Kiev, Ukraine. The fallout from a ban on free speech in Ukraine is attracting a lot of attention Kiev could live without as a number of organizations are calling for intervention in what they see as a neo-Nazi, corrupt-oligarchy out of control.
Claiming Russian cyberattacks as a national security threat, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on Tuesday banning popular Russian social media sites, as well as Russian websites and news outlets, for three years.
“I urge all compatriots to immediately get out of Russian servers for reasons of security,” Poroshenko wrote in a farewell statement as he closed his own VK page on Tuesday.
Ukrainian internet service providers would be required to block access to internet companies that are on a government sanctions list. The decree includes an appendix with a widely expanded list of individuals and companies under sanction in Ukraine. Experts said it would be hard to enforce.
The move was part of a comprehensive cyber sanctions package against Moscow, which included a ban on VKontakte, or VK, a popular Russian-language social media site in Ukraine that is, in effect, an Eastern European version of Facebook.
Oksana Romaniuk, executive director of Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information, told Human Rights Watch that the government had not provided a valid justification for why such a broad ban on online companies was necessary. She also insisted that the decree would be hard to enforce without changing the law. Currently, only a court can order internet service providers to take action against a website.
Ukraine is VK’s second-largest market after Russia. About 12 million Ukrainians use VK each month, representing roughly 29 percent of Ukraine’s overall population of 42 million.
The head of Ukraine’s internet association, Oleksandr Fedienko, said in a media interview that Ukrainian internet service providers don’t have the technical ability to block Russian social media and news websites. He also said the ban would be ineffective due to a variety of ways to circumvent online censorship.
Also included in the ban is the Russian-language social media site Odnoklassniki—which has 5 million monthly users in Ukraine, Russia’s top search engine, Yandex, and the Mail.ru email service.
Not everybody sees it as a good idea-“This is yet another example of the ease with which President Poroshenko unjustifiably tries to control public discourse in Ukraine,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Poroshenko may try to justify this latest step, but it is a cynical, politically expedient attack on the right to information affecting millions of Ukrainians, and their personal and professional lives.”
Ukraine is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which guarantee freedom of expression, including access to information. Only restrictions that are necessary and proportionate for a legitimate purpose may be imposed, and the ban set out in the decree does not pass that test. Cutting off the internet, may just get Kiev cut off in the end.
Tags: European Convention on Human Rights; freedom of expression; freedom of media; freedom of press; freedom of speech; human rights abuse; Internet; internet freedom; internet privacy; Petro Poroshenko