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Return of slander

27 September, 00:00
Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1996

When the bill on returning the article about “Slander” was registered last July in the Verkhovna Rada, it made everyone think about Russia and MPs of the State Duma who had recently reinforced the responsibility for this article. “Unfortunately, the Ukrainian authorities are copying the worst from the modern Russian politics,” an independent journalist from Moscow Semen Novoprudsky commented. Back then some members of the Party of Regions refused to have anything to do with Vitalii Zhuravsky’s bill referring to his private initiative and excessive enthusiasm. Everything changed on The Day of voting... In the first reading all of them unanimously supported returning “slander” into the Ukrainian Criminal Code. We remind our readers that the article about “slander” existed within the Soviet Criminal Code of 1960 and was excluded only in 2001 when its new version was prepared. And what we have today is that they suggest putting people into prison for breaking this article.

The Ukrainian community and journalists mobilized quite quickly. On September 25 an action against this bill started on the Internet. Numerous websites placed a large black banner reading “Protect your right to know. Say no to the law on slander” at their webpages. On October 2, The Day of the pre-last plenary session of the Verkhovna Rada of the current convocation, a meeting near the building of the parliament has been planned.

“This bill concerns not only journalists but all people and is the threat for the public society since any public utterance or commentary in media can be reduced to a slander if the court decides that it might denigrate someone’s honor and dignity,” the common journalists’ declaration emphasized.

However, it should be noted that the reaction of the Party of Regions to the bill on returning of “slander” was ambiguous. Hanna Herman declared last week in a talk-show that the president would not sign this bill, the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Petro Poroshenko expressed his negative attitude towards it, the Vice-Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov assured journalists that “there cannot be any criminal responsibility for journalists. There is no any common sense in it, it is utter idiocy,” he said as cited by the edition Dnipropetrovsk. Komentari. “The President Viktor Yanukovych will never sign this bill as it is.”

Does it mean that they decided to slow down at the top? On the other hand, she should hardly believe that “the president will never sign it.” We are speaking about one team whose actions are very successive.

However, human rights activists claim that regulations about slander exist in the European legislation. Another question is how it can be used in Ukraine...

“The criminalization of slander (spreading untruthful information) does not contradict the European Convention on the Human Rights Protection and main liberties,” the human rights activist Dmytro Groisman commented to The Day. “In most European countries slander is a criminal activity. However, they do not have problems with this law because courts use its norms correctly. The law on slander does not concern spreading information about public officers or issues that make public interest. Also slanderers are not punished if they are unaware of spreading misleading information. The main problem of adopting this law in Ukraine would be the level of dependence of courts and their adequateness,” Groisman continued. “Adopting a similar law will result in many people being unjustly convicted and those who should be punished will not be. The wording of the law on slander is quite indulgent and tolerant but it cannot be adopted in our today’s conditions.”

“In the time of the USSR the norm of law on slander was very simple: any criticism of the then authorities was taken as slander,” former prisoner of the Soviet concentration camps Myroslav Marynovych says. “This norm was only applied to fight democratic principles. The Ukrainian authorities do not want to be disclosed and criticized,” the human rights activist says. “That is why they want to renew the norm that disgraced the Soviet Union back than. Criminalization of slander will result into reducing democratic liberties and making public criticism of the power impossible. This law is restoration of the totalitarian regime and at the same time a step towards the rebirth of the Soviet Union, which leader of our eastern neighbor Vladimir Putin is dreaming of.”

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, Maria TOMAK, The Day



Oleksandra DVORETSKA, chairwoman of the Crimean Human Rights Organization “Diya”:

“Adopting the so-called bill on slander is actually refusing progressive European tendencies of law development and a step towards Asia. It is the next step against freedom of the Ukrainian patriots after the law on languages, which has significantly reduced the possibilities of national development. Actually it means returning to the Soviet law system where there was the ‘article 123’ and criminal responsibility for slander. Introducing such restrictions will mean a huge step backwards in people’s freedom to express their views. The modern version of this law concerns not only professional journalists, but also users of blogs and social networks. The practice of criminal responsibility for publishing one’s thoughts and assessments, real facts from life and activity of authority representatives is putting pressure not only upon independent journalists and activists doing journalism, but the whole society since the freedom of speech is not a privilege for journalists, but intrinsic civil right for truthful information of all members of society in free countries. The possibility of getting a real term for freedom of expressing views and journalists’ investigations is a feature of the totalitarian regime not to mention that it contradicts international standards of people’s freedom and freedom of speech. With the dependent judiciary, repressive law enforcement bodies and prosecution, which tends to mainly accuse, any critical material might be interpreted as slander and its author might be brought to criminal responsibility.”


Semen NOVOPRUDSKY, independent journalist (Moscow):

“The law on slander was adopted in Russia not long time ago that is why there were no resonant cases connected with it. However, there is a fear that this law will be used to prosecute any criticism. Also this article can be used to get rid of some deputies of the State Duma who will not lose their mandates through business. For instance, now there is a scandal with one of the most famous opposition MPs Ilya Ponomariov who used a phrase ‘A party of thieves and criminals’ about Yedinaya Rossiya. Now they are going to deprive him of the right to speak till the end of the current session. There is a fear that as soon as he is deprived of his mandate, an action for slander will be brought before the court. Now there are not any resonant cases, but it is more or less clear how this situation will develop. The article about slander gives a possibility to file lawsuits against any critics of the governing party and executive power. This article is complicated and terms vary, but they are real. It gives a possibility to get rid of people: fire them from the government position or the State Duma. It is important that this is a real mechanism to get rid of political opponents in power.

“As for media, most of them are not opposition that is why we should not say that this law will affect them. At the same time the adopted law allows putting websites into black lists and this is why Internet editions which are mostly opposition might have problems. Being a media the most difficult to be censured it might suffer not that much from the law but from the attack on the Internet.

“The Ukrainian authorities, unfortunately, are copying the worst features of the Russian politics. Certainly, the law on slander will be used in Ukraine against Yanukovych’s political opponents and media. In a country, where democracy and law enforcement bodies are doubtful, in this sense Ukraine and Russia are similar, this law is additional political pressure.”

Prepared by Kateryna YAKOVLENKO, The Day, Donetsk; Mykola SEMENA, The Day, Simferopol; Hanna CHEREVKO, The Day


Party of Regions called off Defamation law

After considering all the circumstances and following the state interest the Party of Regions deputy Vitalii Zhuravsky decided to call off his draft law on libel and defamation, which was approved by the Parliament in the first reading. This was reported by the press service of the Party of Regions. “I understand that in the time before the elections to the Verkhovna Rada any initiative is perceived, at least, with fear and distrust,” explained the author of the draft law the reasons for making such decision. MP also said that he hopes that this project will have the support in the future. “For now I have decided to call off this issue legally, but not politically. I stick to the same political positions and beliefs: our society really needs to establish the level of responsibility for attacks on the honor and dignity of every person, not just politicians,” said the deputy. Zhuravsky plans to improve the bill through roundtable discussions with journalists, academics, and human rights activists. “After extensive discussion and reaching the common vision for the future of the bill I am going to suggest it again to the Parliament,” stated the member of Party of Regions. “Zhuravsky made the decision to call off the bill not by chance. He heard about my position on this issue, and the position of his party. Such decisions can not be made in haste,” said Viktor Yanukovych to journalists in New York. After Zhuravsky’s bill was approved in the first reading on September 18 journalists and human rights activists formed a resistance group. Contacts of all the deputies who voted for this bill were published on social networks and everyone who wanted to write to them and ask why they are against the freedom of speech could do so. In several cities there also took place journalists rallies.

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