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Ukraine21 November 2003

Warning of risk of abuse over Internet regulation

Reporters Without Borders urges Ukrainian prime minister Victor Yanukovych to hold discussions with specialist Internet and freedom of expression organisations.

The Ukrainian Parliament gave a first reading on 18 November to a draft law "on activities in the sphere of informatisation". The text, which leaves wide scope for interpretation, gives the authorities new legal judicial means to censor on-line publications. It comes hard on the heels of other measures undertaken by the Ukrainian authorities to establish their control of the Net.

Reporters Without Borders calls on Ukrainian prime minister Victor Yanukovych to hold discussions with specialist Internet and freedom of expression organisations. "Parliament is adopting laws which are too ambiguous to guarantee freedom of expression on the Internet," said Robert Ménard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. "The draft law in this field should include safeguards against abusive censorship by the government. We consider that this type of law should be worked out in discussion with representatives of civil society so that the reason of state does not trample on individual freedoms," he added.

Among the provisions of the draft law is one that forbids publication of documents "damaging constitutional order, containing libellous information about anyone" or aiming "to promote terrorism". The bill was adopted at first reading by 260 votes out of 335.

The editor-in-chief at Internet magazine UA-today, Serhiy Morhun, said he did not think the magazine could keep going once the new law came into effect. He feared it would mean many of the major Internet media relocating abroad.

Ukrainian intelligence services had pushed the government into putting a draft law to Parliament on 19 August that aimed to legalise the registering and interception of Internet and telephone telecommunications. Officially this draft law was intended to introduce telecommunications surveillance to fight crime in conformity with European standards.

A further debate has also been launched on the management of the Ukrainian Internet. The company Hostmaster Ltd took the Ukrainian government court on 22 July to halt the transfer of management of domain names in UA to the information centre on Ukrainian cyberspace, a body in which the secret services have a role. The court dismissed the case in mid-November. Hostmaster Ltd has decided to appeal.

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