2014 21/01

On January 16, 2014 the Ukrainian parliament quickly and unexpectedly adopted a complex restrictive draft bill which penalizes protesters, introducing criminal responsibility for denunciation, restricts the rights of civil society organizations to receive funding from abroad and to classifies them as “foreign agents”.

The draft bill entitled “On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges” and procedural laws regarding additional measures to protect the safety of citizens” was submitted on January 14, 2014 and approved after only two days without obtaining legal assessment and without undergoing parliamentary hearings and consultations. The text was quickly adopted by a show of hands and supported by 235 of the 450 members of parliamentarians before it was signed by the President.

The text introduces certain limitations of the right to freedom of association, assembly and expression, and seriously worsen the ability of civil society to act and express their problems.

This paper also introduces the concept of the infamous “public associations that act as a foreign agent”. Similar provisions have been adopted in the Russian Federation at the end of 2012. Under this bill, all public organizations receiving funds from foreign sources must have in their title the phrase “foreign agents”, to register as “foreign agents” and provide monthly reports on their organizations, to publish quarterly reports on their activities in the official media and can not use tax exemption. The bill specifies that all organizations that are involved in political activities, which are defined as actions aimed at influencing the decisions of public bodies, the change in government policy identified by these bodies, as well as the formation of public opinion for this purpose, shall be recognized as public organizations. Organizations that are not registered can be liquidated by a court decision.

The document also suggests amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences for sharp restrictions peaceful protests. Organizers of street demonstrations can be fined up to UAH 3400 [1] (Euros 309) or arrested for up to 10 days. Tents or scenic designs and sound equipment are also an issue to a fine up to UAH 5100 (Euros 463) or 15 days of imprisonment.

These amendments have been adopted in situations when protesters have continued to gather in Independence Square in Kiev and in other parts of Ukraine since November 2013. It’s interesting that the bill also provides penalties for those who are engaged in “a procession, consisting of more than five vehicles” which can be directly applied to the recent action “Auto Maidan” of December 29, 2013, when estimated 2000 signaling vehicles went to the residence of the President of Ukraine in Mezhihorye, located 25 km north from Kiev.

Moreover, the document introduces the concept of “denunciation” in the Criminal Code and provides that a person “knowingly spreading false information and discrediting the honor and dignity of another person” can be fined up to UAH 850 (Euros 77) or up to USD 5100 (Euros 463) in case of repeated offense or can be even sentenced to community service, or correctional labor for up to one year. Conviction for “denunciation” on charges of committing a grave or especially grave crime shall be punished with correctional labor from one to two years, or restraint of liberty for a term up to two years.

Finally, the document also criminalizes “extremist activities” directed against the manufacture, processing or distribution of so-called “extremist” materials. We are particularly concerned that the broad definition of “extremism” can be used for both individual representatives and civil society organizations in general, in order to stifle the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, assembly, and other fundamental freedoms [2]. Such activities will be punished by a fine of up to UAH 13,600 (Euros 1,234), and in the case of repeated violation the fine can be risen to 51000 USD (4629 Euros), or may be applied to imprisonment for a term up to three years.

Your new provisions will substantially undermine the capacity of civil society and human rights organizations to work in the country.

We are also concerned about the impact of the adoption of such laws in the Russian Federation and Ukraine for the wider region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Therefore, we confirm our deep concern about the adoption of the new document, which is not only a legal blow to freedom of association and expression, but also a biased and very negative message about the nature of the activities carried out by human rights organizations in the country and poses a risk of litigation for all of their activists.

In this context, we respectfully urge you to take action for the immediate and unconditional repeal of this law, to ensure that in all circumstances there will be the possibility for all human rights defenders in Ukraine right to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without hindrance or fear of repressions, and in all circumstances to respect international standards and instruments ratified by Ukraine.

Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH
Gerald Staberock , OMCT Secretary General

[1] Ukrainian hryvnia.

[2] “extremist” materials include documents that “call for or justify the need for planning, organizing, instigating or actions to change or overthrow the constitutional order by force, the territorial integrity, national sovereignty, capture or retain power by force, illegal interference or obstruction of lawful activities of state authorities and local self-government and “riots, public disturbance, hooliganism , vandalism”, (…) “violation of the rights, freedoms and lawful interests of individuals” ( and ) “propaganda of exclusivity”.

Prepared by Ales LETA
Belarusian Legal Portal

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