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Ukraine11 October 2005

Government rescinds decree requiring online publications to register

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the Ukrainian transport and telecommunication ministry’s decision to rescind a May 2005 decree requiring online publications to register with the authorities. The requirement was a threat to free expression and had been criticised by many local news media and organisations.

The ministry said the decree had been rescinded because it did not respect “the principles of state regulatory policy in the field of IT development."

Aside from a few repressive countries such as China, only Bahrain has made it obligatory for online publications to register. Reporters Without Borders and the representative on freedom of the media of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) took a clear position on this issue in a joint statement about online free expression in June.

They said: “Any requirement to register websites with governmental authorities is not acceptable. Unlike licensing scarce resources such as broadcasting frequencies, an abundant infrastructure like the Internet does not justify official assignment of licenses. On the contrary, mandatory registration of online publications might stifle the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and information on the Internet.”

Adoption of decree on online registration worrying

26 May 2005

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at a new decree governing registration of websites, put forward by the Ministry of Transport and Communication, that has already come under attack from the Ukrainian media.

Compulsory registration has so far been adopted only by countries that trample free expression, such as China and Vietnam, the organisation pointed out.

"This step could damage freedom of expression on the Internet. We will be watching closely to see that this registration procedure does not become obligatory for private websites," the organisation said.

To be allowed to appear, sites must not call for "a change of government through violence" or support "terrorism", not damage individuals’ "honour", "dignity" or "reputation" and not post "swear words" or pornographic content. Reporters Without Borders said the language is however too vague to guarantee press freedom if it were to be applied to private websites.

The decree, adopted on 18 May, also specifies that an "administrator" will decide on the registration of the website, opening the way to administrative censorship of the Internet, said the organisation.

"The way the decree is worded appears to suggest that all electronic media - private and public - will be forced to register in future. A recent statement from the Ministry of Transport and Communication that it would only be compulsory for government-run sites, has not completely reassured us," it said.

"We therefore wish to make our position clear on this. Demanding that those running private sites make themselves known to the authorities, linking their registration to a series of vague conditions, will push most of them into secrecy and others into self-censorship. In any case this type of measure should be debated by U kraine’s parliament and not the subject of a simple government decree," it said.

The decree, put forward by the ministry on 27 April, came into effect on 18 May after it was registered with the Justice Ministry. It appeared to have been drawn up originally for both public and private sites, but then declared optional when it provoked strong criticism.

Among internal critics is director general of the legal consulting firm Media House, Mykola Kniazhytski, who called it "an absurd attempt to introduce Internet censorship". "Only a court can punish people who break laws on the Internet," he said.

Bahrain recently introduced a similar measure but appears likely to agree to amendments following widespread criticism.

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