Ukraine: Kiev protest ban blatant attempt to 'gag peaceful protesters'

The Ukrainian authorities must lift a temporary ban on demonstrations in the centre of the capital Kiev and guarantee the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, Amnesty International said today.

In a 6 January decision that has just been made public, the Kiev administrative court imposed a two-month ban on demonstrations by opposition activists in the city centre. The authorities have yet to enact the ban, which comes after weeks of sustained protests, known as ‘Euromaydan’ which were held around the city’s central Independence Square (Maydan).

The ban specifically targets all peaceful assemblies organised by the main opposition political parties.
 
The court ruling justified the prohibition on the grounds of national security, health and public order. The ban cites the disruption caused to local residents and school children living in the areas where the demonstrations have been taking place, the risk of infectious diseases, the fact that demonstrators have called for the government to step down, and the risk of violent confrontations between riot police and demonstrators.
 
Amnesty International’s researcher on Ukraine Heather McGill said:

“Instead of trying to gag peaceful protesters, the authorities should engage in a dialogue and hear them out. This is legitimate criticism of the government that must be heard.

“The fact that this ban specifically applies to peaceful demonstrations is a particularly blatant violation of the right to freedom of assembly and undermines the rights of all Ukrainians.
 
“To apply a ban on the basis of the political views of those demonstrating is an insidious violation of the right to freedom of assembly. This undermines national security rather than upholding it.
 
“Large peaceful demonstrations such as ‘Euromaydan’ inevitably cause considerable disruption and inconvenience, but mere inconvenience is never a sufficient reason to restrict the right to freedom of assembly.

“To justify a ban on the grounds that there have been clashes between riot police and demonstrators rather than to seek to police the demonstrations responsibly is a regrettable abdication of responsibility by the Ukrainian authorities.”

Limitations to the right to freedom of assembly are allowed in certain situations - for the protection of national security or public safety, public order, public health or morals, or protection of the rights and freedoms of others. But governments should only resort to banning public assemblies in the most extreme cases. International standards specifically state that calling for a government to step down cannot be considered a threat to national security.

The court decision goes on to quote a Kiev city regulation which allows only government-organised demonstrations in the city centre.

As Amnesty has documented, the recent demonstrations in Kiev have been peaceful, with the exception of one isolated incident on 1 December outside the presidential administration.

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