Against the libel law


Around 300 journalists and other concerned members of the public picketed parliament on Monday morning demanding that the draft law recriminalizing libel be properly withdrawn. 

The draft law, tabled by Party of the Regions MP Vitaly Zhuravsky, was adopted in its first reading on 18 September.  The proposal to reintroduce criminal liability for “libel” has been condemned widely both within Ukraine and abroad.  Zhuravsky had even said that the law needed to be passed before the elections making it abundantly clear who hoped to benefit from its adoption.  Indeed journalists outside parliament on Monday held banners reading “It’s MPs who need the libel law” and “all that the people think about the government is defamatory”.

The protesters are adamant that failure to fully withdraw this draft law will indicate

-  the wish by the ruling majority to reinstate repressive mechanisms of control of society, political opponents and journalists;

-  a sharp deterioration in the conditions for running an election campaign;

-  a serious reduction in freedom of speech and encroachment on journalists’ rights;

-  failure to observe a number of Ukraine’s international obligations.

Following the first day of concentrated protest throughout the country, Zhuravsky last week announced that he was “revoking” his bill.  In fact, however, as the Party of the Regions which published his statement was well aware, the bill can only now be withdrawn by a vote in the Verkhovna Rada.  There are two occasions before the elections when this is possible.

It is known that the Party of the Regions is in support of the bill which would return libel / 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. 

As of Monday evening, Party of the Regions MPs were promising that the bill would be rescinded at a session of parliament on 2 October.  This came at the end of a day which brought very conflicting reports, so there is no intention of easing protest.

Photos from Ukrainska Pravda

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