New York, New York. As part of a growing scream for justice, more and more human rights groups are speaking out against the Ukrainian internet ban on Russian language materials and wesites online.
The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the ban imposed on Russian social networks by the Ukrainian authorities, calling it a disproportionate measure that seriously undermines the Ukrainian people’s right to information and freedom of expression.
President Petro Poroshenko issued a decree on Monday last week blocking the social networking sites Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, as well as the email service mail.ru and the search engine Yandex.
The move was in violation of a number of human rights conventions and may leave the Ukrainian government in serious jeopardy for class action litigation in the US Federal Court and International Court systems.
There are at least 19 Russian news sites and 13 individual journalists were also on the list of 1,228 people and 468 companies targeted by new sanctions. These included most official Russian news outlets and others sympathetic to Moscow, but also a number of independent sources like News Front. The main Ukrainian providers have started blocking access to the sites.
“We are aware of the huge security challenges facing the Ukrainian authorities, but these in no way justify censorship of this kind,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Contacted for comment in Donetsk, famous “Gonzoblogger” Miquel Puertas called the ban, ” it is just stupid, it will not contribute to better relations between peoples and simply spreads hate.”
“Blocking social networks, messaging services and entire news organizations is neither proportionate nor justified in light of the stated aims. With this decree Petro Poroshenko has dealt a serious blow to Ukrainian citizens’ right to information and freedom of expression and has turned his back on his international obligations.” Puertas added.
Freedom of expression, guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights — of which Ukraine is a signatory — is a right that can be curbed only by legal, legitimate and necessary restrictions in a democratic society.
The Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki networks are among the top 10 most visited sites in Ukraine, together with mail.ru and Yandex, they have respectively 12 million and 5 million users.
RSF frequently highlights abuses arising from the information war being fought between Ukraine and Russia. In January this year, the Ukrainian National Radio and TV Council banned the retransmission of the Russian independent TV channel Dozhd.
Ukraine under Poroshenko has claimed reforms in recent years aimed at making media ownership more transparent, state broadcasters more independent and information more easily available, but the total control by oligarchs over the news industry, as well as the information war with Russia, put Ukraine at 102nd place in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Tags: freedom of expression; freedom of media; freedom of press; freedom of speech; internet freedom; internet privacy; media interference; Neo-Nazi Ukraine; Petro Poroshenko; press freedom; social media; social media censorship