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Arrest of human rights campaigner during his anti-corruption protest sparks freedom of assembly reforms

Vyerentsov v. Ukraine  | 2013

Arrest of human rights campaigner during his anti-corruption protest sparks freedom of assembly reforms

The judgment of the European court in Vyerentsov v. Ukraine is of great importance to freedom of assembly in Ukraine …

Statement by the Ukrainian campaign groups “For Peaceful Protest!” and “Institute Republica”,
as reported by Conflicts and Laws - © Photo Україна Молода

Background

Oleksiy Vyerentsov is a human rights defender, working in Lviv. He wanted to raise awareness about corruption in the prosecution service. On behalf of a local NGO, he organised a regular series of peaceful demonstrations outside the Regional Prosecutor’s Office.

The local council complained about the demonstrations and the Ukrainian courts banned them.

Oleksiy Vyerentsov was also arrested, charged and convicted for breaching the procedural rules for holding a demonstration – despite the fact that such rules did not exist. He was sentenced to three days’ detention.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that Mr Vyerentsov had been arrested and convicted without a proper legal basis. This had violated his right to free assembly, but also demonstrated a significant wider problem. Ukraine had no proper laws protecting the right to hold peaceful demonstrations, or regulating how to get permission for them.

This was a significant challenge to the right to free assembly, which required urgent reforms.

This European judgment is a precedent that Ukrainian citizens can use in the national courts, as well as in their communication with officials of the executive and police, in exercising their right to peaceful assembly.

Statement by the Ukrainian campaign groups “For Peaceful Protest!” and “Institute Republica”, as reported by Conflicts and Laws

Follow-up

After the European court gave its judgment, Oleksiy Vyerentsov’s conviction was quashed by the Supreme Court of Ukraine.

The case led to a series of ongoing reforms to protect the right to free assembly in Ukraine.

  • The European court’s judgment has been cited by the Ukrainian courts in nearly 500 cases, leading to the direct application of the European court’s principles to many freedom of assembly disputes in Ukraine. 
  • According to the Ukrainian government, in practice local authorities no longer need to grant approval for holding mass assemblies, which can take place upon the authorities being notified.
  • In 2017 draft legislation and regulations were published by the Ukrainian authorities, designed to protect the right to peaceful demonstration.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers continues to monitor these ongoing reforms.