Media experts call libel law an attempt to reintroduce mechanisms for repression



Ukrainian media specialists are calling on the Party of the Regions to withdraw the draft bill on defamation. At a press conference in Kyiv the Director of the Institute for Mass Information Viktoria Syumar stressed that the law “is a danger not only for journalists, but for each Ukrainian citizen since it talks about anyone who uses information”.

She pointed out that all international institutions recommend that countries reject criminal liability for defamation.

“Returning criminal liability in such conditions would mean reinstating quite repressive mechanisms in Ukrainian legislation.”

She called on all those concerned to come on 1 October to Ukraine’s parliament to a demonstration against adoption of this draft law.

The Director of the Media Law Institute Taras Shevchenko stressed at the end of the press conference that there was a strong likelihood of the draft law being adopted in full.  He said that even though in fact most of the 244 “votes” in favour of the draft bill (from the ruling Party of the Regions, the Communists and Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn’s People’s Party) were not (as demanded by the Constitution – translator) physically present during the vote, there is a result and for the current regime it would be simple to show the result at the second reading.

He called the draft bill the best method for intimidating journalists. “It’s a very simply opportunity to initiate criminal proceedings, remove Internet publications’ servers, arrest people, imprison them and leave them with a criminal conviction, prohibit them from engaging in professional activities. You couldn’t imagine a worse law”.

The draft law introduced by Party of the Regions MP Vitaly Zhuravsky was passed in its first reading on 18 September. It 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. 

A nationwide protest began on Tuesday, 25 September, entitled “Stand up for your right to know. Say no to the libel law!”  A large number of prominent media publications have already joined. 

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