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15.02.2010

Stepan Khmara loses civil suit against Ternopil newspaper

   

The Ternopil City-District Court has rejected a defamation suit brought by Stepan Khmara against the editorial board of the newspaper “Svoboda” [“Freedom”]. He had accused the newspaper of publishing untruthful and defamatory information about him, and demanded compensation for moral damages of 100 thousand UAH.

The specific point about this case is that there was indeed a serious error in the text which had claimed that Stepan Khmara was imprisoned for taking bribes, whereas he is a former political prisoner. In 1980 he was sentenced to 7 years labour camp and 5 years exile mainly for what went by the name ““Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”.  In his case this meant the publishing of the Samizdat “Ukrainsky visnyk” [“Ukrainian Herald”]  writing the work “Etnotsid ukraintsiv v SSSR”, as well as “holding conversations for the purpose of undermining the Soviet regime” [more details can be found at http://www.khpg.org/archive/en/index.php?id=1142682953

The newspaper was represented in court by Olha Kushneryk, a lawyer from the Ternopil Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Public Advice Centre. She explained that after the newspaper came out, the editorial board realized that the article in question contained information which had not been properly checked and which was false. In the issue from 2 September 2009 a text was published with the heading “We apologize to Stepan Khmara” in which the editorial board apologized both to Mr Khmara and to their readers for the wrong information in the article “Brodivsky Azef”.  That same day a copy of the issue and letter of apology were sent to Mr Khmara. The letter offered to provide a retraction or the right of response in any form.

However Mr Khmara categorically refused and told the newspaper that he would be taking legal action and seeking compensation.

The editorial office decided to themselves provide information balancing that in the offending article. On 19 November an article in the section “Prisoners of conscience” was published entitled “What Stepan Khmara spent seven years in the camps and was in a cell for death-row prisoners for” Using reliable printed sources, detailed information as above was given about Mr Khmara’s sentence.

The newspaper’s editorial staff therefore believe that they used all possible means to eliminate the adverse consequences from the incomplete and therefore misleading information in the original article.

The Ternopil City-District Court, referring in its ruling to the European Convention on Human Rights and case law of the European Court of Human Rights, rejected Stepan Khmara’s claim.

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