Protecting the President’s Patch
The placard reads: Citizens are stronger than the regime
In June 2010 two Ukrainians jailed for their part in a peaceful protest were declared Amnesty International prisoners of conscience. The headlines seen back then have been disturbingly scarce in the last few days, despite no less fragrant infringements, this time on the President’s patch.
On 11 and 12 April 2013 two Democratic Alliance activists were jailed for their part in an entirely peaceful protest which the Vyshhorod District Court deemed “unauthorized”.
More precisely over two protests since Maxim Panov was sentenced on Thursday to 7 days imprisonment over the initial gathering on 11April. Vasyl Hatsko was one of the activists who arrived at the court on Friday to protest against this move. Three others were also detained. The 5-day jail sentence was presumably because Vasyl had already been fined for his part in the peaceful protest on Wednesday. The Court, we are supposed to understand, showed lenience in passing sentence given that Vasyl has two small sons.
On 11 April four Democratic Alliance activists and a TVi film crew had gone to the village of Novi Petrivtsi near President Yanukovych’s sumptuous and highly controversial estate, Mezhyhirya. The Democratic Alliance had announced plans to hold a protest against what they see as the pillaging of public funding earmarked for improving roads by the head of the relevant body. It is the President who appoints this person and the post is in fact now vacant since Volodymyr Demishkan, a close associate of Viktor Yanukovych, became a Party of the Regions MP last year.
A ban was swiftly sought by the Novi Petrivtsi Council and promptly provided. The reason cited was that the protest would obstruct measures to bring a spring flood under control.
The TV crew and activists accordingly arrived to view and help efforts to contain damage caused by this flood. They found nothing to contain since there was no flood, just a considerable contingent of police and Berkut riot police officers. The TVi team was grilled and the activists detained. The activists were accused of infringing the rules for holding a gathering, and of disobeying a police officer.
Ukraine’s Constitution is clear that restrictions on peaceful assembly are possible “only in the interests of national security and public order, with the purpose of preventing disturbances or crimes, protecting the health of the population, or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons. “
Now you can’t object to bans on public meetings during a flood – or any other natural disaster. If they happen, that is. A situation where peaceful protests can be banned because of a purely conceivable disaster or terrorist threat makes a mockery of freedom of peaceful assembly.
June 2010 was, incidentally, memorable for another reason. In a television broadcast President Yanukovych promised journalists to show them Mezhyhirya, the former State residence, now effectively, privatized. Aside from one orchestrated performance in 2011 where carefully selected journalists were shown only what they were allowed to see and didn’t ask uncomfortable questions, the promise has yet to be kept.
The Head of the Novi Petrivtsi Council and courts have been proactive in preventing journalists from reminding the President of his assurance back in June 2010. The civic movement Stop Censorship’s planned peaceful action outside Mezhyhirya on 6 June 2011 was banned. As well as asserting that the “principle of timely notification had been infringed” Judge Panova also argued that restriction of the constitutional right to freedom of peaceful assembly was warranted in view of the “constitutional principles of defence of the human right to a personal life and its inviolability, the right to rest outside working hours”, with the peaceful protest allegedly infringing President Yanukovych’s right to privacy.
Judge Panova’s novel position was upheld by the Kyiv Court of Appeal which, for understandable if unconstitutional reasons preferred to not notify the Stop Censorship plaintiffs of the scheduled court hearing.
In June 2012 the Kyvi District Administrative Court banned a peaceful action. Stop Censorship journalists were planning to present “Kyiv. Map of Corruption”, a map for tourists highlighting places linked with high-profile corruption investigations, these including Mezhyhirya.
On that occasion no grounds for the ban were made public. For obvious reasons, if you think about it.
Photos Dmytro Larin, Ukrainska Pravda