely restricting freedoms were pushed through Ukraine parliament today.” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted. European Parliament President Martin Schultz said he was “deeply worried” about the laws, which he said “would push Ukraine back toward its authoritarian, Soviet past.” Ukraine's Strict Anti-Protest Laws Motorcades of more than five cars without permission of the police may lead to a fine of up to $100 or confiscation of the car and loss of driving privileges for up to two years. The use of masks or helmets during public demonstrations or participation in rallies in which other people wear them may lead to a fine of up to $520 or arrest up to 15 days. The construction of stages or tents without police permission during public rallies may lead to a fine of up to $620 or arrest of up to 15 days. The production or sharing, including through media, of “extremist papers” that might include calling for “mass riots” may lead to a fine of up to $415 or up to three years imprisonment. Blocking access to government offices or private homes is an offense punishable by up to six years in jail. The seizure of state or public buildings is punishable by up to six years behind bars. Slanderous material published without permission from an expert may lead to one year of correctional labor or 200 hours of community service or a fine of up to $100. Libelous material containing accusations of grave crimes may lead to imprisonment for up to two years. Internet users of any sort but within the boundaries of Ukraine may be banned from the Internet based on an expert decision that this particular user disseminates criminal information. All nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that receive financing from foreign states, people, nongovernmental organizations or international organizations must register as foreign agents themselves. Foreign agents will be required to pay income tax, thus losing their non-profit status. The activity of these nongovernmental organizations may be banned by a court decision if they violate interests of national security or public order. The procedure to strip a lawmaker of his immunity has been simplified to one step. A person can be sentenced in court without being present.