Poroshenko law­mak­ers seek crim­i­nal­iza­tion of defama­tion

Kyiv Post - - National - BY VY­ACH­ESLAV HNATYUK [email protected]

As Ukraini­ans cel­e­brate the fiveyear an­niver­sary of the start of the Euro­Maidan Rev­o­lu­tion that ad­vanced free­doms and rid the peo­ple of Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, law­mak­ers on Nov. 20 qui­etly sub­mit­ted to par­lia­ment a draft law that would crim­i­nal­ize slan­der and li­bel.

Three Ukrainian law­mak­ers from the 135-seat pro-pres­i­den­tial Bloc of Petro Poroshenko in the Verkhovna Rada sub­mit­ted the draft law on defama­tion. The au­thors are Mykola Pala­marchuk, Ar­tur Palat­nyi, and Oleh Ve­likin.

How­ever, Hro­madske news or­ga­ni­za­tion, cit­ing pres­i­den­tial press sec­re­tary Svy­atoslav Tsegolko, said Poroshenko is against the pro­posal and also that the fac­tion will not sup­port such a change.

While English-lan­guage law fre­quently de­fines li­bel as writ­ten defama­tion and slan­der as spo­ken, the new pro­posed law uses the word to broadly con­tain all defama­tion.

This is the 11th at­tempt to crim­i­nal­ize defama­tion since 2001, when it was re­moved as a crim­i­nal of­fense. The old crim­i­nal code was in force for more than 40 years — from 1960 to 2001 — and pre­served many Soviet prac­tices.

Pala­marchuk has per­sonal mo­ti­va­tion, ac­cord­ing to LB.ua, a news por­tal. The law­maker got bad press af­ter his per­sonal aide was named as a sus­pected go-be­tween in or­der­ing the killing of anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivist Kateryna Gandz­iuk.

Gandz­iuk died on Nov. 4, months af­ter she was at­tacked with acid on July 31 in Kher­son, a city of 290,000 peo­ple lo­cated 550 kilo­me­ters south of Kyiv.

How­ever, Pala­marchuk told LB.ua he did not be­lieve his draft law would be passed. “I just want to… raise the at­ten­tion of so­ci­ety to the prob­lem of the lack of penal­ties for defama­tion,” he said.

An­other of the co-au­thors of the bill, Palat­nyi, told the Kyiv Post that the lack of crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment for li­bel and slan­der was “killing so­ci­ety and the coun­try” al­low­ing slan­der with im­punity.

He said his bill is dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous bills on defama­tion, as “those bills were di­rected against jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists, whereas we stand against those politi­cians and bu­reau­crats who spread lies.”

How­ever, a Kyiv Post re­view of the bill found that the penalty for defama­tion cases in­creases if it’s re­pub­lished, ei­ther on­line or off­line, mean­ing that it can se­verely af­fect the me­dia too.

Palat­nyi said the bill was not per­fect, but that it would be im­proved when dis­cussed in par­lia­ment com­mit­tees and will then pro­tect “the honor and dig­nity of each Ukrainian.” He said so­ci­ety needs the bill be­cause peo­ple are tired of the me­dia brand­ing the same peo­ple first “he­roes, and then bribe-tak­ers.”

Palat­nyi him­self faced a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2013 and neg­a­tive me­dia cov­er­age, which he said was due to the wrong­do­ings of the regime of ousted for­mer Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych and his as­so­ci­ates.

The bill pro­poses that a new arti- cle on defama­tion be added to the Crim­i­nal Code.

The sug­gested def­i­ni­tion of the of­fense aligns with the English def­i­ni­tion of defama­tion: “in­ten­tion­ally spread­ing man­i­festly false in­for­ma­tion that dis­hon­ors an­other per­son or tar­nishes his or her rep­u­ta­tion.”

Those found guilty can face up to three years in prison and in­def­i­nite pro­hi­bi­tion. The bill’s au­thors say the leg­is­la­tion is in line with that of the United States, and ma­jor Euro­pean coun­tries like France and Ger­many.

How­ever, the cur­rent text of the law does not spec­ify the same high thresholds of proof that are stip­u­lated in the li­bel laws of Western democ­ra­cies.

In the United States, for ex­am­ple, a politi­cian su­ing some­one for li­bel needs to prove ac­tual mal­ice, which is a high le­gal bench­mark to meet.

And while in its ed­i­to­rial guide­lines the UK’s na­tional broad­caster the BBC rec­og­nizes li­bel or defama­tion to be the “big­gest le­gal pit­fall re­lat­ing to the BBC’s out­put, with se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial con­se­quences,” it also says that there are good chances to fend off li­bel claims in court if broad­cast­ers “have good ev­i­dence to back up what they say.”

Left to right: Law­mak­ers Mykola Pala­marchuk, Ar­tur Gerasi­mov, Ar­tur Palat­nyi, and Mustafa Nayyem speak dur­ing a par­lia­ment ses­sion on Jan. 19, 2018. (UNIAN)

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