Ukrainian Government Failed a Test for Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Jul 12th, 2012 | By | Category: Crime, Freedom of Assembly, Human Rights, News, Protests, Ukraine

By NATALKA ZUBAR and OLEKSANDR SEVERYN

The Government of Ukraine is using old Soviet methods to violently suppress democracy.

Unarmed freedomfighter Dmytro defeated by 30 armed cops. Police prevents protesters to setup portable toilets. Regional administration puts a 200 meters fence against 5 activists. 30 policemen used clubs to beat 3 unarmed activists bloody. Court forbids a public rally because a Communist Party executive wants to celebrate US Independence day without noise. And more Government’s absurd below. Welcome to Ukraine!


July 3. Verkhovna Rada (parliament of Ukraine) adopted the bill, titled, “About the Foundations of the Policies of the State in the Sphere of Languages”, with blatant violations of the parliamentary procedure, and a wave of protests swept across Ukraine. Rallies and other protest actions took place in all of the Ukrainian regional (oblast) centers.


Kyiv. July 3. A spontaneous gathering of the people near the Ukrainian House (cultural center downtown Kyiv at European Square). Everything is peaceful. However, for reasons unknown to us, several hundred armed riot police were dispatched there. Again, for reasons that were not disclosed by the police, in the morning of July 4, the police began to push at people. What sense did that make, except simply to intimidate? Even if there was some sense, the representatives of the riot police did not bother to inform the society about it.

Kyiv, July 4. Near the Ukrainian House.

This resulted in a small-scale brawl, and in a large-scale press scandal, reaching even The New York Times. The protest rally continued though, and the riot police receded. Yet, their retreat did not mean that the government gave in to the protesters.

Between July 4 and July 6, representatives of the regional court made several announcements to those who participated in the rally that their protest is “illegal.” On July 6 some clerk handed a document over to two representatives of the protesters. This document, essentially, said that the protest rally was illegal because of legislation, adopted back in Soviet days; and stated that “these AND OTHER people” should not demonstrate their protest. Also, in this document, according to the media, one could read the most bewildering explanation, why that particular protest was illegal. Supposedly a Communist Party official, who happens to live nearby, wanted to celebrate July 4 as the USA Independence Day, and the protest rally interfered with these plans of his… Based on this absurd “explanation,” the regional Court of Appeals made equally absurd ruling that there should be NO GATHERINGS AT ALL near the Ukrainian House from July 4 to July 9!

It sounds like an obvious sneer directed at the protesters. According to the Code of Administrative Procedure, courts cannot restrict the rights of people who were not involved in a lawsuit (“and other people”). These uninvolved persons, if they think that their rights were violated, could file an appeal. But nobody could find the ruling to appeal to. Rulings like this one have to be on the Web site of the Unified State Registry of Court Rulings; however, we checked that site for several days, up to July 12, and found no ruling related to the July 4 protest rally.

Later, the police interfered with the intention of the protesters to set up some portable toilets near the site of the protest gathering. They said that they were concerned about “the well-being of the city”. Isn’t the availability of toilets the “well-being?” And what is it when there are no toilets? A mess. As judged from the actions of the riot police, they already have a mess in their heads…

The opposition parties disbanded the protest in the evening of July 6. Yet, a few dozen activists did not want to disband, so the rally continued. The protesters were located on the stairs leading to the entrance to the Ukrainian House. Since the temperature on those days was about 40 degrees Celsius (~102-104 Fahrenheit), it was very essential for them to remain on those stairs in the shade. Protest was peaceful and they bothered on one. Nonetheless, the police came again; they made a fence around the building, using metal bars, and pushed the protesters out of the shade. The police explained protesters it was “necessary to sweep the stairs.” However, in fact no one did any sweeping, and, when the protesters demanded explanation, the police simply stood there, not saying anything which makes sense. Activists were trying to get their answers why they did it but failed. One of policemen without a uniform kept saying, “we, the police, have the right…” What right? No specifics shared. But he just serves as an embodiment of the police’s will to violate the rights of the citizens.


Kharkiv. July 3, 11:30 p.m. The protesters had set up two tents on the Liberty Square, and some men, who were not wearing a uniform, came and started to dismantle them. Dozens of policemen present did nothing to stop them. No one explained, just who these people were.

Dmytro Pylypets’ shows marks caused by the police beating him up

When the tents were already dismantled, the police began to “wrap up the assembly,” which meant that they beat up the community leader, Dmytro Pylypets’. Because they did not obey the police’s unsubstantiated demand to abort the action, Dmytro and two other activists were forcefully dragged by 30 armed cops into a police precinct and forced to write “an explanation,” and were kept in the precinct for 4 hours in the middle of the night. Then, Dmytro was given a copy of the protocol about his “misdemeanor” – he was charged with “violation of the established procedure of public assemblies,” because he, allegedly, had filed the “request” to give him and others the permission to assemble, and the filing had been done “after the end of the business hours of the City Hall.”

First, there is no such term as a “request to give the permission to assemble” in the Ukrainian legal code. The term used there is the “announcement” about the action (see paragraph 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine), meaning that those who want to rally do not have to beg the authorities to allow them to rally; the right to assemble is guaranteed to the people by their Constitution, so all they need to do is to announce their wish to fulfill it, not to “demand” authorities to grant it to them. Second, nowhere in the legal code, and not even in the completely anti-Constitutional local orders of public assemblies can one find even a hint on doing something only “before the end of the business hours.”

