Surge in protests as public frustration over lack of reforms grows
Great thing about today’s major anti-corruption rally in Kyiv is a big cross-sectional crowd with mature demands.— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) October 17, 2017
Sad thing is the protest leaders with tragic lack of understanding how constructive politics is executed pic.twitter.com/rGSSkmEOgZ
A new wave of political protests in Ukraine
Several protests took place in Ukraine during October 2017, the majority of which focused on socio-economic issues in the country and the political elite's failure to implement promised reforms of the political system. Parliamentary or extra- parliamentary parties, such as the Block of Yulia Timoshenko and Mikhail Saakashvili Party, were behind the large-scale gatherings. In particular, protesters demanded changes to the rules governing parliamentary elections, the cancellation of parliamentary immunity and the creation of an anti-corruption court.
Known as the 'Great Political Reform' protests, the actions intensified on 17th October, when more than 5,000 people gathering around the Ukrainian parliament to demand the adoption of laws related to pensions and anti-corruption reforms. Open Democracy reported that in addition to the two main political organisers, approximately 15 political parties and organisations mobilised demonstrators.
Clashes erupted and two protesters were injured, as well as one police officer. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported that the protesters broke several sections of a fence and metal detectors. The general prosecutor of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, reportedly accused protest leaders of planning a coup, claiming that:
"The right to a peaceful protest does not mean preparations for a violent coup staged by a small group of people, about 150-200 people, who proclaimed themselves as the only righteous persons and demanded that the state do only what they want to impose on the Ukrainian state, with the support of funding from abroad. I responsibly state that they will not succeed!"
While protesters were allowed to make camp outside the parliament building, a bill was being debated in the legislature that would allow the National Guard, in particular, to use greater force during protests. Bill 6556 represents a serious concern to civil society and human rights groups as it could severely restrict freedom of peaceful assembly and dissuade citizens from demonstrating. As reported on Open Democracy:
"Bill 6556 would permit Ukraine’s National Guard to video, photograph and wiretap targets, search property and people, confiscate property without police training or special permission from a court. Most scarily, National Guard troops would be allowed to use force and weapons against protesters without warning if they feel their undefined “minimum safe space” has been violated. They will also be able to detain protesters without suspicion of an offense being committed".
Balancing national security and freedom of expression
A public debate on freedom of expression in time of war took place in Kyiv on 29th September 2017. The event was attended by several representatives of civil society, experts, officials, members of the business community and Ukrainian journalists.This is a timely and pertinent issue in Ukraine, as the country searches for a balance between promoting national security interests while fighting a war, as well as protecting fundamental freedoms. Moreover, Russian propaganda continues to be a problematic issue for the government and society. Participants in the debate agreed that there should be a dialogue with the government on how to best to meet the challenge posed by Russian propaganda and disinformation.
Two leaders of Crimean Tatar’s Mejlis released
Two leaders of Crimean Tatar's Mejlis (Parliament), Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiygoz, were released from prison and sent to Turkey. Both had been accused of separatism by the Russian authorities; however, the Turkish government had negotiated their release. Amnesty International drew attention to the difficulties faced by the Crimean Tatars in Russian-annexed Crimea as they attempt to speak out and exercise their right to freedom of speech. Director of Amnesty International Ukraine Oksana Pokalchuk remarked that:
“It is increasingly clear that leaders of the Crimean Tatar community who dare to speak out against the Russian occupation and illegal annexation of the peninsula face two options: either exile or prison”.
Released Crimean Tatar leader: No ‘liberation’ while my people, my land are not free - Human Rights in Ukraine https://t.co/sA7GJ8hFxl— Rights in Russia (@rightsinrussia) October 30, 2017