Ukraine: Authorities target protesters with new repressive law

Legislation passed today seriously restricts freedom of expression and assembly, in a move the country's civil society calls “a constitutional coup d’état”.

The Ukrainian parliament has adopted a new repressive law that seriously restricts freedom of expression and assembly, in a move the country’s civil society calls “a constitutional coup d’état”.

Law No. 3879, which enters into force tomorrow, criminalises libel (with a maximum sentence of two years of limited freedom), introduces criminal liability for “distribution of extremist materials”, allows blocking of websites and creates a Russian-style “foreign agent” definition for NGOs that use foreign funding.

Criminal liability for defamation and dissemination of extremist materials includes content posted online. The National Commission of State Regulation of Communication and Informatisation has the right to restrict access to websites “that are considered by experts to contain information that breaks the law.” Internet service providers will be obliged 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 also requires mobile operators to identify SIM-cards owners; to buy a mobile contract one will have to present a passport and sign a formal contract.

The freedom of peaceful assembly is also threatened. In particular, the law forbids taking part in protests while wearing a helmet or a mask. Participating in a motorcade of five or more cars will lead to a fine and confiscation of the cars.

As the opposition tried to block the adoption of the draft law, the pro-government majority voted for the new legislative act with a simple show of hands, and without any discussion. The urgency of the law was explained by “a significant aggravation of [the] political and social crisis” in Ukraine.

“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,” said Olexandra Matviychuk, the chairperson of the Centre for Civil Liberties.

The restrictions outlined by the new law are aimed at civil society activists involved in the peaceful protests that started in Ukraine in November 2013 after the government refused to sign an association agreement with the EU.

Andrei Aliaksandrau, Index on Censorship

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