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"Ukraine is not Russia": Where Freedom of Speech Lives

Author : Olexiy Buriachenko

In this article I want to express my point of view regarding the latest events linked with the oppression of freedom of speech in the Russian Federation. But the most important thing that interests me is whether such a scenario will happen again in Ukraine, given the recently registered bill No.10139
22:39, 20 March 2019

uschamberfoundation.org


Recent events in the Russian Federation regarding the oppression of freedom of speech are important not only for Russians, but also for Ukrainians in the context of an adequate understanding of what is happening in the aggressor state and what effect it can have on freedom of speech in Ukraine, given the bill No. 10139 registered in parliament by MP Igor Lapin (Narodnyi Front faction), which provides criminal liability for the deliberate or accidental distribution of false information in the media and the Internet.

 But first, let’s talk about the realities of freedom of speech in Russia.

"You criticize the power - you are punished according to the law on insulting the power, you praise the power - you are punished according to the law on fake news."

Such are the realities that citizens of the Russian Federation will definitely feel, since on March 18, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a package of laws on fake news and punishment for publicly speaking with disrespect for the authorities.

A few words about these laws and their adoption.

March 7, 2019 the State Duma of Russia in its third and final reading adopted a package of the aforementioned bills. So,

Draft No. 606593-7: 322 (72%) - “for”, 78 - “against”, 0 - “abstained”;

Draft No. 606594-7: 327 (73%) - “for”, 40 - “against”, 1 - “abstained”;

Draft No. 606595-7: 327 (73%) - for, 79 - against, 0 - abstained;

Draft No. 606596-7: 323 (72%) - “for”, 43 - “against”, 0 – “abstained”.

March 13, 2019, the bills successfully passed the Council of Federation (149 senators - for, 3 - against, 3 - abstained).

But after March 7, no one had any doubts about the bills passing the Council of the Federation or signing by Putin himself.

On March 18, the laws on amendments to the laws "On Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information" and "On Amendments to the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation" were published on the official portal of legal information of the Russian Federation.

These laws state that Roskomnadzor has obtained the right, under the sanction of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, to demand that site owners delete news that they consider unreliable. The Prosecutor General’s Office received the right to block false news and to fine their distributors.

The amount of the fine will be from 30 thousand to 1.5 million rubles (from 454 dollars to 22.7 thousand dollars). It also provides for administrative arrest for up to 15 days.

The corresponding amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses indicated that the dissemination of information expressing "obvious disrespect for society, the state, official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation or authorities exercising state power in the Russian Federation" is equal to petty hooliganism and entails a fine (from 454 dollars to 22.7 thousand dollars) or arrest up to 15 days.

It should also be noted that during the final adoption of this package of bills, the opposition deputies of the Duma subjected it to considerable public criticism, but, predictably, this did not affect the results of the voting.

The Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) also called on the Federation Council to reject bills on punishing fake news and insulting the authorities in the form adopted by the State Duma and sending it back for revision within the Conciliation Commission.

On Monday, March 11, the HRC sent expert opinions to the Federation Council that criticize these two initiatives.

According to the HRC experts, the concept of "false information", the dissemination of which is prohibited by the first law, implies "the presumption that state control bodies ... know absolute truth", "however, as is known from philosophy, truth is always relative."

In addition, the law “sets an extremely difficult task of law enforcement,” since the wording “knowingly false information” stipulates that the person who disseminated it owned “exact knowledge” that it does not correspond to reality.

In general, the category of authenticity "has a rather indirect relation to the objective truth of information and much more to the trust" of its source.

This, in their opinion, may entail the fact that "the court will have to consider such far-away from law issues as faith and trust", which "will inevitably lead" to the violation of citizens' rights to freedom of receiving and spreading information, freedom of speech, opinions and media.

Moreover, so that no one has any illusions that the adoption of this law in the Russian Federation went unnoticed, on March 10 in Moscow thousands of Russians went to the rally with inscriptions  “No censorship”, “Isolation is death”, etc. on their posters.

Related: Either pension reform, or collapse of social security system in 10 years in Ukraine
 

All ended with the detention of about twenty protesters for "blue balloons", law enforcement officers suggested that these were drones for intelligence purposes... That's it.

Evaluation. When writing this part of the material, I tried to be as objective as possible, so I gave a lot of numbers, percentages and direct links, deliberately not expressing my point of view. And now I will express it.

Fake, disrespect, state, government, society - these are words that mask the meaning of these laws! In fact, they are aimed at protecting the highest officials of the state from harsh criticism.

A similar situation was in 1990, when the Kukly program on NTV sharply criticized the highest state officials. As a result, the law “On the protection of the honor and dignity of the president of the USSR” appeared.

We all remember very well how it ended for the USSR...

