Ukraine Restrains Protesters with New Laws against Anti-Government Expression

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – New prohibitions recently signed into law were reported to make anti-government expression more difficult in Ukraine. Strong criticism has come from western countries.

Protesters rallied against Ukraine’s government amidst rising tensions, many taping “dictatorship” over their mouths. (Photo courtesy of Guardian)

In late November 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich sparked massive pro-Europe rallies when he abandoned a free trade deal with the European Union, in favor of stronger ties with Russia. The deal would have been not only a landmark, but also a step toward Ukraine’s future entrance into the EU.

Since the free trade deal collapsed, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians began protesting against the government on the streets of Kyiv; and several hundreds of people began camping out in the city’s Independence Square as well as the area surrounding City Hall.

Action from riot police injured several in the final week of 2013. The United States and EU condemned that violence.

On 16 January 2014, Ukraine’s parliament rushed to pass laws prohibiting nearly all forms of anti-government protests, despite scuffles with opposition lawmakers who attempted to prevent the parliament session. The next day, President Yanukovich signed those prohibitions into law.

“I am deeply concerned by the events in Kyiv,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said, adding that the legislation was “restricting the Ukrainian citizens’ fundamental rights.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The steps that were taken yesterday are anti-democratic, they’re wrong, they are taking from the people of Ukraine their choice and their opportunity for the future. We will continue to stay focused on this issue, but this kind of anti-democratic maneuver is extremely disturbing and should be a concern to every nation that wants to see the people of Ukraine be able to not only express their wish but see it executed through the political process.”

Ukraine Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara accused the West of “meddling in the internal affairs of our state.”

The new laws prohibit unauthorized tents, stages, or amplifiers. Anyone, including organizations, providing such equipment or facilities for protests would be liable to a fine or detention of up to fifteen years for “mass violation” of public order.

“The law fully restricts all types of expression, across all platforms. It makes it possible to shut down websites, block access to the Internet. It makes it possible to control all SIM cards so they can track any person who says something bad about the government at a forum, on blogs, or even from a mobile phone,” says Director of Kyiv’s Media Law Institute Taras Shevchenko.

Ukraine’s new bans on anti-government protest added to tensions that were scheduled to appear at a new rally—called by the opposition—in Kyiv on 19 January 2014.

During the laws’ enactment, Yanukovich fired his chief-of-staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin, who allegedly wanted to step down after the 30 November 2013 riot police attack against student protesters. However, reports of Lyovochkin’s desire to leave were officially denied, and Yanukovich’s office gave no reason for Lyovochkin’s departure.

Western states are now left to wonder how much further Ukraine’s government is willing to return to Soviet-era relations.
For further information, please see:

Guardian – Ukrainian President Approves Strict Anti-Protest Laws – January 17, 2014

RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty – Does ‘Black Thursday’ Mark End of Ukraine’s Democratic Decade? – January 17, 2014

Reuters – Ukraine Leader, Defying West, Signs Laws against Protests – January 17, 2014

RIA Novosti – Ukrainian Leader Signs Laws Dubbed “Charter for Oppression” – January 17, 2014

UN Panel Questions Vatican on Child Sex Scandal

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA — A United Nations panel questioned representatives from the Vatican on Thursday about its handling of decades worth of reports regarding sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Reps from the Vatican were peppered with questions by the UN panel on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Thursday’s panel was the first such interrogation of the Vatican by an international body. The United Nations committee in Geneva is examining the Vatican’s failure to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UNCRC calls on countries that adopt the agreement to protect children from sexual and physical abuse. The UN committee will issue final observations and recommendations on February 5th, but it has no authority to issue sanctions, and its recommendations are nonbinding.

The Vatican representatives contended that the sexual abuse cases were not the responsibility of the Vatican, but rather of local law enforcement and local dioceses to investigate and prosecute the offenders. The representatives did concede that the Church could “do better to prevent these crimes.”

“The Holy See gets it. Let’s not say too late or not, but there are certain things that need to be done differently.” Bishop Charles J. Scicluna, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sexual abuse up until 2012, stated to the panel.

The Center for Constitutional Rights submitted documents and victims’ testimony as evidence that the Vatican had allowed sexual abusers to remain in their posts and even transported them to different locations without informing law enforcement officials or local dioceses.

The UN panel questioned Bishop Scicluna about why the Vatican does not require local dioceses to report abusive conduct to authorities. “Our guidelines have always said the domestic law of the country needs to be followed,” he simply stated.

During Thursday’s UN panel, Pope Francis participated in a morning Mass with a private audience and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles. Last year, leaked documents revealed that Cardinal Mahoney had a history of protecting priests accused of sexual abuse. The documents were released via a court-order, and Cardinal Mahony was relieved of his duties shortly thereafter.

