Human rights defenders: From now on, the prohibition of peaceful gatherings becomes more difficult

The procedure for restricting peaceful gatherings has undergone significant changes to protect the interests of both organizers of peaceful meetings and authorities. The changes relate specifically to the consideration of disputes concerning the prohibition of peaceful gatherings. “In the working groups, we did everything to minimize the provisions prohibiting such events, so that in certain cases representatives of authorities could not request a prohibition at all. The second thing is that in individual cases representatives of authorities would not protect the persons who hold peaceful gatherings. We worked on that, too,” said Mykhailo Smokovych, acting Head of the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Earlier, the imperfection of procedural codes often made it possible to prohibit peaceful gatherings. “In Ukraine, the procedure for the restriction of freedom of peaceful gatherings was initiated in the Code of Administrative Justice in 2005 and did not undergo any significant changes for 12 years. Accordingly, there was the same practice. After mass bans, there appeared a need to change this situation,” said Mykhailo Kameniev, executive director of the NGO “Human Rights Initiative.”

Innovations suggest that authorities can demand prohibition of peaceful gatherings only in certain cases and not later than 24 hours before the gathering itself. The court must consider a case within two days or immediately.  “An extremely important provision is that before taking a legal action a plaintiff must publish his claim on his website. Besides, he must inform the organizers of the peaceful gathering by e-mail that he is filing legal action. Earlier, everything was done non-transparently, secretly, and the organizers even did not know that the trial had been conducted,” explained Mykhailo Smokovych. In addition, the subject of authority must independently prove to the court that there are grounds for prohibition. All arguments must be included in the claim in advance.

Mykhailo Smokovych added that since the new rules are specified very thoroughly, there is no longer a need to draft a new law. “Procedural improvement of consideration of these cases is more important for judges. As to the substantive right to regulate these relations, for this purpose we have the Constitution of Ukraine (Article 39), Article 11of the European Convention of Human Rights, including the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, and the relevant provisions of the substantive right in our Code of Administrative Justice of Ukraine,” he explained.

“What has happened is not a common event for the country. We actually have very few victories in the legislative field. We believe that this will even be an example for neighboring countries, and countries outside the Commonwealth of Independent States, namely the European Union, because no legislation in the EU countries provides for protection of exercising freedom of peaceful gatherings,” emphasized Bohdan Chumak, Member of the Board of the NGO “Human Rights Initiative.”