Ukrainian PEN Centre condemns draft bill criminalizing defamation


The PEN Centre joins a significant number of Ukrainian and international organizations, structures and media groups who have condemned the adoption in its first reading on 18 September of the draft law introduced by Party of the Regions MP Vitaly Zhuravsky. As reported, the law as it stands at present would return defamation to the Criminal Code, and introduce punishment in the form of a fine of from 200 to 1500 times the minimum wage before tax, community work for up to 2 years, restriction of liberty for up to 5 years or imprisonment for up to 3 years. 

The draft bill received 244 votes from the Party of the Regions, Communists and Speaker Lytvyn’s faction, as well as the MPs who have changed parties and now always vote with the ruling majority.

The statement calls this an attempt to reinstate one of the shameful provisions of Soviet legislation which was traditionally used by the regime to stifle dissident thinking and against political opponents.  It points out that the article was removed 11 years ago under public pressure and, as in most civilized countries, transferred to civil legal proceedings.

“The Ukrainian PEN Centre expresses deep concern over the return to Soviet legal practice which has become systemic over the last two years in Ukraine and is seen in increasingly noticeable restrictions of civil liberties, including freedom of peaceful assembly, election campaigning, access to information of public importance and freedom of speech in the mass media, especially in television which is totally controlled by the regime.  The final adoption of the law on defamation in the absence of an independent judiciary and given the arbitrary definition by those in power of the very term will create enormous opportunities for political repression, the destruction of the independent media, persecution of critics of the regime and concealment of its various crimes and abuses. “

The statement warns MPs that this law, if passed, will place freedom of speech in jeopardy and move Ukraine still further from western democracies and bring it closer to neighbouring authoritarian regimes.

The Ukrainian PEN Centre calls on Ukrainian citizens to express their protest at this law and to not under any circumstances support those who lobby for it at the coming elections.  It also asks the international community to express its solidarity with Ukrainian civil society in upholding fundamental rights.

The statement is signed by the Head of the Centre, Myroslav Marynovych

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