The Ukrainian parliament has passed a bill that would limit the right to demonstrate. The opposition called the move a "power grab," while Western powers expressed concerns about democratic principles in Ukraine.
Tensions heightened overnight in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, after supporters of President Viktor Yanukovych introduced and passed sweeping legislation through parliament late on Thursday. The move sparked outcry among opposition lawmakers who accused them of illegally trying to curb anti-government protests. The pro-government lawmakers reportedly passed the bill 235-450, taking the vote by a show of hands rather than the procedural electronic system.
The European Union and the United States voiced concern that the move reflected signs of a deterioration of democratic principles in Ukraine.
The EU ambassador to the country, Jan Tombinsky, criticized the voting method implemented to pass the bill swiftly, saying: "Norms should be adopted through proper procedures, otherwise the credibility of democratic institutions and of the legal system is at stake."
The US State Department echoed the EU's concerns in a statement.
"A true democracy cannot function without dialogue, compromise, the right to peaceful dissent and a legislature that enjoys the people's trust," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"If Ukraine truly aspires to a European future, it must defend and advance universal democratic principles and values that underpin a Europe whole, free, and at peace, and not allow them to be systematically dismantled," she added.
The bill passed on Thursday, which now awaits the president's signature, would curb the right to demonstrate by levying fines and, in some cases, prison sentences ranging from two to 15 years. Punishable offenses include blockading public spaces; entering public buildings en masse; facilitating protests through financial or logistical means; and setting up stages or tents in public spaces.
Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in the capital, Kyiv since November, calling for the resignation of Yanukovych's government after he decided to shelve an EU Association Agreement. Critics fear the decision resulted from undue influence from Moscow.
kms/pfd (AFP, Reuters)