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Ukraine18 July 2003

Dismay over passage of official secrets legislation

Reporters Without Borders today said it was appalled by parliament’s approval on 9 July of a law authorising the intelligence services to arrest journalists, raid their homes and practice body searches on them if they are suspected of wanting to reveal official secrets.

The new law, which needs President Kuchma’s signature to take effect, would put journalists even more at the mercy of abuses of authority and would threaten the confidentiality of their sources, the organisation said.

Calling the law an "abomination," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard accused parliament of violating the most elementary principles of press freedom by "choosing to give the intelligence services carte blanche to do as they will with journalists, especially those who report cases of corruption that could embarrass the authorities."

By failing to clearly define what constitutes an official secret, the law would serve as a "death sentence for investigative journalism," Ménard said. Ukrainian journalists were already working under the threat of censorship and physical attack. "Now they will have no choice but to take refuge in self-censorship, for fear of being arrested, searched and interrogated," he added.

The organisation called on the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union to do everything possible to convince President Kuchma to stop the legislation taking effect.

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