In the police precinct, Dmytro was told to “appear in court at 10 a.m.” – only few hours afterwards. However, up to now, he was never served a written subpoena of the court. Even though the Kharkiv City Court is usually quite complacent with what the police do, this time they refused to even look at notes made by the policemen, and, in the evening of July 6, met with the police officers to create the protocol “de novo.” Dmytro is, actually, surprised, just why no court has, so far, declared the permanent rally of protest on the Kharkiv Liberty Square illegal. But that’s a fact! No court has! And yet, the police are watching, in a paranoid fashion, that no tents are set up on the Liberty Square in Kharkiv. And the activists of the protest rally keep sitting at Kharkiv’s “Maidan,” and no one touches them so far.

There has been a colossal buzz in the media about the case of Dmytro’s beating and about the absurd actions of the police. The office of the Kharkiv City Attorney has begun an investigation of these events, as they state, “because of the information elucidated by the media.” We must say that it’s been a LONG while since this office started anything remotely similar to this. And the police had no choice but try to make up excuses in front of the cameras! However, instead of at least trying to find some reasonable arguments in favor of the legitimacy of their action, which was about dismantling two tents and physically assaulting 15 men and women in the middle of the night, the officers only said that they “HAVE THE RIGHT” to beat people up, to use their truncheons and the tear gas, etc. Please, remember this: they HAVE THE RIGHT!

The Chief of the Kharkiv regional police said that citizens who plan protest actions must inform the police about it in advance. It is not clear, where did he get this idea from? Paragraph 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine (already mentioned above) says that the announcements about such actions are sent to “organs of the executive branch of power, OR to local governments.” There is a staunch tradition in Ukraine to send announcements over to City Halls or to their executive committees.


Dnipropetrovs’k. On July 4, several civic groups announce their intention to carry out a rally and send similar announcements to the City Hall. Local government files lawsuit against one of these groups – the Ukrainian Party. Logic? Sense? Representatives of the court explained, “What difference does it make? We did not forbid other parties to rally, so – just go with them!” And the court uses the same old Soviet legislation to substantiate the decision.

However, on July 5 the rally could not be held at all. The building of the regional administration was surrounded by a metal fence. In the middle of the square in front of the building, where the rally had been planned to take place, someone put a crane and a large water cistern with no water in it. Also appeared a number of construction workers, who sat for hours in the shade, doing nothing. This farce was called “Measures to Develop the Territory.” No “development” whatsoever actually took place. And a hundred of policemen were safeguarding this farce.

Dnipropetrovs’k. Police safeguards the fence around regional administration.

This technology is not new. In Kharkiv the same absurd theatre spectacle took place in August 2011 after the arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, when opposition parties tried to gather for a protest action and the whole huge central square was safeguarded by hundreds of policemen for the sake of couple doze kids rehearsing the dance show inside.

The rallies still took place. Yet… there remains a “bitter aftertaste.” The main thing is, a message is sent by the government to the Ukrainian citizens: “We will mess with you anyhow – we HAVE THE RIGHT! And you cannot do anything to us.” So, with this message received, the number of protest rallies, and, even more importantly, the number of people participating in any single rally is declining precipitously…

Odesa. July 6. On the third day of protest rallies, the Odesa Oblast administration building, too, surrounded itself with a fence. This was done in order to defend the building from a group of 10 (!) citizens rallying. The police did not intrude and simply safeguarded the fence. Later on July 9 police was trying to stop journalists from filming the protest action there and broke their camera.

Odesa. The regional administration building built a fence, to defend itself against the “huge crowd” of people shown in the picture (with the flag). The slogan says “What the government behind the bars is afraid of?”


Zaporizhzhya. July 5. The court bans rallies. Still, a number of people were not willing to disband had chained themselves to the fence of the regional administration building. Court executives detain these “madmen,” and drag them to the court building where a judge issues them a “warning.” Again, just what sense does it make??? None, except merely to intimidate the people and especially those who are planning to participate in protest rallies in the future!

Simpheropol. July 7. Here too, the local court bans the rally. Activists are handled over a document called “The Order to Begin Implementing the Court Decision to Block the Rally.” No one, however, at that time is shown the original court decision! It remained completely unknown until later what arguments the court used to ban the action (in fact it was improperly filed announcement according to all those old Soviet legislations). Despite the court decision the rally took place, and it was peaceful. No one died, no harm was done to the homeland security, and the public order in the city was maintained normally.


Cherkasy, July 6. The protest rally on the Soborna Square was, for unspecified reasons, banned by a court order and dispersed by the police squad. The protesters, however, made a new announcement about the rally and returned to the Soborna Square, where they tried to set up tents. In just ONE HOUR, the local court issued a NEW document banning the rally, and the police showed up to implement it. Is this what we call a normal court procedure?

The video below shows how thirty police officers “disperse” a rally carried out by THREE MEN. Police officers are asking reporters to “hide the cameras,” shout, “I FORBID you to take pictures of me!” The media reports that the policemen beat up the three protesters so badly that the victims were bleeding (later police confirmed they had summoned medical assistance to these men). Again, why, for what reason? Because the police “HAS THE RIGHT?” (Basically they wrote the same in reply to our request for information). Look at the faces of the policemen featuring in the Cherkasy video: they look happy!

The net result of the described actions of the police and of the court? Nil. The tents reappeared, the roads are blocked, and the rally keeps going.

 

According to the part 2 of the paragraph 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as according to paragraph 21 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (both of which are legally binding for Ukraine), any restrictions of the right to assemble peacefully can be acceptable only if they “are necessary in a democratic society.”

According to the fairy tale told by paragraph 1 of the Constitution of Ukraine, the country called by this name is a democracy, and a country ruled by law. So, the quality of our “democracy” is clearly shown by the real restrictions of the above right, as described in this article. As for the rule of law…

 

Natalka ZUBAR and Oleksandr SEVERYN, Doctor of Law
translated by George V. PINCHUK
“Maidan Monitoring”

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