Freedom House Calls on Ukraine to Put Stop to Criminal Defamation Bill
Freedom House condemns the initiative to recriminalize defamation in Ukraine and calls on the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) to remove the bill from consideration. On September 18, a majority of parliament deputies voted in favor of the law, which its sponsor said was an effort to rein in journalists in the lead-up to Ukraine’s October 28 parliamentary elections and could lead to jail time, fines, and other restrictions.
“With this newest initiative to recriminalize defamation, we’re seeing a clear and concerted effort to restrict free expression and free coverage of the electoral campaign in Ukraine, ” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “What is more, the judiciary’s dependence on the government and the recent spate of politically charged prosecutions raises serious questions about whether journalists will receive fair treatment.”
If adopted, the defamation law would roll back reforms that were passed in 2001. Persons who are convicted could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to approximately $18, 000, and could be banned from working as a journalist for several years. Journalists, bloggers, and others have expressed concern that the law is vague, could be easily abused, and would discourage full reporting on public policy issues, business, and the government. While the law’s author, Rada member Vitaly Zhuravsky, announced that he would seek to recall the proposal following public outcry, it was not clear if it would actually be recalled. Zhuravsky also said that increasing penalties for defamation remained a priority for him, and he indicated that his proposal to recriminalize defamation would be reconsidered after the election.
The past several months have seen a number of worrying developments for press freedom and the freedom of expression in Ukraine. TVi, a station prominent for its coverage of the political opposition, has seen its viewership erode after private cable companies were pressured to limit its distribution. The magazine Tizhden (Ukrainian Week) reports that it is facing similar pressure as print outlets across the country stopped carrying it, and in some cases entire print runs of the magazine were mysteriously purchased.
“Ukraine’s European partners should be asking Ukraine hard questions about these worrying developments and should make it clear that there’s no place in Europe for intimidation and persecution of the media, ” Kramer said.
Freedom House recently conducted an assessment of the democratic and human rights situation in Ukraine, which highlighted concerns that space for freedom of the press is shrinking and that the independence of media from political and business influence was seriously under threat.
Ukraine was rated Partly Free in Freedom of the World 2012, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties, is ranked Partly Free inFreedom of the Press 2012, and Free in Freedom on the Net 2012.