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EU calls on Ukraine not to rush with adoption of slander bill

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Sept. 20, 2012, 7:24 p.m. | Ukraine — by Interfax-Ukraine

People listen to speakers during a rally in support of independent TVi channel in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Some 1,000 activists demanded the cases against TVi Channel be dropped and that the government stops pressure on independent media.
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Brussels – The European Union has called on the Ukrainian authorities not to rush into amending the Criminal Code by criminalizing encroachments on people's honor and dignity, especially before the parliamentary elections.

Brussels is aware of the first reading vote on the relevant bill in the Ukrainian parliament, Interfax-Ukraine learned from the European Commission on Thursday.

"The criticism voiced by parliamentary experts gives us reason to raise concerns about the possible inconsistence [of the proposed amendments] with freedom of speech, as well as with the obligations Ukraine undertook before the Council of Europe," the European Commission said.

The European Commission also said that the amendments would be evaluated by experts from the OSCE and the Council of Europe to check whether they are in line with European standards.

"We are waiting for their conclusions, which should be completely accepted [by the Ukrainian authorities]. At the same time, we are calling on the Ukrainian authorities not to rush in this delicate case, especially during the election campaign," the European Commission said.

According to earlier reports, the Ukrainian parliament has passed at first reading a bill proposed by Vitaliy Zhuravsky, a member of the Regions Party parliamentary faction, on amendments to the Ukrainian Criminal Code and the Ukrainian Criminal Procedure Code toughening liability for encroachments on people's honor, dignity, and business reputation. The document proposes adding Article 145-1 titled "Slander" to the Ukrainian Criminal Code.

On Sept. 18, the Ukrainian parliament's human rights ombudsman, Valeria Lutkovska, issued an address to the parliament administration, saying the sanctions proposed by the bill are excessive and may considerably restrict freedom of speech and freedom of the mass media.

The international organization Reporters Without Borders has called on the Ukrainian parliament to decline the bill in the second reading. Representatives of some Ukrainian journalistic organizations believe the bill should be taken off the parliament agenda and should not be amended.

Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Valery Khoroshkovsky said he believes it is premature to pass a law on slander. Yuriy Miroshnychenko, presidential envoy in the parliament (Regions Party faction), said he doubts there is a need to pass the bill, especially before the parliamentary elections.

The Ukrainian opposition believes the bill is in line with the tendencies towards a reduction in the freedom of speech in Ukraine.

At the same time, Zhuravsky said he had drawn on European experience when he worked on the bill, and that he will not remove it from the agenda.

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