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Freedom of Assembly in Ukraine Endangered
Ukraine, action created 3.12.2013, petition is active
Amnesty International researchers in Kiev are monitoring the ongoing violence between anti-government protesters and armed forces in the center of the city. The conflict has so far claimed the lives of 50 and injured hundreds more. Protests in Ukraine began in November 2013 with the Ukrainian government's refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union. These protests grew into a massive demonstration against the current government, which was brutally suppressed by the police and security forces. Amnesty International is calling for an independent investigation into human rights violations in connection with a recent EuroMaydan protestor's public beating and to ensure justice in cases of abuse of power by the police. Amnesty warns that the police have been escalating the conflict to distinguish between peaceful and violent protesters.
Since the beginning of the EuroMaydan demonstrations on 21 November 2013, Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of violations of the right to peaceful assembly, excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, unfair trials, and harassment of those who have lodged complaints with the authorities. The organization has also observed what appears to be a targeting of journalists by law enforcement officials as well as violations of the right to freedom of expression amongst journalists and some media outlets which have prevented from covering the EuroMaydan events, and of students who have come under pressure for their participation in the events.
On 16 January, in chaotic conditions which violated parliamentary procedure, the Ukrainian parliament passed repressive legislation which severely curtailed the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression. One of these new lays introduced controls on the conduct of demonstrations, such as requiring police permission for the use of helmets, uniforms, and other equipment. President Yanukovych signed the new laws on 18 January, distancing Ukraine yet further from its international human rights obligations. These new laws fanned the flames of protest, and widespread public unrest followed, resulting in the deaths of at least four protestors and hundreds more reported injured. Parliament has since voted on 31 January to repeal the repressive laws, but protests in Kyiv and other cities are ongoing and in some places getting worse. The protests encompass huge numbers of protesters and have often been marked by police violence.
One example of Ukrainian police brutality can be seen in a recent video, which included shocking footage of a EuroMaydan protestor being stripped, humiliated and beaten by Ukrainian law enforcement officers. The Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs issued a public apology for this particular incident, but sorry is not enough.
Based on reports of violence, Amnesty International believes thousands of people have been seriously injured in the protests, including 17 year-old Mykhaylo Nyskohuz, who was beaten on 20 January for suspicion of participating in "mass disturbences." He claims that he was watching and filming the events on his mobile phone from the side of the events when his beating began. Mykhaylo suffered a broken arm, broken fingers, head injuries, and a stab wound, and he is now being held under house arrest.
Another protestor, Oleg Sobchenko, was participating in an Automaydan protest (a movement of activists who engage in protest from within their cars). He was shielding female protestors as they attempted to reach their cars when he was hit from behind by Berkut officers. He lost consciousness and remembers being beaten on the ground before being transferred to a bus with dozens of other protestors. He described the floor of the bus as being slippery with blood. He was beaten in the bus and then transferred to another vehicle, before finally being taken to a hospital at about 11pm. After noticing many of those around him in the hospital were being arrested, he escaped with the help of his friends. Oleg has suffered numerous injuries: a concussion, damage to his knee and shoulder, a skull fracture, and a damaged retina. He will require surgery on his knee and eye.
It is apparent that the Ukrainian security forces continue to rely on abusive use of force and do so with impunity. These violations have their roots in systemic flaws in the criminal justice system that successive Ukrainian governments have failed to address but that must be addressed now.