At the Mass, the Pope delivered a homily about scandal in the church, never mentioning sexual abuse, but speaking to “those failings of priests, bishops, laity.” Francis stated, “Scandals in the church happen because there is no living relationship with God and his word.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Vatican Defends Child-Protection Record – 16 January 2014

BBC News – UN Panel Confronts Vatican on Child Sex Abuse by Clergy – 16 January 2014

The Guardian – UN Condemns Vatican Over Handling of Clerical Sex Abuse of Children – 16 January 2014

New York Times – UN Panel Questions Vatican on Handling of Clergy Sexual Abuse – 16 January 2014

The Washington Post – Vatican Defends Sex Abuse Record to UN Panel – 16 January 2014

Protesters in Northern Spain Support Transfer of Imprisoned Members of Group Labeled Terrorist by EU, U.S.

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BILBAO, Spain – Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in northern Spain on Saturday to protest the imprisonment of members of a separatist group known as “ETA.”

Thousands took to the streets on Saturday in northern Spain. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Tens of thousands of protesters formed a demonstration in the city of Bilbao, in Spain’s Basque region, after a judge had banned an initial demonstration to demand concessions for the ETA prisoners, such as being imprisoned in facilities closer to their families.

Spain’s Basque region has seen an ongoing standoff between authorities and secessionists in the area. ETA has been campaigning for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France for over 40 years. The organization, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, has been blamed for 829 murders.

The organization has been depleted in recent years due to the arrests and imprisonment of its leadership in both Spain and France. Roughly 520 members have been imprisoned, and only an estimated few dozen active fighters are on the run. The ETA pledge to end armed activity back in 2011, but Spain and France remain opposed to negotiating with the organization due to its past.

On Friday, a judge of the highest criminal court in Madrid issued a ruling against a planned demonstration to explicitly support the imprisoned ETA members, reasoning that the protest was organized by a banned terrorist group. Both Basque nationalist and separatist parties called for a new “rights march” for Saturday. They had originally called for a silent demonstration, but shouts and cries were audible when family members of the prisoners marched. Shouts such as “Basque prisoners home!” could be heard.

The conservative Basque National Party, which governs Spain’s northern region, and a left-wing pro-independence party combined forces for Saturday’s march. Between them they accounted for more than half of the votes in the last regional elections, as pro-independence Basques set their sights on a political solution.

“Parties and unions that represent the political majority of this land decided they had to call this demonstration to defend the right to freedom of expression,” Pernando Barrena, spokesman for the left-wing party, stated.

The spokesman for the Basque National Party, Josu Erkoreka, stated that the original ban on the first planned demonstration was “incomprehensible to the Basque people.”

On Saturday, an additional judge ruled that the new gathering called by the parties was not illegal.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Thousands March in Bilbao in Support of ETA – 12 January 2014

Fox News – Large March in North Spain Calls for ETA Prisoners to be Allowed to Serve Jail Terms Near Home – 12 January 2014

The Washington Post – March in North Spain Backs Return of ETA Prisoners – 12 January 2014

BBC News – Huge March in Spain After Ban on ETA Prisoner Rally – 11 January 2014

Unrest in Ukraine Erupts into Violent Protests

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko was among several injured in protests against a recent ruling that convicted three men of plotting to blow up a statue. The protests came amidst lasting tensions from the government’s refusal to strengthen ties with the European Union.

Yuriy Lutsenko was injured during the recent protest, requiring bandages to his head, as well as a patch to his right eye. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

On 10 January 2014, protests erupted after a court sentenced three nationalists to six years in prison.  The convicted persons allegedly conspired to blow up a statue of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin in 2011. Protesters claimed that the trial was fixed against the men.

During the night of 10 January, protesters attempted to prevent police from taking the convicted men away from the court building. In the clash with police that followed, over ten activists, three Members of Parliament, and several journalists were injured. Some received fractures, brain trauma, and unconsciousness.

“As we see, the authorities do not stop in their acts of repression, it is not enough for them to deprive us of our rights, they want to put people in jail, give them six-year prison terms, just because they were talking about their rights,” said protester Dmytro Bulatov. “And they want to break our bones.”

By early 11 January, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights ombudsman reported that eleven protesters had been injured, with two of them hospitalized, including former Ukrainian Interior Minister and current opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko.

Yanukovych pardoned Lutsenko in April 2013, after four years of imprisonment on charges of embezzlement and ordering illegal surveillance. Lutsenko had been a key figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought Yanukovych’s rival Yulia Tymoshenko to power.

Lutsenko was struck in the head and hospitalized in intensive care during a clash with riot police. He suffered a concussion, requiring bandages and a patch over his right eye.

