The Ukrainian Parliament has passed new laws that restrict free speech with regard to protests. It is believed this is a move to curb anti-government protests, especially criticism of President Viktor Yanukovich. Perhaps this is why the law was mainly backed almost exclusively by his supporters.
Since November, protests on the street have been taking place in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, as well as other cities. Originally, the impetus for these protests was Yanukovich’s refusal to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union in an attempt to bolster the country’s relationship with Russia. On January 12, 2014, at least 50,000 people demonstrated against Yanukovich in Kiev.
The new law still requires Yanukovich’s signature of approval. If he chooses to ratify it, which he undoubtedly will, the law will prohibit any unauthorized installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places, and impose a fine of up to $640 or up to 15 days in detention. People and organizations who provide facilities or equipment for protests will face a fine of up $1,275 or detention of up to 10 days. Politicians opposing Yanukovich routinely use a stage on the Maidan (central square) to broadcast supportive messages to the protesters. The law bans such actions, and in short, seems particularly targeted at Yanukovich’s opposition. Dissemination of “extremist” and libelous information has also been made illegal.
These restrictions seem overly severe when compared to the broad 1st Amendment rights that Americans enjoy. However, free speech and protesting in America is not without its own limits. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment is not absolute. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that state and federal governments may place reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of individual expression (TPM restrictions). These restrictions are justified because they accommodate public convenience, promote order by regulating traffic flow, preserve private property interests, and in general, protect order and peace. Pursuant to Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989), time, place, and manner restrictions must satisfy the following criteria: (1) be content neutral; (2) narrowly tailored; (3) serve a significant governmental interest; (4) leave open ample alternative channels for communication. In contrast to America’s regime, Ukraine’s new restrictions seem to lack any meaningful limiting principles, and appear to be politically charged and spiteful.
Is Ukraine’s new law a political ploy, or a needed regulation to maintain peace and order?
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