Ukrainian legislators propose scary Russia style restrictions on freedom of expression
Media and human rights groups have reacted with alarm to two draft bills which, in the name of protecting national security, propose some seriously disturbing restrictions which are reminiscent of those applied in Russia. They have called on the authors of the two bills to withdraw them, and point out that democracy is impossible in any countries whose authorities arbitrarily restrict freedom of expression.
No. 6676 was tabled on July 10, with No. 6688 following two days later. Both are titled “On amendments to some legislative acts on countering threats to national security in the information sphere’, and have virtually identical norms. They are, however, supposedly the work of two different groups of MPs (each time from the Bloc of President Petro Poroshenko and People’s Front), and are not presented as two alternative versions.
Both bills would allow for temporary blocking or restriction of access to information resources and / or Internet portals without a court order, on the authority of a prosecutor, investigator or the National Council for Security and Defence.
The Human Rights Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group issued a joint statement on July 13 in which they pointed to the dangerous broadening of the concept of ‘technological terrorism’ proposed. Both draft bills wish to extend the concept of technological terrorism to include action “aimed at infringing public safety; intimidating the population; provoking military conflict, international difficulties; influencing decision-making, the carrying out of actions or inaction of public authorities or local self-government bodies by officials of those bodies, civic associations, legal entities to attract public attention to the specific political, religious or other views of the perpetrator (terrorist)”.
This would mean, they point out, that any discussion about the decisions of the authorities aimed at influencing such decisions, that is, a vital part of democracy, were it to use the Internet, could be deemed ‘technological terrorism’. This is a grave encroachment upon one of the fundamental roles of the media, namely to draw attention to the failings, omissions, etc. of the authorities, and therefore, upon the right to freedom of expression. The draft bills are therefore in breach of Ukraine’s Constitution (Article 34) and of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Media representatives warned that both bills would jeopardize the free development of the Internet in Ukraine and create the danger of websites being arbitrarily blocked without court orders. In fact, such blocks without a court ruling would only be for two days, however this is clearly a dangerous precedent.
The bills propose new duties for operators and providers regarding such blocks, with fines envisaged if they failed to comply.
The authors accept that at a time of military conflict, the state may need to impose certain restrictions on freedom of the Internet for Ukraine’s security. These must, however, be legitimate, and here, they say, the authors of the bills have assumed both the methods and approach of the aggressor, namely the Russian Federation, on regulating the Internet.
The authors call for the bills to be withdrawn and for civic organizations that are not involved in business or linked to political parties to be invited for public discussion on legislative initiatives aimed at regulating the Internet.
This is not the first time that restrictive measures are being proposed with the justification be