Civil society speaks out against new draft bills targeting NGOs

Association

As previously reported on the Monitor, amendments to Ukraine’s "e-declaration" law in March 2017 extended the asset disclosure requirements to include anti-corruption non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

On 10 July 2017, two new draft bills, No. 6674 and No. 6675, were introduced in parliament and which would replace the disclosure requirements for anti-corruption NGOs with new reporting requirements. Under the new draft bills, all NGOs would be obliged to follow more extensive reporting requirements, including providing detailed information on donors, expenses and employee salaries to the State Fiscal Service.

Failure to submit this information could result in sanctions directly from the State Fiscal Service, without a court hearing or order first. Sanctions on NGOs could include hefty fines as well as exclusion from Ukraine’s ‘Single Register of Non-profit-making Institutions and Organizations.’

On 11th July 2017, Freedom House issued a statement on the two draft bills. According to Marc Behrendt, Eurasia Director at Freedom House:

“The Poroshenko Administration’s proposed legislation to withdraw nonprofit status from NGOs that fail to fulfill onerous financial reporting requirements will undermine the independence of NGOs in Ukraine, many of which are focused on strengthening democratic institutions and expanding political rights and civil liberties […] transparency of NGOs is essential to their legitimacy and accountability, but this legislation would threaten the organizations’ ability to continue their work”.

On 13th July 2017, Kharkiv Human Rights Group and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union issued a joint statement condemning the new bills as discriminatory towards NGOs, and in violation of international standards on freedom of association. In particular, the Ukrainian NGOs cited the lack of impartiality and fairness in imposing sanctions on non-compliant organisations. 

Expression

A Ukrainian journalist's perspective on President Poroshenko's 'Ban on Russian Social Networks'

CIVICUS Monitor research partner on the Black Sea region spoke to Evgenia Genova, a journalist and editor of the website IzbirKom in Odessa, Ukraine, on President Poroshenko's recent controversial ban on the use of Russian social networks in Ukraine, instituted as part of the government's sanctions against Russia in light of the ongoing conflict in the Donbas and Russia’s occupation of Crimea. The ban continues to be a divisive and hotly debated issue among civil society, media groups, activists and the wider public. 

In an interview, Genova presented her perspective and opinion on the government’s decision to prohibit Ukrainians' access to certain Russian social networking sites, stating that:

"As a journalist, I think such prohibitions are more a violation of the human right to access to information than a violation of freedom of speech, since social networks can hardly be considered media. I understand those who support the ban - I know that a powerful information war has really been conducted and is being conducted through certain groups in these social networks. On the other hand, who gave the right to the state to decide for its citizens what should they read? Perhaps there are other ways of educating the public and persuade it not to read fake news. Our society is sorely lacking media culture, and education of the population is part of the state's tasks. As for our publication, we have closed our Vkontakte page and will not restore it. I am sure that even if sanctions are lifted, few will return to these social networks – nowadays these things are quickly replaced with something else, even more convenient and modern. As for me personally, these social networks do not interest me for many years, since I do not consider them informative or interesting. But I do not agree with the decision to ban the networks. It is better to accustom people to a quality product than to prohibit sub-standard products. The forbidden fruit is known to beckon".
Reporting in conflict-stricken regions of Ukraine

Journalists reporting in Ukraine’s separatist areas face danger and increasing restrictions on their work, including arbitrary prohibitions on entering separatist territory controlled by the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

On 2nd June 2017, journalist Stanyslav Aseyev was reported missing in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Aseyev, who uses the alias Stanislav Vanis, contributes to a number of news outlets, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Ukrainian Week. On 15th July 2017, the independent broadcaster Hromadske Radio reported that the DPR had detained Aseyev. The following day, the independent daily Ukrainska Pravda published information that confirmed Aseyev had been charged with espionage, and now faces up to 14 years in jail if convicted. 

CPJ is calling for Aseyev’s immediate release in a statement from Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney:

“Reporting is not espionage. Stanyslav Aseyev should be released immediately. We call on all sides of the conflict in Ukraine to respect journalists’ roles as civilians and allow them to do their work”.

On 20th July 2017, the first anniversary of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet’s murder in Kyiv, a coalition of nine international civil society organisations issued a joint letter urging Ukrainian President Poroshenko to ensure a thorough investigation into Sheremet’s death. The coalition included the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, Article 19 and Reporters without Borders.

Peaceful Assembly

In May 2017 the Crimean Human Rights Group released an review of the violations of the right to peaceful assembly in Crimea between March 2014 to March 2017, entitled “Unsanctioned Freedom”.

The report documents extensive violations of freedom of peaceful assembly in Crimea over the last three years, including bans on protests and intimidation of activists. The Group's report also found that Crimean Tatars have been particularly targeted and banned from celebrating national holidays.

On 9th May 2017, at least 15 peaceful demonstrators were detained at Victory Day rallies in Ukraine for carrying banners or flags which depicted Soviet symbols, banned under Ukraine’s 2015 ‘de-communisation’ laws. Amnesty International in Ukraine has called for the release of those detained, stating:

“We insist that the Ukrainian government should provide freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful demonstration for all citizens. Detention of peaceful citizens and banning of Soviet symbols are unacceptable things”.