The sad spectacle of the libel law that lawmakers tried to enact is the latest attempt by a budding authoritarian regime to roll back democracy. To borrow one of the president’s favorite phrases, “it is no accident” that 244 members, or 54 percent, of parliament on Sept. 18 voted for a law that could imprison journalists and other citizens for insulting the dignity and honor of an individual.
With the courts and prosecutors used as political tools by the administration to attack rivals and critics, there is no doubt that such a libel law would be used to threaten any news organization that dared to investigate corruption or criticize officials or powerful businesspeople. It would keep media and regular citizens in a constant state of fear over saying or writing the wrong thing.
But Ukrainian journalists and others showed they will not let free speech die without a fight. News organizations coordinated their response with meetings, black website banners and white front pages, including today’s edition of the Kyiv Post. Journalists rang the alarm bells with the “white & black” protest. The website banner urged citizens to “Stand up for your right to know. Say no to the libel law.” Fortunately, Yanukovych was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week. He listened and responded correctly.