EUROMAIDAN. 16 January 2014 anti-protest laws
On 16 January the MPs from Party of Regions and Communist Party of Ukraine (and a number of independent MPs) in the Ukrainian parliament passed anti-protest laws (the texts of some of them became available after MPs had voted for them) which criminalized all of the Euromaidan opposition's methods employed during protests.
The laws introduced 10-year jail terms for blockading government buildings; hefty fines and prison terms for protesters who wear face masks and helmets; fines and prison terms for unauthorised installation of and provision of facilities or equipment for tents, stages or amplifiers in public places; and driving bans for people who form convoys of more than five cars.
Also approved was legislation to easier strip members of parliament of immunity; the identification of members of non-government organisations funded by foreign governments or foundations as "foreign agents"; 2-year jail terms for defamation spread through social media; 1-year jail terms of corrective labour for slandering government officials; mandatory registration for internet-based media and prepaid mobile phone services purchasers.
According to The Financial Times, the 11 new laws were approved while opposition lawmakers were occupying the main session hall and voted in by MPs by means of show of hands that "were too rapid to actually be counted, and in some cases done in five seconds.
The opposition dubbed the day in parliament 'Black Thursday' and stated that, "Today Ukrainian parliamentarianism is dead", and that the laws have ensured "dictatorship where there is no right to assemble, to reason, to live, where there is no law, no civil rights, and no legal process". The Party of Regions faction noted that the opposition had prevented normal voting since members of opposition factions had taken away voting cards from their colleagues in parliament.
Party of the Regions MP Oleh Tsariov stated the laws were aimed to prevent further escalation of the ongoing political crisis. The OSCE called on President Yanukovych to veto the legislation "which might be arbitrarily interpreted and lead to disproportionate restrictions on media freedom, stifling debate and critical views". In reaction on the 16 January votes EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle stated he was "deeply disappointing to see such a turn from the European path of Ukraine" and he believed the laws were aimed at limiting partnership with the civil society.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton criticism (among others) was "The changes that seem to seriously curtail the activities of civil society organizations in Ukraine and simplify procedures for revocation of mandates of members of parliament are equally worrying".
And she added "I call on the President of Ukraine to ensure that these decisions are revised and brought in line with Ukraine's international commitments". German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reaction on the laws was "The limitation of civil rights will lead Ukraine only further away from Europe". And the United States Department of State expressed deep concern ""Both the process and the substance of the Rada’s actions today cast serious doubt on Ukraine’s commitment to democratic norms".
In response to foreign criticism Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara urged foreign diplomats "to avoid making unilateral statements and remarks that do not reflect the real state of affairs". He also noted that the laws adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on 16 January already exist in the laws of most European countries and meet generally accepted democratic standards and international practices.
The following day, president Yanukovych signed the bills into law and dismissed Hennadiy Vorobiev as commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces. Presidential chief of staff Serhiy Lyovochkin resigned from his post in protest of the laws, as well as presidential spokeswoman Daria Chepak. In accordance with enforcing the new anti-social laws, Interior Minister Zakharchenko pledged that "each offence will be met by our side harshly."
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