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Ukraine
20.01.14
Urgent Interventions

Call to repeal highly restrictive law on so-called “foreign agents”, libel and extremism, which blatantly violates Ukraine's international obligations

Open Letter toUkrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Rybak
Paris-Geneva, January 20, 2014

Re:Call to repeal highly restrictive law on so-called “foreign agents”, libel andextremism, which blatantly violates Ukraine's international obligations

Excellencies,

OnJanuary 16, 2014, Ukrainian Parliament unexpectedly and hurriedly adopted acomprehensive restrictive bill, which punishes protests, criminalises libel,restricts civic organisations receiving foreign funding and labels them as“foreign agents”.

Thebill, entitled “On Amendments to the Law on Judicial System and Status ofJudges and Procedural Laws on Additional Measures for Protecting Citizens'safety”, was introduced on January 14, 2014 and voted only two days after, withno legal assessment, no parliamentary hearings, and no consultation. The textwas swiftly adopted by show of hands, backed by 235 outof 450 parliamentarians, before it was signed it intolaw by the President.

Thetext introduces multiple restrictions on the right to freedoms of association, peacefulassembly and expression and will seriously impair the capacity of civil societyto act and voice their concerns.

Thetext further introduces the notorious concept of “civic associations fulfillingthe function of a foreign agent”. Similar provisions were adopted in theRussian Federation at the end of 2012. According to the bill, all civicorganisations receiving funds from foreign sources must include in their titlethe term “foreign agents”, register as such, submit monthly reports regardingthe organisations, publish quarterly reports on their activities in theofficial media and may not benefit from a tax-exempt status. The bill specifiesthat all organisations taking part in political actions, defined as actionsaimed at influencing decision-making by state bodies, a change in the statepolicy which those bodies have defined as well as forming public opinion forthose purposes, are deemed civic organisations. Organisations failing toregister may be closed by court decision.

Thetext also aims to amend the Code of Administrative Offences in order todrastically restrict peaceful protests. Those who hold street demonstrationsrisk a fine up to 3,400 UAH[1] (309 EUR) or arrest for upto 10 days. Installing tents or stage-like constructions and sound equipment ispunishable by a fine up to 5,100 UAH (463 EUR) or 15-day arrest.

Theseamendments were adopted in a context where protesters have been gathering atthe Maidan square in Kiev and in other parts of Ukraine since November 2013.Interestingly, the bill also foresees fines for those who participate in “aprocession made up of more than five vehicles”, which seems to be directlylinked to the recent “Auto Maidan” car procession on December 29, 2013, when anestimated 2,000 honking cars drove to the Mezhyhiryaresidence of the President of Ukraine located 25 km north of Kiev.

Moreover,the text introduces “libel” into the Criminal Code, and provides that a personthat “deliberately circulates knowingly false information which denigrates thehonour and dignity of another person” risks a fine of up to 850 UAH (77 EUR) or up to 5,100 UAH (463 EUR) if in case of repeated offenders, or public works, or corrective work for up to one year. Conviction for “libel” inconnection with accusations of a serious or particularly serious crime would bypunishable by corrective work of one to two years or restriction of liberty forup to two years.

Finally,the text also aims to criminalise "extremist activities", and targetsthe production, procession or dissemination of so-called “extremist” materials.We are particularly concerned that the broad definition of “extremism” could beapplied to civil society representatives and organisations at large, in orderto stifle the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, of assembly, aswell as other fundamental freedoms[2].Such activities would be punishable with a fine up to 13,600 UAH(1,234 EUR) and if repeated, the fine could reach up to 51,000 UAH (4,629 EUR)or imprisonment for up to three years.

Excellencies,these new provisions will considerably undermine the capacity of civil societyand human rights organisations to operate in the country.

Weare also concerned about the implications of the adoption of such laws in the RussianFederation and now in Ukraine for the wider Eastern Europe and Central Asiaregion.

Wetherefore reiterate our deepest concern over the adoption of this new text,which does not only mark a legislative setback for freedoms of association andexpression, but also sends a biased and highly negative message about thenature of the activities carried out by human rights organisations in thecountry, and put all their members at a high risk of judicial harassment.

Inthis context, we respectfully urge you to take steps to repeal this lawimmediately and unconditionally, to ensure in all circumstances that all human rightsdefenders in Ukraine are able to carry out their legitimate human rightsactivities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals, andto conform in all circumstances with the international standards andinstruments ratified by Ukraine.

KarimLAHIDJI GeraldSTABEROCK

FIDHPresident OMCTSecretary General

[1] Ukrainian hryvnia.

[2] "Extremist”materials encompass documents that “call for or justify need to plan, organise,instigate or act with the purpose to change or overthrow the constitutionalorder by force, infringe territorial integrity, state sovereignty, capture orretain of power or authority by force, illegally interfere with operation orprevention of the legal activity of bodies of government and localself-governance”, but also “mass unrest, abuse of public order, hooliganism,vandalism”, (...) “violation of rights, freedoms and legitimate interests ofindividuals” (and) “propaganda of exclusivity”.

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