Both neglect of human rights and absolute disregard for the norms of international law further lower the Russian Federation into the abyss of both international and domestic isolation.

Ordinary citizens and authorities in the Russian Federation are completely different people! One can have offshore accounts, and the other - cheese counter-sanctions, one - foreign education and business, and the other - 15 days for blue balloons ... Sometimes it seems to me that they even speak different languages, so they do not understand each other.

It only remains to launch Russian internal web and social network named "Cheburashka", and we can assume that the Russian authorities heroically did everything possible to protect their citizens from the "harmful influence of the West" ...

Putin is trying to compensate the largest loss of electoral positions in the history of his ruling by repressive laws and isolationist foreign policy.

“Disguise as a peacemaker state, manifestation of patriotism while giving priority to external goals over internal problems and, as a desired consequence, the inevitable return of the geopolitical domination of the great Russian Empire in the world” is the ideology of “internal consumption” that is broadcasting through federal TV channels, and any other alternative opinion is a fake, a lie or even worse - deliberate public false information with a manifestation of particular cynicism, aggression and disrespect for all society, the authorities and the state ...

Only one conclusion. And the conclusion is not mine, but the generally accepted laws of physics.

If the pressure force in a closed sphere reaches a critical level - there will inevitably be an explosion.

But we, as they say, would not allow this to happen with freedom of speech in our country...

 And now about our realities of freedom of speech in Ukraine.

For Ukraine, the main thing now is freedom of speech in the media. Through them, millions of Ukrainians receive information daily.

Unfortunately, the realities are troubling, especially in the context of draft law No. 10139. This bill, registered on March 12, 2019, provides criminal liability for intentional or accidental dissemination of false information in the media and the Internet.

Thus, the draft law, in particular, proposes to supplement the Criminal Code of Ukraine with a new article, introducing criminal responsibility for disseminating false information in the media or in Internet discrediting the honor and dignity of other people (sanction is a fine of up to UAH 8500 (312 USD) or public works up to 80 hours, or correctional work up to 1 year).

Also, a fine of 8,500 to 17,000 UAH (625 USD) or public works up to 120 hours, or correctional work up to 1 year can threaten violators if the dissemination of false information is related to a charge of committing a grave or especially grave crime or crime committed during the electoral process regarding:

 - MPs candidates;

- party members;

- candidates for the presidency of Ukraine.

If deliberate dissemination of obviously inaccurate information associated with an accusation of committing a grave or especially grave crime or committed during the electoral process, the penalty may range from 34,000 (1250 USD) to 51,000 UAH (1875 USD) or be punished with public works for up to 240 hours, or correctional work to 2 years.

The draft law also proposes an amendment to the Civil Code, which establishes the possibility to consider cases of protection of honor, dignity and business reputation in a simplified proceeding, and also provides for reduced terms of judicial review.

The draft law provides for the right of the court to decide on a temporary (until the end of the electoral process) suspension of the license, a temporary ban (until the end of the electoral process) of the print edition.

Such legislative initiatives on the part of a people's deputy, a representative of the Narodnyi Front party, are at least strange.

Related: Ukraine imposes sanctions against 848 individuals and 294 legal entities, involved in Russian aggression in Crimea and Donbas
 

MPs, the party that was actually created on the Maidan, struggled with Yanukovych’s “draconian laws”, which defended the rights of individual citizens and the whole nation on its own pro-European path, are now applying for registration a no less controversial legal act ...

Thus, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in its Recommendation No. R (99) 15 on media coverage of election campaigns, notes that any legislative restrictions on election coverage must comply with the principle of freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The European Court in its practice, including regarding Ukraine, has repeatedly stressed the importance of the existence of a free political discussion, especially during elections, and noted that Article 10 of the European Convention does not prohibit discussion or dissemination of the information received, even if there are serious doubts about its authenticity, or information turns out to be unreliable, despite bona fide verification by journalists.

Ukrainian human rights activists and media representatives expressed their vision of this bill in a joint statement: “Such legislative initiatives can serve as a dangerous tool for censorship and pressure on independent media.

Even the threat of criminal liability creates a “chilling effect” for the dissemination of socially important information, because any investigation of abuse or corruption will have the risk of receiving a response to a crime. ”

Only thanks to freedom on the Internet, a revolution took place in Ukraine - people were united by a network that Yanukovych could not control.

Attention

In this article I tried to describe objectively and realistically that “dangerous practice” of lawmaking, which is now taking place in the Russian Federation, and its possible consequences.

And the most important thing is to warn against repeating mistakes that can cost much to our young but very ambitious country!

I am deeply convinced that it is preventive actions aimed at raising the political awareness of citizens will have a much better effect than the introduction of criminal responsibility and additional state regulatory mechanisms in the media sphere.

Related: Ukraine to demand setting date of prisoners exchange at Trilateral Contact Group meeting

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