The Ukrainian government has passed the first draft of new legislation that could seriously curb Internet freedom and media in the country, says Reporters Without Borders.
The proposed law would allow Verkhovna Rada officials to block websites and close down media companies without a court order. Parliament approved the first reading on Tuesday with a second reading to follow later on Wednesday.
If approved, the new powers will be granted to the RNBO, or National Security and Defense Council to protect national and security interests.
Some of the restrictions highlighted in the draft are “limiting or banning the activity of media or other sources of information, including on the Internet”.
“banning the production or dissemination of any printed product or other informational content.”
The draft also makes mention of banning radio and TV stations.
Reporters Without Borders have highlighted the fast turnaround of the draft so far. It was first registered on August 8, with its first reading within days and “does not require consultation with civil society,” which means no media groups were consulted either.
“This bill’s definitive adoption would represent a major setback for freedom of information in Ukraine,” says Johann Bihr from Reporters Without Borders. “It gives the RNBO exorbitant powers to order the broadest forms of censorship on the basis of extremely vague criteria and with no safeguards.
“We urge parliamentarians to reject this bill on second reading, as it is incompatible with the government’s obligations to protect freedoms,” he added.
David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House has called the law “draconian”.
“While Ukraine is targeted with an unprecedented barrage of inciteful and willfully misleading stories on the airwaves, the Internet, and in print, this bill does not strike the right balance between security and human rights,” says Kramer. “It could easily lead to abusive and impermissible restrictions on fundamental human rights.”
“The Rada should also include Ukrainian civil society in this important debate on how to protect national interests and safeguard democracy.”