Regions Party Withdraws Libel Legislation

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a stunning turnaround and following massive protests, the ruling Regions Party said Tuesday it will withdraw a controversial bill that introduces jail sentences for journalists who disseminate “libelous” information.


Vitaliy Zhuravskiy

The bill, seen by journalist organizations as an open attack on freedom of speech in Ukraine, was approved in the first reading a week ago.

A close inspection of the bill showed at least one key file had been drafted by the presidential administration, raising questions about President Viktor Yanukovych’s involvement in the matter.

The bill triggered massive protests from reporters in Ukraine that had printed names and contact information for 244 lawmakers that had voted in favor of the bill, urging voters to “call or email the deputies and ask them why they had supported the bill.” 

The developments led to Vitaliy Zhuravskiy, the Regions Party lawmaker and a sponsor of the controversial bill, to submit a new bill to Parliament that seeks to recall the first one.

“Taking into account all circumstances and coming out of state interests, I decided to recall my bill,” Zhuravskiy said in a statement released by the Regions Party.

“I understand that ahead of Parliamentary elections any initiative will be taken with fear and distrust at least.”

Serhiy Leshchenko, a journalist at Ukrayinska Pravda and a member of the protest, said the recall of the bill is a victory, but said the pressure on the government must continue.

“Today, after battling Zhuravskiy and the Regions Party for the libel bill, journalists managed to win couple centimeters of lost over the past three years space of freedom,” Leshchenko wrote on his blog.

“The main thing is not to stop this.”

“Also, we have to remember well for many years ahead those who have wanted to put us in jails,” he said.

The development comes as Yanukovych has been in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, and facing criticism for reducing democracy and freedoms in Ukraine.

His visit came only three days after the U.S. Senate has voted to approve a resolution that calls for the release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been sentenced to seven years in jail.

The resolution also called on the Department of State to institute visa bans on those Ukrainian officials who had been involved in the imprisonment of Tymoshenko. 

The approval of the resolution came as a surprise for the Ukrainian government, which has apparently expected the issue to linger for months and definitely until after October 28 parliamentary elections in Ukraine.

The resolution condemned the “selective and politically motivated” prosecution and imprisonment of Tymoshenko.

It also expresses “deep concern” the continued detention of Tymoshenko “threatens to jeopardize ties” between the United States and Ukraine.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

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