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Media Watchdogs Urge Ukraine Not To Criminalize Libel

Journalists display posters condemning media censorship by the government during a speech by President Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv on September 3.
International media watchdogs have urged Ukrainian lawmakers to reject a bill that would criminalize libel.

Ukraine's parliament this week tentatively approved a bill that could impose prison sentences of up to five years for defamation.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nongovernmental group, says the bill could "threaten the very existence of independent journalism."

Meanwhile, the media freedom representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also expressed concern on September 19 about the legislation.

Dunja Mijatovic urged lawmakers to reject the proposal, saying the criminalization of speech "means stifling debate and protecting public officials from criticism."

Mijatovic last week expressed similar concerns in a letter sent to Ukraine's foreign minister.

Watchdogs say media freedoms in Ukraine have come under threat since President Viktor Yanukovych was elected two years ago.

Based on reporting by AP and RFE/RL