17 January 2014
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has condemned the approval by the Ukrainian Parliament yesterday of “several pieces of legislation restricting the Ukrainian citizens’ fundamental rights (…) hurriedly passed in an apparent disrespect of parliamentary procedures and democratic principles”.
“I am particularly concerned by the changes to the judicial code which impose worrying restrictions on the rights of assembly and on the freedom of speech and media, and are contrary to Ukraine’s international obligations. The changes that seem to seriously curtail the activities of civil society organisations in Ukraine and simplify procedures for revocation of mandates of Members of Parliament are equally worrying”, said the EU High Representative.
One of the laws proposed designates members of non-governmental organisations funded by foreign governments or foundations as “foreign agents”, mirroring similar restrictions on NGOs in Russia. The law requires NGOs to register as “foreign agents” and introduces penalties for those not registering. In an appeal against the proposed legislation, the Ukrainian Helsinki Committee has announced that they will not accept the status of “foreign agent” and that the new laws “blatantly violate the fundamental freedom of conscience, opinion, expression, information, assembly, association, movement, as well as property rights and the right to privacy, thereby ignoring the relevant constitutional provisions and articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights ”.
The new legislation amendments would also introduce 10-year jail terms for blockading government buildings, heavy fines and prison terms for protesters who wear face masks and helmets and for unauthorised installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places. One of the bills provides a punishment of one year of corrective labour for slandering government officials.
The three main opposition leaders described the move as “illegitimate”, saying the pro-presidential MPs had decided to use voting by a show of hands after realising they did not have enough support.
The US State Department called on the Government of Ukraine “to ensure its legislation reflects Ukraine’s democratic commitments to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the wishes of its people to exercise their fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and association”.
The European Parliament President Martin Schulz also condemned passage of anti-freedom laws in Ukraine and called on the President of Ukraine to ensure that any legal changes are compatible with Ukraine’s international commitments.
The legislation has yet to be signed into law by Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich.