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10.01.2012 | Halya Coynash

Euro 2012 as a pretext for political censorship

   

Protest in August 2011 over arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko

Yet another dangerous legislative initiative could become law in the near future with considerations of public safety and order during the Euro 2012 European Football Championship used as a convenient excuse.

Some terrible stadium disasters, as well as scenes of violence during and after football matches, make any law aimed at ensuring players’ and spectators’ safety of unarguable importance.  This is, apparently, the aim of Draft Law No. 9602 registered in parliament on 29 December 2011 by Party of the Regions MP Vadim Kolisnichenko. 

Most of the amendments proposed to a new law on ensuring public order and safety during football matches, as well as to the Code of Administrative Offences are absolutely unequivocal.  Fireworks etc are horrifically dangerous, while firm measures are also needed to prevent racist, xenophobic or in other ways offensive chants or displays during matches.

Why “posters, banners and flags of a political nature” are also deemed a threat to public order is less obvious. 

The draft bill proposes inserting Clause No. 173-4 to the Code of Administrative Offences.  This would prohibit “the chanting of a xenophobic, racist, anti-Semitic or discriminatory nature, or demonstration of posters, banners and flags, including of a political nature, as well as other media which insult the honour and dignity of official figures, arbiters running sports competitions, teams, opponents, fans of a rival team  or others before during and after sports competitions”.

Kolisnichenko makes much of the need to bring Ukrainian law into line with UEFA demands and general European standards for such events.

It is difficult to imagine any EU country imposing a hefty fine, jailing somebody for up to 15 days or sentencing them to corrective work, for holding up a banner accusing the President of political repression (how offensive!) and demanding the release of members of the opposition.  Nor is it easy to envisage the need arsing in EU countries.  This, however, is in no small part because such obvious encroachments of freedom of expression are entirely inconceivable.

Not so in Ukraine, as events late last summer showed. During a football match on 7 August in Kyiv, Dynamo fans chanted “Thank you Residents of Donbas for the President …” followed by a word insulting the President, who like a large number of those now in power is from that region of Ukraine. The video clip on YouTube was viewed by more than a million people.

The printing company ProstoPrint swiftly came out with T-shirts reading “Thank You, Residents of Donbas”.   Surely not covered by the proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences, one might think.  Or might not, recalling the heavy-handed measures taken by police on 15 September last year when activists tried to give away such T-shirts, holding only a can for donations.  Nor was the owner of ProstoPrint convinced. Denis Oliynykov left Ukraine on 21 September after the police began measures against his firm and told the BBC Ukrainian Service that he was considering asking for political asylum in a European country. The Kyiv police, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov, , insisted that the checks carried out were linked with unlawful use of the Euro 2012 logo. Oliynykov’s assertion that they were over the T-shirts is given weight by the excessive police reaction on Independence Square.

In the light of the prosecution of leading opposition figures including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, expressions of political protest are more than likely during Euro 2012. 

It would by most desirable for UEFA and EU countries to clearly explain to the Ukrainian authorities which restrictions cannot be imposed under a smokescreen of concern for public order during Euro 2012.

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