Criminalization of libel a dangerous step backwards


 Victoria Syumar, Executive Director of the Institute for Mass Information believes that the latest initiative from Party of the Regions MP Vitaly Zhuravsky to re-introduce criminal liability for defamation and circulating false information is yet another assault on freedom of speech by the Party of the Regions

“Ukraine has changed considerably since defamation was decriminalized thanks to the initiative from Mykola Tomenko. Removal of that norm significantly changed the situation and reinstatement of criminal liability would mean stepping back into the fold of authoritarian countries which do not protect freedom of speech. All international organizations have called on countries and their governments to decriminalize defamation.”

This is the recommendation of OSCE, Article 19 and other organizations, and Ms Syumar is therefore adamant that it is vital that Ukrainian journalists prevent the reinstatement of the norm.

Asked how real the likelihood was of the draft bill in question being passed, Ms Syumar replied: “At present, unfortunately, everything seems realistic to me”.

As reported, Zhuravsky proposes considering “slander” to be “the circulation of knowingly false information insulting the honour and dignity of a person or undermining his reputation” Punishment would range from a fine of 500 to 5000 times the minimum wage before tax (from 8500 UAH to 85 thousand, where 1 EUR is roughly 10.5 UAH), corrective labour or imprisonment from 3 to 8 months. If the circulation of information led to a serious worsening in health, the term of imprisonment would range from 3 to 5 years.

Who would determine the “serious worsening in health” is only one of the concerns related to this bill which follows the adoption of a bill reinstating such liability in Russia.  The latter has been strongly condemned by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Co-Rapporteur on Russia and a number of international media and human rights organizations. 

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