Human rights activists demanding that authorities respond to disruption of peaceful assemblies by police on January 19

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Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine

Arsen Avakov

Head of the National Police of Ukraine

Ihor Klymenko

Prosecutor General

Iryna Venediktova

Acting Director of the State Bureau of Investigations

Oleksiy Sukhachov

Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights

Liudmyla Denisova

We, the representatives of human rights organizations, are outraged by the actions of Ukraine’s National Police officers of who forcibly prevented two peaceful assemblies — “No to Impunity of the Far Right” on the Kontraktova Square as well as action on the same topic on the Mykhailivska Square (it was announced twice as an anti-fascist and under the title “Against Far Right Terror”) — from being conducted in Kyiv on January 19, 2021. Such events are held annually to commemorate Crimean journalist Anastasia Baburova and Russian human rights activist Stanislav Markelov, who were killed by neo-Nazis in Moscow on January 19, 2009.

Available videos and information from victims indicate that police detained and brought to police station 13 people from the Kontraktova Square, i.e. about half of the participants in the peaceful assembly against far-right violence who intended to take part in it. At the same time, police officers used force: activists arguing with the police were beaten on the head (this is stated, in particular, by some rally participants , who were taken to the bus to be transferred to a police station).

At the same time, some police officers wore uniforms without insignia (badges, chevrons, etc.).

In support of their actions, the police claimed that the peaceful assembly infringed quarantine rules. At the same time, the assembly participants had medical and similar to them masks on their faces and tried to keep a physical distance of 1.5 meters in accordance with the quarantine rules before the detention began . In addition, witnesses report that police claimed that the Constitution did not work during the quarantine.

It should be noted that on January 14, a meeting was held between the organizers of the “No to Impunity of the Far Right” rally and the police to ensure the safety of the peaceful assembly and its participants. During the conversation, the police did not intend to detain the participants for violating quarantine restrictions but instead agreed with the organizers on the venue, route and interaction on the spot.

As for the action that was to take place later on the Mykhailivska Square, the Anti-Fascist action organizer said that representatives of the preventive communication group of the police (dialogue police) warned before the event, that the police would detain action participants for violating the quarantine rules. Later, the police and servicepersons of the National Guard of Ukraine prevented the protesters, who had gathered near the Poshtova Ploshcha metro station, from moving via the funicular to the announced venue on the Mykhailivska Square. Therefore, a small peaceful assembly took place at the exit of the Poshtova Ploshcha metro station . It should be noted that the video from the venue shows that the police detained several probable opponents of the event, who were armed with a knife, a crowbar, a bat and a pepper-spray ball.

These two incidents indicate the use of selective deliberate pressure on protesters against far-right violence. After all, participants in other peaceful assemblies held in Kyiv were not detained for the very fact of their holding. Moreover, after the enhanced quarantine measures were introduced on January 8, 2021, peaceful assemblies have continued to take place (such as the Save Individual Entrepreneurs assenmbly on the Independence Square which is still ongoing and its members are free to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of peaceful assembly).

We emphasize that Ukraine has not made official declarations of withdrawal from its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in connection with the introduction of quarantine measures throughout its territory. Consequently, the relevant articles of these international treaties  guarantee every citizen of Ukraine the right to freedom of peaceful assembly even during COVID-19 and impose on the state the corresponding obligation to ensure the exercise of this right at the highest possible level.

In addition, the Ukrainian authorities has not declared a state of emergency or martial law during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cabinet of Ministers, local self-government bodies and other bodies are not authorized to prohibit and determine the rules for holding peaceful assemblies (Part 2 of Article 39, Article 8, Part 2 of Article 19 of the Constitution of Ukraine, Decision of the Constitutional Court No.17-rp / 2002). In the absence of legal regimes of state of emergency or martial law, the prohibition to hold peaceful assemblies may be established only by a court (Part 2 of Article 39 of the Constitution).

Thus, the actions of the police are a violation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and can be qualified under Art. 340 (illegal obstruction of the organization or holding of meetings, rallies, marches and demonstrations) and Art. 365 (excess of power or official authority by a law enforcement officer) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

The coercive measures chosen by the police were not lawful (Part 2 and Part 3 of Article 29 of the Law “On the National Police”), as police officers are not authorized to prohibit peaceful assembly and use violence against persons who do not commit offenses (Part 2 of Article 42, Part 1 of Article 44 of the Law “On the National Police”).

The chosen coercive measures were not proportionate (Part 5, Article 29 of the Law “On the National Police”)as the damage caused to the rights and freedoms of the protesters protected by law exceeded the benefits for which it was used.

The coercive measures chosen were not necessary (Part 4, Article 29 of the Law “On the National Police”), as the protesters wore protective masks on their faces and adhered to the minimum necessary physical distance between people to protect themselves from infection.

We also emphasize that the police, as an executive body with law enforcement functions, neglected its duty to guarantee and ensure freedom of peaceful assembly (Part 2 of Article 3, Part 2 of Article 22, Article 39 of the Constitution).

As a reminder, it isn’t the first groundless detentions of participants in actions against far-right violence by police. Three years ago, on January 19, 2018, the police just as cruelly and unreasonably detained eight participants in the action of honoring the memory of Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov which took place on the Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv.

Considering all the above mentioned, we demand that:

the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Police of Ukraine:

  • abandon the illegal practice of terminating peaceful assemblies and detaining participants for the mere fact of holding assemblies;
  • carry out explanatory work with the personnel involved in the protection of peaceful assemblies on the limits of interference by law enforcement officers in the conduct of peaceful assemblies;

the State Bureau of Investigations and the Prosecutor General’s Office:

  • investigate the illegal actions of police officers and bring to justice those responsible for violating human rights and the law;

the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights:

  • take appropriate response measures and conduct an awareness raising campaign for law enforcement agencies on standards of ensuring the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Human rights Initiative

ZMINA Human Rights Center

Association UMDPL

Project “Without Borders”

NGO “Truth Hounds”

LGBT Human Rights Center “Our World”

Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation

CO “Human Rights Vector”

Human Rights Center Postup

Charitable Foundation East-SOS

Civic Union Educational Human Rights House ChernihivFoundation of Regional Initiatives