“The doctors diagnosed a closed head injury, a concussion, three subcutaneous hematoma, and an open wound on the face. There was no breach of the skull, thank God,” said Lutsenko’s wife, Iryna. “He was conscious, but not the whole time. He asked for people not to take revenge, because the Berkut [riot police] just obey orders. So he is asking people not to take revenge.”

Ukrainian tensions have been elevated since President Viktor Yanukovych’s abrupt refusal to sign an association deal with the European Union in November 2013, which would have established closer ties between Ukraine and the Western bloc. Yanukovych’s decision sparked protests into December 2013, which constituted the largest Ukrainian anti-government movement since the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Lutsenko led the organization of the most recent protests, during which pro-EU demonstrators remained in central Kyiv, demanding the resignation of the government and new elections.

The Kyiv prosecutor’s office said it would investigate the actions of both protesters and police.

Leader of Svoboda Union Andriy Ilyenko said that abusive police fighters were photographed after removing their masks, and would be held accountable for their actions.

To ease tensions, Ukrainian officials must acknowledge that citizens have shifted toward an affinity for Western ties.

For further information, please see:

Independent – Ukraine Opposition Leader Yuri Lutsenko Injured in Police Clash – January 11, 2014

Interfax-Ukraine – Three MPs, Over Dozen Activists Seriously Injured in Clash with Berkut, Says Svoboda – January 11, 2014

Los Angeles Times – Ukraine Opposition Leader Injured in Clash with Police – January 11, 2014

RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty – Former Ukrainian Minister Hospitalized in Clash with Police – January 11, 2014

Telegraph – Ukraine Opposition Leader Injured in Fresh Kiev Clashes – January 11, 2014

French Cities Tell Dieudonne That His Tour Is Done before It Begins

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Despite France’s ability to nationally ban comedian Dieudonne’s tour, the Interior Minister Manuel Valls called on local officials to make similar decisions, based on the content of Dieudonne’s show. Dieudonne threatened to appeal.

Dieudonne vowed to appeal, after French cities and towns banned his comedy tour. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Several French towns and cities have banned Dieudonne’s controversial comedy act due to its alleged anti-Semitism, including Marseilles, Tours, Nantes, and Bordeaux. Dieudonne has never paid one of his several fines for anti-Semitic outbursts. He continues to claim bankruptcy from his Theatre du Main d’Or in Paris.

French President Francois Hollande has urged officials to enforce the authorized bans. “I’m calling on all state representatives, especially prefects, to be alert and inflexible. No-one should be able to use a stage show to openly promote anti-Semitic ideas,” said Hollande.

Dieudonne vowed to appeal. While Dieudonne has appeared on stage several times with holocaust denier and historian Robert Faurisson, Dieudonne contended that he is not linked to Faurisson or French right-wing extremists. Instead, Dieudonne claims to be a mere anti-establishment anti-Zionist.

Dieudonne’s attorney, Jacques Verdier said, “The cancellation of a performance is an act of censorship. If there is no public disorder then it is a troubling artist that one wishes to forbid.”

Verdier further stated that he would seek an injunction to overturn the “recommended” bans, which went around French Constitutional provisions leaving the decision to prefects. The comedian has already sold nearly 6000 tickets for his Nantes performance, and remains booked for several French venues until June.

Dieudonne faces six convictions for hate speech against Jewish persons, based on his routine about gas chambers and deriding of Holocaust victims and survivors. He denied completely that his “quenelle” gesture is a variation of the Nazi salute, but rather is an “anti-establishment sign.”

The quenelle consists of a right hand pointing straight down and touching the left hand to that arm. In late-December 2013, West Bromwich footballer Nicolas Anelka performed the gesture during a goal celebration, in what Anelka described as “a dedication to Dieudonne” rather than an anti-Semitic gesture. France’s sports minister criticized Anelka’s action as “disgusting.”

Critics claim French censorship of Dieudonne may cement his cult-like status; especially if the bans against Dieudonne are overturned on legal grounds.

“Rather than embarking on pre-emptive bans with a shaky legal foundation and uncertain political results, the authorities should concentrate on punishing crimes once they are committed,” said a statement by France’s Human Rights League (LDH).

In this light, France must determine whether its ban on Dieudonne is a prior restraint of his future speech, or a fitting punishment for his continued anti-Semitic comments amidst unpaid fines.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Dieudonne: Hollande Backs Nantes and Tours Bans – January 7, 2014

Euronews – Joke Is on Dieudonne as French Cities Ban His Show – January 7, 2014

The Independent – ‘Anti-Semitic’ Comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala Has His Show Cancelled in France after Nicolas Anelka’s Inverted Nazi Salute – January 7, 2014

Reuters – French Cities Ban Comedian Accused of Anti-Semitic Jibes – January 7, 2014

CNN International – Anti-Semitism Row Shines Light on Fractured French Society – January 3, 2014