By Bogdan

The Ukraine Government’s attempts to censor and restrict freedom of
expression and freedom of assembly by a controversial anti-protest
legislation has fortunately been stopped by the Ukrainian Parliament on
28 January 2014.

In the light of the latest events in Ukraine, in a desperate attempt to
curve the protests that have become larger and stronger since the end of
2013, the Ukrainian government has adopted a bill that would have
seriously damaged fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly
and association.

Draft Law No. 3879 “Making Amendments to the Law of Ukraine On the
Judiciary and the Status of Judges”, initially adopted by the
pro-government majority in the Parliament on 16 January 2014, without
debate or discussion, and approved by President Yanukovich, included
extremely severe restrictions of the right to freedom of expression
introducing criminal charges for ambiguously defined “extremist
activity” (sun as illegal interference or obstruction of state
authorities), criminal punishment for defamation, criminal penalties for
the publication of information which “patently offends” or “shows
insolent disrespect” to authorities and various administrative
punishments, including administrative arrest for violating the
“established procedure” for organising or holding demonstrations.

The bill was meant to curve the protests by including punishments for
people driving in a column of more than five cars without the permission
of the road police, including confiscation of their licence and their
car for two years, punishment of up to 15 days imprisonment for
participating in a demonstration with “objects prepared for committing
unlawful actions” and up to five years imprisonment for blocking
administrative buildings.

It also introduced criminal liability for “distribution of extremist
materials” including online content, allowed blocking of websites and
created a “foreign agent” definition for NGOs that use foreign funding.

Furthermore, according to the bill, the National Commission on
Communications would be allowed to order ISPs to block web sites “that
are considered by experts to contain information that breaks the law.”
Internet service providers would have to buy special equipment to allow
security services to monitor the internet and to restrict the access “to
websites of information agencies that have no state registration.”

“The law has been adopted by breaking all procedure rules. In fact it is
a constitutional coup d’état that restricts fundamental freedoms and
rights in Ukraine,” stated Olexandra Matviychuk, the chairperson of the
Centre for Civil Liberties, for Index.

At the same time, on 21 January 2014, protesters participating in the
riots in Kiev and journalists present there received on their phones an
unsigned text message saying: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a
participant in a mass disturbance,” which was not sent by the phone
companies and clearly sounded as a threat meant to intimidate the
protesters.

Fortunately, only two weeks after the bill was introduced, the
Parliament voted on 28 January 2014 almost unanimously (361 to 2 votes)
to annul it and President Yanukovych has agreed to the decision.

Ukrainian President should veto legislation that attacks fundamental
rights (17.01.2014)
http://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/37423/en/ukrainian-president-should-veto-legislation-that-attacks-fundamental-rights

Ukraine: Authorities target Euromaidan activists with new repressive law
(16.01.2014)
http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/01/ukraine-targets-civil-society-new-repressive-law/

Ominous Text Message Sent to Protesters in Kiev Sends Chills Around the
Internet (22.01.2014)
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/22/ominous-text-message-sent-to-protesters-in-kiev-sends-chills-around-the-internet/

Ukraine crisis: Parliament abolishes anti-protest law (28.01.2014)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25923199