Ukrainian law would allow authorities to block websites, along with other media

Russia’s drive to censor and control the internet has been rightly condemned, but it’s worth noting that Ukraine – the neighbor with which Russia is involved in a tense standoff – has similar plans.

On Tuesday a new draft state security law passed its first reading in the Ukrainian parliament. It still has approval stages to clear, but it looks as if it’s on a fast track – the draft was only published four days previously, and there will apparently be no consultation with civil society.

The law covers a long list of sanctions that can be imposed to protect Ukraine’s national interests and security, including the blockage of TV and radio stations and the “restriction or termination” of media and business activities, “including on the internet,” without the need for a court order.

“The restriction or termination of telecommunications services and use of public telecommunications networks” is another option granted to the Ukrainian government by the law, as is the “prohibition of technology transfer [and] the rights to intellectual property rights.”

The sanctions can be imposed on both foreign and Ukrainian companies and people. It elicited condemnation from Reporters Without Borders, who called the measures “draconian” and warned against the ease with which they would allow the National Security and Defence Council (RNBO) to clamp down on free speech.

“This bill’s definitive adoption would represent a major setback for freedom of information in Ukraine,” Johann Bihr, chief of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement.

“It gives the RNBO exorbitant powers to order the broadest forms of censorship on the basis of extremely vague criteria and with no safeguards… The major challenges that the Ukrainian authorities are facing and their legitimate concern to defend national security do not, under any circumstances justify such an attack on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, Freedom House president David Kramer said civil society should get a say, and the Ukrainian parliament should “establish a strict legal framework that has the narrowest possible restrictions on the media and free expression and ensures effective judicial oversight.”