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Ukrainian Journalists Protest Defamation Bill

  • RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

KYIV -- Around 100 Ukrainian journalists and activists gathered outside parliament in Kyiv on October 1 to protest a bill that criminalizes defamation.

The draft law, backed by the ruling Party of the Regions, proposes up to five years in jail for offenders.

Parliament passed the law in a first reading last month, but it was put on hold after the opposition and independent media denounced it as part of a crackdown on freedom of speech in the run-up to parliamentary elections on October 28.

Protesters held placards reading "Whatever People Think Of Government Is Defamation!" to express their concerns about censorship.

Other protesters, meanwhile, shouted antigovernment chants as members of parliament entered the parliament building.

Some demonstrators compared the controversial bill with Soviet-era laws that placed constraints on journalists covering the Afghan war and any other issues deemed taboo by the then-communist regime.

Demonstrators on October 1 also demanded parliament discuss withdrawing the bill in a session on October 2.

Andriy Yanitskyy, a coordinator of the protest action in Kyiv, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that journalists would organize more protests if their demands were not met.

PHOTO GALLERY: Protests against defamation in Kyiv

Yanitskyy, who also represents Ukraine's independent media labor unions, added that journalists were ready to organize an "all-Ukrainian strike" to stop the bill if necessary.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, speaking at a parliamentary committee meeting in Kyiv on October 1, said moves were being made to withdraw the bill from consideration.

"We will begin our work with a proposition to withdraw this bill from consideration so we can resolve this issue once and for all," he said.

Presidential envoy in parliament Yuriy Miroshnychenko said he would propose withdrawing the bill at a session of the parliament's Council of Congress later this month.

Miroshnychenko added that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych himself criticized the timing of the bill's proposal in parliament and called the move an error while talking to journalists in New York last week.

Yanukovych has come under fire from Western governments for backsliding on democracy and a trend toward greater authoritarianism since he came to power in February 2010.