On January 16, the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine adopted a massive package of legislative changes affecting Ukrainian civil society and democracy. ICNL’s analysis of the amendments revealed numerous restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association.
Of particular concern is an article that introduces the concept of a “foreign agent” and imposes burdensome requirements as a result of being labeled a foreign agent. Such restrictions are almost identical to those under Russia’s Foreign Agents Law. In addition, the new law introduces numerous provisions restricting freedom of assembly and sets high penalties for violations of these provisions. It includes new penalties for disguising one’s appearance during a gathering, establishing tents without government approval, and blocking access to public buildings.
The new law also introduces the crime of “extremist activity. “Extremist materials” are very broadly defined and would make it very easy for the government to put any advocacy or human rights activist in jail.
Some have questioned the legitimacy of the process by which the law was adopted. The fact that it was adopted barely 48 hours after its registration with Parliament prevented CSOs and opposition parliamentarians from effectively opposing the package. CSOs only learned about the law after its adoption. In addition, the law was adopted by a simplified procedure, whereby there was no deliberation about the content of the new law and Parliamentarians voted by simply their raising hands.
Since 1997, ICNL has served as a source of expertise and information to assist Ukrainian civil society organizations and government officials with their efforts to improve legislation affecting civil society. In response to the new law, ICNL is preparing an analysis of legislative changes. ICNL is also reviewing whether it was legitimate to use a simplified procedure for consideration of the law.