Just days before the Ukrainian capital Kyiv was due to host its first-ever Pride march, a city court has banned the event in what Amnesty International called a shameful about-face that tramples on human rights.
Thursday’s court hearing cited this weekend’s Kyiv Day celebrations in the city centre – which coincide with the planned Pride march on 25 May – as a reason for banning the event. For the first time ever, the Kyiv city council applied to the courts for a ban of all public events not organized by them during Kyiv Day.
In their application to the court, city authorities raised the spectre of a threat of violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists organizing the march, despite earlier police assurances that they can guarantee the protection of Pride march demonstrators.
Last year, a planned Kyiv Pride march had to be cancelled in the face of a violent threat posed by groups of extreme-right youth.
“This shameful decision does a disservice to the city of Kyiv – instead of allowing all of its residents to join in the celebration of culture, the city authorities are picking and choosing who is allowed to take part. This discrimination must not be tolerated,” said Max Tucker, Ukraine campaigner at Amnesty International.
The Pride’s organizers were informed about the court hearing at 9 am on Thursday, only two hours before it was due to begin. They were denied legal representation because they did not have time to sign over power of attorney, which must be done in the presence of a notary.
“Not only are the council attempting to deprive us of our right to freedom of assembly, they have also denied us the opportunity a fair hearing in court,” said Stas Mischenko, KyivPride2013 spokesperson.
Once in the court, the organizers cited Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, made reference to several cases where the European Court of Human Rights had overturned Pride bans, as well as citing a joint letter from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urging the Ukrainian authorities to allow the Pride march to go ahead.
Article 11 makes clear that the right to freedom of assembly can only be restricted in exceptional circumstances, such as in the interests of national security or public safety, preventing disorder or crime.
The judge did not respond to the European Court cases, and said that organizers must submit any notification with enough time for police to arrange their forces – suggesting a new notification for an event outside the centre may also be blocked.
“The Kyiv city council’s desire to ensure citywide cultural events must not trump Ukraine’s international obligation to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly,” said Tucker.
During the court hearing, the organizers pointed out that the planned Pride march route actually fell outside the city centre – where Kyiv authorities wanted to enforce the ban. Rather than proceed on that basis, the judge allowed the city authorities to submit a new handwritten application on the spot for a ban that included the Pride march route.
Counter-protesters who had planned to hold a demonstration against the Pride march were also present at the court, and were parties to the ban application itself.
“It is clear from the counter-protesters’ involvement that their aim all along was to silence Kyiv’s LGBTI community, something the court and city authorities have shockingly colluded in. Ukrainian authorities must allow everyone to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and expression without discrimination, and must protect LGBTI activists from attacks when they do so,” said Tucker.
“When testifying in court, police made a last-minute about-face, claiming they could not deal with the far-right threat, which contradicted their earlier promises to protect Pride participants.”
Since the Pride march organizers first notified the Kyiv city council on 11 April about the planned Pride march, the authorities have twice cited a double-booking of different events – including music performances and a bike race – over portions of the march route.
The Pride march organizers plan to submit a new notification for a route outside of the city centre.
Amnesty International and other local and international human rights organizations have urged the Kyiv authorities to allow the Kyiv Pride to take place safely and securely. The European Union and numerous international embassies in Kyiv have also spoken out in support of the event.