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OSCE: Ukraine’s decommunisation laws threaten media freedom

May 18, 2015, 21:26 UTC+3
Dunja Mijatovic, media representative of the OSCE also commented on the law "on the legal status and honouring of fighters for Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century"
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Supporters of the Ukrainian Communist Party attend a rally on May 1

Supporters of the Ukrainian Communist Party attend a rally on May 1

© EPA/TASS/ROMAN PILIPEY

VIENNA, May 18. /TASS/. Ukraine’s new law banning propaganda and symbols for "totalitarian Communist and Nazi regimes", recently signed by President Petro Poroshenko, poses a potential threat to free expression and free media, a leading figure in Europe's main security and rights watchdog OSCE said on Monday.

"It is discouraging for freedom of expression and media freedom advocates that the law has gone into effect, despite various calls to safeguard these basic rights," Dunja Mijatovic, media representative of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a statement.

Mijatovic warned that "broadly and vaguely defined language that restricts individuals from expressing views on past events and people, could easily lead to suppression of political, provocative and critical speech, especially in the media".

She also commented on a separate law "on the legal status and honouring of fighters for Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century", also signed by Poroshenko last week.

The law "introduces liability for publicly expressing disrespect for certain groups of fighters for Ukrainian independence in the 20th century and criminalizes public denial of the legitimacy of their fight for Ukraine’s independence", the statement said.

"Contested information and potentially problematic speech should not be banned, on the contrary, it should be addressed through an open debate, "Mijatovic said, noting that the media "is a vital element of a healthy democracy and its role should be respected at all times".

"Disproportionate restrictions on media freedom can never be justified in a democratic state and Ukraine’s significant progress in this area should be preserved, not undermined," she said.

Mijatovic also pointed to the fact that representatives from civil society had not been given the opportunity to participate in public discussions about the laws.

President Poroshenko signed the laws on decommunisation on May 15. Besides the legislation "on condemnation of the Communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and banning of propaganda of their symbols", he also signed the laws "on access to archives of the agencies of repression of the Communist totalitarian regime 1917-1991", "on the perpetuation of victory over Nazism in World War Two 1939-1945, and "on the legal status and honouring of fighters for Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century".

"The documents outlaw Soviet symbols, condemn the Communist regime, open access to the archives of Soviet security services and recognise Ukraine’s Insurgent Army (UPA) and other organisations as fighters for Ukraine’s independence," Porosheko’s press service said.

The laws were adopted by 254 votes in favour in Kiev’s 450-member parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on April 9.

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